There were two lands in the realm where KittyGirl came from. The land of tall grasses, and the land of rock. Between the lands ran a long corridor of water— not quite a river, not quite a canal— with a simple dirt bank path at some points along its edge, including the large-ish dirt landing outside the great entry doors of the land of tall grasses, and across the water, the entry doors to the land of rock. Around each land was a high wall into which these doors were fit, and the wall was topped with a walkway connecting the great turrets at every corner, and the lesser turrets spaced at irregular intervals along the way. On the side of the land of tall grasses that was not bordered by the high wall, there was a mountain so steep and so cragged that no one dare cross it, with the shorter grassy foothills of the mountain sometimes spilling into the land of tall grasses. KittyGirl didn’t know what lie on the other side of the land of rock.
KittyGirl came from the land of tall grasses— pale green grasses that were so tall that they swallowed a person (they could even swallow elefanths!), and so densely packed that it was impossible to see further than the tip of your fingers when travelling between the clearings. In the capital clearing, there was one hut— a tower of sorts— built to be high enough that its penthouse floor was above the tall grasses, and in this penthouse was a fancy restaurant, with the best riverfish, the best smut, the best dandelion wine, served on great long tables in the open air, giving a clear view for all its patrons of the vast sea of vegetation stretching as far as the eye could see, to the edge of the horizon and beyond (when looking doorwards or tackwards), and a clear view of the mountain on mountainside, and the top of the high wall rocklandside. KittyGirl had eaten there once, on a very traditional capital third date, and seeing the endless sea of grass, the grass he’d always been swallowed in, stretching on forever and ever, made him sick. Sick to his stomach, yes, but also sick in his mind, like he was having a dreamterror that he couldn’t wake out of.
Living among the tall grasses had given KittyGirl, and most of his fellow citizens, a set of abilities unique among Homeworld inhabitants:
• to keep track of party members when travelling between clearings, residents of the land of tall grasses had developed a remarkable ability to find regular patterns among visual static;
• to mind their way when travelling alone, residents of the land of tall grasses had developed an extensive understanding of acoustics, guiding their journey by hearing how the wind, how the elefanth calls and the bleating from the aurox herds, how the sound of the creeks babbling through the land, bounced between the high wall and the mountain, changing shape with the slightest turn of the listener’s head;
• but neither was their vision impaired, for once they were in a clearing, KittyGirl, along with most other residents of the land of tall grasses, could see variations in color that most people could not, recognizing the difference between violet and infraviolet as distinctly as you can tell red from blue.
• Finally, residents of the land of tall grasses knew nothing of claustrophobia—how could they when they lived their entire lives consumed by the green around them?—but in some, KittyGirl especially, that ease with confinement was replaced by absolute horror when it came to vast open spaces, an unshakeable agoraphobia resulting in sickness, fear, and ultimately insanity if the exposure went unchecked. KittyGirl kept his fear in check—no dining at the capitol tower, no visiting friends on guard duty along the top of the high wall, no attempts at climbing the face of the mountain—and the rest of life came easy.
And these were all attributes that KittyGirl would need to complete the mission fate was about to choose him for.
When the agents from Bears Lodge, federated capital of the realm that included the land of tall grasses, and the land of rock, and the corridor of water that wasn’t quite a river and wasn’t quite a canal, came to the land of tall grasses looking for volunteers to travel with them back to Bears Lodge and embark on a vital mission, KittyGirl was the first, and only, ‘aye’ from his home cluster of clearings.
He’d been to the capital cluster in the land of tall grasses many times, and now he was excited to see another capital, a bigger and more bustling capital, with homes and trading centers stacked in enormous cloudcutters as tall as his mountain and as dense as his grasses. And when the agents from Bears Lodge traveled to his little capital, he went with them, and he felt even more certain of his decision, though in the capital cluster, again, KittyGirl was the only ‘aye’ to volunteer. That none of his peers, none of the high wall guards, none of the children of the important people, were willing to take on such an important mission had steeled KittyGirl’s resolve, and his capital began to feel very small to him now.
At his insistence, the agents from Bears Lodge took KittyGirl with them as they travelled further into the land of tall grasses, looking for volunteers, but none were found. KittyGirl was the only ‘aye’ from his home cluster, the only ‘aye’ from his capital cluster, and even among all the people from the great Medicine Bow cluster that lie tackwards of his capital city, whose fires you could see burning if the night was very clear and you had the courage to ascend the capitol tower, no one else volunteered. With each clearing they came to as they travelled all the way to Medicine Bow cluster and back, the agents from Bears Lodge would explain why they needed people from the land of tall grasses, people who can see patterns in the visual noise, move by sense of sound, live comfortably in tight spaces, and even when the agents explained how important this mission was to the survival of the realm, still, no one volunteered, and KittyGirl’s land grew ever more tiny and insignificant in his mind.
No one else volunteered, so it was KittyGirl, alone, now angry at his people for being small and weak, as he left with the agents from Bears Lodge, walking backward through the great entry doors, and onto a boat docked at the water’s edge.
The boat moved against the flow of the water, upstream, tackwards, as it meandered its way back to its launching point at Bears Lodge. The outside of the high wall KittyGirl knew only from the other side stretched on and on, as did the water, as did the outside of the high wall on the other bank, the high wall that surrounded the land of rock. But where the land of tall grasses had greater and lesser turrets along the wall, the land of rock had larger and smaller openings cut into the wall’s side, and these openings were filled with translucent crystal and glass in hundreds of shades of pale tans, desaturated reds, throbbing ambers, fiery roses, and buttery ecrus. KittyGirl was captivated by the changing ballet of colors and grateful that he had something to watch, to distract him from the unbroken view tackwards, of wall, and bank, and water, and bank, and wall, and mountain.
Hours after boarding, as KittyGirl heard them passing by the outside of the high wall wherein he could hear the urban hubbub of the Medicine Bow cluster of clearings, he allowed himself to look up at the wall, to see the guards walking from one turret to another, and then he looked to the horizon and saw it all stretching on forever, all just the same as far as he could see, and he felt sick, and felt angry, and felt frightened, just as he had felt in the penthouse restaurant in the capitol tower, and he went below deck, to his small and warm and comfortable and soothingly close quarters, and he slept.
Hours later, KittyGirl woke when it was already dark, and he had missed the sun sinking below the high wall of the land of rock. He didn’t usually watch sunset, but he had planned to earlier that day, thinking that a momentous occasion such as this should be marked by a momentous consideration of his place in the world, marking his journey by sunsets and ringrises. Wandering the prow of the boat, he still saw the high walls on either side, but now glowing with radiant heat while the windows of the land of rock had shifted to shades of berry and wine, casting colors on the water’s dark surface. KittyGirl figured it must be the time between sunset and ringrise, since the Sun was down and the Rings were not yet in the sky. Surely he hadn’t slept through a ringset as well. The land of tall grasses might stretch beyond the horizon, but the idea that his home could be this large was simply impossible; he’d traveled with the agents from Bears Lodge all the way to Medicine Bow cluster and back and the land of tall grasses must have ended just beyond that, because he knew his land was small, and produced people with small ideas, and small notions of their place in the realm. No, surely he hadn’t slept through ringset already; with his back against the masthead, KittyGirl sat on the deck, crossing his legs, watching the colors from the high wall surrounding the land of rock, and tilted side-to-side, waiting for ringrise so he could get a bearing on time, and by that an idea of distance.
Ringrise never came.
Or, rather, KittyGirl had already slept through the rise and set of the Rings, and he knew this now. Hours he had been awake, tilting. This realm was far grander than he ever expected, and thinking about it made his head spin. As the sun broke between the lower peaks of the mountain, the high walls on either side of the water remained unchanged— greater and lesser turrets with guards walking between them closing off the land of tall grasses, and smaller and larger cutouts filled with colored crystal and glass along the high wall that blocked off the land of rock— but by the time the sun was overhead, igniting the wood grains of the boat in a fit of browns and golds, the high walls had begun to break up, growing smaller the farther tackward they went, and by the time KittyGirl had his evening meal, the high walls had crumbled to ruins, leaving no barrier between the grass, and the water, and the rocks.
By ringset on the second night, KittyGirl couldn’t shut out the fear he now felt. Not the fear of a thing, but the fear of a feeling, or maybe the feeling of a fear. His land was too large, he could not find his place in it, and knowing that it flowed on and on til almost forever made KittyGirl feel tiny, and alone, and naked.
The doctor on the boat gave him a powder to calm his nerves, and that helped; and when they finally reached the vast metropolis at Bears Lodge, KittyGirl buried himself in the alleyways between the enormous buildings and cloudcutters, crushing himself among squeezes of people moving from street to street, and that helped, too. But KittyGirl would never be the same. In his home cluster of clearings, he had known that his land was big, but now he knew it was barely a spec compared to the whole of the realm… and his idea of the realm was about to get infinitely bigger.
[Keep reading: Chapter Two]
[Or, go to: The Beginning]