The card is drawn slowly, revealing an image of a majestic winged cat. The caption below explains a thing or two, but leaves most questions hanging.
Sphinxes, the dealer says. They fill the City of Death, watchers that have made their way into every corner, and every permutation. They have the run of the place, like the cat of the house...
The silence falls like a stone. The filling time is at hand, but as always, nobody knows where to begin.
They're not known for their intelligence, one of the watchers finally says.
Yeah, mostly they're just known for eating souls, another says. And stories, he continues. Any soul with stories to share is safe. But why? Why would they value stories so? Why the entire soul if it has no stories?
Another jumps in. Maybe they just like stories?
No, there's more to it than that, the second says. They lost something. Broke something. The stories give them purpose, sure, but it also gives them something back of what they lost.
The other looks sceptical. But they're cats. What could they possibly have lost?
Aren't they a type of celestial? the first asks. They're not regular cats, but angelic beings.
The third snorts. Angelic? Have you been drinking?
In the sense of planars, the first explains. They're native to the City of Death. They've been there as long as there's been a City of Death. What would they have lost, if this is simply how they were born?
They nod at this. It fits.
But what if they were somewhere else before? another asks.
Before? the first says.
The third eyes him askance. What, before there was a City of Death?
He shrugs. Maybe? Why not? Arah is older. Some places are.
The second nods. Arah's the oldest. The centre.
No it isn't, another says. The centre is where things ended. The Material.
First interrupts, 'Material' is a misnomer. It's just another plane.
Another, silent until now, jumps in. With planets. Right.
'Plane' is a misnomer too, second says. They're all... we should be calling them mirrors or something, not planes. They're pockets. Realities all their own.
Third snorts. Right.
Arah was the first, second explains. It's why it opens up to all the others. It's why it has all those doors. It's a construct that ties the others together, because it's the main. The 'Prime'. It turned into a city when the other planes grew out of it like mirrors drifting further apart as the glass warps, because they still connected by the doors. So folks from the lot of them came to Arah sometimes. And they met and traded and built and over the course of a very long time, it became the centre of everything.
And the cats... another begins. What, came from there?
Forth nods. Or passed through. Even the gods' realms are connected, for they're mirrors too. The cats could have just shown up soon after because what the hey, why not.
Fifth grins. Oh look, a clean city, it's not even covered in cat hair! My brethren, to me! We must rectify this at once!
Second shrugs. Fuck if I know.
So that's why those cats kept sitting on my desk whenever I washed it... fifth says consideringly, then nods.
Second snorts. Cats.
Sphinxes are cats, first says. Weird cats, but cats.
After a pause, second says, You don't get a cat to defend your house, though. You get a dog.
So? forth says.
Second looks at him pointedly. So why the hells would the City of Death be full of cats, then? What purpose do they serve?
Third shrugs and says, Decor.
Hey kitty! I'm going to get up and pet you now! fifth says, gesturing it out.
Well, maybe you gotta get the dead to move somehow, fifth says. Suppose it were dogs. All the dead would just sit around while the dogs are defending everything!
Chortles rise around the table.
Right... third says.
What, it's a theory, fifth says with a shrug.