I stood up straighter at the sound of my name. Risingheart was making his way towards me, his eyes gleaming. Scars still rippled across his pelt from the battle in the plains; the word was that he had gotten beat up by a couple of ex-GreenClan she-cats. The thought brought a disloyal smirk to my face.
"What are you sniveling and smiling about?" screeched the tom, sending spittle flying into my face.
I blinked against the spray of smelly saliva. Someone hadn't groomed in a while. "Nothing, sir."
His face twisted into a sneer. "Good. Viperstar wants to see you."
That was enough to make me forgot the humor of the situation. Fear crept through my veins like molten ice. Why did the GreenClan leader want to see me? Was this about the fact that I used to be in the rebellion? When you were summoned by Viperstar, sometimes you got off lucky with a promotion. Ninety percent of the time, you were about to be killed.
In an attempt to hide my fear, I raised my chin and avoided the sympathetic stares of my comrades as I marched after Risingheart.
The dark gray tom led me down a long tunnel. I couldn't help shuddering; I despised having to move our headquarters to the canyons. The dark, winding tunnels brought back too many memories I'd worked hard to repress. Still, it wasn't like I could openly advertise that. Some cats were still suspicious of my loyalties, even after I'd sided with GreenClan in the battle back at the wood-pile. Granted, that hadn't gone very well, with the rebels destroying our headquarters, but that wasn't my fault. I had done my job, betraying all the cats I used to think of as my friends.
But there were some things friendship and loyalty couldn't hope to understand.
They had been so trusting, all of them, with their talk of establishing a good and fair rule after Viperstar was gone. They hadn't realized what cats could do. I had. I knew what could happen to me if I betrayed GreenClan. And it scared me more then anything ever could. Didn't it?
While I had been musing over this, I hadn't realized we had entered a part of the canyon labrynth that I had never been in before. The darkness was so thick here, I could barely see the glow of Risingheart's eyes as he turned back to make sure I hadn't gotten lost. The air was foul and smelled of evil; exactly Viperstar's type of place.
"Here," Risingheart said, parting a rank-smelling curtain of rotting vines. I padded in through, and he closed the curtain behind me. I was surprised that he wasn't going to be with me, and my heart started thudding as I realized it was just Viperstar and me, where no one could hear me scream.
"There you are." A glowing pair of pale blue eyes emerged from the blackness.
My mouth was so dry I couldn't manage a croak; I cleared my throat and tried again. "Hello Viperstar. You summoned me?"
His smile was eerie and creepy, white fangs glowing against the blood-red of his mouth. Bile crept up my throat. This cat that I followed terrified me out of my wits. Worse, he seemed to know it.
"Why yes, yes I did, Tornadoheart," he purred. "I have a special mission for you. Doing so will promote you to the highest swells of my ranks."
Shock and happiness coursed through me. I wasn't going to be killed!
"Whatever you say Viperstar. I am ready."
"Okay, everyone. I trust your training has prepared you for this day for a long time. You are finally ready to serve GreenClan's cause, and you will do so to the fullest of your ability." My heart thumped wildly as I delivered the speech that had first been given to me when I was recruited as a spy.
The cats facing me don't seem to realize how nervous I am; they're too scared for themselves. Round eyes and trembling lips faced me, and I felt a pang as I realized some of these cats were barely apprentices. I pushed away that realization. There was no room for weakness.
One tom, a skinny gray cat called Shiverpaw, raised his tail. I nodded at him, giving him permission to speak. In a quavering voice, he said, "Where are we going, sir?"
Puffing out my chest, I said, "I'm glad you asked that. We got news of a family of cats that are defying GreenClan. They refuse to pay their debts of prey to us, and keep spreading ridiculous rumors about our rule to others. They're contaminating our society. We must obliterate them, and take the young cats as prisoners. They shall either conform to our values, or be killed."
Deep down, I didn't think this part of the speech would be effective at all. Some of these soldiers were ex-captives too. They had "conformed" to our standards in exchange for their lives. They had no family left, because we had killed them. How loyal could they really be?
Of course, those thoughts just made me wonder what would happen if they turned on me in the middle of a battle. Fear does powerful things, I reminded myself. You have the power of GreenClan behind you.
"Where is this family?" Shiverpaw asked.
I studied him. One of the major rules in GreenClan was to beware those who asked too many questions. However, looking into the skinny tom's face, still ringed with kit-fluff, I couldn't bring myself to report him to the higher ranks of GreenClan. With him being so frail and young, they'd probably deem him useless and have him mercilessly slaughtered. I wasn't ready for the death of an apprentice to rest on my shoulders.
"They're towards the northern part of the woods," I reported.
His tail fluffed up, and his eyes sparked with an emotion that made me uneasy. "Really? Near the plains?"
"Yes," I said shortly, uncomfortable in his gaze. How much did he know about my past? "No more questions. Come on."
I led my patrol away from the canyons, hope blossoming in my chest. Finally, I was going to be a true commander of GreenClan. I would be able to forget my past.
After several hours of steady plodding, I decided to call a halt. We'd be no use to GreenClan if all of our paws fell off. "An hour of rest! Prepare for battle; our destination is close!" I announced.
The troops nodded. Some flopped down for rest, while others pulled burrs and thorns from their fur and pads. I assigned four cats with the task of hunting.
"Bring me the best prey," I reminded them; this was classic GreenClan protocol.
The leader of the patrol, an eight-moon-old she-cat named Pigeonpaw, assured me that they would find the best fresh-kill in all the woods for me, and led the patrol away. I felt faintly pleased to have so many cats in my power, doing what I wanted, but I also felt a sense of wrongness. I remembered how it had been in IceClan, when mentors had trained apprentices. They had been kind and patient. What would they think if they saw the way young cats were treated now? What would my old mentor think?
Nothing, I told myself. Most of them have seen the light and succumbed to Viperstar's rule. But did they like it? If they had a choice, wouldn't they return to old Clan life? A shudder rippled through me at the thought of a violent uprising against GreenClan. I'd be killed for sure.
When my old friends' faces come to mind, I can't push them away. I had betrayed them. Someday, if the rebellion ever suceeded- and they'd done a pretty good job defending the Tunnels against Aristo's patrol-, I would be at their mercy. The reasonable thing for them to do would be to kill me.
So why hadn't I told the GreenClan cats the exact location of the Tunnels, and how to get in? Was there really some part of me that hung onto the hope that... Viperstar could be gotten rid of?
No matter what everyone else thought, I really hadn't joined GreenClan because I saw some great appeal in Viperstar's dicatorship. I just wasn't strong enough to stand up to him. If Ivyfleet knew how weak I was-
Ivyfleet. I'd avoided thinking of her for a long time, but with her name, the pain returned full force. I buried my face in my paws helplessly as her face flashed through my mind, her eyes large and trusting, her delicate paw on mine. And I'd given it all up for my worthless life.
Rain. Just what we need.
Another fat drop splattered on Reedfur's nose. The dirt was turning to mud underpaw, splattering his legs and fur. However, they couldn't stop now. He had no doubts that Wetstream's sharp nose was correct in scenting GreenClan nearby. And where there was GreenClan, there were cats that needed rescuing from the mayhem and destruction they released.
Next to him, Ivyfleet padded determinedly, her jaw clenched. Her thick silvery fur was dampened, sticking to the skinny frame beneath, and water dripped off her whiskers. He knew her mind was on Tornadoheart, like it had been ever since they started on this secret mission.
"Do you know where we are?" he asked Cinderdapple and Brightsong, who both knew the GreenClan woods relatively well compared to the rest of them.
Brightsong's amber eyes gleamed with worry. "Near an old den where a few cats still live. I knew them; they would never agree to GreenClan's way." She bit her lip. "They had kits..."
Wordlessly, Reedfur picked up his pace, ignoring the slippery muck underfoot. The others followed suit.
Cinderdapple looked shockingly angry compared to her usual calm exterior. "If they hurt those kits," she muttered through clenched teeth.
"We're almost there!" Brightsong panted. All five of them broke into a run. Reedfur's paws fought for traction on the slick ground, but he managed to keep on his feet. They burst past a holly bush, thickly laden with the scent of GreenClan, and an underlying scent of other innocent cats. His ears pricked as he heard a yowl of startled pain. ]
The sight that greeted them was enough to make his blood boil. A group of about seven or eight GreenClan cats stood facing a family of three: a tom, a she-cat, and a younger cat who looked about apprentice age. One GreenClan tom had two kits under his taloned paw, his claws lightly pressed against their delicate skin. The she-cat was sobbing helplessly, her shoulders shaking. In a garbled voice, she called not to hurt the kits.
The tom, apparently her mate, was glaring at the GreenClan cat with mingled hatred and desperation. It hurt Reedfur's own heart to see so much pain in the eyes of a fellow cat.
Just then, Ivyfleet gave a little gasp. At the noise, the tom holding the kits whirled. The color drained from his face, and his eyes bugged out.
I couldn't believe this. Of all the bad luck, this had to be the worst. As my eyes fell on Ivyfleet's face, pale and shocked, with rain running down her cheeks- or were those tears?- and knew I had caused her this pain for the second time, my heart wrenched horribly. Shiverpaw glanced up at me and seemed to read my emotions. He raised his eyebrows. His question was obvious: What are you going to do?
I had been wondering that myself. What could I do?
"Let them go," choked out the tom, taking a step forward.
One of my soldiers called out, "Only if you surrender yourselves to GreenClan." He smiled cruelly. "We'll find the most entertaining ways to kill you."
"Please," added another one in a sniveling tone. "Don't make this messier then it has to be." She gestured to the kits under my claws.
Horror went through me as I felt how still the little she-kit had gone under my paw. I removed my claws and was relieved to see she was still breathing. She mewled pitifully up at me, her milky blue eyes affixed on my face.
I couldn't take it anymore. I leaped back from the kittens like they were poisonous. Without thinking, I pushed my way past my troops and moved to stand beside Ivyfleet. She reeled backwards, staring at me with tear-shimmering eyes. "What-"
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done this."
Disbelief colored Pigeonpaw's voice as she yelled, "What are you doing, Tornadoheart? If you won't kill them, I will!" The she-cat leaped towards the kits.
"No!" screamed a chorus of voices: mine, Reedfur's, the tom and she-cat's, and... Shiverpaw. The skinny gray tom leaped into the air, knocking Pigeonpaw to the ground. Her outstretched claws met his throat, and scarlet blood sprayed the air like a fountain.
I saw red. As if on autopilot, I charged forward and started shredding Pigeonpaw with my claws. She scrambled out of the way as I sank to my knees in front of Shiverpaw. His eyes were glazing over as the life left them. "This is all my fault," I whispered, feeling sick to my stomach.
"No..." he rasped. "I've found my way."
And then the breath left his body.
Knocked witless by grief, I let out a strangled cry and staggered backwards. Ivyfleet caught me gently, her tail going around me. Even though I should've been groveling for forgiveness, I buried my face in her fur and sobbed like a kit.
Around us, the rain poured like it would never stop.