Katts and Dawgs
In the Name of Truth
by Roberto Sanhueza
Table of Contents
appear in this issue.
|part 1 of 4|
In the far future, Man has mysteriously departed, leaving Earth to three Sentient Peoples of his creation: Katts, Dawgs and Mysse. The Sentient Peoples have developed separate civilizations of their own, which flourish but have weaknesses: the Dawgs languish under theocratic militarism; the Katts’ society is patriarchal and stagnant; and the Mysse, though clever and well organized, are superstitious barbarians.
Caught between cultures, two non-conformists — a Dawg, Phydo, and a Katt, Thomm — form an alliance that is uneasy at first, but in their adventures they soon become fast friends. They discover Kitti at the gate to the Stairway to Heaven and, at the top, Adam, the last of a Sentient People older than their own. The little band of outcasts joins forces with the wise Dawg Rover Quicknose and even the unlikely Mysse to battle the warrior priests of Kannis.
Lucius, an evil simulacrum of Man left over from Man’s last days on Earth, captures the four friends, who have penetrated his mountain lair just as Lucius unleashes on all the Sentient Peoples a monstrous army of mutant insects. In the battle, Dawgs, Katts and Mysse form an alliance that is uneasy at first...
Nearing the end of his life, Adam leads his friends beyond the Andes to an ancient Archive, where one of them must, once and for all and for all the Sentient Peoples, come to terms with their creator.
There are a number of reasons why a Dawg boy should go into the Order of Man’s True Legacy, if the Order is willing to take him.
Status, for one. The priesthood is at the time the ruling force in Kannis and everywhere in the patch of land Dawgs call their own in the Sentient Peoples’ country.
And a sure meal every day is very attractive to many a poor boy coming from the farmlands around Kannis.
But more often then not it isn’t actually the boy’s choice. Quite a few Dawg fathers see the Order as a way for their sons to rise out of servitude. When they can, they make the youngsters take the entry trials.
Oddly enough, none of these reasons applies to Phydo Bones. He didn’t go into the Order of his own accord, nor did his father send him. He is one of the rare few who are chosen for the Order by one of the high-ranking priests. Willingly or not.
And Phydo was chosen by none other than Fluff Fourfangs as he was being promoted from a powerful Abbot to the even more powerful position as the current High Priest.
That doesn’t mean any special privileges for Phydo. If anything, he has had to fight harder than the average ’prentice to prove his worth.
It is been three years now since Phydo last saw his family, and he has grown from a shy boy to a quiet young Dawg.
He is also about to finish his apprenticeship, and we find him as he begins the last part of his training as a soldier priest in the Kannis Castle garrison. Today he and his friend Bernavold Thickfur are presenting themselves to Brother Mathody, the captain. They stand in front of him, standing absolutely still and looking straight ahead, unblinking.
“So this is what I get when I ask for worthy ’prentices, maggots! What are you vermin good for? Can you hold a sword decently? Can you recite the three Holy Litanies?”
But Phydo is not greatly impressed or frightened by the captain’s outburst. He expects no less, actually, and he knows there’s more barking than biting to this Dawg.
Phydo and Bernavold both shout in unison, “Yes Brother Captain! Hallowed be Man’s name!”
“At least you have good manners. Go to Brother Rufus, the sergeant. He’ll put you in a cell, sure enough.” And Brother Mathody leaves them, laughing at his own joke.
As the sun sets over the high spires of Kannis Castle, all Brothers not in guard duties retire to their quarters after the dusk prayers.
Bernie can’t hold his excitement, as he looks out the tower window. “We’re here, Phydo! We made it. We were assigned to Kannis Castle after all!”
Phydo, much less the excitable type, only smiles. “Yes we are. And I suspect your uncle Maximattis had something to do with it.”
Bernie feels some of his excitement cooling down at the mention of his uncle. Brother Maximattis holds one of the highest stations under the High Priest. “Yeah, I guess he did. In my case, anyway. You would have made it to this post on your own. You were the highest-ranked in our class.”
Phydo only shrugs. He doesn’t particularly like to brag.
Bernie goes on. “I’ve got to do well, Phydo. I’ve got to show my family I’ll be a worthy Brother and I can go as high as my uncle.”
Phydo laughs heartily. “You will, Bernie. But what about starting your ever-ascending career tomorrow morning? I would like to get some rest now. It’s been a tiring day.”
But Bernie has stars in his eyes and he doesn’t answer.
Phydo shakes his head and turns around in his cot and is soon sound asleep.
Bernie still looks out the window, as the shadows slowly shroud the stone city in a silent blanket, and Kannis rests for yet another night.
* * *
The Order of Man’s True Legacy is military, but it is a priesthood, too. Thus, the duties of apprentices also include studying the Scriptures. And Phydo is good at it. While studying Man’s words is a painful imposition for Bernie, Phydo finds solace in that ancient wisdom.
Kept in the innermost part of Kannis Castle are the Holy Tablets, the word of Man set indelibly upon incorruptible material of a kind not seen among the Sentient Peoples. Today, Phydo and Bernie stand by Brother Macklios, the Keeper, inside the vault. They behold the Tablets.
“This scripture, apprentices,” says the old Dawg. “Can be read only by the sagest of our Brothers, and certainly not by... other Sentient People.” Disdain is clear in his old voice.
Phydo stares in wonder at the old relic. This his first actual sight of a real creation of Man. “Are there... are there other remains of Man?”
“There are not, and there cannot be.” The voice comes from behind them.
The three Dawgs turn around and behold a smallish Dawg, clad in a plain black robe. All three of them lower their heads and cross their right arm over their chest. “Your Holiness! May Man’s blessing be always with ye!” the three of them recite in unison.
“As unto yourselves, Brothers. You may rest at ease.”
This is the first time since entering the Order that Phydo has seen High Priest Fluff Fourfangs. The High Priest’s face has grown haggard and his shoulders a little more stooped in these past three years, but his eyes show the same intelligent and ruthless fire as ever.
“So here you are, Brother Phydo, contemplating the very foundations of our beliefs.”
Phydo bows again before answering. “I have not yet taken the vows, your Holiness. I do not deserve to be called Brother.”
A fleeting smile crosses the High Priest’s face. “You will, young apprentice, and to much praise, according to your teachers.
“But returning to your original question: our orthodoxy tells us Man left the Earth, searching for the higher planes of existence. And left the world to the Sentient People, leaving nothing behind that might lead us astray from our path. And mark my words, the Holy Tablets and some very few objects kept by the Order are the only accepted remains of Man.”
Bernie, feeling left out of the dialogue, intervenes. “But your Holiness... what about the old ruins? Everybody says there used to be a city there, a Man-made city.”
The High Priest’s icy stare freezes Bernie in place. “Has thy uncle not taught thee to remain quiet until spoken to, apprentice Bernavold Thickfur? Speak not about what thou dost not understand.”
The use of the singular pronoun in the Common Tongue, meant for addressing inferiors, is like a whiplash on Bernie. He lets out an involuntary yelp and falls on his knees while invoking the litany of forgiveness.
Somehow mollified, the High Priest turns to Phydo once more. “What your fellow apprentice says is true to some extent. Common lore and superstition have it that those mounds, placed at a three days’ ride from Kannis, are the remnants of a Man-made city.
“But common lore can hardly be called orthodoxy. We in the Order accept only this: from the old ruins, the Stairway to Heaven can be clearly seen in the distance, and that, the Stairway, is truly a remnant of Man’s greatness.”
Having made his pronouncement, the High Priest turns around and walks into the shadows of the chamber, leaving behind two dumbfounded apprentices.
* * *
Thomm Sharpclaws is a Katt, and as such he is a free soul and not very fond of the walls both real and figurative that enclose the Sentient Peoples’ souls.
Furthermore, he is an outcast from Kattsville, for reasons he would rather forget if he could. They involve the death of a young Katt girl.
He is wandering through the Sentient Peoples’ land and trying to appease his soul, hoping he will some day find the peace of mind to return home. He rides Glider, his flying steed. Glider is a huge tame bird of the kind Katts have nurtured and trained for centuries.
Today is no different from the day before, and Thomm rests atop one of the huge trees that dress the Sentient Peoples’ lands in so many hues of green.
For lack of a more talkative companion, Thomm chats with Glider. “After Man’s departing, Glider, the Sentient Peoples decided to split the land among themselves and live their lives in their own. You know Kattsville, and you know we Katts have some contact with Dawgs, but I don’t think you’ve ever seen a Mysse lair, have you, Glider?”
“That’s right, Mysse. We are pretty much in the middle of Mysse land, but you won’t see much of those little pests. They keep mostly underground.”
“Just as you heard. Disgusting, isn’t it? But they seem to enjoy living in holes.”
“No way, Glider! There are no Mysse around... What’s that?”
Bewildered, Thomm sticks his face through the foliage and looks down.
“A small Mousse girl! Standing alone in the middle of the clearing. What can she be doing there?” Curiosity — very strong in Katts — and the innate desire to stay out of other Sentient Peoples’ business — also very strong — fight for predominance in Thomm.
The little Mousse girl remains standing, head downcast and unmoving.
Slowly and quietly Thomm comes closer, sliding from one tree top to another. A sudden noise draws his attention from the other end of the clearing.
Crouching; ready to spring, a big feline predator, much like Thomm but at the same time beastly different and obviously non-sentient, has espied the girl.
She hears him too, but she doesn’t move. That is, if you don’t count her panicked shivering as moving.
“A cougar, Glider!” whispers Thomm. “What is it doing here? They are mountain beasts, and they don’t usually come this far down the lowlands. And it’s about to have that poor girl for lunch!”
Almost without thinking, Thomm is on his feet and jumping down from the tree. No matter how cynical and unbelieving Thomm considers himself, Man’s words are deeply ingrained in him since childhood: “Thou shalt not suffer a Sentient child to come to harm, if thou canst so help it.”
As he falls, he signals Glider and points to the girl.
Thomm lands on his feet — as Katts always do — right in front of the cougar.
“Here, old coot! I’m much meatier prey than that poor little girl!”
The big beast seems to hesitate and back up somewhat, but he soon makes up his mind, and with a roar he charges.
But Thomm is no longer there.
He has barely touched the ground when he nimbly springs back with a somersault onto a tree branch.
Glider, meanwhile, has flown to the Mousse girl and gently catches her with his claws. She seems to fall out of her stupor now and begins to wail and shake as the bird goes back to the safety of the trees.
The cougar takes some time to understand the new situation. Somehow his prey has evaporated, and all he has left is a mocking Katt throwing twigs and laughing at him from the tree.
“Get lost, old bully! Get your lunch somewhere else!”
“Old bully” seems to consider his options, but after some growling and throwing killing glances at the Katt he apparently decides Thomm is a much more difficult prey than the Mousse girl, and he disappears into the bushes.
Thomm turns to the girl, who is still crying. “All right Moussy, the cougar is gone now, you can stop crying. What’s your name?”
But she just keeps on crying.
“I said it’s all right, you can stop crying.”
“She doesn’t understand you. She doesn’t speak the Common Tongue.”
Fast as lightning, claws fully extended, Thomm turns towards the voice coming behind him. He is surprised but a little ashamed, too. A Katt is never supposed to be caught off guard.
Copyright © 2007 by Roberto Sanhueza