Chapter 2 here
Chapter 3 here.
Chapter 4 here.
Chapter 5 here.
Chapter 6 here.
Chapter 7 here.
Chapter 8 here.
Chapter 9 here.
Chapter 10 here.
Chapter 11 here.
Chapter 12 here.
Chapter 13 here.
Chapter 14 here.
A sensation washed over her, a feeling like the whole land was laid out in front of her.
She’d thought of it like a big line, not all that wide, maybe the distance one could walk in a few minutes.
In front of her, the land spread out for days in all directions.
Malina gasped. “It’s huge.” No, it was more than huge. “It’s – it’s impossible. There’s not that much land on the whole continent. There’s not that much land in one place in the whole world.”
“There never was.” The cat’s voice sounded as if it was coming from a very long way away. “There never was, and yet there always has been. Forever and ever, and never, that’s the way of this place.”
She thought he was talking nonsense – and yet as she looked, she could see what he meant. This land existed out of space. She could reach for it and find it, because this was the land the crown was for, but at the same time, in the same place, she could look and see that its connections to other lands, to the waters, to the ground-beneath-the-ground, as a tutor had called it, all of those connections were thin, were nearly gone.
Or, she corrected herself, maybe not nearly gone, maybe just barely started. “It’s not here,” she began slowly. “Wait, that’s wrong. Here is here, but it’s not, ah. It’s not – it’s not part of the same world that home is, that I am. That we are?”
“Neither are correct, and yet, ‘that you are’ is more correct.” The cat stretched. “This place has always been a little bit aside the other world, and after the Final Treaty, it became more so. It became removed. But it also became a bit removed from the cycles of things. Birth and death, cold and hot, rain and dry, those cycles? In separating – well.” The cat paused for a moment. “I’m not sure. The memories here – aren’t. They are missing, for the most part, which is – well, annoying,” he added with a bit of a catlike squeak. “I think, and some of my ancestors think, that what happened was that they needed to make sure this pale was here to wait, in case certain things came to happen. Things that you have caused to happen, I might add – wait.” There was another pause. Malina looked at the cat, who seemed somehow very far away, with the feeling of the world still laid out just beyond her vision. “Let me try that again. You and the things caused each other to happen? The things caused you to happen? Oh, well. You are very important to the things, at the very least.”
Malina huffed at the cat. “You’re not making nearly enough sense.”
“The facts are not about sense. The facts are about – reality, and that has never been something that made sense, young one.” The cat huffed right back at Malina.
Malina rubbed her face. Some part of her vision was still seeing the whole of the realm, which was beginning to give her a headache. “Let me try to understand, please.” She took the crown off and set if carefully in its nook, which cleared up the vision problem, at least temporarily. “This place – this place isn’t the castle, it’s a whole realm, yes? A very large realm.”
“It is now very large. I have theories on this,” the cat admitted, “but I believe those should wait. Yes. This place is the land, the realm.”
“And on a map, back when one is walking through the world as I knew it two days ago, it is a narrow strip of desert and cacti… spotted with small oases which are hung with the banners of – they have to be-” She sat down. “The signers of this Final Treaty?”
“You are picking up very quickly, yes. The oases and the banners mark the borders between the worlds and the border that this realm became,” the cat agreed. “Most people in these days, as I understand it, do not see the oases, or perhaps they may see one or two. Most people see only cacti, and they get turned around back to their home.”
“But not me…” she trailed off. “All right, one thing at a time. This realm was – um. – removed from the world? From time? From everything?”
“Not from everything, or it would not be anywhere.” The cat shot an amused look at Malina before it turned around twice. “Removed from the time and the wold of – of the world you came from, the world this place had come from. Yes.”
“And this was a result of the Final Treaty?
“That is, ah.” The cat looked away. “Yes and no. In a way. This realm was already becoming disconnected, and the Final Treaty Gathering was called because of that. And then the Final Treaty finished the work of separating things, and made a peace that could not otherwise have been, as I understand, as I remember.” The cat groomed his tail thoroughly.
Malina took all that in. She looked at the cat and then around the room. She looked at the crown and then looked at the table where food, food which was fresh, had arrived. “And I – I could see the oases?”
It was hard to accept that the oases wouldn’t be there for anyone who wandered through. For anyone her tutors or parents or their host might send to look for her.
It was hard to accept that she was somewhere… somewhere she’d never heard of or imagined.
She picked up one fig she had left over from lunch and ate it slowly. “And I – I was supposed to see the oases?”
“Of course.” The cat stared at her. “You saw them, didn’t you?”