The Tale of Carabas and the Fellowship

Being the True Story of
The Greatest Catling Adventurer of the Modern Age


(And Perhaps of Any Age, but the Historical Record is Sketchy,
So We Shall Not Presume)

(Certainly, Though, of the Modern Age)

As Told Some Years Ago by Its Principal Character
To His Chief Chronicler,

Belle Sleekblack

And Her Friends

In His Own Words
As Best As She Can Recall Them

Introduction - Carabas and the Forming of the Fellowship

Gather around the fires, kitlings, for the spring evenings are still cool and even rich fur won’t keep the chill from elder bones.

I’ve a tale to tell you. A tale of derring-do. A tale of adventure. A tale of heroism. A tale of fighting for all the little people of the world against she who took the title of “Overlord”.

A tale, of course, about me.

Now, I’ve no doubt you’ve heard bits and pieces of this great and glorious saga. Others have written of it – historians, scholars, even an occasional bard.

But never have you heard the true story. The story to chill the blood, and inspire the heart. The story to cause gasps, and huzzahs. The story I will tell you now.

My story.

I’ll not tire you with the early days, the gathering, the raising of a band of fellows that found they must stand up against the depredations of the Overlord, or see the world plunged into despair, blood, and death.

Though many companions came and left our quest, five was our core number, the number of the fellowship.

The big guy in front was Virens, a fierce Orcish warrior. Now, now, no need to tremble. I know what you’re thinking, and the rumors that are told. I can assure you that no such thing ever happened while we journeyed together. Indeed, perhaps I set an example for him that will end such practices across his people.

Just as he set an example for me.

What, you say? How could Carabas need an example set? Ah, well then, I was much younger in those days, the white patches more contained, my mind perhaps a bit more flighty. Virens, for all one might be concerned about his fierce demeanor, taught me lessons of valor, of strength of commitment, of duty. Lessons I knew, mind you, but by personifying them, he gave me an example to emulate in their application.

Rowan, of great fame, was our Harbinger, with all that implies. He contributed quite a bit to our fellowship, with his arcane knowledge and ability to apply it in spooky, magical ways. A rebel among his people – something we bore in common, to be sure – he wielded great powers with as much finesse as one might expect from one of the Biggers.

Of that dire figure Wynn you know as well, and they were indeed the figure of tragedy and horror that the tales from that time tell. And yet they were a figure of great nobility as well, bearing the weight and duties of centuries with dignity. Also, birds liked him, which made for some good hunting.

(Did they ever try to steal my soul to power their darksome magic? Not that I never noticed. Yes, I know those rumors as well, the tales of lost Nelres. A Catling soul is more difficult to steal than even an Ohir wizard-knight might think – but offering up its mighty strength willingly, ah, well that, as you will see, is a different matter.)

No description of our fellowship would be complete without Wrangler Ann, who personified what it means to be human: cranky, loyal, helpful, occasionally wise, usually stubborn, but with a strength that belies all the belittling things one sometimes hears your elders say. Humans are – well some of them – sharper than you think. And when things got tough – as you will hear – when the strength of Virens’ arm, or Rowan’s craft, or Wynn’s will, or even, on those rare moments when my wit and daring were insufficient, then Ann’s common sense and devotion were the things that saved us all. She always had my back, and I was proud to call her my fellow, not just my squire.

But enough about them. More about me!

cf. Introduction: The Fellowship and the Naming of Names

Chapter 1 - Carabas and the City of Mists

We’d been together for some time – long enough to begin to fully grasp the horror of the Overlord’s wicked schemes, plots that placed the world, including the Shire, in tremendous danger, all while cloaked as a figure of myth and nightmarish legend. Her actions in bringing down the Sky Island of Vree, though not then known widely as her work, made our quest of even greater urgency.

We descended by the mist barges (these traveling downwards to the Lowlands, rather than the more common routes to sky islands) to the city of Redvalley (or “Rauörfold” as Wynn insisted on calling it). Once it was part of the Ohir’s empire. When we were there, it was surrounded by the mists of the Lowlands, tremendous animals and spirits occasionally wandering by in the ruddy woods.

But the Mist never entered into the city, not before then. Great statues of the Ohir Protectors, one at each cardinal point, rose into the air, mighty and menacing, and bespelled to keep the Mist from the city. Rowan had brought us here, the horoscope he cast …

… oh, right. Yes, whatever, much spooky magic, portents, grave warnings, mystical intuitions, meow, meow, meow.

Let me tell you about mystical intuitions, my kitlings, for when the Overlord struck, I knew it! I felt the fur rise all over my body. Yes, I appeared larger and more mighty than ever, which one might expect to daunt any would-be attackers.

The others of the fellowship were relieved by this, and chuckled with nerves. But not for long, as the great enchanted statues began to crumble, stones the size of horses plummeting to the pavement below, their enchantments shattered by the Overlord’s cruel sorceries.

The population screamed, and ran back in forth in a way that some would find amusing, but was a sign of their fear and uncertainty. And understandable it was, for their entire city was threatened, if not by falling masonry than by the entry of the Mist and the fell spirits that lived within it!

The inn where we were staying, owned by a human couple named Bernard and Jane – Do not laugh! Yes, that was her name, and yes, I know what it means in the slang that your parents would not be happy you know, I had exercised iron control in not chuckling, and certainly would not have dreamt of telling her, for I fear she had very little sense of humor.

At any rate, realizing the people of that town were doomed, we could not simply flee. Those around us – in the inn, even in the neighborhood – we had come to know in the week we’d been there, and we felt it our obligation to consider how to get them to safety.

The mist barges were out as an escape – not only were the crowds of panicky humans already swamping them, but if magic and the ley lines were themselves under attack, that exit seemed an even greater danger.

Ann, used to wrangling humans, did her best to try to gather up folk together to evacuate, but Bernard and … his wife, refused to go until their son and his wife could be found.

Which, certes, was a noble sentiment on their part, but one likely to get everyone killed. I knew I would have to do something drastic to save them!

cf. Chapter 01: The Fellowship and the City of Mists

Chapter 2 - Carabas and the Neighborhood Mob

Humans, not unlike cattle, are for the most part not much difficulty to gather up and get moving than our own, self-directed people. This is a truism that has even made it to proverb – “Easier than herding humans.” But they also have a fondness for their young, as few as they are, that is usually charming.

Except when it is not.

So, faced with intransigent humans who would be lost if left to their own devices, I took the hero’s course.

I lied.

Or, more properly, I tricked them. I wove a tale that beguiled and motivated them, to their own good and the good of their fellows. A noble and well-done thing it was, at that.

Rowan had promised them that he would find them, but clearly that put all at risk, especially when we did not know where they might be. So I simply said that I had seen the run past, and that they should come with so that we could join them in safety. “Think of your children!” I exhorted. “If you were to be lost, it would break their hearts!”

No heroic deed goes without risk, of course, and I would be paying the price of this deed for some time.

Jane (snrk) was skeptical, despite the inarguable veracity of my words (the children would certainly be bereft if the parents stayed here and died, and it wasn’t like I had seen them not run past; it was altogether possible that we would encounter them during our escape, to everyone’s delight, should Bastis or whomever they worshipped here look on them with favor). Jane at length agreed to come, but insisted I help carry her household treasure.

She also said petty things about my heritage; humans can be petty creatures when panicky.

Outside, I got the treasure strapped to Hambone’s back – ah, Hambone, how I do miss that dog. Dumb as a post, but loyal and strong and a good hunter. The innkeeper’s wife insisted on keeping an eye on me, as though I were likely to run off with her family goods – a vile calumny, as it was hardly likely she had very much, or of much value, only of weight.

Virens and Wynn dutifully figured out which way we were headed – to the intriguingly-named Forges. Jane offered skepticism that her son would have gone there, adding to my conviction that she would have been more useful left behind, waiting for her son forever, except that would have been churlish of me to suggest.

So we set off. I placed myself and Hambone in the center, ready to respond to attacks before and behind. Thus, I was well positioned when Jane (again!) grabbed at my arm and pointed out that someone nearby was crying for help.

Help! A rescue! Just what the apothecary ordered to get away from Jane herding humans. I hopped off Hambone and trotted off in the direction of the weak cry, Ann and Rowen following my heroic lead, of course.

We came upon what looked like a human trapped under some fallen rubble (a cautionary note, certainly, to stay alert for such threats). Rowan advised me that he suspected there was something sinister lurking about, perhaps admitted as the Mist slowly came into the city, perhaps waiting to ambush an unwary rescuer. Aha!

With Ann providing covering noise and activity, I slipped into the shadows, quiet as a cat, and crept forward until I could spot what Rowan was referring to. And I was glad I did so, for it was a lurking menace well-known to all kits and catlings – a Red Eye bogey, which lurks in the darkness, using its bright red eye to lure catlings to it, mesmerized by its movements, until it it too late and they are trapped!

Do not tremble my kitlings! No such fate would be suffered by Carabas that day! I leapt! I pounced! Ha-ha! My blade flashed, cutting through its insubstantial body like water! And so it fled, spirit (literally) broken, ducking into a side street to find less wary prey!

Ann, Rowan, and I made short work of freeing the hapless human from his trap. He’d not just been caught by rockfall, but clawed by the Red Eye to make his cries more piteous. It was good to have saved him from such a fate, and saved others who might have been beguiled.

It was a heroic moment, and I was filled with righteous pride at the grace and agility I had wielded. Beware, creatures of the darkness! Carabas is on the prowl!

Ann hefted the injured man up onto a horse, and we returned to our fellows, whom we caught up to at the Forges … where they had driven off some brigands keeping watch, though one of them had been so swayed by Virens noble words that he took up service to him, waving out one of those crossbows of which the humans are so proud of.

Thus we stood poised to enter the Forges. How would my bravery and cleverness be challenged there?

cf. Chapter 02: The Fellowship and the Neighborhood Mob

Chapter 3 - Carabas and the Descent into the Forges

The Forges were built when the city of Redvalley was part of the Ohir Empire (thus, the spooky statues that hold back the Mist, etc.), wrought by that race and their allies, the Drolopes. Meow meow meow. A dry and dusty tale, but thusly could Wynn give advice on the place, which basically added up to “don’t look too closely at the walls.”


As a Catling, of course, I have a fondness for dark, enclosed places. They make one feel secure, hidden, safe.

The Forges are … sort of the opposite. Glowing crystals hardly illuminate. Cyclopean architecture. The sense of dark magic and darker things lurking beyond it.

Not homey. Not safe.

Wynn examined a clumsy trap left by the looters who’d left guards outside. But by then we’d heard sounds from down below, deeper in the Forges, the signs of looters seeking during the city’s fall to make off with its riches, riches that belonged to others, that the people of the city might need.

That made it an imperative that we confront these nattering, cheering villains, and put an end to their villainous villainy!

I immediately leapt to the fore, volunteering to creep on padded feet – well, comfortable and stealthy booted feet – to spy out our prospective foes. Careful and crafty was I, descending into the tunnels below, cutting through workrooms and vaults, until I came out right atop a many-tiered stoa, looking down upon a frightful scene below.

Amidst banked forges and vaults of various types, stood a massive stone, several paces across and tall, hollowed in places, studded with colorful crystals. About it were dozens of thieves and brigands, one of them clearly their dastardly leader, all of them …

… yelling and jeering at the stone? What madness was this?

Aha! After a moment, my sharp eyes spotted two figures at the stone, about some undiscerned work, which work was prompting the threats of the gang. In return to soft words from one about them giving patience to their “mistress,” the brigand leader offered more vivid promises of bloodshed. To which more words were exchanged, indicating that one of those fiddling with the great stone was a Harbinger!

Of great alarm was that claim, so I knew my most important goal was to report back this precious intelligencing. Quickly and quietly away I dashed, to report to the others, “They have a Harbinger!”

Our own Harbinger, Rowan, insisted this a perfect moment to stroll down and chat with his compatriot, though he’d told us that many of this number had sided with the Overlord. But he seemed unconcerned with this, as well as with the three-score brigands who were also on the scene.

Well, to enter such a tableaux with a healthy swagger is a rare treat, not to be missed. And so we did.

Ann remained with our hapless neighborhood rescuees above, with Hambone to keep her safe. Virens’ new friend took overwatch with his crossbow. But Virens himself, Rowan, Wynn, and I marched, bold as brass, into the chamber, following the directions I’d winkled out at great risk.

The Orc and Harbinger made their presence known with loud, stomping steps, to alarm and intimidate. I, of course, had no need for such puffery – those who watched knew full well the threat I posed, should they behave untowardly. The brigands all took a step back – as well they might, my kitlings!

The man on the outside of the stone (for his companion was hidden within) was a human Harbinger, of (I was later told) handsome mien, well dressed, a sword by his side and a slight sneer on his lips. It turned out that he and Rowan knew each other, his name was Ecki of Bornaer, known in whispers and pub chit-chat as the most skilled of the Harbingers, if not the most powerful – a level of skill that it is said he knew well and respected himself greatly for.

Rowan called him by a pet name of “Edward,” doubtless harkening back to their previous acquaintance.

They exchanged some meaningless metaphyscial twaddle interspersed with not-so-veiled threats, and then matters became far more interesting. Ecki’s companion was one of the Overlord’s own generals, Silflae, known for their mercy and an implacable sense of honor and duty. What I’d not known before was that they were of Ofir, one of Wynn’s people, and they were dressed in darksome armor once worn by the protectors of the great tower of Nelres. As they were revealed to us, climbing out of the stone, in one hand, or floating just above it, was a crystalline matrix of wires and mesh, and even as it slowly rotated, they spoke words of great cruelty and provocation at Wynn –

– words that drove them mad, and into a headlong attack upon the General!

How would I be called to save my fellow? Ah, that will be a part of the tale you will especially want to hear, if some one of you can pour a bit of drink for your storyteller!

cf. Chapter 03: The Fellowship and the Descent into the Forges

Chapter 4 - Carabas and How Things Got Ugly, Very Fast

Alas, though a puissant fighter in his own right, Wynn seemed far outmatched by the Silflae’s grace and skill. So, then, Wynn spoke words of studied cruelty themself, calling the general an oathbreaker. The general then pieced their own breast on Wynn’s, and claimed Wynn owed them a debt, commanding them to attack Rowan!

But enough of all that side show. You want to know what I was doing during all of this!

I knew Wynn and Virens were best placed to take on the General, and Rowan had, of course, volunteered that he could easily handle the brigands (I had my doubts, but tried to take the Harbinger at his word).

That left me to take on Ecki, and so rob the general of their key ally. Yes, yes, my kitlings, a dire and dangerous task, but none too great for the steely blade and silver tongue of Carabas!

I drew close to him, then, as he watched the General and Wynn and Rowan, and whilst fumbling awkwardly for something in his satchel, This turned out to be a large, flat crystal, emerald-cut. An attractive bauble, but my consideration was only on what manner of eldritch weapon he might be about to turn on my comrades!

At that moment, he sighted me, and was on his guard, taking my measure in a wary look, smiling with embarrassment for not having seen me long before.

“Hold, friend!” I cried. “For I would extend this moment of glory. I must tell you, I never thought I would have the honor of facing the renowned Ecki of Bornaer. My fellow, Rowan, talks of you all the time …!”

For you see my cleverness here, kitlings, knowing that Ecki was as in love with praise for his martial skill as he was deserving of it, and so I could learn more of him through flattery and guile. He smiled, and said, “Well met, Sir Catling. Your words do me honor as well, as does facing off against a doughty foe such as you!”

I smiled in some pleasure at his words, but also that he was speaking them rather than attacking. For, before I dispatched him (or taught him the many reasons for respecting the Catlings), there were things I wanted from him. Information in the very least.

Engaging him in brief but helpful conversation, I learned that he and the General seemed responsible for the destruction of Redvalley’s magical defenses, but that this was but a test – akin, it seemed, to what had laid low the Sky Island – before the enormity of the Overlord’s plot would be realized.

Rather than expressing my righteous outrage at these thoughtless deeds, I nodded, agreed, leaned in, made appreciative noises, substituted the crystal with my pocketwatch, nodded some more, expressed my admiration, leaned back …

… and danced back, as he glanced down at his hand, and realized he no longer had his gem. The smile vanished from his face, and he stared at me in wonderment, appreciative amusement at his own foolishness, and apparent admiration for what wonder I would perform next!

cf. Chapter 04: The Fellowship and How Things Got Ugly, Very Fast

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Chapter 5 - Carabas and the Unexpected Truce

And there we stood, a moment frozen in time, as Yours Truly held the mystic artifact that he had taken from the most Skilled Harbinger in the world.

There was no applause (that would have been a bit much), but both Ecki’s fixed gaze and that of Rowan, our Harbinger, were approval enough.

Dust and small pebbles came down from above, a reminder of the disaster being wrought above us. How would we save them? Could we save them, or the ones we’d brought so far – or even ourselves?

No need for doubts. Carabas was on the scene.

I flipped the gem into the air, and smiled at Ecki.

Who, to his credit, immediately backed down, realizing he disrespected the wrong catling. Alarmed by that, and by the precarious state of the Forges, he called for a truce, promising he and the General, Siflae, would leave the field to usand allow our rescue mission to continue. His only price in this was the return of the gem I had so deftly obtained, and which he spoke of as an item of great power and great danger.

I chuckled at the thought of danger, but then, casting a glance at my comrade Rowan, realized that poor soul was overwhelmed with animus his fellow Harbinger, and on the verge of attack. A battle I had no doubt we could win – but which might endanger our ability evacuate our newfound friends from Redvalley.

It was a split-second decision of the most careful judgment, but I was more than up to it. Rowan trusted my judgment, I knew, and I trusted he’d believe me when I told him something (in some cases, even something outrageous).

“Deal,” I told Ecki, thus locking him and his all-too-scrupulous mistress into the offered bargain. I flipped the gem through the air toward him, just far enough away to require him to take a rapid, panicky step to catch it, as I knew he would.

I smiled at him, letting him know that I’d already had the maximum enjoyment in the matter anyway by obtaining the gem from him.

After some quick banter between Ecki and Rowan, the former went to Siflae and vanished in a most dramatic fashion.

“Well!” I cried out in deserved triumph, “There’s a victory for you!”

And a great victory it was! The most skilled Harbinger in the land! A most puissant General of the Overlord! Both forced to retreat, leaving us in in control of the battleground, and able to carry out our mission of mercy. Ha-ha!

The others were all celebratory and full of admiration, of course, but realized it would be untoward to in such a moment of crisis to spend too much time voicing it toward me. Instead, Virens and Wynn persuaded the bandits (who had been slowly sidling away once they saw whom they were facing) to guide others from above down into the Forges as a means of escape.

Which they did and, through a a stroke of great fortune and favored karma – and, to be completely honest, through my prevarication to Bernard and Jane about where their son and daughter-in-law were, and how I and the Fellowship’s actions brought that all to pass – reunited the family of our favorite innkeepers.

I wish I could have been there as they marveled over the matter, but I was already in the vanguard, as we made our way out of the city.

It was a dark and spooky journey, and might have daunted a lesser spirit. It was also, as we passed the wealth of the city of Redvalley, a constant temptation to those who might be attracted unduly and with inappropriate timing to shiny things.

Indeed, such a circumstance presented itself, as a remarkable gemstone, floating in midair in a chamber we passed. Indeed, it glittered so in its filigreed binding that even so focused and doughty an adventurer as myself might have bee tempted to bat at it, had not Rowan – no doubt emotionally exhausted by his previous encounter with Ecki – elbowed his way forward and took it … then, realizing how embarrassing such an action was, handed it off to Virens, who put it in a satchel (which I took note of for future reference, in case he forgot where he put it).

The passages we followed finally exited the city some ways from the walls, in the Mist-shrouded red forests. The city folk quailed at the size of the large creatures we encountered along our journey, and even some of my companions seemed daunted, never having learned the Catling’s proverb that “You will always be smaller than something else, so just figure out how to get on top of it and dig in and you’ll be fine.”

Instead, Ann, bless her heart, tried to keep the (mostly) human party of five-score or more from wandering off or being terrified or befuddled in the Mist by creating the sort of busy-work that humans seem obsessed with, as well as leading them in camp songs to keep up their spirits. I joined in on a few tunes, but they all fell silent when I did, their eyes rapt on my performance, and Ann made it clear in her own subtle way that it was more important for these poor souls that they be allowed to sing, even painfully aware of their own imperfections, than that they enjoy in a Catling’s fine voice.

I took the hint, and simply hummed under my breath.

A Very Large Creature crossed our path. Virens drummed at it, which attracted some other animals, and even some of the city folk. Drums aren’t a Catling thing, alas (we prefer the rhythm section of swishing tails), so I watched with polite attention to see whether all the noise would drive off the Very Large Creature, or whether the valor of Carabas would once again be needed to save the day!

cf. Chapter 05: The Fellowship and the Unexpected Truce

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Chapter 6 - Carabas and the People of the Air

It all worked out well with the giant creature. Barely any need to mention it.

But as our gallant band made its way through the Mists to safety, I was alarmed to discover increasing dissent and grumbling amongst them, beyond even the normal gripings of humans. Even Ann’s quaint sing-alongs were insufficient to calm them.

Fah. We were fortunately, at least, that humans are herd animals, and didn’t, as catlings would, wander off on their own.

Obviously, in the face of fatigue and hunger and danger and weariness and frustration, there was just one answer.

I sang to them.

Many and wonderful were the sagas I wove them, great stories of journeys toward safety, treasure, and success. I began with song, but the humans were so enrapt by my tale-telling, they begged me to save my voice and, instead, elocute my stories to them.

A gracious audience indeed, and clearly my inspirational note was having its desired effect.

And so the hours passed, and my golden words, silver tongue, and remarkable imagination brought many smiles to their lips, occasional ill-timed laughter to their throats, and forestalled some sort of foolhardy rebellion.

And as we marched up into the Midlands, we seemed to have finally escaped the eye of the Overlord’s forces.

Days went by, Rations were running thin (so thank goodness for the tales I’d told, otherwise we’d have faced a riot!). We’d achieved the Midlands, and the Ohir ruins we were passing were changing from tumbled-down towns and broken statues to fallen fortifications and the like.

“They are coming,” Wynn announced in dusty tones.

“Who?” asked Virens.

“The People of the Air.”

Well, let me tell you, that was something exciting. The People of the Air are – well, think of giant birds, as large or larger than a Catling.

Frightening? Perhaps, to those weak of heart. But … well, we are talking about birds here. No Catling born to the name would ever back down before a bird.

While the People’s armed vanguard approached, gliding through the air, we stood bravely against them in protection of the people of Red Valley.

(Wynn seemed strangely daunted by their approach, but, then, he often attracted hungry birds. I swore to myself I would keep him from their fierce beaks.)

Well, what with one thing or another, our brave front against them served its purpose, and they decided not to attack. Indeed, they looked upon Yours Truly with wonderment and, perhaps, the awe one would expect of prey before an unexpected predator. One might even say that, taking a look at me, they knew just what sort of fight they would have on their hands should they be anything less than peaceful and birdlike!

It appeared that they, too, had been victims from the fall of that sky island at the hands (we believed) of the Overlord. Their sacred hatching grounds had been upon that island (and what a treasure that would have been to find!), and had been destroyed by its plummet from the sky.

Their leader, a hen named Sakura, brought us to their encampment, where we were introduced as ones who had fought the people of the Overlord, who had brought the island down. I was about to launch into a retelling of how I snatched the teleportation whoziwhatsit from Ecki when Ann (with her truly caring, if poorly timed, compassion) called on the People of the Air to protect the refugees from Red Valley.

Given the example of our magnanimity and interest, the Bird People had no choice but to acquiesce. Let that be a lesson to you kitlings, that nobility of spirit is infectious.

Once brought into their inner sanctum, we learned that Sakura was heir to the chiefdom, as her elder brother had been on the island ready to bring back their next eggs when the cruel Overlord brought it down.

There was much other talk, about horoscopes and history and backstory and infodumps and other palaver that, for a Cat of Action, was less than engaging. Fortunately they had plentiful food (and we’re talking good meat, not seed), drink, and tasseled pillows to bat at.

By the end, we had charted our course – we would next travel to an old floating city that predated the Ohir, chained in place to keep it from drifting. Heigflæma – Hior’s Flame – it was called by the Ohir in their ancient (and, frankly, rather ugly) tongue. Now it was known (by its current inhabitants) as Chains Cross.

And it was, as Rowan foretold it, the next target of the Overlord.

How would I help save the city from such a fate? Prick up your ears, kitlings, and listen well!

cf. Chapter 06: The Fellowship and the People of the Air

Chapter 7 - Carabas and the Shadow of Conquest

After our grand adventure to date, we rested up to return strength to our mighty sinews and to absorb some much needed heat from the sun in our groomed fur.

Oh, Virens went “hunting” with Sekura – a mighty adventurer, he, well worth emulating, but, let us speak truly between us, kitlings, there are no mightier hunters than the Catling race … when we are properly motivated. Or bored.

Wynn moped a bit. The Ohir are mighty, and scary, and old … but they do tend to wheeze on a bit about The Old Days and How Much Has Changed and Things Are Not As They Once Were.

Catlings live for the moment. Far wiser, and less mopey.

It was a quiet bit of time, and it passed so quickly it was as if I weren’t even there. But soon, the adventure will recommence!

cf. Chapter 07: In the Shadow of Conquest

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Chapter 8 - Carabas and the Trials of the Macqul Taxat

As we rested up with the People of the Air (who, I discovered, called themselves the Macqul Taxat, which means, in their tongue, “People of the Air” – now, now, they are birds, after all), I pondered on the battles I had fought thus far, and considered how I could refine my tactics to be even more effective.

To be a Catling in the lands of the Bigs requires more than just fearlessness and well-honed combat prowess. It means to be fast, to be quick, to be agile, to be tricksy.

Now, some might say that to play tricks is hardly what one thinks of when one considers mighty-thewed warriors of the legends. But that consideration falls for the prejudices and strengths of the Bigs, valuing those who are even bigger and stronger. And, with no disparagement to my dear friend Virens, that is a very narrow view of combat.

Combat is not just of the body, but of the mind. To control the battlefield, to dart back and forth, in and around, forcing the foe to waste his strength whilst one stings like a bee, manipulates, directs, and manages the foe, gathering information (and, sometimes, valuables) before finishing them off …

Well, not to be impolite in the context of the People of the Air, it is still not unlike what a Catling does with their prey for amusement before tucking in to feed.

But this consideration did call another to mind. Our people, as I have said, are somewhat insular. We prize our privacy but, in so doing, avoid any fame for the bravery and achievement that our race rightfully should be known for, particular individuals especially, and the lessons such can teach to the smaller and discounted of every people.

It occured to me that the Macqul Taxat were in a similar situation – a secretive and isolated, elusive race, not well known to other races. How, then, do they sing of their heroes in a way that rightfully spreads their fame?

I spoke to the birds, to ask these questions. The younger ones were reticent around me, cautiously perceiving, perhaps, an apex predator in their presence. The older Macqul Taxat seemed sad in their response, which I inferred to mean they either had few such tales or, perhaps, similarly did not have a way of proclaiming them.

Those of middle years (as best as one can tell with birds) were much more willing to speak.

At length.

I confess to some dismay, as the “tales” they told seemed to be long, and overly detailed, family and tribal histories. Lots of “begats” (and those were the exciting parts). Lots of facts (“Three hundred and seventy two trees of twelve feet or more were in that forest, and here were the names of those who counted them …”). Lots of dry, lifeless …

Imagine being droned on and on to by the oldest and most out-of-touch of you elders, and the tremendous boredom that would seize your spirits, leading to uncontrollable yawning – like that tired kitling over there, yes, I see you – and a desire to be swallowed up by the ground.

It was like that.

At length, one of the elders told them – perhaps all the more bored for having heard these tales so many times over their long lives – that what I was looking for were “Fire Stories,” and told me I should come back that evening.

Aha! Evening drinking songs! That would surely be what I was seeking!

And indeed, that was the case. These were tales, then, of adventure – heroic figures fighting villains, saving victims, defeating beasts, all that. To be sure, there was nothing all that unusual about their tales, nothing so different from the tales I had heard from the other races, basic forms, rising actions and cliffhangers and climaxes and resolutions and the like. Until …

The elder who had intervened earlier told a fascinating creating myth, the first bird (or perhaps the first Macqul Taxat) who mastered flight, rather than mere gliding (as most of the bird people do). That bird’s presumption in doing so drew the attention of the “Accursed,” the Corruptor’s people, who were jealous and sought the bird’s secret, and did many nasty things to other birds who were not as strong in flying.

At length that greatest of birds made them a wager – they could hunt that bird for a year and a day, and would get the power of flight if the bird were captured and killed, but if they failed then they would be forever enfeebled against the bird’s race.

The wager was (as in all such tales) taken up, and a year passed where the bird never touched ground, but drank from the clouds and fed from seeds brought by other birds, and, when pressed on the final day of the hunt, flew up into the stars …

(The Macqul Taxat do not group their stars in the sky as we Catlings do. The constellation they associate with this first bird is part of, by coincidence, the Taunting Prey, though both are birds and figures of heroism, but they include part of the Fierce Jaw and do not includes the orange star we call the Graveyard Eye. A strange people, but I digress.)

As the first bird vanished from the world before the end of the bet, neither side of the wager paid off, so if that bird should ever reappear, the Corruptor’s people can still seek to win their prize.

A strangely unsatisfying, if well-told, tale, but it was a fine night, with camaraderie, and fine drinking of fine draughts that you are all too young to know about.

And interrupted at that point by orcs.

Yes, more long diplomatic chitchat, as some orcish scouts were spotted, women and children and human refugees are sent to shelter, and a war council was quickly put together wherein Virens and the Shaman of the tribe seemed to get into a pissing match over who can best take care of the refugees and how best to get their story out to the world, and how the birds felt they needed to take care of the humans to prove to the orcs that they were honorable and deserved their vengeance. I felt irritated for some reason I couldn’t articulate, mostly because, perhaps, it seemed like everyone was focused on orcs and birds and humans as the most important elements of the saga, and none were thinking of our people.

But, then, what else is new?

Plus, it seemed to be boiling down to Virens telling the Macqul Taxat that they should challenge him to a fight and beat him, so that they could deal with the orc scouts out of strength. Which sounds just like the tales of chest-thumping orcs we all know.

(I care for Virens like a litter mate, but he shows his true blood at the most annoying times.)

In the end, we trudged to the camp of the orcs – a whole troupe of three of them, mind you. And, somehow, it all managed to resolve itself without gouts of blood and far-flung severed limbs, so perhaps there is hope.

On the other hand, Virens mentioned how “among Orcs, blood shed is blood shared,” so that assessment might be premature.

At any rate, we ended the night feeling we’d learned a bit more, and, for my interest in their tales, they gave me a small purse of various coins, “shining tokens from afar, given to the rare Macqul Taxat who told the tale of the First Flyer,” in hope that I would share the story as well.

And so I have. And I hope you enjoyed it, and remember it to tell again. Even if it has insufficient Catlings to make it truly memorable.

Chapter 09 - Carabas and the Mist Wolves

We departed the next morning, better rested and fed, for Chains Crossing (or whatever one calls it in that mouth-twisting tongue of the Ohir). The Macqul Taxat said that they would likely be seeing us, but that they must meet together to discuss their people’s future. Etc., etc. We bade them (and the Red Valley folk) a fond farewell.

Seeing the Bird People again? Fine.

Seeing Jane the Innkeeper’s Wife again? I would be fine skipping that particular reunion.

While the Mists generally stay in the Lowlands, that is not always the case. Sometimes they rise, seemingly driven by their volume, other times by forces untold, to seep into the Midlands, extensions of the greater Mists below, or “clouds” that slowly cross the land.

That is, of course, one reason why the Shire is located where it is.

As dusk approached after a long day’s hike, as we neared a mountain pass, the Mists rolled in. We’d dealt with a few odd predators we encountered, and so thought ourselves relatively safe, until we encountered … the Mist Wolves.

Ah, you’ve heard tales of these before? Let me assure you, the reality is far more terrifying, far more gut-wrenching, far more deadly than the myths.

Wolves they are, as the name says, savage dogoids, huge and deadly and clever. Not people-clever (let alone People-clever), but smarter than the average canine.

And they talk.

Not conversationally, not as you and I do. But rather than barks and yips and howls, they utter words in the Common tongue. Many of which are things like “Kill” or “Eat” or “Rend” or “Pursue,” often repeated like a dog’s annoying yapping.

It’s … disconcerting.

The stories say they were unleashed from the Misted fringes of the world when the Ohir did something to the population that had held them at bay. Wynn declined to correct that story.

And, being creatures of the Mist, they were able to slip through it freely, hidden, until ready to pounce. We heard them crying out with their terrible words and bay-like screams in the distance, and thought ourselves at a good remove, until we realized that’s what they wanted us to think.

Despite the deception, the razor-keen senses of the Catlings, as well as my own sharp wit and steady nerve, informed me of their approach well before the others realized it. They spotted my puffed tale, even as I informed them, keeping my words steady and calm so as to keep their fear in check.

“I have no doubt,” I said, “that we can defeat this foe. They are, after all, only dogs.” I patted Hambone on the side, to show no hard feelings. He wagged his tail. “But if there’s a better way to draw them in and improve our odds …”

“My people now a way,” Virens replied. “We chose the bravest and strongest among us, blooded him and set him forth to draw them in as prey. Then, while they held the beasts off, we fell on them.”

“With all due alacrity, I trust,” I jested, but I realized he was looking at me with his steady, silent eyes, and I realized yet a new way that I could bring glory to the Catlings and safety to my comrades. “No need to worry – I’ll take the job.” I chuckled. “Indeed, it’s a good thing you have me along, to be there to hold them off while you leap to the fray. Damned fortunate for you.”

He nodded gravely, though with a slight smile, and I was gratified he recognized a kindred spirit in adventure.

And so I found myself in a clearing, a long cut along one leg to bring out blood (but not so deep as to slow me down), dragging that leg like a wounded prey – a fine enough job, if I do say so myself, that I almost wanted to pounce upon myself!

But I will not lie to you. To hear the canine chuckles, the mutterings of “Meat, meat,” and “Blood, blood,” and to see them creeping all around me … well, I would not be mortal if I did not feel some qualm, some atavistic fear that made me want to run like the victim the wolves thought me.

But I am a Catling, proud and and strong and uncowed (and undogged, for that matter). I kept my place, knowing the others all depended on me. The finest acting job ever, if you ask me: to seem the weakened target, solitary and defenseless, when I wanted to hiss my defiance and call my friends to me to teach those monsters a lesson. A monumental thespian effort played to the trees, and to the wolves.

They moved in. And, to their regret, found no easy victim, but a Catling in his prime, quick as lightning and twice as bright. Dodging, weaving, in and out, above and blow, a claw here, a dig there, a bit of dirt flung into an eye, a skid under a stomach, amidst howls of pain and outrage and collision. What a game! Made all the more spicy by knowing that any of their claws, let alone their fetid, slobbering jaws, would mean the end of me if my dance were anything less than spectacular.

I can sing! I can act! I can dance! If the fates had not been so kind as to give me this opportunity of adventure on behalf of the the Catlings and the world, then I might well have acheved fame upon some distant city’s stage!

But I digress.

Even as my body twisted and dodged and tumbled and leapt, I kept my sharp eye and sharper wit about me, looking for some added bit of information, a clue, a secret they might betray that would help us defeat them.

There! On that one, larger wolf who was staing out of the fray – no, casually walking toward it, rather than charging like its lesser kin. A flash of crystal, or something glowing, at its throat.

It must be mine!

As he approached, I abruptly jinked left instead of the safer right, to slide past him, grab the item, get a paw on it –


He batted me ass over teakettle to crash to the ground a dozen paces beyond, stunned, and then the beast was suddenly upon me, trying to catch me, bite me, savage me, even as I scrambled backwards, seeking enough purchase to use my greater speed and grace but with each lunge barely able to keep fur and bone intact –

Only three things saved me. First, my puissant skill and grace, the inheritance of any Catling and honed to a fine edge by my experiences, even hampered by the injuries I had taken. Second, the other wolves backed off to watch as their leader demanded one-on-one conflict with such a noteworthy adversary. And third …

The others attacked.

Wellll … tried to.

Rowan took the lead, using some mighty, sorcerous axe, which could reap the powers of the wind and release them in a mighty blow. He leapt into the air, bringing the axe down on the Mist Wolf I was keeping busy …

The teardrop agate on the chain in my hand, taken from the Mist Wolf, pulsed hot and a wall of force extended outwards, ignoring the wolves, but striking Rowan while in mid-downswing. He flew through the air and into (practically through) a tree.

I hoped he wouldn’t blame me for that. But I knew even more that I could not let this trinket fall back into the hands of the wolves.

Virens was next, atop his riding varg, his rock hammer in hand. The varg roared and snapped at the other wolves as he barreled down upon the alpha and me, and I smiled and redoubled my defensive moves, seeking to distract the Mist Wolf leader and distract it from the orc.

A might blow he struck then, catching the leader and flinging him into others of his pack. And now the fight was in earnest against different groups of wolves. Wynn flickered in the uncanny speed of his people, distracting and confusing them. Meanwhile, Ann used her new Mist Foxes (or whatever she was calling them) to break up the Mist about us to weaken the wolves attack.

But in so doing, she left herself open to some of the Mist Wolves creeping in from a blind spot on her flank. To the rescue, Carabas! Ann always had my back, and I could do no less (and likely more) in return!

Swish and flick, my lightning saber flashed like lighting and stung like a bee!

Then followed the madness of battle, as coherent tactics broke down into individual opportunities to strike. At one point, I heard the leader of the wolves, injured but still on his feet, calling to marshal his troops – “Stay! Obey! Stay! Obey!” – and turned to see him looking at me. He wanted that little trinked I’d taken from him, and I taunted him with in for one brief flash before returning to the red work of feint and strike against his fellows.

Things finally ended with Rowan making good for his initial failure and conjuring a giant stone fist from the ground to uppercut the wolves, especially their leader. Impressive, if a bit showy.

And when 'twas all over, we stood there, victorious on the field of battle – bloodied, some shaken, some battered, but triumphant in our fight against evil.

“As you clearly demonstrated,” Virens said to me, “it takes the bravest warrior to do this.”

I nodded and casually leaned against a tree. “Thank you.”

Ann used her skill at speaking to animals (learned recently from Rowan) to talk with the lead wolf, the one who’d sought to feed on me. He was, in the end, injured and dying. He revealed to her that there was a Harbinger woman who ruled these hills we were passing through, and it was only then that Rowan saw fit to suggest it was an old comrade of his, Myra.

We rested, then, as the others needed a sit-down and some food before we continued on our journey. Rowan shared some berries and tea with me, which seemed a bit civilized, while Ann bandaged those with injuries, even my flesh wound.

I told Rowan, “I’ve heard about wizards being trapped in trees … I never thought I’d see how it happens.” He nodded demurely at my bon mot.

At length, fed and rested and bandaged, we headed onwards toward Chains Cross. What would we find there? Would we encounter further minions of the mysterious Myra? How would I save my comrades this time?

I think I’ll wet my whistle, and we can continue the tale!

cf. Chapter 09: The Fellowship and the Mist Wolves

Chapter 10: Carabas and the Haunted Mountains

Leaving the Mist Wolves behind us, we continued into the mountains, heading for Chains Crossing. Rowan opined that one of his wizardly cohort might be responsible for the wolves’ attack; they had shared a master, learning all about tricksy things regarding animals and speaking to them and turning into them, etc.

(Rowan was a fine comrade, but, honestly, I found Harbingers just as spooky and just-as-soon-not-be-in-the-same-realm-as-them as the legends of our people would imply.)

Why would she be sending Mist Wolves against us? Aside from Harbingerly (Harbingish? Harbingesque?) contrariness? Perhaps we were encroaching on her territory (marked like a dog’s or wolf’s), or perhaps she knew us to be a future foe. Maybe she and Rowan were dear lovers, and he fooled around on her and she vowed eternal revenge.

Who knows, with Harbingers?

As we arose in the chill morning mist, we saddled up and proceeded, with the fog ebbing and flowing against the sun, the five of us, plus the crossbowman, Embarto, who was still following Virens around.

An hour or so into the early morning … the sun is up and fighting back the fog. And then the fog thickens back up again, but is still bright-lit with sun, making things even harder to see. We began to hear a voice calling out for help – maybe for help, but crying out, in the fog, down into a shallow valley off the road. The mounts were spooked, but Wynn and Virens decided we should check it out. I noted that, just the previous day, we had been deceived by others using mysterious sounds in the mist.

Virens considered my sage counsel, but noted that we had, up to that time, driven off every foe. Rowan noted that as long as we stuck together, we would have safety in numbers. Realizing that were I to stay on the road I would be missing all the action, I agreed to journey into the mist with the rest, holding the vital rearguard position against treacherous attack from behind.

Embarto confessed he’d have preferred to stay on the road, but I assured him that just because we were heroes it didn’t mean we were always walking into traps. He grudgingly agreed, and I realized I would need to keep an eye on him and try to bolster his courage.

We were wending our way through uncut woods and thickets, with Ann ahead of me, on her own horse and with her dire fennics and the other horses, helping urge them on an animal track through close shrubbery. I sat upon Hambone, twiddling my thumbs, keeping half an eye on the crossbowman who was complaining about various dangers we were likely facing, and breathing a sigh of relief when I saw Ann had finished her job.

I urged Hambone along, expecting to quickly catch up with Ann’s various critters, and was surprised when, as the trail wended and wound, I did not. I was fairly certain there was no question of having missed a split in the trail, as I could still hear the jingle of tack and harnesses ahead, but …

… they seemed to sound further away and …

… perhaps not along our track?

I gave a small bark to Hambone to give him his head, letting him trot forward with determination in a way that was encouraging until he ended up at the base of tree trunk, snuffling around.

Dogs. Yes, I roll my eyes.

“Hambone,” I said, firmly, “you are a dog with a Good Nose. I recommend strongly that you find Ann. Find Ann. Find. Ann. Are you listening to me?”

Hambone turned and stared into the mist, and made a whuffing sound. But it was by no means clear that it had anything to do with Ann.

Still, it was better than nothing, so we went off to investigate whatever Hambone was detecting (it did concern me that, in a sense, that was how we got into this problem in the first place).

After a time, we found a path again, which led after time to a place where it seemed to become a wagon trail, overgrown with saplings and brush, and a vision of campfires came through the woods to me, wagons and people gathered about them.

Amongst the other talking people there are myths and legends of souls that survive, not passing onto new bodies as amongst the Catlings, but remaining to wander the world for some hidden purpose. We think of such figures as memories of something very powerful or profound in a place.

I pointed out the encampment ahead, to discover that Embarto didn’t see it. Poor, dull humans, so often trapped inside their own skulls.

The memories of people – to be fair, humans – huddled about the fires. I could see snow accumulated on the wagons. They had been caught in some sort of a blizzard –

“This was just misadventure. We were one of dozens. The risk to get to Chains Crossing was small versus the gains.” It was a human girl, standing beside me, appearing from nowhere. Her clothing – to the extent that human clothing is recognizable – was unusual, archaic.

“So we tried it, and the road was still clear, and got so cold. And then, little Johans didn’t wake up, and nobody was talking and we tried going further one more day, and then the snow came, and we couldn’t get any further, and we tried to wait it out, and we couldn’t. The mountains have taken thousands. Chains Crossing is a wonder, but curse. A campfire surrounded by moths. But they’ve had their tithe … you need not be part of it. We can help, for something in trade.”

Oooh, yes, like in a legend, a mysterious force was bargaining with me. I chuckled silently. As if anyone could outbargain a Catling.

“The People of the Air … they provided me a bag of interesting foreign coins, in thanks for our help to them. I might be willing to part with --”

“You haven’t have them long enough to be of value to us.” Her eyes drilled into mine. A powerful memory. “We’re so very cold. We need something of you, that is real.”

Something that was mine. Something I’d had for a time. Something of personal value. Something that frozen, starving, dying would appreciate.


“I have food from my homeland. I would be honored to provide it to you. It is very tasty, very nutritious , and quite fragrant.”

She looked at me solemnly. “Would you sit and share it with us?”

“Why yes, yes we would. Wouldn’t we?” I asked Embarto.

He stared at me blankly. “Yyyyyyesss?”

We shared the meal with them. As we did, they became more real, gathering about us, enjoying the food in a fashion that never seemed to run out, each of them taking something solid and tasty and enjoyable of it, making them more solid, more actual people. Such that even Embarto began to sense them.

I smiled at him. “Compassion to those in need is the mark of a true hero.”

He nodded back to me, slowly. Smiling. Strangely, it felt like we shared something at that moment. More than just the fine, fine food.

“All right,” the girl said, “We can take you to your friends. There is only one place they would have to be.”

And so they did, and I was quite satisfied to ride into the others camp, accompanied by the memories of dead travellers and a spooked crossbowman. As they stared, I simply smiled, as the little girl said, “We’ve been told to bring you back to your path.”

So, then, what, my kitlings, will happen next? Will a new menace rear its ugly head? Will we finally reach the gates of the city of Chains Crossing? Or will we all find ourselves fatigued by our great labors this day and simply fall asleep? Let us find out!

cf. Chapter 10: The Fellowship and the Haunted Mountains

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Chapter 11: Carabas and the City of Chains

I introduced my living friends to the living memory of the young caravan girl I had encountered. That she could actually speak perceptibly to me, even though my keen senses could not hear the words of her companion memories, simply indicated how strong a memory, likely from a reborn spirit, she was.

At any rate she and the others showed us the way to the road, fading at length from sight as they trudged back to their campsight. I wished her peace, and hoped that whomever she had been since reborn as enjoyed a happier life.

To get to Chains Cross, one must ride on one of the many various trams, ferries, and cargo flats that rise from the ground to the floating island. They are, for the most part, of light wooden construction, needing mostly just to hold together around the crystals that turn the aetheric gyroscopes that do the actual lifting. Those “engines” are the seriously built parts, often serving multiple such craft over their lifetimes.

All I can say is that the vessels creaked in an alarming fashion, and the one we rode in lifted up ourselves as well as a supply of cargo from a landing site on the less-used side we traveled from. The Rowmans Union runs the trade, and makes good money from it (no doubt including hazard pay). We landed with a great thud on one of the flat expanses outside the walls and structures of the city, an area thick with shrubbery and lilac bushes and paths for the carts to bring goods into the town, along with scattered outbuildings and cabins for those who chose solitude.

We entered the city through one of the many gates, alongside cargo from our and two other barges. Rowan had been here before, unot unsurprisingly, and as his Prophecy was what was guiding us, we went first from the area known imaginatively as “The Lilacs” toward the Black Web and the shops there.

It struck me, as we walked, that for a city full of Humans, with a good scattering of other races from Orcs to some small froglings I did not recognize, that everything seemed very subdued. Humans are, among other things, loud and boistrous and very unappreciative of personal space. This city felt almost livable in, save for a sense of forboding.

One aspect of that was the number of eyes we drew. Now, to be fair, we are a motley and unusual crew, and to be still further fair, certainly few here had ever seen such an heroic Catling as Your Storyteller. Still, many of the eyes turned to us were troubled, especially when they spotted Rowan, our Harbinger, and made superstitious gestures to ward off evil.

(Everyone knows the best way to ward off evil is to stare at it, until, at least, it breaks its gaze with you. Woe betide you should you break your gaze with it first!)

Rowan had us stand around in a square, near a tried up fountain, where in his vision he had seen Siblis the Whiseperer, one of the Overlord’s creatures. He noted, to echo my own keen observation, that the people of the city seemed withdrawn, noting that none of them were hawking goods to us. He went further to suggest that their very perceptions might be tainted with envy and suspicion (of myself and the Orc, respective, one would assume), and so cause them to treat us with hostility.

For him to say it made it all the more apparent, and I abruptly realized how many of those hostile gazes were directed toward me, as if I were an evil that needed staring down. It was all a bit … much.

Thus I was momentarily pleased to be distracted by the sound I heard, and when Rowan commented that his vision didn’t quite match up with the location we were in, I was able to suggest we might want to hurry in figuring out what to do next, as there were many marching boots headed our way.

What? Boots! Clomping and stomping and the bane of all Catling tails (if fodder for Catling tales)? It may seem like weeks, but give me a minute to relieve myself of the lovely drinks you have plied me with, younglings, and I will be right back to continue with what happened next!

cf. Chapter 11: The Fellowship and the City of Chains

Chapter 12: Carabas and the Tour of the City

The tromp of guard boots! The others will filled with indecision, if not apprehension, a thousand different plans from “flee” to “fight” crossing their faces.

But when faced with such danger, a true hero hesitates not! “Now see how a Catling does it!” I called out to my friends, then bounded forward to the fray!

Ah! I hear you say that, no matter how doughty the heart, no matter how quick the limbs and paws and eyes, not even the bravest of heroes can overcome a dozen bigs in battle!

Well, perhaps yes, perhaps no – but only if you consider overcoming to be a straight-out duel of steel and claw and blood. If your goal is to distract, to harry, to keep busy, to lead upon a merry chase … then there is no better at the task than a Catling!

So leapt I into the center of their formation, and, having seen how the people seemed oddly mistrusting of Rowan, taunted them with a jaunty, “Ha-ha! The Knight of the Harbingers is upon you!” Capped off with a second, jaunty, “Ha-ha!”

Thus drawing their attention to me – where it rightly belonged, even if it needed a nudge – I took them on just such a merry chase, up and down and around the town. Sometimes I jeered from overhead, other times tweaked their courage from under their feet. Clothes lines and ladders, passing carts and flower boxes, all served as springboards, hiding places, and podiums for pinpricks to their inadequacies, even for the typical humans, as city guards.

Indeed, all of them were easily gulled, diddled, and drawn back and forth across the neighborhood and up and down the town (as I said), save for a young human girl named Rumi, who seemed far brighter, more agile, and certainly more persistent than her fellows. She very nearly caught me at one point, and when I turned to give her a gallant bow and be on my way, she asked, “Why are they chasing you?”

“I fear for what they might do to my friends.”

“They are normally nice people … but they aren’t nice now. The major is making people do not nice things. Are you with them?”

I assured her, “No, I am here to save the city, be the hero, and fight against the bad guys!” In her apprehension she seemed to need special reassurance of this. Having done so, I made my departure.

Still, the encounter was of value, not just as an interlude to teach the human children of the city about the bravery and nobility of Catlings, but for what she had revealed. There was, as I had suspected, a fell enchantment upon this town and its people, such that even if they were won over by the sincerity of our sentiments, or my own personal charm, they could not be trusted.

As the chase went on, I continued to make mock of the guards, drawing them further and further (I hoped, for we had not had time to plan it) from my friends. To my amazement, Rumi kept showing up unexpectedly and asking questions. As the numbers of pursuers grew – not just the majoral guard who had come after us, but more proper city guards and even some city folk – it became more of a challenge to satisfy her queries with a smile and courtesy than before. Of course, I did so, which I consider perhaps my greatest accomplishment of that day.

“Who are those other people you ride with?”
“The man in the robe, is he a wizard?”
“Why do you have so many horses?”
“Do you even ride a horse?”

So persistent was she in both her questioning and pursuit of me that it occured she must be a Catling in spirit, perhaps some poor soul that, for their sins, was cast into a non-Catling body, but retained our essential inquisitive and clever nature.

As I found myself (and, increasingly, I considered it “ourselves,” as the girl was now almost a constant companion) reaching into the southern reaches of the city, roiled in fog and mists, I heard a whisper in the wind from Rowan, that they were heading into the tunnels under the city, and to meet them there.

We had at last shake the pursuit, and were in the neighborhood known as the Fog Walk, which Rumi indicated was someplace she’d rather not be, preferring the sunnier places in the Twin Nests. She followed this up asking about the fog and my fur and my predilictions for lying in the sun, which were interrupted by some rather loutish characters who came upon us – neighborhood bravos and ne’er-do-wells. I promptly bamboozled them by suggesting I was a tourist of the city, the girl (whom I dared not leave to their rough devices) my official city tour guide. In this I thought myself particularly clever, as it put us under the protection of the city government (such as it was) and allowed me to ask about the tunnels under the city in a nonchalant and beguiling fashion.

The toughs all disavowed knowledge of any such thing, but seemed taken in by my assumed personality and lost interest in causing us trouble. Save, I spotted with a sharp eye, a pair of them who were chatting together in a most suspicious fashion, giving us glances, before one took off with obvious purpose.

I made our apologies to the people around us, and we headed off together at an oblique angle. The question was, should I seek out those tunnels at this point? Or find a safer spot to leave off my new companion? Or pursue the bravo who had lit out from there, perhaps to report to more dire companions?

All paths led toward danger! Which would I choose, and how would it lead to the final defeat of the Overlord? Let’s find out together!

cf. Chapter 12 - The Fellowship and the Tour of the City