Transcriber's Note: This tale is narrated by Shade, a talking cat who accompanied Enigma on their travels in 250 AC. Her parenthetical side remarks are reproduced in italics.
Where do cats get their arrogance? Their (fully justified, I might add) superiority? Why do they stare into empty corners and growl at nothing? Listen and hear, O two-legs, to the oldest tail cats tell. Not all remember, but I do. Hear the tale of Argues-With-Death, or How Cats Got Their Purpose.
Many and many a year ago, when humans yet weren't and before titans ruled the land, before aelven empires and falling moons, there lived a cat. His person, a wonderful, kind, considerate protean girl named Fuss, called him Mittens, for his feet were white and his body was black (like mine, except he was not as beautiful as I am) . Now Mittens already was not a young cat. He had lived a good life in the company of young Fuss. In fact, he had already begun training his successor, a kitten named Whiskers, to properly care for Fuss and look after her needs once he himself passed into Shadow and was forgotten.
But then, on one sad day, Death's Hand came for Fuss before her normal time. "Hiss, yowl, growl" said Mittens, for cats had not yet the gift of mortal speech. I'll translate for you non-cats, and will spare you the original language. "O woe is me! How will Whiskers live, without a person to care for? Fuss was not old enough to walk with Death before me! I should have gone first! Woe, woe! I must do something, 'an it cost me my remaining lives. For Fuss and for young Whiskers." The language of cats is very dense and rich with meaning.
And so Mittens set forth. Chasing the departing spirit of Fuss through Shadow (for the veil was weaker then), fighting off the hungering denizens of that dreary place, subsisting on the spirits of mice long since eaten, Mittens fought onward. Onward and onward, day after unchanging day. Until one day (if day has any meaning in Shadow), he came to the resting place of Death's Hand itself, the lair of the dread Watcher at the Gates of Infinity. Dragons are the only creatures with longer names than cats. But old Watcher's not so bad, really, once you get to know him.
That ancient wyrm , First Servant of Primordial Death before the Dawn War, ruler of Shadow, vast and uncaring, looked down at this bedraggled figure, battered, hungry (ghosts of dead mice aren't exactly filling, you know), and worn. YOU ARE NOT DEAD, it said, in a voice that shook the ground and threatened to unmake brave Mittens. THIS IS THE REALM OF THE DEAD. LIVING THINGS DO NOT BELONG HERE. And he was right--this was even before the foolish cysgor made their bargain.
"You took my person before her time. I've come to take her back," Mittens replied, heedless of the danger and not fearing the titanic presence of the planar ruler. "Who now will bring me milk in return for mice? Who now will give me head pats and a warm space to sleep, curled up at her side? Give Me Back My Fuss!"
ALL THAT LIVES MUST DIE, quoth the wyrm. THAT IS THE FIRST LAW. YOUR FUSS WAS NOT SPECIAL.
"Fuss is special to me. Give her back. I will sacrifice everything I have, everything I am, just give her back. Take me instead--I am an old cat, and most of my lives are already spent. But I still have strength to render service. And if not for me, then give her back for the sake of young Whiskers. He needs a good person to watch after, that he may grow up a proper cat."
AND WHAT CAN A LITTLE CAT DO FOR DEATH?
I can hunt, I can walk the boundaries between Life and Death, going where you cannot. I, my children, and my children's children while the world stands will hunt the lost souls, guide the fallen to their place, and will find those who mean harm and bring them low. We will live in both worlds, guiding those that pass into Your realm and watching after those that stray untimely, guiding them back to Life. Just Give Fuss Back!
The dread Watcher, amused by this fearless feline and his dry heart touched by his resolve and grief and love, smiled. And bent low, staring the cat in the face. THUS IS THE BARGAIN STRUCK, AND THUS IS THE SEAL ON THE PACT EMPLACED. YOUR FUSS SHALL LIVE AND WHEN YOUR TIME COMES (FOR COME IT WILL), YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN AFTER YOU WILL COME AND SERVE ME.
And thus it was. Fuss awoke, with faithful Mittens (now called Argues-with-Death, first of the wardens of Shadow) at her side. And thus is the cat's purpose--to guide and hunt the souls of the fallen in this world and in the world beyond. And thus we have served; and thus still serve.
So when your cat stares into corners or growls at nothing, she is merely doing her duty. She looks beyond the veil into Shadow, and warns of things there. Do well, oh two-legs, and heed her warning. And give her head pats and warm milk, and let her cuddle up to you when it's cold. For the sake of the love Mittens bore Fuss, love that reached beyond the grave into Shadow, love that warmed the heart of Death's Hand itself.