Catalat wakes & starts dreaming, these are her days. She wakes & starts dreaming in the great garden of her family's home. She sometimes sees her parents, the servants say that they are her parents & she believes the servants, who have after all raised her and have never been deceitful. They have been misleading though. She wakes in her huge ornate bed, in her huge ornate room in her huge ostentatious house. It's the only place she's ever been but it is obviously both huge & ostentatious - even to one who's never experienced anything else. The manor spreads over the land a marble & crystal monstrosity.
When she sleeps she is aware - conversations are had over her supine form, discussions involving her, and she is asked questions which she answers, though asleep. Though asleep she experiences the realities of her life. When she wakes she begins dreaming.
One day she wakes not in the huge ornate bed, but rather on the grim folding cot in the cramped grim room full of cots & other sleepers. She does not know any of them. The servants enter the cramped grim room, which is after all, only a canvas tent. These servants wear long knives & animal skins, they are not gentle. They take Catalat & the others out into the sun, out in the sun there is a camp in a rough clearing surrounded by a tropical forest, surrounded by snowy mountains on all sides. A river flows nearby. In the middle of the camp is a concrete pylon with thick cables attached to it, they rise into the sky at an angle and are lost to sight somewhere off in the misty skyward horizon. A ship is moored at the pylon, it is held in midair on the cable.
The servants load the ship which has a bank of mechanical doors on its side with unmarked wooden crates. Catalat & the others watch this happen and are held back by the armed servants. Then, when the crates are loaded, she is pushed onto the ship along with the others. They are not gentle, but they are not cruel.
The servants drive the passengers up the back stair, a spiral stair of bronze grillework which lies beyond the banks of wooden benches with their blown out wicker caning. The ship is old & tattered but has an element of faded ostentation about it. On the upper deck there are more chairs still. She sits & so do the others. She can see through a window that the ship attaches to the cable by a mechanism made of bronze & iron. It is held aloft by many brazen fists, each as big as her head. She sits patiently because this is her principal occupation, having been raised to the task of calm patient waiting.
The fists begin to move & clack, the ship lists and judders and climbs the cable into the air. This is frightening & thrilling. The other passengers all start & mutter, none of them speak a language Catalat knows. The ship climbs into the clouds, there is a heavy mist in the air within the ship, a clammy fog that conceals even her hand in front of her face. Catalat falls asleep & still does not dream.
Her body changes in her sleep. She feels it happen. Her face & limbs, hair & teeth, everything about her becomes more symmetrical. Her shadow grows, longer & longer, her hair & eyes loose their pigment & become part of her own shadow. Her flesh becomes more taut on her bones, which grow stronger & lighter. She is aware, without knowing that her physiology is gaining another layer of expression, that this transformation was within her all along.
When she wakes she begins dreaming, she can see that the others have changed themselves, they resemble themselves all the more. One man steams with a burning inner heat, another with a tremendous internal cold. One casts light from her eyes, another is taller & more rigid, anothers' face is a muddle of mismatched pieces, and another sweats & salivates freely, dripping wet.
The ship is descending through the sky into a vast, unknowably vast city. It spreads out, titanic buildings & plazas, forests & waterways in every direction - it is immensity itself. On every horizon plumes of fire & smoke rise and the city has no boundary, save the sky, through which the ship descends.
It comes near to ground in a great plaza surrounded on all sides by towering buildings of various descriptions. Below the car, where it settles at it's pylon, is a great thick skin of red glass - a circle of heavy glass that must be a hundred feet across. The servants come, they are wrapped in scarves, they gather the altered passengers and push them from the ship. Then push out the crates. Then the ship departs, leaving for the sky.
The plaza is surrounded by four buildings, one is a gigantic cube rising high into the sky, ten or twelve stories, it is a bare concrete edifice with regularly spaced windows, between the windows are a fringe of Red Circles, the barest decoration. She takes a wooden crate and pushes it across the glass toward a bank of immense glass & steel doors that fronts the building. Inside, there is a small forest of beautiful tropical plants lying across a plain of smooth polished concrete. A wide lobby with a single concrete desk, the plants dividing out the interior of the building from this great portico. She examines the plants in the dim interior - they are silk, and between them there are concrete stairs that descend further into the building. Another of the passengers has dragged a crate behind the rectangular concrete desk.
The stairs descend into a sunken lounge with a very large circular bar in the center. scattered throughout, lying on thick red carpets are circular sofas, also red. Catalat finds that the red of the room gives off a faint illumination, a slight smoldering that allows her to see as if in dim twilight. She finds in the cardinal directions of the lounge that there are stairs to other lobbies, through silken plants, and between these cardinal edges there are spiraling stairs that climb up to a raised mezzanine, and then beyond, into a ceiling. She takes her articles from the Crate, including a live hen, and ascends the stairs as far as they will take her.
She finds herself in the corner intersection of two hallways with walls painted different shades of red, the floor made of shining white tile. A series of doors lies on the righthand wall of the righthand hallway and the lefthand hall of the lefthand hallway. She takes a sinister approach and looks a the first door on the left. The mechanism that keeps the door closed or would have has been broken & dismantled, the door opens into a bright room full of mattresses & sofas all upon thick red carpet amidst enameled white walls. The windows are broken out & a cooling breeze is upon the room. Two doors lie to the left and two to the right. From her left she hears the bleating of a goat and the squealing of piglets. Through those doors she finds a pair of rooms, one a strange elaborate bath wherin a goat is tethered. The other is an elaborate, fanciful kitchen, in which a sow & her piglets is installed. These chambers are all a strange blend of exotic fancy cluttered with the modest implements of a rustic living. It is jarring & peculiar. Dust & rubbish is everywhere. Catalat decides to tether the goat, her hen rides on the nanny goats horns as she begins to lead them out of the room. As she does so, activity outside draws her attention.
Another ship has descended on the plaza below, the red-circle plaza which the window looks out upon. This ship has no servants however, it has enormous men, like gorillas, or apes like men - Ogres, huge brachiating figures dressed in metal & rags they descend on the plaza and attack the few passengers who remained there, snatching up the crates and then departing in their ship leaving behind the mauled body of the one passenger who attempted resistance, a tiny, futile figure streaming light from its eyes as it was crushed by indifferent giants. The ship leaves and a trio of black forms descends from another building framing the plaza. These fall to the ground like the shadows of mantas, huge & with a visible mass, and as these dark pools fall over the red glass circle they attain another dimension become the forms of standing figures, preening birdlike, they surround the body of the dead man. Catalat sees that they are physicians.
She rushes back to the plaza to see what they are doing - finds that the man has been flayed, his organs drawn out to some unknowable purpose. The Krow-Doktors talk to her in stilted complex voices that grind in the air. "We've taken the essence form it that we need take all else as you require." And they fly back to their perch, hidden on the nearby roofs. Catalet falls asleep & begins to act without dreaming. She takes the one whole arm that remained from the body's autopsy and removes the bones, these she modifies and alters, creating a series of interlocking bone fragments that can be arranged as a puzzle with the final form being a weapon. Armed with the Bone Puzzle Sword she feels safer and goes back to dreaming. She returns to retrieve her Hen & Goat and goes about exploring the rest of the Red Circle Tower.
On the fourth floor she finds another unlocked suite which faces out down an alleyway where the Red-Line-Cable-Car had traveled, she can see it bumbling off in the distance, as well as the roof across the street where the Krow-Doktors linger, counting their vials. As well she can see the iridescent, barely present cuckoo-men who have been lurking in the room, looking out from hiding! She has broken their cover and they whistle & shriek at her.
They are almost translucent, the Cuckoo Featherhood being all but intangible, their mass diffusing around them - the pair are surrounded by halos of dust. They shriek their bird-muzzles, whistle incoherently and are immediately angry for Catalet has stolen their goat! It seems there will be a confrontation, but the Tangbile Hawks are cowards. They leap out the shattered windows and drift, one up, one down to other portions of the building, crying out their inscrutable yelps - "Thief! Thief!"
The Krow-Doktors offer arbitration - a whole jury & prosecution of birdmasked strangers. The Krow-Doktor Bensalem says resolute & certain in three voices at once (since who knows how many mouths or throats lie on the other side of his mask) that possession is the only law known, the only rule enforceable, here, in The Fabulous Unknown City