a story by Dogwood
They are to die, and burn.
Every last one of them.
dropped, probably permanently. NOT up for adoption. the rest of what I planned for this is here so you can check it out if you're really interested. thanks for reading this and liking it, everyone who did. love y'all <3
(by order of the High Goddess Brams, if you are a fan, sign here)
They screech and yowl, jeering and laughing, their voices all crying, “Kill! Kill! Kill!” The shouts of the crowd echoes in my ears, their cries for blood deafening.
There is one pocket of silence. One place where everything is hushed and quiet. I turn to it, run to it, trying to escape the burning screams of bloodlust.
One sob. One quiet, throbbing sob, drowned out by the surrounding roars.
I lay a tail on its shoulder- it looks up, eyes red from crying.
I am able to calm it down, if only for a moment.
There is a scream, high-pitched and bouncing through my brain. Heat washes over my pelt. The scream falls silent. And the Clan roars even louder. They jostle each other to get closer to see the kill.
Oh, what has become of LightClan?
It lets out a wail, crying even harder.
I do not understand. It was supposed to die. Why didn’t it die?
But no matter. It is still sad. I curl up around it, whispering in its ear. That everything will be okay, and soon, the fire will come to wipe away the pain, like it did to me.
A torch, soon to be extinguished.
It is the only one to notice me. And it sighs in relief.
But time still passes, and it does not burn. My grip on the world loosens. I begin to fade, falling back into nothingness.
It still does not burn.
"You say there are more of them?" Smolder asks. My breath catches and I debate whether to squirm deeper into the shadows and risk crunching a dry leaf or stay where I am and risk being seen.
"I thought I killed all the Kindling." I have to force myself not to snort- Smolder's name for us is stupid. Just because he sets us on fire does not mean we should be called Kindling. After all, we set things on fire as well. Then again, it doesn't matter. We all die. Except for me, of course.
"Yes, I found some ashes earlier," Sky says. I curse in my head. I should have been more careful.
"Show me them," Smolder orders. Sky leads him in my direction. I cower, trying to hide.
And they pass me by. Relief washes over me. As soon as they're gone, I crawl out.
Maybe I should leave LightClan. They know there's a Kindling, and they could find me.
But, just like every time the thought of leaving appears, I remember Yellow. I can't leave her behind. She looked out for me, and is the only one in the entire Clan to know my secret.
I sneak back to camp, hoping no one spotted me out, killing a crow on my way so that no one will suspect where I've been.
Yellow sits in the elders' den, lying belly up. I giggle. Only Yellow doesn't care about her image enough to look that idiotic.
"Here you go, Yellow," I say, laying the crow down before her. "Your favorite."
Yellow snorts. "Torch, this isn't a crow. It's a raven."
"You're becoming ancient, old cat," I joke. "This is a crow."
Yellow peers at it, examining it closely. She huffs. "Okay, fine. It's a crow, I can see that now. See? My eyes are fine." She rolls over and picks it up in her teeth. "Thank you, Torch."
"You're welcome," I say. Then I change the topic. "I heard Smolder say there's a Kindling still in the Clan." I try to make my voice sound like I'm simply stating a fact, but I can tell I sound tense.
Yellow plays it off much better than I did. She pretends not to care at all and continues to eat her crow. "How does he know?"
"Sky found some ashes somewhere," I reply. "Some Kindling must not've been able to control their need to set things on fire."
"That idiot." As she says this, Yellow slides her eyes to look at me. "It should've chosen a more secretive place to burn stuff."
I sigh. I tried, I think. I thought that spot would be secret enough.
"Then again, there is no secretive place in LightClan territory," Yellow adds. My ears flick. Was she trying to tell me to get out of LightClan just to burn things? The territory is huge. I might as well leave.
Leaving LightClan. There is that thought again.
Then I hear Smolder yowl.
"Cats of LightClan!" he calls. "Gather around the Bone Pit for a Clan meeting!"
My heart pounds. Yellow sighs and gets up, shaking out her pelt. "Well, time to get over there," she says. We walk to the Bone Pit. Smolder's eyes flash as he stares down at each and every one of us.
"I have found evidence that there is a Kindling still in LightClan," Smolder says. The Clan gasps. Yellow and I fake a gasp as well.
"Some idiot Kindling decided they couldn't contain their wish to burn," Smolder says, pronouncing his words slowly and precisely. "Sky has found the ashes of her favorite lark-catching bush. They smell like a Kindling's. Kits," he says suddenly, "do you know how I massacred all the Kindling before?"
"Oo! Me, me, me!" Rock shouts, almost bouncing off his paws in his excitement.
"You chose a Kindling from every family, and went and burneded them all!" he cries. "Then all the other Kindling went and burnted too!"
"Why didn't I burn every Kindling one by one?" Smolder smiles, seemingly pleased by the fact that the kits know their history. I swear to StarClan he isn't even teaching them the truth, I think.
"Because all related Kindling will burnt and burned and burn if one is burnted!" Rock shouts.
I'm startled. I didn't know that. But I remember my mother- I remember her burning down with all the other Kindling. The scream that cracked my heart. Then how did I not burn?
"Then how is there one Kindling left?" Smolder asks, pacing. "How?"
"I- I don't know," Rock whimpers.
"I'm not asking you, idiot," Smolder snaps. "It was a rhetorical question."
"SHUT UP!" Smolder roars. He swipes at Rock, gouging out a chunk of fur. The kit lets out a whine of pain and falls silent.
"Now, the first one to turn in the Kindling will be rewarded highly," Smolder continues, as if nothing has happened. "Figure out which LightClan 'warrior' is the Kindling and bring them to me. Anyone caught harboring this Kindling will be burned along with it. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir!" we all yelp. No one says no. No one has said no since the Kindling burned.
We break up, going back to what we were doing earlier. Yellow yawns. "Well that was interesting. But with my old eyes, I don't think I'll ever be able to spot a Kindling."
I smile. Yellow will never turn me in. "Of course, you old geezer."
"I'm not just any old geezer, I'm the old geezer who taught you how to swim and hunt and herbs and fighting." Yellow tries to do a fur flip, but fails tremendously. I laugh. "I'm not past my prime, yet, young'in."
Upon reaching the elders' den, she curses, seeing that someone stole her crow. She whips around to face Larkfang, who quickly slurps up a jet-black feather, then begins coughing horribly. I almost feel bad for him. He's the last survivor of Smolder's takeover, but he's also a thief, a bully, a grump, and an all-around dirtbag.
So I don't feel sorry for him. I wish he'd go to StarClan already.
Larkfang finally coughs up the feathers along with some other bits of bird, then shoves them, spit, regurgitated flesh, bones, and all, into Yellow's nest. I snarl. "Larkfang, you little-"
Yellow lays a tail on my shoulder. "Catch another crow, Torch. Don't bother with that piece of dung."
"Piece of dung you," Larkfang growls. Is that all he's got? Whatever. I listen to Yellow's advice and just flick my tail haughtily at him. Yellow smiles. "Perfect."
Larkfang mutters something under his breath, but I ignore him.
"I'll go get fresh bedding for you," I say. "Be right back."
Yellow hrrumphs and plops herself down in my nest as I dash off.
The air outside the camp is refreshing. I breathe it in, sighing happily. I wander over to the nearest tree, hunting for moss.
My claws graze a flower, and instantly it bursts into flame. Instinctively, I jump back. My gaze is locked on the flower as it crumbles into ash. Quickly, I dig my claws into the earth, blending its remains in with the dirt.
Soon, it looks like nothing ever happened. I step back, trying to control my jittery nerves. I'm dazed. What just happened?
I need a place to clear my head. A place to calm down. I turn and bolt, my paws carrying me far, far away from the burnt flower.
I settle down by the stream, trying to smoothe down my wild fur. What if Smolder finds me? And why, why, why did the flower catch on fire? I didn't feel the need to burn, so why did it?
I'm so caught up in my thoughts I don't notice the cat staring at me from across the river.
I jump, startled. She just sits there. Her cream tail twitches as she notices that I see her, but nothing else.
"Hi," she says calmly.
"What- what're you doing here?" I splutter. "This is LightClan territory!"
"Is it?" She tips her head. "But why were you running, if it's your territory?"
"Because- because- ARGH! I don't know!"
"Of course you do," she says serenely.
"But I don't!"
"Buuut you do," she says again. She sighs. "Oh well. I guess I won't get an answer. It was nice meeting you. My name's Sand. See you next time you run in terror. Bye."
As suddenly as she appeared, Sand disappears. I blink. What just happened?
Absentmindedly, I walk back to camp, forgetting to get Yellow some bedding. My brain is fixated on the flower, how I touched it, and it burned, turning to ash. As I head back, my paws, claws, and fur, all brush against the grass and flowers, but nothing catches on fire. Then why the flower?
Yellow grumbles when I return, empty-pawed. "Where's my bedding, Torch?"
"Yellow, let's take a walk," I cut in. Her frown melts away. Walking is a way for us to get away from the Clan and talk.
She gets up and we walk to the very edges of LightClan territory. Neither of us dare to talk. No one can hear us, or we die. Exhausted, Yellow flops down on a rock.
"My old bones aren't made for these long trips," she mutters. "They should shrink the territory. We don't use all this."
"Yellow, we came here to talk?" I prodded.
"Right, right," Yellow says. "What is it?"
"I touched a flower today and it caught on fire," I say.
"And you didn't want to burn anything?" I shake my head. Yellow pricks her ears, suddenly alert. "You have to control this, Torch. We don't want Smolder finding out you're a Kindling."
"I know, I didn't try," I say. "I don't get why the flower caught on fire."
Yellow shakes her head in confusion. "I don't get it either." She sighs. "Well, let's get back to camp and hope this all blows over. I'll see if I can catch a squirrel for you on the way back, 'kay? You need some cheering up."
I smile a bit. "Thanks, Yellow." I nuzzle her. "You're the best."
"Don't mention it," she grunts. "C'mon."
"A Kindling who likes squirrel," says a voice. We freeze. Smolder.
He hops down from the treetops, landing lightly in front of us. "Most Kindling prefer the charred flesh of my brother."
I hiss. "Smolder, what are you doing here?"
"No, what are you doing here, Kindling?" he spits. "Why aren't you in StarClan?"
Yellow suddenly shoves me away, putting herself between me and Smolder. "Get away from her," she growls.
"So you've been hiding the Kindling this whole time?" Smolder circles around us. "How old is it?" I growl. "I'm right here, and I'm not an it, I'm a she." He ignores me.
"Old enough to rip out your throat," Yellow hisses.
"I'd say it's about fifteen moons," Smolder mused. "You've been hiding it for that long, Yellow? Traitor."
I'm ready to lunge at him, but Yellow taps me lightly with her tail. Stay back, she signals.
"Well, I guess it's time for you to die," Yellow says nonchalantly. She suddenly attacks, aiming for his throat. I inhale sharply. Yellow is old, but she fights like a young warrior. Fighting with any other cat, she would've killed them.
But not Smolder. He dodges and swipes, knocking her down.
"Old fool," he spits. "You can't kill me." He smirks, raising a claw.
"NO!" I lunge, trying to get him off of Yellow. My teeth meet his shoulder. He yowls in pain, and Yellow manages to wriggle free. She sinks her claws into his tail, and we hold him there, writhing.
"You can't kill me!" he shouts. "You can't! Frost won't let me die!" Yellow and I both pause for a moment, confused. And then Smolder surges up, knocking us both away.
For a moment I see the faint outline of a cat. It looks like an inverted version of Smolder- where he is a gray, this cat is white. Every shade of blue in the cat's eyes are the exact opposite of Smolder's orange.
"I will burn you, Kindling!" Smolder roars. "Frost! Help me!"
The ghostly cat- Frost?- suddenly turns and runs straight through me.
Yellow screams. I scream too, in pure agony. Fire ravages my pelt, searing and blazing hot. Smolder laughs and laughs, and the mysterious cat disappears.
Suddenly the fire is extinguished. My eyes refuse to open. The pain dissolves along with the fire, leaving me feeling numb and heavy.
Am I dead? Is this what it feels like to die?
"You'll be okay," a soft, sweet voice murmurs. "You're safe now."
Stars cloud my vision, and then blackness.
Water. It sings, chirrups, and babbles as it runs over the rocks. I jerk upwards, alarmed.
"Where am I?" I wonder. "StarClan?" I hear a grunt.
"Idiot," says a voice. "We're not in StarClan, we're still in LightClan."
"Yellow!" I squeal happily. "You're alive!"
"Well, why wouldn't I be?" she asks, shaking herself out. "I can take on any cat, including Smolder."
I tilt my head. "But...how did we escape?"
"I helped." The words are mixed into a weary sigh. I look to my right, surprised to see Sand. She constantly blinks, as if dazed. Or extremely tired. It looks like both. I just stare at her. She just stares back expectantly.
"You're welcome," she mutters finally, "for saving your life and extinguishing your blazing pelt."
I glance at myself. It dawns on me that I have no scars, no burn marks, just pain. "How-?"
"Torch, there are a lot of things that don't make sense here," Sand says. "Kindling don't make sense already, and then you come along and don't burn, which makes the world all the more confusing. Then there's Smolder's ability to set things on fire. Maybe he's a Match, who knows." She shrugs.
"But what about you?" I ask. "Yellow, how'd she stop me from burning?"
"Well, she touched you. Then the fire went away." Greatly helpful, thanks a lot, Yellow. "Then she and I tossed you into the stream and she stayed up doing some woo-woo healing stuff."
"Woo-woo," Sand snorts. "She can set things on fire whenever she wants, and you call what I do crazy?"
"It's all crazy," Yellow says. "Never said what Torch does isn't."
I ignore what they're saying and glance around. The stream, the fallen tree, the berry bushes clumped together. My breath catches. "Wait- are we still in LightClan?"
Yellow kicks a pebble into the water. "Yep. Didn't I say that earlier? It's because this one here," she says, pointing to Sand, "insisted we stay."
"Yeah, I needed to heal her," Sand grumbles. "I need water to do that."
I rub my face with my paw. "This hurts my head. So we've got me, a Kindling, and Smolder, a set-on-fire-guy, and you a extinguisher-healer?"
"Match," Sand corrects me. "Smolder's a Match."
"What are you?" She hesitates. She blinks, a thousand emotions swirling through her face. "Nothing," she replies tersely.
"I don't know!"
"Of course you do."
"But I don't!"
"Buuuut you do," I say. It takes Sand a moment to realize this is a repeat of before. She growls in frustration. "Okay. I'm insanely dangerous. That's all."
I'm confused. "You healed me. No scars. No ashes. I can set things on fire out of the blue. But you're dangerous?"
"Torch, please," Sand aks, "just shut up?" I do. "Thank you. Now we need to go. LightClan is huge, but they've been combing through the area. They're bound to find us soon."
"Where will we go?" I ask. "Smolder has no rules and really wants to kill me. I don't think he'll stop if we just run out of the territory."
"Then we run, far, far out of the territory," Yellow says simply. "Let's get going, then."
Sand nods. "We have two choices- cover up our tracks here or just go."
"The stream's right there," Yellow says. "It'll mask our scent."
"What if we split up as we swim?" I ask. I point to the water. "We exit from different places and then meet up somewhere to confuse them if they scent us on the other side."
"That should work," Sand says. "You two know how to swim, right?"
"LightClan is the queen of swimming," Yellow says. She pauses for a moment. "Well, I think. No one's given the apprentices swimming lessons in moons-"
"I'll take that as a yes," Sand cuts in. "I'll pop out over there. Torch, you go there, and Yellow, you go there. We'll meet up at that tree in the distance, 'kay?"
"Yes ma'am," I say, saluting with my tail. "Now let's stop wasting time and get going."
I dive into the water first. I paddle for a bit and reach the other side, and shake out my pelt. Yellow looks on approvingly. "Good swimming, Torch."
I head to the tree. It towers above the rest of the trees. I suddenly realize- what if I set it on fire? Everyone will know where I am. Smolder will come and kill us all.
I look left and right, but can't find Yellow or Sand. I need to warn them. They need to know that I'm dangerous, I'm a liability.
The grass beneath my paws darkens, scorched black. I jump into the air, startled. Quickly I swish my tail over it, trying to brush away the scorched pawprint. But it bursts into flame. I squash the panic rising in my chest and stomp on the fire. It stops.
I quickly shove leaves over it, thoughts swarming my head. It happened again. It caught on fire while I panicked. Is being a Kindling connected to my emotions? But I shake away the idea. No, I was perfectly calm last time when I burned down the flower.
None of this makes sense. I sigh and trudge on towards the tree.
*** *** ***
"Find them!" Smolder yowls. His eyes blaze, wild and monstrous. He shivers a bit, feeling something cold press against him.
*** *** ***
The warrior gulps. There is something like a shadow clinging to Smolder's pelt. A white shadow, faint and transparent.
The warrior scents fire. He turns and scrapes away a pile of leaves. There are scorch marks there. "S-Smolder, look what I found."
The shadow steps first, and seems to pull Smolder along. When the shadow moves, there seems to be a fraction of a second before Smolder himself does. Small, nearly unnoticeable, but still there.
The warrior's heartbeat quickens as the shadow turns its gaze to meet his. No- not a shadow. More like a ghost. A warmth ignites in his stomach, then disappears as the ghost turns away. His eyes continue to rove for something else. The warrior breathes a sigh of relief, knowing that the ghost isn't looking for him.
But if not for him, then who? And why?
When I finally reach the tree, I find Sand lying at its roots. She pauses to glance at me, then continues washing herself.
"Hey, is Yellow here yet?" I ask. Sand nods. "She's out getting dock."
Then she gets up and stretches. "What took you so long?"
"I was distracted," I reply. "Is there anything I can help out with?"
"Well, maybe you can go catch some prey," Sand says. "I've got the nests covered, Yellow's got the herbs."
"Sure. We can get the whole SandClan camp set up," I joke.
"Now we just need dens for the elders and the medicine cat," Sand says with a smile. "You! Go fill up the fresh-kill pile right now! Otherwise, have fun searching the elders for ticks!" We both start laughing. Suddenly, I freeze, staring at Sand.
"What is it?" she asks. Concern sits in her eyes.
"Sand, how do you know how a Clan works?" I ask. Now it's Sand's turn to freeze. Terror sets into her face as her eyes flick wildly left and right.
"I-" Sand looks away. "Torch, go hunt."
"Now!" Sand yells sharply. I'm startled.
"Don't boss me around," I snap back. Sand's claws slide out. I snarl. "You really want to fight? Just to make me go hunting?"
"Stop poking me with your stupid questions!" Sand cries. "Get out of my face! Now!"
"Fine," I hiss. I stalk away, growling.
~ ~ ~
I return with a couple mice. Sand looks guilty. She opens her mouth to apologize, but I quickly turn away.
Yellow notices this. "Torch, Sand- What happened?"
I glare at Sand. "She did."
"I'm sorry, Torch," Sand says. "I was remembering things I don't want to-"`
"And being a total foxheart about it!" I spit. "You were ready to fight over me asking you a question?" Sand looks down guiltily. I toss her a mouse and walk over to Yellow. She glances at both of us sympathetically.
"Torch, don't pressure her," Yellow says. "She's been through some rough things."
"How do you know?" I demand. "Even if she has been, Larkfang was too, and look where he is now."
"That's why we don't want a Larkfang 2.0," Yellow explains. "And get over your grudge-holding butt. Sand is trying to say sorry- accept it."
"I don't want to."
Yellow grumbles. "Young cats these days. You both need to apologize."
"Me?" I cry. "What did I do?"
"You aren't giving her a chance to make amends," Yellow replies. "Can you not see that?"
I want to protest, but she's right. Yellow's always right. I stomp over to Sand. "Sorry." I don't sound sorry. I don't feel sorry.
Sand's shoulders slump. "I'm so sorry, Torch. I just...I don't want to relive the past." She looks down. "There was another Clan. BrightClan." My ears flick upward in curiosity.
"We were the best. Our camp was calm, friendly, lively..." Sand smiles bittersweetly. "Icestar made sure we were safe and well-fed. My parents, they looked up to him, idolized him. We all did."
"Then there was Icestar's daughter, Thornpaw. She was rowdy and loud, but the only cat I could trust. Everyone made fun of me because of my powers, but Thornpaw always pointed out my flaws so I could grow. I followed her everywhere, did everything she did. I was her tail. Her shadow. Cats thought we were best friends. Thornpaw thought we were just friends. And I, well, I didn't know what to think of us. I just thought of her. I was...I was really infatuated with her."
Sand takes a shaky breath. "I wanted so badly to impress her, I decided to do it in the most Thornpaw way possible. See, there was a waterfall next to the camp, and a river that ran around it. I took her to the waterfall, and tried to control the whole thing and make it stop. But I couldn't handle it. I released my grip on the water- just for a moment- and the river surged up and flooded the entire camp. Just like that. Instantly. Thornpaw, she immediately ran into the camp to save her family. I tried to use the water to heal, but I failed. I still couldn't control that much water. It got into everyone's lungs."
Tears begin to prick in Sand's eyes. "I killed everyone. My parents, my brother, my friends, the whole life I had." Sand kicks a rock. It bounces and lands in the bushes far away. "BrightClan, gone. All because of an apprenticehood crush."
I'm speechless. "Sand- I'm so sorry. "No wonder you didn't want to talk about it."
"Yeah, well." Sand flops down on her nest. "Now you know. I'm just Sand now. Mass murderer, serial killer, ex-apprentice of BrightClan. I try not to think about everyone I drowned. Sparrowtail, Barkclaw, the kits in the nursery..." Sand lapses into silence.
Yellow gives her an affectionate lick on the ear. I stand there, stunned. How does Sand live with that guilt? How is she so happy on the surface, but so pained inside?
I see a part of Yellow I haven't seen in a while. She scrapes her nest closer to Sand's and lays a tail on her back comfortingly. Sand begins to sob, letting go of the emotions she's been holding in for so long.
I feel like a stranger. I don't know what to do. I turn to Yellow, who's still soothing Sand. She motions for me to go to my nest.
I oblige, curling up in the mossy bedding. Sleep comes to me quickly, and I completely forget to warn Yellow and Sand about what a danger I am.
Screams ring in my ears. I wake up, and find fire all around me. A roar of "Kill! Kill! Kill!" burns through the air. Sitting serenely in a ring of fire is Smolder.
He smiles and slams his paw down. Flames burst forward and speed straight towards me. I dodge, only to hear a shriek from behind me. I look back qucikly. My breath catches in my throat.
It's Mom. I barely remember her, barely know what she looks like, but I know this cat is my mother. And this cat is burning. Fire engulfs her, hungry flames reaching up to swallow her whole-
"Stop!" I shout. I will them to recede, to extinguish, but nothing happens.
And then time stops. I hear footfalls and glance up. Soft green eyes glitter as they gaze down at me.
"I died long ago, remember?" Marigold- Mom- says. She nuzzles me gently. "This is a dream."
I hug her back, her downy gray fur enveloping me. "I haven't seen you in forever...Mom."
Mom smiles. "It's good to see you too, Torch. I've missed you." She cuddles me for a while, and I breathe in her scent, which I haven't smelled in so long. A tear slips down her cheek and onto my head as we remember what it was like to be mother and kit, embracing, all those moons ago.
Finally, Mom tips my head up to look at her. Her expression is no longer warm. A grave, stony expression replaces it. "I have to warn you." Her eyes flash. "Smolder is your enemy, isn't he?"
I nod. "He's trying to kill me, to finish his mission of wiping out the Kindling."
"That might be what he's trying to do, but it that isn't his real mission," Mom says swiftly. "He's just a puppet, an instrument to seize full control of LightClan."
"Smolder already has control of LightClan," I say, confused. But Mom shakes her head.
"He has the Clan in his grip, but the Kindling were born to challenge him," she explains. "Everyone else lives in fear of him. The only difference between a Kindling and a regular Clan cat, besides the fire, is that Kindling have the added bonus of the destiny to protect and defend what LightClan was long ago. To do what no one else will dare to."
Suddenly, it dawns on me. "If it isn't his goal to take LightClan...then whose is it?"
Mom opens her mouth, but suddenly the flames roar to life once more. A wall of fire bursts forth, and I leap backwards. Again, I try to control it, but it's no use. Mom is on the other side, and if she's trying to control the fire as well, it isn't working.
I turn around and find myself facing Smolder...or is it Frost? His- their- form flickers between gray and white. It stops at Frost, who yowls. "You can't hide, Kindling!" he laughs, his voice raspy and dry. "I've found your tracks, and it's only a matter of time before you burn, just like her!" Frost cackles, then abruptly begins to cough. His snow white fur blackens to Smolder's ash color. He stands there for a moment, a bewildered look in his eyes. Suddenly, he notices me and lets out a roar. A blast of fire shoots towards my face, and the world turns white.
"Torch!" Yellow shouts, alarmed. "Wake up!" I glance up. The sky is a bright blue, and the sun slants through the treetops, dappling the ground. Nothing is out of place, nothing is out of the ordinary.
"What's wong, Yellow?" I ask.
"You buffoon, look over there!" Suddenly, I realize that the roots of the tree are burning. I yelp, and the fire soars even higher.
"Torch, calm down!" Sand calls. "You're egging on the fire!" I take in a shaky breath, trying to placate my jittery nerves. I will the fire to dissipate, and it does.
Sand pats me in congratulation. "Great job, Torch."
"Would've been nice if you hadn't set the tree on fire in the first place," Yellow grumbles. "Were you having a nightmare?"
"Y-yeah," I stutter. "But if my powers are tied to my emotions, why did I set the flower on fire when I was calm? And why wasn't this a problem when I was younger?"
"Don't ask me," Sand says. "But it must just be a part of growing up. Maybe when you get older, your abilities latch onto your emotions and become more unpredictable."
"That doesn't make any sense," I say.
"I told you long ago, Torch, puberty doesn't make sense," Yellow chuckles, amused. I blush.
Sand, on the other paw, bursts into a fit of laughter. "I guess that makes sense now," I admit.
"Anyways, what were you dreaming of, Torch?" Sand asks.
I pause for a moment. "Marigold visited me."
Yellow inhales sharply. "Marigold? You sure she did?" I nod.
"Hello, non-LightClan cat here," Sand says. "Who's Marigold?"
"Torch's mother," Yellow explains. There's something odd in her voice- wistfulness? Sadness? But she stops speaking before I can discern it.
"Oh," Sand says. She looks at Yellow in a new light, as if just realizing that she isn't my biological mother. But my mother all the same, I think.
"Fr- Smolder interrupted the dream and said that he'd found our tracks," I say quickly, remembering. I decide not to mention Frost. It'll take too long to explain the Frost/Smolder situation.
Yellow looks up abruptly. "We need to go now."
"Are you sure he isn't bluffing?" Sand asks.
"It's Smolder," Yellow says. I resist the urge to correct her. "We can't take chances. Come on." She starts to walk away.
"Wait," Sand says, "shouldn't we get rid of the camp?"
"That'll take too long," Yellow says. "Besides, he already has our trail. He'll get here eventually." She's met with silent agreement when we follow along. As we walk on, Yellow seems to relax.
"Sand, are you feeling better?" Yellow asks.
Sand looks at her gratefully. "Thank you, Yellow. I needed that last night. I'd been bottling that up for seasons..."
Yellow smiles. "It's good to see that I could help." She brushes Sand lovingly with her tail. "And Torch, thank you as well for pestering her to her breaking point."
"Er...am I supposed to say 'you're welcome'?" I ask, slightly confused.
"Yeah." Sand suddenly stops walking to give me a hug. I flush. "In a weird way, you really did help. A lot."
"A really weird way," I say with a chuckle.
We all smile, and for a moment, it doesn't seem like we're fleeing, but just having a good time together.
Sand comes back to camp with a squirrel and a couple of mice. My eyes are pinned to the sight of the plump squirrel. As soon as Sand draws near, I tackle her. She lets out a yelp as I pin her down and snatch the squirrel out of her jaws.
I prance away happily, my mouth salivating at the warm, juicy prey. I'm so distracted, I don't notice the rock in my path before I trip, careening to the side and smacking my head on the ground. The squirrel lolls to the side.
Sand lets out a muffled laugh. My cheeks burn. Yellow lets out a roar of laughter. I snap my head up, embarrassed.
"That was- that was nothing," I huff. I grab the squirrel and settle down, trying to act like it had never happened.
"Torch, the first cat to fall head-over-heels for a squirrel," Yellow jokes. I use everything Yellow's taught me against her and pretend not to notice. She drops her teasing and looks me over with motherly concern. "You okay?"
I nod. "Just bumped my chin."
"Okay then." Yellow inspects me a little more before patting my shoulder with her tail and letting me go. "Enjoy your date with the squirrel." She gives me an annoying wink.
I grumble and hastily scarf down the prey. As soon as I finish, I hide my face in my own fur, washing myself. When I've unknotted and smoothed my fur for the twelfth time, I clear my throat and get up. Sand and Yellow are taking their sweet time eating their food, chatting about.
My paws begin to itch, and I tap Yellow on the shoulder.
"I'm going to go burn something," I tell her. She nods. Sand suddenly jumps up. "Can I come?"
" 'Course," I say. " I'm going to find some water to throw the ashes in or something. You could even mess around with your powers there."
Sand tenses. "I- I'd rather not. I'll just watch."
I shrug. "Suit yourself."
We walk together, looking around. The quiet makes my pelt prickle uncomfortably.
"So..." I begin. My mind races for a conversation topic. "Uh...You like she-cats too?"
Sand starts. She faces me with her bright blue eyes. "Too?" she echoes incredulously.
"Mhm. But also toms- for me at least." It feels so weird to talk about this. Yellow's the only one I've ever told.
Sand makes a face. "Toms. I can't imagine myself with one. Ever."
I shrug. "We're all different, aren't we?"
"Guess so." Sand looks at me oddly for a moment. Spontaneously, she blurts, "BrightClan didn't like cats like us."
I twitch. "Really?"
"Yeah. What does LightClan think?" Sand asks.
I pause for a moment to think. "I honestly have no idea," I admit. "I never told anybody except for Yellow, and she's cool with it. But then again, Yellow's cool with anything. I'd ask Larkfang," I add, "but he's a selfish, annoying, crow-stealing dirtwipe." Sand lets out a little laugh that sounds as sweet as birdsong, if I'm honest.
We lapse into silence, but it's comfortable this time around. All of a sudden, I spot a large puddle- the remnants of last week's storm. The itch in my paws grows wild. I swipe at a nearby fennel plant, releasing this need to burn, willing it to catch fire and turn to ash. Too late do I remember to brace myself for the memories that crop up occasionally when I need to burn.
The massacre suddenly flares up in my mind. For a moment, I'm lost, tripping in the large crowd that gathers around the murders. Screams of agony and frenzied roars ring in my ears, and I watch as, one by one, every Kindling begins to burn. Smolder's laugh reverberates throughout the camp.
But this time I hear one more voice, one that I've never noticed before, dancing lightly- faintly- along Smolder's. It laughs with even more venom, more hatred and violence than even Smolder does.
As I hear Marigold's scream one more time, I curl up in a ball and sob. There is a soft touch on my shoulder, and suddenly the world is back to normal.
The fennel is nothing but a pile of ash now. Sand doesn't seem to notice my flashback. She sweeps the mess into the puddle with her tail. I reach forward to mix the water with my paw and completely remove any evidence when suddenly, it begins to swirl. My eyes widen as it spins and spins, diffusing the ashes into the water.
Sand's paw twitches, and the water stops.
"You- you used your power," I say, surprised. "But I thought you didn't want to."
"I changed my mind," she replies simply. She offers me a small smile. "A gift, to save you five seconds of your life."
I grin. "One, two, three, four, five. There. Those are all made up now."
We laugh a bit, and head back to the camp.
Yellow waves us over, a bunch of dock lying at her paws.
"Torch first," she says. She chews up some of the leaves and rubs it over my pawpads. I sigh.
"Yellow, I'm not a kit anymore," I say. "I can do this myself."
"Just let me, Torch." She squints a bit at my paws, her nearsightedness getting to her again. Once my feet are sticky with the herbs, she shoos me away and moves on to Sand.
"Here, Yellow, I'll do it for you," I say once she's done. Yellow grunts in acknowledgement and lies down. I chew the dock into a poultice, then apply it to Yellow's soles. She sighs happily as the herbs work their magic on her sore paws.
I watch quietly as Yellow begins to doze off. I'm tempted to remind her that we should be on the move, but I don't. I let her enjoy her nap in the lazy afternoon sunshine.
I think about Smolder, Frost, and Kindling. Suddenly, I turn to Sand. "Hey, Sand, Smolder's a Match, right?"
"Yeah," she replies. "Why?"
"Because...how do you know?" Sand frowns.
"BrightClan knew a lot about powers. Every generation there was a cat or two with a power." She hesitates for a moment, contemplating whether to say more or not. She doesn't, and I don't push.
"How much do you know about them?" I ask.
Sand raises an eyebrow. "Do you want a whole lecture on it?"
I settle down. "Sure. We've totally got the time, what with the fact that Smolder's minions are coming to kill us."
Sand smiles. "I guess I'll have to cut it short. Matches," she begins, "are fire-wielding cats who enjoy setting things on fire." Then she frowns. "What are you again?"
"A 'Kindling'," I answer, making a face. "Smolder's pet name for us."
"Describe to me a Kindling's powers, in detail," Sand instructs. There's a certain light in here eyes- a question that she thinks she knows the answer to.
"I, uh, set things on fire. Sometimes I can't control it. And sometimes I can." I shift uncomfortably. "Why'd you ask?"
Sand's eyes sparkle with excitement. "Torch, you're a Match too."
I jump. "How? Smolder said his brother was killed by Kindling, and Smolder didn't burn. All related Kindling burn."
"You didn't," she says bluntly.
My head begins to spin with this new realization. "You're right," I say softly. "But why does Smolder and whoever he's working for want to kill all of their own kind?"
Sand shakes her head. "That's a question I can't answer."
Yellow suddenly wakes up. Her eyes snap open and she jumps to her paws.
I frown. Odd. Yellow usually gets up slowly and drowsily.
"Torch," she rasps. Her eyes flick around wildly. "They're here."
And then a large ginger tom steps into the clearing.
"Greetings, Yellow, Torch," he says, nodding politely. "I am-"
"Foxglove," I snap. "What do you want?"
Foxglove takes a cautious step backward. "I am simply a messenger. Smolder wants to discuss terms with you."
"There will are no terms to discuss," Yellow demands. "We're declining it all."
A thin smile creeps up Foxglove's lips. "But Yellow, what if it concerns your daughter?"
"Torch is right here." Yellow hisses dangerously. "Now leave."
Foxglove's eyes flash. "I'm not talking about the Kindling. I'm talking about your real daughter."
Yellow tenses for a moment. She relaxes so quickly that I almost don't catch it. But I know Yellow as well as I know my own fur. He's got her.
"I have no daughter," Yellow growls. "Torch is my daughter."
Foxglove begins to pace. "Yellow, let me make this clear. Smolder has found an ally in a group of rogues. Their leader looks exceptionally like you, and your personalities match perfectly. Smolder has taken her captive." My blood runs cold. If he's really telling the truth...
I pity the she-cat so much.
"Smolder has offered to return your daughter in exchange for this Kindling," Foxglove says smoothly. "Otherwise, we will capture all three of you and kill you and your daughter, regardless of whether you committed a crime or not." He eyes Sand before clearing his throat. "You have four days to decide. And before I go," he adds, "let me say that this she-cat claims her name is Echo."
I see Yellow's eyes grow wide. She doesn't bother to hide the recognition on her face. And then it morphs into a deep, burning rage. In the corner of my vision, I see Sand back away in fright.
"Leave!" Yellow screams, unsheathing her claws. Her eyes blaze. "Stop trying to lie to me! Get out of my face!"
Foxglove smirks triumphantly. "Very well, Yellow. Remember, you have four days and no more."
And then he's gone. I walk up to Yellow and bury my face in her fur. A tear slides down Yellow's face. And then she lifts my chin with her tail so that she holds me in her gaze.
"Torch," she whispers vehemently, "I will never give you up to them. You are my daughter, not the lies they've created."
Yellow pulls me tighter into a motherly hug. I close my eyes, a little kit once again, finding myself wishing Foxglove was lying about Echo.
But something inside of me tells me he wasn't.
"How can we get out of this?" Yellow asks. She growls in frustration. "We can't run, they'll just find us easily. And we cannot give Torch away."
To my surprise, Sand nods. "Agreed."
She's only been with us for a couple days, I think. It's stupid of her to stay with me.
And then a thought jolts me. Is it selfish of me to think she should save her own pelt?
I hate this train of thought. Quickly, I move my brain towards other things.
"If we could do this without dying, that'd be great," I say. "No death would be wonderful."
Yellow nods. "I'd prefer it if we all stayed intact." Her claws grate against the earth roughly. "But how?"
"What if...what if we trade?" Sand suggests. "We could give him something instead of Torch."
"He's Smolder," Yellow argues. "There's nothing he would lose a Kindling for."
"No...there is a way." Suddenly my mind is whirling with thoughts and possibilities. I begin to pace back and forth, speaking faster and more hurriedly. "You two enter the camp demanding an audience with Smolder about what'll happen to me. I sneak in, take a hostage, and we offer them in exchange for me." Yellow is about to object when I continue, "Smolder won't trade anyone for me, but his grip on LightClan is loosening, right? If we take a kit, the Clan will force him to go with the exchange."
Yellow's eyes widen. "Torch...that might actually work."
But Sand shakes her head. "Yellow, I know you're fighting hard for Torch, who is in almost every way your own kit, but that's just it. Isn't it hypocritical of you to be okay with snatching up another kit from a mother just like Smolder is going to do to you?"
Yellow and I freeze.
Holy snakes. She's right.
And I realize that I am that selfish. While Sand...Sand is so perfectly selfless. How does she do that?
Yellow heaves out a sigh. "You're right. But I can't lose Torch. We won't harm the kit and we will return them."
"Got it." Immediately I want to take back my words. It just sounds wrong. Like it wasn't in my head already that we would take the kit back until Yellow said so.
I want to claw my eyes out.
"When are we gonna do it?" Sand asks.
"Tomorrow," Yellow responds. She gets up and opens her mouth wide in a yawn. "Sleep well tonight. Tomorrow's gonna be a big day."
*** *** ***
She wasn't kidding.
Foxglove slips into our makeshift camp, a sly smile on his face. "This is the start of the first of your four days. Have you made your decision yet?"
I'm already sweating, but Yellow steps forward. "I want to talk to Smolder."
"What for?" Foxglove asks, his voice slick and oily. "I can relay any messages back to him-"
"No," Yellow cuts in. "I am going to LightClan to speak with Smolder about what will happen to Torch."
"I'll go too!" Sand pipes.
I nod at them. "I'll stay here."
Then Yellow glares at Foxglove. "If you make any attempt to take her, I give her full permission to turn you or any other cat that comes into a pile of ash."
Foxglove's grin tightens. "Very well then. We will not take her any earlier than the date we have given you."
"Good," Yellow says. "Now take us to LightClan."
"Now?" Foxglove meows, surprised.
"Yes." Yellow holds her ground. "Now."
Foxglove nods. "Okay. I will lead the way. But similar to the terms you set, if the Kindling runs we will unleash the whole of LightClan on you all."
"Deal," Yellow says.
"I will have guards here to make sure she doesn't-"
"I will not have guards here who might take her away," Yellow interrupts. "We are going to LightClan now, with Torch here. No detours. I need to have an audience with Smolder immediately.
Foxglove curls his lip in a snarl. "Fine."
They leave. I start to count. One bunny, two bunnies, three bunnies-
I get all the way to seventy-four bunnies before deciding to trail after them. The walk to the camp is surprisingly short. They walk along a route of shortcuts that I've never seen before, never knew existed.
It chills me to think how long it took to get here, and how it only takes a few hours to reach the camp this way.
Faintly, I can hear the gasps of shock, which I assume are from Yellow's return to camp. I hear a few loud yowls of "Traitor!" and "Who in StarClan is she?"
The camp is built on a fallen pile of boulders. I hide behind a bush and look up, squinting to find the nook at the bottom of the rocks that serves as the nursery.
There. I pause, waiting for Yellow and Sand to draw the cats away to the other side of the pile as they yell- very loudly, in fact- for Smolder. Enough eyes are away that I dash to the camp and crouch behind a large rock. I peer over it, just a bit, to check on things.
Smolder emerges from his den, his near-black pelt a shining dark gray in the sunlight. He beckons for Sand and Yellow, and I shoot into the nursery.
I come to a skidding halt as I see someone cooing over her kits. Oops. I'd forgotten to check if there would be anyone in here.
But when the she-cat lifts her head in alarm, I stand there, frozen. She looks like an exact replica of Yellow. Her coat, her eyes, her face- every feature makes me think that Yellow is standing right in front of me, only less white-furred and less shaggy.
"What do you want from me?" the she-cat asks, curling her tail protectively around her kits. She bares her sharp, glittering white teeth. "Smolder said I have this one last day with them."
My heart starts to ache as I realize that this mother is just another of Smolder's victims. Another cat subjected to his cruelty.
"Nothing with you," I whisper before bending down to pluck up the nearest sleeping kit. "Just this kit."
The she-cat's eyes flash. "You're pretty young to have kits. And I thought that one was Wing's." Then she just shakes her head, a certain hardness returning to her gaze. "Whatever. As long as it's not mine."
I'm about to leave before I stop and turn around, the kit still in my jaws.
"Is your name Echo?" I ask through a mouthful of fur.
"Yes," the she-cat responds warily. "Now get out of my face. I need this time with my kits before your rat-heart of a leader takes them away."
I tear away from the nursery. The kit is heavy, and I get tired as soon as I'm out of the camp. I settle under a clump of bushes and set the kit down gently.
He's still sleeping. It takes a moment for me to realize that this is Rock. His eyes open slowly, and then his gaze settles on me.
An ear-piercing shriek rips from his mouth. I quickly clamp my paw over his muzzle, but he only bites on it. I yelp in pain, and Rock starts to holler, "KINDLI-"
"Hush!" I hiss. Rock stops for a moment, more out of surprise than obedience. My stomach churns at what I'm about to say, but I say it anyways. "I'm trying to take you back to your mother."
"B-but Mommy's back at camp," Rock whimpers. "She left me for- for a nap and then you come and now I'm h-here-" His voice fades into a mewl.
"Yes, but Smolder sent your mother far away for taking an extra piece of prey." The lie falls from my lips too well, too smoothly for my own tastes. "She wanted me to take you back to her."
"Really?" Rock asks, hopeful.
"Really." I bite my lip, horribly ashamed of myself. "Now come on, we have to make it to the meeting place before she gets worried."
"O-Okay," Rock sniffles. "I trust you, I think."
"Yeah. That's a smart thing to do." But all I can think about is how much evil I'm doing. Snatching away a kit? Lying to him about it? Convincing him to walk away with his kidnapper?
And then another thoughts surfaces, one that I should've thought of before.
How am I going to keep Foxglove from finding Rock?
As we pad on, an even more pressing realization hangs on my mind.
The issue of hiding Rock is taking up more importance than the morality of what I'd just done. Am I really that evil that I care more about keeping myself safe than the fact that I'd just kidnapped and lied to a kit?
I hate myself.