Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thrass Kaffa

We felt Thrass Kaffa before we saw it. After days in the dry air of the Golden Desert, the breeze this morning carried tiny droplets of water, which collected on every surface in the caravan. People walked along with their mouths open, drinking the water that condensed on their tongues. We were soaked by the time we reached the city.

The city of Thrass Kaffa is built beneath the Neverending Waterfall. The Waterfall comes straight out of the sky; if there were ever any clouds, it could almost be an exceptionally precise rain shower. Most of it has spread into a fine mist of spray by the time it reaches the ground. The constant wind of the Golden Desert blows the spray over the entire town, so everything is constantly wet. Rainbows appear at random in the air. Somehow, a whole collection of jungle plants ended up here many years ago; they've thrived in the dripping heat, growing over and through the entire city. Thrass Kaffa is a tiny patch of rainforest in the middle of the Desert. It's like being back on the Greenhouse Cliff. The buildings are draped with vines; orchids and bromeliads sprout from sandstone gutters. The streets are full of sunlit mist and the dripping green explosions of tropical plants.

There used to be a lake in the middle of the city, but by now, the jungle and the surrounding farmland drink up all the water that reaches the ground. The fish have taken to the trees instead, since there's nearly as much water in the air as on the ground. You can see them occasionally, wriggling up and down the trunks. Groups of Kaffans gather occasionally to race them.

Surprisingly, the city's aquifrax has never complained about the disappearance of its lake; it only seems to care about the Waterfall. The water that reaches the ground is no longer important. The aquifrax refuses solid gifts, disdainful of anything coarse enough to be affected by gravity, but it happily accepts offerings of music and poetry. It's said to have exceptional taste. When walking through Thrass Kaffa, it's common to find writers and musicians with their heads raised, blinking, singing or reciting their work to the rain. Every so often, the rain gives them an answer.

No one knows where the Waterfall comes from. Several of the city's avians have flown as high as they could, trying to find its top, but they all ran out of strength before they ran out of water.

Of course, not many avians live in the Golden Desert; most avians capable of flight need to eat nearly half their weight every day, and food is not quite that plentiful here. There are far more avians in the comparatively lush Blue Desert. In Thrass Kaffa, there are actually a surprising number of amphibian people - nearly all of the ones in the Golden Desert, I believe. Men and women with glistening, speckled skin pass by with perpetually damp clothes and brightly colored lap-frogs, only a few streets away from the waterless dunes.

The city of Karkafel often connects to Thrass Kaffa, though you can only travel between the two through catacombs and obscure back alleys. The cities are only visible to each other in the occasional mirage. Thrass Kaffa is built around the Waterfall, Karkafel around its famous Library; the cities trade life for information, nature for culture. Farmers pick fruit in Thrass Kaffa and bring it to Karkafel to trade for music. Archivists from Karkafel sneak into Thrass Kaffa when they've had enough of dust and dry paper and need someplace green. It's an unusual relationship, but the people of the two cities seem happy with it.

About half of the caravan is staying here; the rest is moving on, taking the jazz birds off to who knows where. I'll miss traveling with their constant warbling improvisations. I have friends in Karkafel, though, and I want to at least stay long enough to try to find them before I leave.

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