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“Younglings, gather round, for I shall relate another tale of our people and of clan Kellas.” The grey-furred Cait Sith stretched and shook her tail, then settled back into her comfortable armchair. The fuzzy youngsters paid little attention, more interested in their games.
The grey one looked annoyed. “There will be plenty of time to play furball afterwards, when the sun sets warm and red. Today’s tale tells how we became Changed, aided by the Great Storms, and how we came to this Realm. We no longer submit to the will of the Furless Ones, but find perfection in our new form. As future leaders of our clan, always keep in mind the saying that those who do not know the past will never understand the future. So sit patiently and learn from this story!” This last she directed at a couple of younglings who had begun grabbing and kicking at one another in a playful fight.
She leaned back and began:
“When the Veilstorms first lashed this world, our ancestors were barely as large as newlings, and they walked upon four paws in the manner of prey. Some of us lived in the wild; others dwelt amongst the Furless, assisting them, comforting them, and eating from their hands.”
Once more, the aged Cait Sith’s eyes opened wide, letting her stern glare bore into her frozen audience. “Younglings, it is for this reason that we will never take food from another’s hand, even if offered in friendship. Doing so implies subservience.”
In our oldest memories, so far back that even our perfect recollections are faded, we remember those terrible days, when hunters made their living by selling pelts to unscrupulous merchants among the Furless. Lacking sleek and beautiful fur themselves, rich folk would make our skins into liners for winter cloaks and finery, parading themselves about in their stolen beauty.
In those days, there was a Furless woman who claimed to love cats more than anything in the world. She kept many of our ancestors as pets, and as we didn’t know any better then, we ate of her food. She lived in a house on the edge of the wilderness, with a small farm and a barn. Other than her “pets,” her only companion was her husband. He was a gruff man, who hunted other creatures for a living.
However, one harsh winter, when the bite of the cold was like fangs in the heart, she passed away of a Furless sickness. Her husband the hunter buried her in the yard, muttering to himself as our ancestors watched sadly, wondering who would feed them. They had almost forgotten how to take care of themselves.
In those days, there were many dark rumors and stories about our kind, misunderstood superstitions that our kind stole the souls of the dead, or played vile tricks. Perhaps that is why the hunter went mad. Luring our ancestors with bits of meat, he gathered us all in the barn, and gently closed cages on us. He closed the latch with his Furless fingers, then stood back and laughed harshly.
“I am Palug the hunter of hunters. No more will you steal souls or take food from us. I will wipe your kind from the world!”
He began to kill only for sport, caring only for the pleasure of killing. He never ate out of hunger, and he never killed to help another; it was only the pure rush of bloodlust he felt every time he took a life, beating back the mad sorrow of his wife’s death which tore at his mind. Soon our blood, skins, and meat were not enough to sate his hunger for us, and he wore our bones like trophies.
Palug wasn’t satisfied with merely killing us, however. He took to keeping us alive, in cages, and feeding us scraps and morsels to keep us alive for his tortures. He wanted to destroy us; he wanted to take our noblest aspect, that of survivors, and turn it into a mockery of horrible proportions. This was how he thought he would protect the soul of his wife from our imagined powers. He loved seeing our kind in dire straits, and our mewling raised the roof of his barn like the wailing of dead spirits.
One of the poor creatures imprisoned by him was a wildcat called Moireach. She was a noble soul, born to be a wildcat queen of the wilds, but captured and put through horrible tortures by the hunter of hunters. There were any number of other cats, but he took special care to torture her, for he hated that she was a mother, heavy with newlings. He devised unmentionable horrors with starvation, needles, and a heated skinning knife. To truly degrade her, Palug plucked her whiskers and cut off the tufts on her ears.
Perhaps because of these terrible things, only one of her litter survived, a female with pure white fur. She was sleek and beautiful like her mother, but Moireach had little milk to feed her kitten, and the little thing cried her pain out in the night as she suffered hunger pangs.
Incensed at the noise, one morning Palug took up a bag and went to gather up any kittens he could find, to drown them in the river. It was as if he didn’t even notice the horror of it, as he delighted in their pain and fear. He didn’t think to look at the sky, where dark clouds had gathered and swirled overhead, gathering speed. The wind howled at him like a lost thing as he walked from his house to his barn, holding the bag in cold fingers. His other hand rested on the polished wood pommel of his great skinning knife, which was long and wicked, ready to slice you open with the look of it.
The Veilstorm overhead flashed and rumbled with terrible power. As a heavy rain began to pelt down, he picked up speed on his path to the barn. The air seemed to condense around his clearing, and his prisoners in the barn’s cages yowled and screamed as they felt the terrifying power of the Veilstorm bearing down on them.
Palug ran faster, and drew his skinning knife. In the sick and superstitious logic of his brain, he decided that his prisoners had called the storm upon him. He would have to slay them all.
Palug appeared in the doorway, a hulking form with a long blade. He had dropped the bag somewhere along the way. His breath steamed into the cold, rainy night as he stepped inside.
The first cage he came to held a sickly creature that he had been starving for months. It died quietly under his knife. The other cats yowled into the dark as the storm flashed its lightning outside, and shuddering magic shook the building.
The second cage held a younger, strong creature, whose once-beautiful ears he had sliced away. It fought and hissed its rage at him, but Palug was strong and wore thick gloves. The poor thing died screaming.
The storm reached new heights of crashing and thundering outside. Palug looked around in the dim light and laughed. The hunter of hunters rarely spoke, yet now he did, and his words were barely audible above the storm, even by those who still had their shapely ears. “You will die bad deaths. You dumb animals think you are so noble and so graceful. I will show you the color of your meat, and the storm will grant me my heart’s wish.” He laughed as he pulled away the skin of the caged creature he had killed and placed it on his head. “Now who’s next? Perhaps the new mother?” Shaking with powerful emotions, he lunged for Moireach’s cage.
At that moment, the storm broke open the barn like an egg. Bits of the roof flew through the wet air as the walls cracked and splintered.
In the hot white light that bathed the barn, Palug saw strange changes coming over the creatures he had tortured. They were growing, their eyes gleaming with pain and frustrated rage. Their skins stretched to keep up with their expanding bodies, and the cages around them buckled and bent under their weight. The hunter of hunters reached out with his hungry blade.
Desperate, her arms reached through the cage, straining. There was something wrong with her paw, Palug suddenly realized. It was twisted somehow. In truth, she had gained the claw of clutching, called an opposable thumb by the Furless. Moireach took hold of the latch and opened it.
With a shriek of frenzied strength, Moireach pushed open the rusty cage door. For just a moment, she stood there as the storm continued to change her, the cold rain soaking her fur as her bones cracked and popped. She stood tall before Palug, her arms around the child that he had been so eager to kill. Then, weak and limping, she fled the building through a hole in the wall. Before the shocked Palug could react, the others tore open their cages and fled also, screaming into the storming night.
Palug just stood there, too stunned to give chase. The storm’s magic had taken hold of him also. The blood on his hands crackled with it, and the killer fell to his knees, shuddering in pain as it began to change him. He was becoming one of the Suffering, which the Furless call Abominations.
Moireach ran on two legs for the first time, carrying her kitten in her arms. Not knowing what else to do, the others followed her, yowling and hissing as the storm continued to shape their bodies. They were awakening to new things, beyond the world of sights, smells, and simple thoughts, but in this cacophony of storms and wind they didn’t understand it yet.
Faced with death, they did what any rational being would; they fled, running as far as they could, as fast as they could, until they could run no more. They ran through the storm that seemed unending, avoiding any sign of other Furless habitation. Only more death could lurk there. Eventually, they left all habitable lands behind, forging a path deep into the Stormlands.
Many of those first of us died on the pilgrimage. They had no names, and barely had the chance to know or understand their beautiful new forms; yet they could die nobly, and did. We still hold the Midnight Lament on the anniversary of the day we could run no more. To this day and until the end of all seasons, we will honor those that died on that journey.
Lost in the harsh Stormlands, we were alone at last, in a land we could not recognize by sight or smell.
There, in the wastelands where none dared to follow, we continued to change. Moireach and the other survivors hunted for food, or scratched a living from the earth. They were hungry, and their hunger drove them to become greater, sleeker, more swift and terrible hunters. Within a few seasons, we became the most feared predators of the Stormlands.
Moireach took charge of our clan and our race. She used her cleverness, not just her claws, to lead us down a new path over the coming turnings.
Within but a few seasons we became the most feared predator in these lands. Some of us formed new clans, though clan Kellas was and always will be the greatest and purest of them. We, the Cait Sith, hunted and killed what we needed for food and put the Suffering out of their misery. We never hunted for sport, for that was the way of the Furless that imprisoned us, and we abhor it.
Life was hard for a while. The storms ravaged the land, and food was very difficult to come by. To protect ourselves, we tunneled into the earth, making burrows that could shelter us from the wrath of the Veil. Over the many seasons, through guile and cleverness, we learned much about the Furless and their magic and technology. Our society evolved and soon we were strong again.
Moireach was a great lady, and in her time in the Stormlands she was gifted with prophecy. Our leader told us of a dream she once had before the coming of the storms, of a Furless who was lost in the world. In that dream she saw him as both a victim and a leader, both weak and strong. She knew that his life was going to be in our paws. During the dream there was a great storm and as his life hung in the balance, she woke up. She told us to wait for that day, and so we did. Patiently, quietly, we watched the Furless, waiting for that sign.
As the fury of the storms abated, our kind began to return to what remained of the world. Unfortunately, we began to encroach upon the territory of our former subjugators. Seeing the changes wrought upon us by the storms only reinforced their fear and hatred of us. In a few brief encounters, we quickly fell to them as we lacked their armor, weapons, and strange magic.
Even worse, we had wandered into the territory of a great beast, a monster who had come from the twisted heart of a Furless, changed by the Veilstorms into a mockery of us. It was like a giant cat, big as a barn, but with too many legs and too few claws, which were themselves like curved swords. The five eyes of the beast were scattered around its furry and scaly body, and as it hunted it whimpered with the pain of its twisted and stretched joints. There was certain familiarity to the beast, perhaps in its smell or its furious gaze. The hunter of hunters had become the Cath Palug, a monstrous cat of horrible size and twisted strength, a terror of the Stormlands. Even after he had become one of the Suffering, this foul-hearted creature continued to plague our people.
And so it came to pass that many seasons later that Moireach’s daughter, the youngling she had carried from death, came into her full prime as a hunter. She struck out further and further, and became a very promising young warrior of Clan Kellas.
One day, she came to the edge of a very dangerous area, hunting quickly and quietly. She intended to catch the creatures we call the Suffering. It was a noble hunt, but in her eagerness, this young one had not properly scouted the area. A simple hunt became an ambush.
From a grove of trees nearby, a screeching growl was followed by a great crash as a gigantic rush of fur and claws burst from the foliage. The beast’s claws tore up the earth as it ran, throwing clods of grass and dirt into the air as it rushed to pounce upon her.
Gifted with the amazing reflexes and nose for danger that our kind possess, she had her clawsword out of its sheath before the Cath Palug had covered half the distance. The spines of the clawsword glinted in the sunlight. All of the youngling’s muscles tensed, and she prepared for her end.
With incredible grace, she leapt out of the way of the monster’s initial pounce, and struck one of the thing’s crooked legs as it passed. The razor points of the clawsword drew blood, which burst hot and red from the Suffering, and steamed into the air.
The thing let loose another growling shriek of pain and insane rage, turning to swipe at her with a row of mangled claws. Fast as the youngling was, she wasn’t quite fast enough. The terrible claws raked her side as she whirled away, and she felt her heart’s blood run into her fur. Undeterred, the youngling snarled and danced closer, looking for a chance to cut at the soft underbelly of the beast.
All her senses sharpened to a fine point and aimed at the monster that came for her throat. The youngling was barely aware of a shout from the same grove of trees nearby, where the creature had emerged. The noise was made by a Furless, a male. He was armed with a bright blade, and ran straight towards her like a hunter himself.
The terrible beast turned to look with its mismatched eyes, one slavering fang hanging out of its uneven mouth. The youngling warrior took advantage of its distraction to turn and face this new threat. Though she was surprised to find a Furless who would stoop so low as to help the Cath Palug, she would certainly fight to the last. She swung her clawsword in a mighty blow, trying to catch the Furless and tear him apart.
However, the Furless let out a shout of surprise, and seemed shocked that she menaced him. He ducked under her swing, rolled, and leaped up with the same momentum to slice at the confounded Cath Palug. The wretched creature roared, and in a blur of motion mauled the Furless, who could only only do so much to defend himself from the heavy blows. He refused to retreat, however, and somehow weathered hits that should have flattened him.
The Cait Sith youngling shook her head in consternation at his foolishness. Directly engaging the Cath Palug would certainly get him killed. Just as his head was about to be ripped from his body, she leapt back into the fray, beating the Suffering back with fierce blows.
Sweating, the Furless male acknowledged that she had nobly saved his life with a simple nod. Working with her instead of against her, he circled around to the opposite side of the beast, trading blow for blow. Although the creature was mighty indeed, the pair of them were great warriors, and eventually wore it down. The Cath Palug was reduced to a shaking hill of fur and rage, hissing and spitting at the fighters that had finally defeated it.
Our youngling looked at the panting Furless, ready for anything. To her surprise, he stepped back and gestured with his bloody blade, offering her dominance, and the honor of the killing blow. Our youngling did not hesitate to put the age-old enemy of her people out of its misery.
The pair of them sat wearily down on the grass to clean their wounds. The Furless didn’t have the decency to offer to clean her wounds, as custom dictates. Our youngling eyed him carefully, and took in his scent. It was at odds with his baffling behavior. Through the heady smell of blood, she felt his scent spoke to her of honesty and kindness, yet mixed with a hard quality, as though he could draw on deep strength from within. He was certainly ignorant and rude, however, for he interrupted her careful cleaning with talk.
“I am Arthur, and I greet you. I have come to this land to hunt Abominations. Most of them aren’t quite as fearsome as that thing was.” He smiled, but showed his teeth, which was odd. “I also wished to see for myself if the rumors of cat people in this part of the Stormlands were true.”
At that, the Cait Sith youngling’s mouth opened in shock. Yes, he had called us ‘cat people,’ that most vile phrase that makes us out to be no more than a strange breed of Furless, insulting both our ancestors and ourselves. It was all she could do to resist ending his life then and there, as the foolish one sat grinning in what he clearly thought was a friendly manner.
Trying to smile back as indulgently as she could, the youngling slowly stood, holding a rock behind her. She struck him quickly gently on the forehead, knocking the Furless clean out. Then, with great care, she tied him to his mount, which she found wandering in the woods. Leaving the unconscious Furless a deep scratch as a reminder of his visit, she sent him off back in the direction she sensed he had come, back to his more peaceful, habitable lands.
She watched the horse go, then returned home. The youngling shared the story with the rest of the clan, and much respect was shown to her.
Many turnings passed.
One day, our seers sensed that a terrible Malevolence was heading our way. As Clan Kellas has done for many a season, we moved our clan into the subterranean shelters we built long ago. We sent out scouts to survey the land, looking for any newlings that might have gotten mislaid.
One of our scouts was the youngling, who was then earning her stripes. Who should she happen to find riding through the wilderness alone, but a Furless?
He had aged somewhat, in that particular way the way the Furless do. But we forget nothing. The youngling recognized Arthur. She asked why he was foolish enough to be outside and so far away from home during such a storm. “He has about as much sense as he has fur and claws!” she thought to herself.
The Furless called Arthur was embarrassed, but explained that in his lands, the seers, which he called Stormwardens, had detected an incoming Malevolence that was heading straight for our home and he came to warn us and offer us shelter with his people. Warn us? As if we, who had survived the most terrible storms, couldn’t feel it in our fur when a storm approached. The youngling couldn’t decide whether to be insulted, laugh, growl, or just shake her head in dismay.
Eventually, she offered him the protection of our lair, for the storm was coming on quickly. He accepted her offer with hesitation, but became the first Furless to willingly (albeit not fearlessly) enter our shelter.
The other Cait Sith sniffed at him with wonder and anger, for our encounters with other Furless had not been friendly, and he did not do any of the greetings that are proper in another’s territory. He was very lucky to be brought in by the well-respected youngling, or he would have been gutted before he could blink.
There was a silence in the dark lair as the Malevolence raged above. A few newlings choked down their fears in soft whimpers.
In the darkness, the Furless that our youngling had saved began to speak. It was as if he knew the right moment, the perfect moment to speak. There, with the terrible forces of destruction outside, he began to tell his own story, but not one remembered. It was a story of the future. The Furless called Arthur told us of his vision for the future of his race, and for a place he called a Realm. He told us of his litter-mates, which he called Sword Brothers, and how they shared their rule, passing power from one to the other. He told us how he wanted to bring all of the survivors of the Piercing together as equals, and build a new society from the rubble of the old world.
Surprisingly, his mildly insulting vision–after all, we are not mere equals with the Furless–stirred some of our hearts. We saw in Arthur a Furless male who was not just interested in showing off his strength, but who wanted to truly lead his people.
As the storm reached its zenith, the female youngling’s fur stood on end, and she began to shake. Perhaps sparked by Arthur’s words, she was having a powerful vision. Like her birth mother, she had the capacity for clairvoyance, but this was her first time. She refused to say what she saw, but ran out of the room and down a tunnel.
Arthur followed her, worried about what he had just witnessed. Soon, others of our clan followed as well. When they reached her, she was deep in the throes of second sight. First visions are sometimes turbulent, and she lashed out with tooth and claw, wounding Arthur. Yet he would not strike back.
When she came out of it, she refused to share what she had seen, pretending she was only distressed that she had harmed Arthur. She did not tell him what she had seen of the future; she did not understand the fierce pain it brought her, or how her perfect memory of the vision brought her greater turmoil. She did not tell him of the splitting of the litter-mates that was to come, nor of the Betrayal that would nearly destroy all he built. Though her memory of the vision was perfect in every detail, she pretended to have forgotten it.
When the time came for Arthur to return to his fortress, the white-furred youngling let him leave without saying farewell. This was because she was making preparations. She received approval from her mother, Moireach herself, and from other elders. The white-furred youngling set out no more than a day behind Arthur, tracking him with consummate skill.
There was a meeting of some sort being held in the fortress of Arthur. Many Furless were gathering, wearing fine clothes and jewelry. The white-furred youngling hid and watched the strange ceremonies of the Furless begin. Then she caught the whiff of an oddly familiar scent and turned to look. To her utter shock, one pudgy man came bounding along wearing a heavy coat, made with furs. From the scent of them, they were the heavily-treated skins of her ancestors, old but still recognizable. Enraged, she started forward out of her hiding place, claws unsheathed.
However, she was immediately surrounded by armed guards, who eyed her coldly. The fur-wearing Furless man wrapped himself tightly in his coat and stumbled back, muttering.
For a moment, there was silence. One of the guards motioned toward the door to the main hall of the fortress. Rather than harm these Furless, who might be dear to Arthur, she allowed them to bring her inside.
Arthur was seated upon a chair, wearing an odd hat. While others bowed before him, she simply purred, but kept her mouth closed to avoid displaying her teeth. Arthur, much to his credit, accurately interpreted the gesture and nodded in return, waving his guards away.
His voice was gentle and friendly, but confused. “Why are you here, friend? What brings you to my court?”
The white-furred youngling stared at him. “That night in our lair, below the storm’s fury, I saw a glimpse of the future. Of your future,” she added, as several other important-looking Furless filed into the hall behind her. The fat one with the skin cloak came in glaring, and her tail began to lash in annoyance.
Arthur never took his eyes off of her, but leaned forward in his chair. “What did you see?”
The youngling fearlessly turned to face him once more, holding herself still, though something about his gaze pulled at her and made her want to run forward. “That, I cannot tell you. But I know this; you will need the aid of our clan, clan Kellas. At my urging, Moireach my mother has called on us all to come to your lands and help you with the great troubles that are coming.”
There was a tumult in the hall, with many voices raised in shock and disapproval. “These creatures are dangerous, and do not belong in the Realm!” They cried, drowning out the few words of approval or appreciation for an alliance with the Cait Sith.
The fat man stepped forward with a furious look, his voice booming across the hall. “As a seller of fine furs, I fear these cat people will prove quite a problem. I will not stand for it!”
Arthur silenced his people with a stern glance and a gesture. He stood from his chair and walked over to the youngling and bowed most graciously, expressing his gratitude properly for once. “Your people are most welcome. I thank you and I accept your aid, believing that whatever troubles may come, I will weather them with your help. I have seen for myself what fierce fighters you can be.”
In return, the Cait Sith nodded her pure white head. “Then I shall return to my people, and tell Moireach my mother of your acceptance.” With a swish of her tail, she turned to go.
But she was blocked. Spurred by some foolish self-righteousness, the fur merchant stepped in front of her. “What insolence! This is ridiculous!” Then, as he noticed no guards rushing to his side this time, he quailed a bit and looked from side to side.
The youngling stepped closer, dancing lightly on her feet. “No, this is ridiculous.” With a deft flick of her claw, she severed the strip of leather that bound his cloak across his shoulders. She plucked the cloak away from him, then leaned in and smiled. With teeth.
A wet stain appeared on the Furless merchant’s pants, spreading rapidly down his legs and dribbling onto the floor. He reeked of fear as he stumbled out of her way.
As the youngling walked out the door, Arthur called to her and said, “Wait. Before you go, my lady, may I know your name?”
Ignoring the insult of being called a lady (which the youngling knew was unintended), she looked back to Arthur and said “You do not have the patience nor the vocal capacity to properly speak my full name. Some of your kind have called me Gwenhwyfar; you may call me Gwen.”
With a shake of her white tail, the youngling walked out the door.
The aged Cait Sith leaned back and stretched. The sun was low and warm; an excellent sunset for a nap. “And now, my younglings, you may go play more furball.”
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