About Cats

Heroic & Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction Character created by Kevin L. O'Brien

Red Sonja, © by Rich M. Bailey

Untitled, © Angus McBride

About Catsn the Medb hErenn universe, domestic cats are exactly like the way they are in our universe, except they are much more intelligent. (Though people in our universe who are lucky enough to be owned by cats would dispute this.) Cats are only one of three creatures who are true Dreamers — i.e., can enter the Lands of Dream — the other two being humans and spiders. In fact, like humans and spiders, it was Dreaming that made domestic cats sapient — i.e., conscious and self-aware, and capable of acting with appropriate judgment using reasoning and analytical thought. Though the last of the three to accomplish this, shortly before their domestication, they have gone the farthest, achieving logical, mathematical, and analytical feats humans can only dream of. However, so far cats are the only species of these three to realize the power of Dreaming. In the Waking World, they hide their sapience, preferring to live as pets or strays rather than reveal their secret to humans, but in the Dreamworld they live and act with impunity. After all, who would believe someone whose only evidence that cats are intelligent is his Dream experiences?

Feline Origins

According to cat mythology, Bast, the Great Mother, is a Servitor of the Aions, the divine powers that ordered the Cosmos. She was assigned to watch over Nyarlat, in the days before he merged with his brother, Azathoth, and became Nyarlatophis — "Nyarlat is Fulfilled" — and she became at first his escort, then his confidant, and finally his lover. They mated numerous times, but Bast became pregnant only once. Yet she gave birth to a litter of kittens, all of whom were fathered by Nyarlat. Each was birthed as a pair, representing every species of cat throughout the Cosmos. Known as the First-Born, they are immortal, being as they have no physical existence but represent the Platonic ideal of each species; as such, they cannot cease to exist unless their species becomes extinct. The First-Born live with Bast until such time as they need to travel to the world where their species will appear, and they remain there until their species goes extinct and they dissipate back into the fabric of the universe.

After becoming Nyarlatophis, he tried to seduce the First-Born into joining him, but whereas some wavered in their devotion to Bast and few almost defected, only one pair actually did. They became the progenitors of the Outré Cats, known popularly as the Cats from Saturn, though their species has many breeds scattered throughout the solar system. Contrary to human assumptions, however, these cats are not considered traitors by domestic cats, though they are acknowledged as blood enemies. The Outré Cats are still accepted as Children of Bast and are given the same choices and rewards as all other cats. There isn't even a cat hell.

When the First-Born pairs mated, they created the next generation, the Second-Born. They had a physical existence, so needed a spiritual essence to give them life. Bast created souls for them from the milk of her breasts (which explains why cats love milk), and continues to do so for all new-born kittens of all species, even the Outré Cats. And when any cat dies, even an Outré Cat, its soul returns to the bosom of Bast, to be suckled for a time before it moves on.

The Second-Born were not immortal, but they could live for millions of years. Nonetheless, when they died, as some did, they were gone forever, unless the First-Born mated again. For this reason, Bast initiated the Choice. Whenever a soul returned to her after one life, she offered to let it stay with her, as one of her attendants, or to return to physical existence for another life. In this way, the Second-Born could go on, life after life, for as long as they wished.

The First-Born mated only once or perhaps twice, but no more than that. The Second-Born, however, were prodigious breeders, and produced thousands of litters in their many lives. These were the Third-Born, and the burden fell upon them to populate the world with their species. Bast recognized that this and all subsequent generations could not be as long-lived as the Second-Born, so she began to reduce the lifespans of each new generation. The Third-Born would live for thousands of years, the Fourth-Born for hundreds, and the Fifth-Born for decades. Beginning with the sixth generation, she finally instituted the standard lifespan of twenty years. Also, beginning with the Fourth-Born, she reduced the number of lives a cat could live to nine. And she decreed that once the Choice was made, it could not be revoked: a cat would have to live all nine lives or forfeit the remaining eight. Yet few cats ever regretted their decisions to live extra lives (and it is impossible to know how many cats who choose to remain with Bast regretted that decision).

The First-Born are immaterial and cannot manifest themselves in Medb's universe, though they can send dream-messages to the members of their species. Though material, the Second-Born prefer to live in a parallel universe similar to the Asgard of Norse mythology, from which they never leave, though deserving cats can visit it. Both generations are revered by domestic cats, but they are not worshiped as gods, rather they serve as characters in a mythology similar to that of the ancient Greeks. The Third-Born became the feline equivalent of demigods and great heroes, forming the basis for much of feline legendry. They are said to still inhabit Medb's universe, but in secret domains hidden away by powerful magic, from which they venture forth from time to time to see how their species are doing. None of the Fourth or Fifth-Born are believed to be alive, but a handful of the Sixth-Born are said to be in their ninth lives. Selgach Mór, the current High Queen of All Cats, is Seventh-Born along with her litter-brother, Lucifer, and the leader of her Council, Cúcath, is Ninth-Born. After the tenth generation, however, cats stopped counting, since so many souls were being reborn it was difficult to know whether a soul was new or not.

Though only domestic cats are sapient, the First through the Third-Born of any species are said to be not only sapient, but wiser than any successive generation. This then begs the questions as to why the later generations of other species lost their sapience, and domestic cats remained sapient or reacquired sapience. According to cat lore, like the reduction in lifespan and the number of lives a cat may live, this was by the will of Bast. She had recognized that humans would be true Dreamers and thereby acquire sapience, but it wasn't until they began to settle and raise crops that she realized they could become a danger to her Children, since this could lead them to developing civilization.

So she called a council of all the First-Born and asked what should be done. The big cats advised exterminating mankind before it became too powerful, but the small wild cats advised avoiding them. However, the First-Born domestic cats suggested that their people live with humans and watch them, thereby postponing a decision until it became clear just what kind of threat humans posed, if any. Bast took their suggestion, but knew that as a result they would bear the brunt of humanity's innate cruelty, so in compensation she declared the domestic cats to be first among all species. This earned them the enmity of the other First-Born, especially that of the Outré Cats, in violation of the Will of Bast that there should be no conflict between her Children. As such, in retaliation she declared that all generations after the third for all species except domestic cats would no longer be sapient. Most modern philosophers and theologians now believe that sapience is a byproduct of Dreaming, which is an emergent property unconnected with Bast's Divine Will. Nonetheless, cat lore claims that this is why, alone of all feline species, a domestic cat will be killed by a member of any other species in defiance of the Will of Bast.

As a final note, the purpose of the Choice is a major mystery to domestic cats. Unlike the question of sapience, there is no myth, legend, or folktale that explains why Bast offers it, though philosophers and theologians have suggested a myriad of possible explanations through the ages. It's on par with the human mystery of why there must be suffering in the world. Most cats just accept it for what it is and don't agonize over it, yet most also wonder about it at least once in the lives.

Feline Metaphysics

Cats believe they have three souls, or rather their souls go through three incarnations. The first is the Ka, the soul as created by Bast. It is the equivalent of the lifeforce, and the newly formed kitten bodies cannot live without it. Upon entering the bodies they come alive, and they will die when their Kas leave. The second incarnation is the Ba. It is the equivalent of the personality and it is what makes an individual unique. It develops within the living cat throughout his life, but it remains separate from the Ka. When a cat dies, his Ka and Ba return to Bast, who fuses them into the Akh. It is this joined soul that is then given the Choice. Those that choose to complete the cycle of lives return to new kitten bodies as Kas, but with the personality and experiences of the first life intact. These kittens will acquire new Bas, that will then fuse with their Ka/Akhs on death to form new Akhs, that will then become new Ka/Akhs in bodies. This continues through all nine lives, until the final fused Akh returns to Bast for the last time. In each life after the first, the new Ba can be influenced by the personality and experiences contained in the Ka/Akh, so that as cats get "older", their old personalities start to predominate. In especially "old" cats, such as Selgach Mór and Lucifer, their personalities do not change significantly from life to life.

In addition to the soul, cats recognize the existence of the Ren, or mind, which represents the intellect, and the Ib, or heart, which represents the emotions. They see both as purely physical components of the body, such that the Akh can be enhanced or inhibited by a Ren and/or Ib that is greater or lesser than in previous bodies.

Feline Languages

Domestic cats have two languages. The first is the Common Tongue. It is taught to all kittens by their mothers as they nurse, and it is the language of everyday conversation and commerce. It is also the language humans are permitted to learn. It is difficult and few humans learn to speak it well, but a large number of people, mostly Dreamers, can at least understand it. The second language is the Sacred Tongue. It is the language of Bast, taught to all newly created souls, but only domestic cats remember it and can speak it when they are born into physical form. They use the Sacred Tongue for all political and religious meetings. The only humans who are even told of the Sacred Tongue, much less permitted to learn it, are those who have been initiated into the central mysteries of the Bast cult, and no one has been so honored since the death of Cleopatra.

Cats are also taught the common tongue of mankind, so they can understand what humans are saying, but just as humans have great difficulty speaking the cat Common Tongue, cats have a similar difficulty speaking the human common tongue. However, with perseverance some can manage it, and it seems that there are more cats that can speak human than humans that can speak cat. Other languages that cats routinely learn are Ghoul and Zoog, which they can speak more easily. Some cats will also learn the common tongues of prey animals, such as birds or mice or squirrels, while others concentrate on more exotic tongues, such as Basilisk, Gnor, Leng Man, or Wamp. Some legendary cats are credited with knowing the language of the Great Ones, or even the alien Outré Gods.

Feline Names

As first revealed by T. S. Elliot, cats have three names. The Face Name is how they are known to anyone outside their immediate family and circle of intimates. They can choose this name for themselves or it can be bestowed upon them by an elder, but they do not generally receive it until they are about a year old. Though generally in the Common Tongue, a Face Name can be in any language, and it is not unusual for a cat to have a name in a human tongue. They tend to describe some aspect of a cat's appearance, mannerisms, or lifestyle. This is, of course, the name humans are allowed to learn. The Face Name of Medb's cat companion is Crèmedevoyager, which is French and means "Master of Travelers".

The Heart Name is how they are known to their immediate family and circle of intimates. It is generally given to them at birth by their mothers, but sometimes by an aunt or grandmother, or rarely by their father. These are always in the Common Tongue or rarely in the Sacred Tongue, and are meant to indicate some aspect of the cat's personality, though they can be purely whimsical. These names are rarely told to humans, and even then only to exceptional people. Crème's Heart Name translates into Tiger-Soul in English, and he has not told it to Medb, even though she saved his life.

The Soul Name is that known only to the individual cats themselves. It is given to each newly formed Ka by Bast, so it is always in the Sacred Tongue, and it is meant to reflect the ultimate destiny of each cat. The problem is, once cats are physically born, they forget their Soul Name and must rediscover it. Some cats learn it very early in their first lives, while others never learn it throughout their nine lives. Humans are never told a Soul Name, and few cats know of them either, because to know a Soul Name is to gain power over the life and destiny of that cat. Crème has not yet learned his Soul Name, but he is only two years into his first life.

Feline Government

Contrary to their appearance of being independent, governed by no one except themselves, domestic cats in fact do have a government of sorts. They are ruled by a Queen, advised by a Council of twelve elders, one of whom is the Council leader. The feline monarchy is neither absolute nor constitutional; the Council advises the Queen, and she makes the final decision. The Council leader in turn speaks for the Queen when she is away or otherwise incommunicado and acts in her stead if she becomes unable to rule, until a new Queen is chosen. The Queen is also High Queen over all other cats great and small, though this title is pretty much honorary given that no other cat species is sapient.

Feline Warfare

Cat warfare is based on the concept of personal combat. Though cats attack en masse, each cat fights on his or her own, more or less independently of the group. Cats wear no armor, and use no weapons other than their fangs and claws. Though cats can carefully plan battles and campaigns, the actual attack is fairly straightforward: leap on the enemy, grab with the fore claws, bite, then rake with the back claws, before leaping off to reposition for another attack. If a cat can find a vital area or inflict mortal damage, he or she can hang on and continue to bite and rake. Few foes can withstand the damage caused by half a dozen cats attacking more or less simultaneously.

Cat armies are built around the legion. Each legion has 1000 cats divided into ten divisions, each of which is further sub-divided into ten squads. Each squad is lead by a decaturion, while each division is lead by a centurion. The legion as a whole is lead by a milleturion, who takes his or her orders from the commander. The commander in turn has a staff of three tribunes to oversee administrative concerns, and is served by an aide-de-camp. These five individuals are not drawn from the legion's compliment, but rather are added on by appointment of the Council of Elders.

Ten legions make up an army. One legion commander is selected to lead it, and he or she is given additional tribunes and a second aide to help with the extra administrative duties. Ten armies in turn make a corp, with one army commander selected to lead the corp, and granted still more tribunes and a third aide. Cats do not use auxiliaries, but they have fought with humans or Ghouls on occasion, either using them as mercenaries or as part of a larger combined force.

Though there are enough legionnaires to field a full corp, cats seldom field more than several squads and rarely more than a few divisions. Only once have cats been forced to deploy more than two or three legions, and that was still just a single army. Though naturally cautious, when battle is joined cats are such reckless and tenacious fighters they can put the most bloodthirsty human berserker to shame. Even Medb has been awed by their battle lust and ferocity. As such, a few can seem like many more, and huge numbers are not generally needed.

Feline Society

As previously stated, cats do not reveal their sapience in the Waking World. As such, they have no social organization except for secret meetings that T. S. Elliot called Jellicle Balls. In the Dreamlands, however, cats are highly organized. Their Queen and her Council are located there, in the city of Ulthar in the Six Kingdoms. This is actually a fairly recent change, though cats had worshiped Bast at the temple of the Great Ones for some time. Where their seat of power had been located before, no man knows and no cat will say, but once Kranon the Burgomaster had decreed that in Ulthar no man may kill a cat, the Queen and her Council moved there permanently. Ulthar is now the center of cat activity in the Dreamlands, and at any one time there may be three times as many cats as people in the city. In fact, some have suggested that now Ulthar actually belongs to the cats, but if Kranon has regretted his impulsive decree, he has not said so publicly, and continues to honor the Queen and her Council as guests.

As might be expected from a society ruled by a Queen and not a king or royal couple, cats trace their ancestry through their maternal lineage. But this is for practical reasons rather than cultural or political. Like women, female cats (called "queens" by humans) ovulate only one egg at a time, but they can ovulate as many as a dozen times while they are in heat. They are most receptive to the male (called a "tom" by humans) at that time, and they mate fairly frequently, with each mating stimulating the next ovulation. However, they can and often do mate with many different toms, so each egg can be fertilized by a different sire. As such, a kitten cannot always know who his or her sire is, but he or she always knows who his or her dam is. So it is easier to establish family ties and descent through the dams rather than the sires. The only exceptions are the times when a tom is so strong he can drive away any rivals, or the rare circumstance when a queen and a tom are so devoted to each other they mate only with each other.

Though the greatest concentration of cats is found in Ulthar and the land surrounding it, cats range over all the Dreamlands, even going to places unknown or dangerous to humans. They are even said to visit Kadath in the Cold Waste. They seldom visit the Underworld and rarely the warrens of the Ghouls, but the only place they never visit is Inganok in the north. No man knows why and no cat will say, but cats who find themselves on ships bound for the onyx city will throw themselves overboard and drown rather than risk setting one paw in the city. It had been under both Divine and Royal ban for a thousand years, and is likely to remain so for another millennium. Cats can even travel to the moon, where they love to romp and play on pleasant nights. They do so by leaping en masse from high points, though a few special individuals can do so alone from any height. They often use the moon as a short cut to cross vast distances very quickly, since from the moon they can leap down to any part of the Dreamlands.

In the Dreamlands, cats have formed a messenger relay corp similar to the pony express. Messages are passed from cat to cat until they reach their destination, though each cat can cover enormous distances on its own. So efficient is this corp, that the Queen and her Council can have news within days that even Kuranes cannot have except after weeks of travel. Deserving or powerful humans can use the corp to send message in emergencies, but otherwise its purpose is to keep the cat elders informed of events throughout the Dreamlands, not benefit the trivial pursuits of humans.

And yet, cats are often sought after by people to serve as judges or couriers or witnesses and the like, being as cats have no interest in any affairs except their own, and those of others that effect them. Their total disinterest makes them dispassionate and objective observers and reporters, and their powers of analysis and mathematical logic give them the ability to coldly and rationally evaluate any situation and determine the correct course of action. Though fair and just, cats care nothing for people and their concerns, such that their impartiality is born of contempt rather than compassion. Yet they are valued for this neutrality regarding human societies, and are often asked to be envoys and negotiators, escorts and trustees, even spies and pickets. As stated at the beginning, cats act with impunity in the Dreamlands, because they fear nothing except the Outré Gods and the Outré Cats, and they readily retaliate against any insult. Anyone or anything who harms or kills a cat is ruthlessly tracked down and mercilessly punished, usually with death, as a warning to all others. As a result, while Ulthar is the only location to specifically outlaw the killing of cats, cats are generally safe from harm anywhere in the Dreamlands.

As a final note, cats are generally believed by philosophers to be the epitome of Existentialism. They better than most understand the Absurdity of existence, the Freedom of choice, and the Angst of responsibility, yet their actions make them appear as if they truly believe life, the universe, and everything is far from futile. They demonstrate the Existential belief that actions, not some predetermined essence, define their lives and give them meaning and worth.

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