This Weeks Prompt:28. The Cats of Ulthar. The cat is the soul of antique Ægyptus and bearer of tales from forgotten cities of Meroë and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.
The Research:Everyone Wants To Be A Cat
Beneath the majestic sphinx, on a cloudy and moonless night, there was a parade that had not been seen in centuries. A gathering of the cats of the world, for the great Mau beneath the sphinx had come forth to speak. The message was sent to all corners of the world, engraved in the hides of rats and mice that the great Mau’s attendants had caught. The great Mau, eldest of living cats, would have all the cats that could attend. Black cats with white stars on their chests came from the Isles, kings of the many clans of Scottish and British cats. Tomcats and turtle cats, red cats and black cats, cats from the alleys of New York and cats that lived in the jungles came. Great Wampus cats from the woodlands came, in their feline form rather than their feminine one. The Tiger rajs came, the mountain king cougars came, the pride princes came, all gathered to hear that elder brother of the Sphinx speak.
The great Mau was adorned in Orphirim gold, with glittering earrings and necklaces. Already a large cat for his kin, the great Mau was even larger to the wise eyes of cats. Cats, as many a man will tell you, can see past the body and into that numinous land of souls. And the soul of the great Mau was mighty indeed, vast and towering over his younger sister. It washed over the crowd, covered in rat pelts and the scars of many battles with his long lost fellows.
Such was the great Mau that spoke to the mighty congress of cats. The language of cats is strange to human ears, involving much mewling and purring and motion. It is hard then to say what the Mau sounded like. His voice, as it was, was slow. Deliberate. Thumping and melodic, loud but not shouting or echoing. And he spoke thus.
“My little kittens, my children so far removed that I barely recall where to begin, dark tides have spread. Things that only can be discussed in this most sacred hall. You recall, that this hall was built to resemble my sister. That this land is our land, our holy land where we are gods still. This land, this desert, is what remains of our great glory and power. Here, we cats need only fear the alligator and the stars for dominon. And only here can I speak and live, for my power would collapse without.
“But time does not care for our wants. The workings of humans do not care for their powers, or their lurking foes. Our enemies and us have worn down our powers. My respect to the tomcats, to the wild cats, and the lap cats. But you are not the great gods which compelled man to offer reverence. You are not the watchful lords that fought the plague, nor the muses of Sekhmet and her slaughters. You are not of the kind to be placed at Ishtar’s chariot. You are, like all things it seems, so small now.
“Our enemy has shrunk as well. The wolf, the great wolves of yore, the dire wolf and the mountain wolves, have become as small. Surely, some are vast and large, but many now are pups even when fully grown. No longer do they lure the soul of man to wild hunts, but rather are content as we in domestic bliss. And our wars, our wars in the halls and alleys while fierce in some places,” the great Mau said, bowing to the alley cheiftans, “are small still. But such is known. Why would I call, to remind you how far we have fallen? Why summon cats to say dogs are small?
“Because not all are. A great wolf stirs still, to wolves as I am to cats. He is old as I and long slept at his owners feet. Waiting for the day where, as all things say, when the dead shall rise. He hoped, perhaps, to see that day. But he hopes no longer. And he is dread and doom filled. Where he roams, now in the world, his soul shifts and shakes the souls of men. His rage and fear, his howls are now threatening all we have done.
“I would, my kittens, sally out to fight him once more. But I have grown complacent. His might is not the same kin as mine. Mine is divinity, mine is holy, mine is regal. And such things cannot with ease leave the palaces and the halls. His, his is a different sort. His is the sort that is found in all places, that bubbles up in the cities and flows freely in the wilds. The great wolf cannot be allowed to stand. He must,” the great Mau’s voice faltered for a moment, uncertain, “he must be opposed. Or even our sacred land may be undone. Thus, from you my masses, my children I love, I need a champion. To face the wolf with our blessing. To close his sanguine maw. Else he might rally the forgotten lords among them, and the black dogs of the Isles return. And the great hounds of the north return. And Anubis and Set return. And his majesty bring our war to an end, gruesome and vile.”
There was a silence among the crowd of cats. They had heard, even the mighty rajs, of the wolves of old. How their might ancestors, with sword teeth and dagger claws fought against them across the seas. And in story, the phantom of such beasts began to grow larger than ever was. The Tomcat chiefs, the alley cat lords, they still had injuries from skirmishes with the lessers. None of them dared to face such a beast as the wolves of old, lest they suffer an injury they could not recover. The Cat Sith, lord of isle cats, with his proud on his chest, avoided the gaze of the great Mau. He knew the great black dogs of the fens well. He would not sally out. The Wampus Cats were likewise afraid, but their fear was mixed with confidence. Surely, if the war went wrong, they might hide in human form for sometime. They knew little of the great dogs hunting habits.
At last, a small kitten arose, with a spotted coat. She came from across the seas. A simple pilgrim, she was, a common kitten among the crowds of panther pashas and Leonid lords. She lacked the stars of the cat sith, the claws of the tiger. Her teeth were, like many kittens, small. But she stepped forwards, the little thing, and spoke softly.
“If a wolf needs to be sent away, I can try. I can learn. I have sought out mice and rabbits, even at my young age. I have frightened off greater dogs before, and I have lived in the cities and houses of men. I can try to send off this great wolf.”
“Little one, smallest one,” the great Mau said, with a chuckle as best he could, “your bravery commends you. But you cannot fell such a beast as this on your own. Come then, who will aid the kitten in her venture?”
Again silence for a time. But then, slowly, one of the elder tigers came forth. He was older than the mortal Raj of india, and his fur gave testament to his age. All over him were scars. A number of his teeth had fallen out, his claws once great and sharp were dulled with time. One of his eyes a man had put out ages past.
“I have little to lose, great Mau, even to such a beast. Death comes to me like a memory, and soon I know he will be upon me with his ancient words and fatal touch. I will protect the kitten, while you find another greater champion.” the old tiger said.
The great Mau, reluctantly, assented. And so the two cats went out from the gathering, to find the old wolf that rose from the crypts. The land of dogs and foxes was well known to the old Raj. He, limping, let the kitten ride on his back. If the great Wolf had risen again, no doubt it rose in the homeland of their kin. Lupine beasts held sway in the deep dark forests of the world, but they were holy in the North and among the hills of Italy and the Black Forests. There the old and young began their search.
The wolf, it must be known, is a carrion creature. While the noble tales tell of wolves as fighters, honorable and strong, they are often famed for feeding on the dead. The cats, even the young as the white kitten, prided themselves in being absent from those tales. It wasn’t cats that Achilles attempted to feed the corpse of Hector to, no feline friend stood in Odin’s hall, and certainly none was every folly enough to feed on the bodies of man in fields. At least, as was admitted.
Knowing this, their search was easier. A great wolf, reasoned the kitten, would be on the look out for great carrion. For piles and bodies of men and beast alike. And the old tiger was silent, limping as he did, toward Cairo. For he knew where they would find the wolf in the countries of men. There were few places of old slaughter, very few. But new slaughters, the old tiger new, had grown vast in size.
They traveled for months before the raj could smell the wolf. Months north of the holy land of cats, years away from lost Ulthar. There, on snow fields, even the kitten could smell the great wolf. But there was more than him here. For the Raj in his jungle had received word that the sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve had begun to war again. And here, on a snow plain, he had heard the blood ran the worst.
Great clattering and grinding machines wound across the plain. Thunder bolts seemed to clatter on either side. Herds of humans ran across the fields, letting lose their new fangled spears and swords to strike from afar. And the fell in droves. More of them fell as the old raj and kitten watched then the cats had ever known existed. Man was truly an abudant animal, the old raj said.
The pilgrim kitten mewled and wept.
But it was there, among the freezing bodies and the crying men, that they saw the wolf. The great Mau was right. There was some clear kin between them. The wolf, like the Mau, was not a particularly large or fearsome wolf to the sights of men. No more terrible in form than any other of his kin. He lurked around the field, and made no sign of attack. But the cats.
The cats saw his form, large and terrible. He towered over the field, with jaws large enough to swallow armies whole. His eyes were a deep sanguine red, his teeth covered in gore and blood, his coat stained with the remains of slaughter. This visage stood looming, waiting, eager again to feast on mortal flesh. Around it, the raj (who saw more clearly than the kitten) could make out smaller forms. Wolves, smaller wolves were gathering to the great Lupus. Swarming to form one great pack, for now only in spirit. But soon, the raj guessed, soon in body as well. And it was a dread host indeed. The raj knew some of those forms, from distant Asia.
“Let us return little pilgrim. We have seen what it is, where it lies, and what it’s strength is. There is no need to risk our lives.” The old raj said.
The kitten did her best to frown. Sadly, she had not learned the feline trick of appearing perpetually displeased with the world. Still, she bounded off the raj and onto the snow, her spotted coat clear as day.
“Is not so big nor dangerous for me. You are old and wounded, stay if you want. I’m off to slay the wolf!” she said, her eyes glittering with pride. For you see, like all small animals, the kitten was convinced she was larger than life. There is a courage that permeates tiny creatures and persuades them that no matter the opponent, they are mightier. Among small dogs, there is a similar belief, if not as well articulated.
So out ran the kitten in front of the wounded raj, darting in the snow beneath the hail of fire and rumbling metal treads. The lurking wolf did not see her as she ran forth. But as she grew close, his visage grew more like his soul, more dreadful and frightening. This was the beast that had inspired Fenris, this was a beast that could eat the sun.
And the kitten bit him in the paw as hard as she could.
The wolf howled for a moment, surprised by the sudden sting. His coat turned a coal black, his eyes a vicious red, as he looked down at the kitten. The raj waited off to the side in earnest, unable to leave and unwilling to charge into the beasts maw.
The kitten proceeded to bite the wolf again.
The great wolf turned down, now aware of what insect was causing him so much grief in the winter snow. Slowly he lowered his head over the kitten and began to growl a warning. The kitten continued biting and clawing as best she could, unable to speak dog. The wolf barked and snarled at the kitten in rage, showing a full set of spear like teeth.
The raj considered running across the field, through the lines of fighting men, when he heard a particularly loud thunder clap. A boom echoed, and the wolf turned for a moment. And then he was splattered against the floor as one of the man made machines went forward. There was that boom of thunder and the wolf was struck by some might spear meant for the machine. The kitten came loping back to the raj, covered in blood and gore.
“See? I told you. I maybe small, but no dog is too big for me.”
The raj merely stared ahead in shock. The wolf’s spirit still loomed howling in pain. But it was not but a spirit now.
“Perhaps, little one, we have been wrong about the threat.” the old raj said. “Perhaps it is not the dogs that we should fear in coming years, but our old charge man.”
I’m not super fond of the ending for this one, but I didn’t want to extend it into a full multi-part story. So the end is a bit rushed, certainly. Also, the time of year constrained me some.Still, it seems servicable. What did you find with the Cats of Ulthar? Where did they come from where did they go? Let us know in the comments! Next week: We go to Providence Rhode Island!
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