A small village of Tabaxi lived in the wind-touched land of the Endless Plain. Grasses swayed gently, and reeds clicked like cicadas from a breeze carried from a distant ocean. Above, where the seasonal white birds scatter in the blue sky like shining minnows in the nearby lake, Sky’s Mirror, one could see the rolling waves of grain broken only by clustered glades of deciduous trees. An ancient event, unrecorded and lost to any prying eyes, made the shallow, circular basin where mist gathered every evening and listlessly rested until dawn. It was here, in the village of Misty Basin, that Standing Sticks was raised and lived most of his life until adulthood.

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Sticks, as he prefers to be known, lived a perfectly average Tabaxi life. Misty Basin continued its existence, never pushing further from the crater than it needed, as it seemed satisfied with importing commodities and stories from afar. Village members took pride in absolute mastery of the vocation of their parentage, finding joy in ancestral fortitude of tradition. It was always known that something was awry — almost amiss, but it is easy to ignore that which truly isn’t “that bad.”

During a stroll, fueled by innocent curiosity of course, Sticks came upon an interesting boulder warm from the afternoon sun. It appeared to be any other boulder, but the grass around it was matted down as if by a great weight. Sticks walked many circles around this rock until curiosity faded, and he did what any true Tabaxi would do: crawled on top to take a nap. To his surprise the boulder swayed under his weight, a meager ninety-five pounds, and rolled to the side revealing a deep hole in the earth. With newly piqued curiosity Sticks cautiously climbed down into the hole.

Claws took purchase in the crannies between rocks as he descended, all the while the light above growing dimmer. He heard a click as he shifted weight to his left foot and froze in panic. Soon after a rumble filled the chasm and the rock above began to roll back into its original resting place. Panic turned to terror and he began to clamber quickly to get out of this trap. A single misstep, mere feet from the exit, caused Sticks to fall uncontrollably into the hole and deeper into darkness. It was then he learned, with the corresponding thud, that unconsciousness has a different darkness than lack of light.

He awoke on a bed, surrounded by a few of the same average peers and elders that worked tirelessly on their crafts in Misty Basin, but the sky was not blue, nor were the clicks of the reeds audible. He was in a cave. These few Tabaxi around him, soon explained Sticks’ situation. He fell into a cave, a dried aquifer they surmised, that happened to be used by the soldiers of Misty Basin. Such an idea was shocking to Sticks! Throughout all the occupations that he observed, his destined to be a grocer, solider was not on the list.

“In secrets we have found the greatest defense,” said Lone Tree, an elder who was famed for his steamed buns. “It is not that we do not defend ourselves and our traditions, but that we value them so much that we hide the battles and struggles that could undermine them. And those who would choose us enemies will always underestimate us.”

A young Sticks, whose professional life had yet to start, had accidentally fallen into a new, and some would say destined, profession: a shadow of the Endless Plain.

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