Dead and Gone
A story by Stormy.
Part of the The Revolution Series.
The Clan's new system is flawed, although there have been promises in vain to fix it. But will these promises live up to expectations?
Wind whispered through the leaves, the rustling creating a sad song that echoed all around the once-beautiful forest. The breeze continued billowing through the oaks, ruffling cats' fur.
Everything was destroyed. The camp, the places they hunted and trained, everything that made them a Clan. They were completely shredded and covered in blood. Now... now without all of these, they were a bickering, snarling pack of rogues. Mallowkit shivered at the thought.
She took a deep breath. No. To form into that, they had to get rid of the warrior code first.
Something hit her from behind. She let out a sharp squeak.
"Mallowkit! Hurry!" her mother exclaimed from up ahead, although her melodic voice now sounded weak and wobbly. She nodded slowly, casting one glance behind her, to see a burly chestnut tom that was trying to pass by. She scampered up ahead.
As they climbed over the crest of the hill, she could finally see everything. Every single cat from all of the three Clans, trekking forward in harmony, accepting their fate. She gulped. But with this wonder, came great fear. She was just a kit! She couldn't deal with this yet!
Bending over, she felt like she was finally about to break. Maybe she could just sit down for a moment, calm down, none of the scary cats were going to get her...
She jumped at the touch, and relaxed to see the angled face of Blackkit.
"Blackkit... I'm so scared!" she whispered.
As usual, he remained completely serious. "For all we know, these cats could help us. Now come on." They continued walking to their destination, just over the rolling meadow hills.
Finally, everything drew to a halt. They stood before a completely blackened tree, branches withered. There were tales that it had once been covered in cherry blossoms, but she could hardly believe that.
She took a seat close to her mother and Blackkit.
Peering up, she opened her eyes wide to see what cat would be addressing them. She squeaked lightly, when her eyes met with the cold, hard ones of a slender black she-cat. There was a brief flash of pleasure in them at the scene, but just like that, it was gone.
One of her strapping guards thrust himself forward. "Bow." Without hesitation, she crouched low to the earth. Mud seeped between her claws, and into all of her wounds... it was stinging. Carelessly, another one of the guards slapped her head closer to the earth.
After a few moments of complete silence, other than the rumbling of distant thunder, a sharp female voice rang out. "Rise."
She rose. All of the guards returned to the foot of the blackened tree, once again silent sentinels.
"My name is Ash," the black she-cat mewed coldly, "You have seen what the Tribe of the Ember can do, and will you dare to defy us? I think not." Her gaze raked across the clearing. Everything about her was sharp and hard. Her voice was feminine, but it was almost like it had a certain edge to it.
Blackkit's paw pressed reassuringly against hers.
"Now, however brutal you may believe that we are, just remember that it was you that brought this upon yourself. You, and the rest of your pitiful little Clan. You raid our borders. You take our food. And in return, we fight back."
Approving yowls emitted from the Tribe section of the clearing. And in return, we fight back. For the first time, she noticed every single scar stretching across every warrior's flank, oozing scarlet. She looked at her own fur, crusted with a rusty red. Sick to her stomach, she returned her attention to Ash.
"Out of the kindness of our own hearts, we shall allow you to stay in your forest. However, there will be some reforms." She paused. "This is a new dawn for us all." Mutters, gleeful and terrified, were heard from every corner of the crowd.
"It's all Ivystar's fault!"
There was a silence.
Ivystar, now denounced and crouching at the side of the clearing, turned to face her challenger with defiance.
"We did what we had to do," Ivystar snarled.
"Your raids cost all of the Clans their homes and lives!" the brave warrior snapped back. As if on cue, the clouds broke, rain spattering to the ground.
"The Clans were all starving! We had to feed ourselves, as the prey was hiding from the cold," Ivystar stated more calmly.
Ash cleared her throat.
Ivystar was on her feet now. "You ungrateful heap of fox dung! After what I've done for the Clans!"
"Yeah? Well this is what you've done for me!" he spat. Turning around, he revealed a fresh scar, from the previous attack.
In one fluid movement, he sprinted towards Ivystar, in a line of attack. Instantly, the frail form of Ivystar collapsed under the weight of the younger, more agile warrior. But eventually, she reared up, swiping her claws. Blood spattered onto the earth. Mallowkit turned away in horror, as Blackkit kept his gaze fixed on the grisly scene, unflinching.
"Enough!" Ash screeched. Instantly, the guards were rushing over, grabbing the tom by the scruff and dragging off of Ivystar and-
Claws flashed. And raked over the warriors throat.
He was choking, screaming his last words that she couldn't hear, then he fell limp. Her claws sank into the dirt, stomach churning.
Ash gave all of the guards a small nod. With that small command, they came rushing.
Unexplicably, she felt herself being dragged farther and farther away from Blackkit, although her mother wasn't too far off. His eyes were wide with shock.
"Blackkit!" she screeched. His mouth formed the shape of her name as he was hauled away.
"Shut up, kit," he guard murmured. A sharp blow was delivered to her head, leaving her spinning.
It was no use. Blackkit was being carried over the hills, to somewhere much more distant.
Now following her guard, she bowed her head downwards. She buried her nose into her own chest, as to hide the tears slipping from her eyes into her downy fur.
You know that feeling that you’re being watched?
That’s how I feel, all the time. That’s how everyone feels all of the time. Because it is true; we are always being watched.
The shadows of the dark-pelted slaveholders are with us, every pawstep. I would protest, but I can’t. Who knows what would happen to me then. I could be flayed, with the last thing I ever feel being the crows pecking at my flesh as I rot in the heat, in the burial grounds. A morbid thought, but possible nonetheless.
So I don’t know why the other apprentice slaves are chatting mindlessly about stupid, trivial things. When I first met them, I had hopes that they would be nice and helpful, but they were just slow and shallow. I continue to organize the herbs of the medicine den meticulously, making sure that not a single poppy seed is missed. I can feel the yellow eyes of the present slaveholder resting on me, ignoring the other apprentices. I think Dust was his name. Or Rust, maybe. The best I could do was hope that I wasn’t asked because if I were, I’d be screwed.
Unintentionally, I hear the mindless bickering of the other she-cats.
“And then Mosspaw said that she was totally meeting with one of the slaveholders, and I told her that it was just a load of mousedung and –stop eavesdropping Mallowpaw!”
I flinched, and turned away, getting back to sorting the herbs. A shiver went through my spine when I heard the slaveholder named Dust or Rust growled.
“But Mosspaw was right though; have you seen Irispaw and Scar together? Can’t we all agree that Scar goes soft on her?”
There was some agreement voiced through murmurs. I rolled my eyes. If anything, the slaveholder right there was going soft on all of them. All of the anger and irritation welled up inside me. I turned around to face them, despite the piercing glint that I got from the slaveholder.
“I’m sorry, I know you are all too lazy to wash yourself, but unfortunately you can’t be too lazy to do this because it’s your job as an apprentice. Will anyone help me, for StarClan’s sake?”
The sleek golden she-cat, named Shimmerpaw, stepped forward so we were nose to nose.
“Look Mallowpaw,” she began, “No one here has any time to deal with your fox dung. You just seem to have a cloud of negative vibes hanging around you all the time. And none of us are doing any of your stupid work.”
I remembered the crying face of Blackkit, and an angry heat began to build up in my stomach. I dug my claws into the ground.
“Take that back, you heap of fox dung,” I hissed through my gritted teeth.
I felt a twig hit me on the back. “Hey! Enough with the scuffling!”
But for once, I didn’t care. Just let the crows have me.
Shimmerpaw rolled her eyes. “All right, fine, I’ll help you.”
She lifted up the leaves containing the mouse bile at a fast speed. “Oops,” she snickered, as she dumped the mouse bile all over my fur.
It was just too much. I could hear the echo of their laughter, the swish of their tails. I could see the glint of cruelty in their eyes. Too much. All too much.
In one fluid movement, I pushed past Shimmerpaw, knocking her over, and burst out of the door. The cold of the snow stung my pads, leaving them a bright red. Snowflakes fell into my fur, sticking to the mouse bile that had been spilled on my fur. I just needed to get as far away from the camp as possible, farther away from those awful apprentices and the slaveholders. I gulped, thinking about what would happen to me if Dust or Rust reported me to Ash. The shivers were colder than the snow.
Finally, I stopped as I was deep in the woods, trudging through snow mounds and avoiding the icy cold of the snow falling from the tall birch trees of the forest. Not a hint of green was to be seen.
Suddenly, I hear the crack of a twig snapping, and the sound of heavy pawsteps through the snow. I glanced quickly to my right, to see a slaveholder with a pitch black pelt, making his way through the snow. What he was doing out in the middle of the forest in this weather, I didn’t know, all I knew was that he couldn’t see me.
I had a pale gray pelt that blended within the snow slightly. I could almost look like a rock at a distance if I closed my eyes. But just as an extra precaution, I hid behind one of the birch trees just to make sure. I heard the pawsteps slowly passing me, causing the freshly fallen snow to make a crunching nose. After a little while, all traces of the slaveholder were gone.
The reasonable side of me took over again. I had to get back to camp as soon as possible, or else horrible things would happen. I was running through the snowdrifts at full speed, stopping to avoid rocks or dead, fallen branches. Just as I was getting back to one of the clearing, I ran headfirst into a slaveholder, knocking him down into the snow. I looked down, to see wide blue eyes staring back at me. He was about my age, with a dark gray and black spotted coat. Memories came rushing back like a waterfall.
It was as if StarClan had taken all of the words out of our mouths, as we stared at each other, with a mixture of confusion, anxiety, and warmth.
“I-it’s Blackpaw now,” he replied, “And I’m assuming that you’re Mallowpaw?”
I began to laugh, for the first time in moons. “Yes, you idiot. That’s me.”
He began to laugh too. “I’ve missed you, since… well, since that time.”
I suddenly stopped laughing as the memories washed over me. I thought of the wonderful life I could’ve had, if Ivystar hadn’t been so foolish. If the Tribe of Ember wasn’t such a powerful force. I could’ve spent my apprenticeship laughing with friends, exploring the territory, and having fun.
Now, I was just at the mercy of the slaveholders.
Suddenly, I realized something. Blackpaw’s pelt was dark, just like a slaveholder. I noticed the mark scratched into the skin on his ear.
“Y-you’re a slaveholder,” I stuttered.
His eyes widened. “Look Mallowpaw… I’m sorry… I have no choice. All male apprentices with dark pelts have to be trained as slaveholders.”
Anger welled up in me. This wasn’t how I wanted my reunion with Blackpaw to happen. Words seemed to just spill out of my mouth.
“You’re complaining? You, of all cats? Think of me, with my fox dung life. I’m a slave. One day soon you’ll be bossing me around. It’s not fair!”
“I’m sorry Mallowpaw, I promise it will get better,” he meowed. His attempt at reassuring me didn’t work.
“How do you even know that,” I mumbled.
“Because… we’re working on a new project. It’s supposed to make everything easier for the slaves and the slaveholders, as well as just the normal warriors.”
Curiosity was sparked in me, and soon it overtook my previous anger and frustration.
“What kind of project?”
“Look, I’m not sure yet… but one of the senior slaveholders told me that I was going to play a big part in it… I don’t know much yet though.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Is this all true?”
“Yes, Mallowpaw. Why would I lie to you?”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“Because you’re my best friend, even though we have so much time apart.”
I felt a pang in my chest, filled with warmth and longing. What was this feeling?
“Hey. Earth to Mallowpaw.”
I snapped my head back up again. “Wha-?”
“You are probably in serious trouble by now. You really need to get back to your camp. And… and if I find out anything new about this project, I’ll make sure to find you and tell you.”
I nuzzled him as my farewell. “Oh-okay.”
I walked back slowly to camp. I was already in serious trouble, so there was no point. I would just have to face the consequences with my head held high.
The beating was not actually as bad as I had anticipated. Sure, it hurt as I was repeatedly pounded with the paws of two slaveholders, but I guess it could’ve been much worse. They could’ve drawn much more blood. I had heard of another slave apprentice in another camp that got beaten to death after sassing one of the slaveholders.
I was sore all over as I crawled in my nest that night, trying my best to ignore the pain, and pretend that Shimmerpaw and all the other stupid apprentices weren’t even there. It took me a while to fall asleep, because I was very uneasy. I was wondering what this slaveholder project had in store for me, as well as the other slaves. But when I finally fell asleep, nothing could wake me up.
I dreamed. I was standing in the middle of the forest, as it was burning down. The flames flickered through the branches, sending their yellow sparks, causing the leaves to turn brown and die, then finally crumble. Tree branches snapped from the trunks of the tall oaks and birches, making loud noises as they hit the dry ground. I dashed side to side, trying to avoid the falling branches.
But then finally, as the last branch snapped, I had to dive right into the fire. It didn’t burn. It tickled my pelt, causing laughter. I played in the fire, relishing the immunity and the happy feeling. But something caught my eye, as I pranced through the flames.
It was my eyes, their dark green easily visible through the fire. They were squinted almost closed, indicating laughter and happiness. And I laughed too, until I saw what was right beneath them.
It was a small patch of mallow flowers, catching the sparks of the fire, going up in flames. The mallow was soon crumbled into ashes littering the flame-soaked earth.
Guilt tugged at my fur and haunted me with every pawstep, as I returned to the slaveholder-in-training headquarters.
I was in no position to try and reassure Mallowpaw. All I knew was that there was some sort of project, nothing beyond that, no idea whether or not it would be beneficial. It was horrible, how I said that things would get better for here, just based on a single ambiguous thing. I was supposed to be Mallowpaw’s friend.
And friends didn’t lie or exaggerate to each other.
Apprehension coursed through me as I arrived back to the slaveholder camp.
“Hi Blackpaw!” I spun around, to see Stripepaw, an incredibly naïve slaveholder in training.
“Hello Stripepaw,” I grumbled. After that, I continued trudging through the snow.
“You know, Coal has a special job for you. He told me to come get you as soon as I found you! It’s because you’re really smart Blackpaw! Or at least that’s what I think.”
“Thank you,” I mumbled. Sometimes I didn’t understand why other cats thought that I was smart. Maybe I was average, and they were all just stupid.
“It’s in the cave. I think Scar and maybe Rose will be in there, too.”
The slaveholder system was one that was incredibly sexist, despite Ash, the leader of the Tribe of Ember, being female. She-cats had more trouble becoming slaveholders, and they had to volunteer, instead of just being selected based on their pelt color and gender. Rose was one of those she-cats; I heard that she could rip another cat open with a single move.
“All right, see you later,” I told Stripepaw quickly, then walked quickly away. I wasn’t really in the mood to deal with him at the moment.
I walked slowly through the entrance and down the winding stone path into the cave. Stalagmites dripped water overhead. I flicked the water off of my ears, and then dodged a mossy spot in the path that might cause me to slip.
Finally, I reached the cave. Stripepaw was right. There, waiting next to the underground river, was Coal, Scar, and Rose. They looked impatient, as if they had been waiting for me. I gulped.
I realized that I could be in danger. I was all alone, in this cave, with three full-grown powerful slaveholders. I couldn’t make a wrong move, or my blood would be spattered all over the walls of the cave.
“Welcome Blackpaw,” Coal said, and then motioned for me to come closer and sit. I obliged.
“As Stripepaw has probably told you, and you probably know, you’ve been selected to work on a special project. This project could possibly determine the future of the Clan and the Tribe.”
Rose stepped in. “We are trying to make it easier for the slaves to work, which will make being a slaveholder much easier. But first, we need to study StarClan.”
StarClan? I was at a complete loss as to where this was going.
“We needed someone young and pure, as well as someone intelligent who could get the job done. Stripepaw and all of the other slaveholders-in-training all lack those latter qualities. You are our choice. I believe that you will preform rather well.”
“Okay,” I said, trying not to let my voice shake, “What do I do first?”
“You’re going to go to the Star Falls.”
I was shocked. Only very senior warriors and slaveholders, as well as Ash and Riverstar (the current Clan leader) ever were allowed at the Star Falls.
“I know, this sounds like a privilege,” Scar chimed in, “But it is actually a mandatory job. You have no choice.”
“I-I understand that,” I responded.
“I’m assuming you know the way?” Coal asked.
“Yes. Walk all the way upstream then climb over the boulders.” I had heard multiple stories from the elders and senior warriors about going to the Star Falls.”
“All we want you to do is just gather some information on StarClan. Observe them,” Rose added.
“All right. Good luck.”
I dipped my head to the three slaveholders, and began to trudge up the path back to the surface.
My legs were aching by the time I got to the boulders. Carefully, I scaled them, my claws only slipping a couple of times. As soon as I got over the last boulder, I could see it.
It was more beautiful that I could even imagine. The clear, starlit water tumbled over the slick rocks, sending mist up into the air. The pool glittered. Eagerly, I raced down to the edge, all of my worries momentarily forgotten. All I could think about was how much fun Mallowpaw and I would have if we were there together. I felt sort of a warm, fuzzy feeling in my chest.
Yet I didn’t have time to indulge it. If I didn’t get the job done quickly and well, I could get in trouble, and that was the last thing I wanted. So far, I managed to survive being a slaveholder-in-training with all of my limbs intact, and I didn’t want to change that.
Slowly, I lapped at the water. I felt an icy freeze travel throughout my body, leaving me immobilized, except for my eyes, which began to shut.
I didn’t know what I expected. Well, honestly, I thought there would be groups of starry cats that twinkled like the night sky, like the elders had told. But instead, I awoke in my dream to complete blackness.
But then, something flashed in the corner of my eye. Two pale green eyes, looking exactly like Mallowpaw’s.
“Mallowpaw?” I asked stupidly.
But then, the eyes went up in flames, burning bright, slicing through the darkness. I couldn’t see much. All I could see were flashes of blood red, and cats yowling in defiance.
I also saw some pretty mallow flowers, catching flames and turning to dust.
As I was walking back to the camp, I feared the slaveholder’s reaction. They would say I wasn’t doing it right, since I didn’t see StarClan. Then they would scold me or beat me.
I realized that I could just lie. I was a good liar. They most likely wouldn’t find out, even if lying were better as a short-term solution than in the long run.
I crept down the pathway, into the cave, where I was assuming that the slaveholders would be waiting. It was just Coal this time. I dipped my head in respect, and waited for his signal allowing me to talk. He flicked his tail.
“I-I saw StarClan,” I lied, “I wasn’t able to talk to them, but there was a lot of them. They filled up an entire clearing. Most of them were clear and wispy, with stars in their fur.”
“Blackpaw, is this the truth?”
“Y-yes,” I fibbed.
Coal smiled. “Thank you for your compliance, Blackpaw. I will make sure that you are rewarded, as I can do much with this information."
Mallowpaw stood in front of me, her beautiful green eyes glowing, her gray pelt ruffled.
“Mallowpaw…” I mumbled.
I awoke to Stripepaw’s eager face. “Are you okay, Blackpaw? You were talking in your sleep.”
I sat upright, embarrassed. “I’m fine. Sorry.”
“No problem!” he said cheerfully, “I’ll get you a mouse!”
As I nibbled at the mouse, thoughts of Mallowpaw ran through my head. I remembered yesterday, when we were reunited after moons of separation. It was a beautiful and ugly thing.
Beautiful in the sense that I loved her and we got to see each other. I couldn’t deny that. But it was also ugly because I lied to her. I really didn’t know much about this project, or even if it would benefit anyone.
I picked at the mouse that Stripepaw had graciously got me, my appetite waning as more thoughts ran through my head. Finally, I just offered it to Sparrowpaw who was right next to me, and left before he could say that he didn’t want it.
Unconcsiously, I found myself drifting towards the elders’ den. Slowly, I peeked through the entrance, to see if any of them were awake.
Only one of them. It was Rustletail.
“Excuse me? May I come in?” I questioned.
Rustletail purred. “Of course.”
“Do you need me to get you any food?”
She shook her head. “No, I already ate. Unlike these lazy lumps-“ she gestured to the other elders with her tail- “I actually wake up early.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Ask away. Feel free to ask me multiple ones; it’s rare that any apprentices find time to visit me.” I gulped, reminded of my responsibilities of being a slaveholder-in-training.
“… What do you know about StarClan?”
She smiled. “Many things. Who knows, I might even be with them soon.”
I shook my head. “Don’t say that.”
She playfully batted my ear. “I’m old, might as well embrace it. But anyways, as you know, good cats who have lived full lives go to StarClan when they die.”
“But what if they don’t?” I questioned, my curiosity piqued.
Her brow furrowed. “If they don’t… they either go to the Dark Forest, or stay on earth as the living dead.”
The Dark Forest, I had heard of.
“What do you mean?” I questioned.
“If they haven’t lived a full life yet, say they are a kit or an apprentice, it is likely that they will stay down here after they die, since their goals and purpose hasn’t been fulfilled yet. But most of the time, they don’t really have control over themselves in that state. They could even be mindless.”
Apprehension tingled through my body. I was beginning to have my suspicions.
“So they can fulfill their purpose even after they have died?” I asked.
“Well, you see—“
Her sentence was interrupted with a sharp cry. I leaped into the air in surprise, banging my head on the den’s ceiling.
“Uprising!” I heard someone call. “Uprising below the Skull Boulder!” The Skull Boulder was at the heart of our territory, and it was shaped slightly like a cat’s skull. Apprentices were trained to climb it.
“Some stay here, some come with me to fight that scum!” Organized, as always.
I dashed out of the den, my fur on end. Coal pushed the cat aside. “Blackpaw, Stripepaw, and Streampaw, you come with. Warriors, come, while the slaveholders guard the camp!”
I was on my toes in a second, dashing after coal, with the other apprentices at my side.
I didn’t want to fight.
The Clan/Tribe system was corrupt. I didn’t want to fight for it, nor endorse it. But I had no choice. It may be selfish of me, but I wanted to live. Especially now knowing that I would basically be a zombie if I died. Of course, it would be possible that I could die in battle, but being killed by a slaveholder by accident or on purpose was much more likely.
As soon as I could see Skull Boulder on the horizon, I launched myself into the maelstrom. It was a blur of blood and claws and fur.
I felt a weight crush me from behind. It was one of our warrior, I believe his name was Stonecreek.
“Wanting us to live under the claws of the Tribe, you disgraceful kit?” he spat, as he clawed at me. I dodged his blows, and leaped straight for his face. I felt my claw sink into my eye. I heard a loud yowl of pain, as he retreated. That was easier than expected.
“That was a good move.”
I spun around, to see a pale golden she-cat, with lime green eyes. She was beautiful, to say the least.
“Who are you?” I asked, momentarily forgetting that I was in the middle of a bloody battle.
“My names Meadowpaw,” she meowed playfully, “And you?”
“Blackpaw,” I replied.
“Well, nice to meet you Blackpaw!” And with that, she sprang at me, leaving a glancing blow on my side as I dodged her. Then I launched myself at her, pinning her to the earth.
“So what do you like to do for fun?” she questioned.
I gritted my teeth. “Now is not the time for small talk.”
“Why not?” she laughed. There was a certain charm to this she-cat.
“Because we are in the middle of a battle, you idiot,” I yowled, as I raked my claw over her pelt. Bloody scratches welled up.
“Ouch, that hurt!” she mewed, “Guess I’ll have to repay you!”
I felt claws dig into the top of my head and into my ear. It hurt worse than I imagined. Blood trickled into my eye. “Payback!” she exclaimed, then leaped on me.
Unexpectedly, she had me pinned in a way in which I couldn’t move.
“Aw, isn’t this cute,” she said.
“Don’t mock me, you piece of foxdung,” I growled.
She looked offended. “No need to use language.” She raised her paw.
That was when we both heard the cry of “Retreat!”
I saw that my side had called for slaveholder backup. They were slashing through the defiant uprising cats like they were nothing.
Meadowpaw began to run away.
“I’m sorry!” I called after her, slapping my tail over my mouth afterwards.
“It’s okay! It’s been fun!” she called back, as she retreated with the rest of them.
The realization hit me. Our side had won. That was a bad thing; we were farther into becoming a completely corrupt Clan system. Almost nothing could stop it.
My father was going to be incredibly angry. I knew that.
It was bad enough that I had snuck out, even worse that I had participated in the uprising. He couldn’t know. But how would he find out, anyways?
I have vivid memories, of when I was a kit, of the Tribe of Ember taking over our Clan. Ivystar was the leader at that time, and my father Riverstar was still Riverclaw.
Soon after, I also remember Ivystar getting killed by some of the old Clan members. Yeah, I had a vivid memory. Almost photographic.
After that, is when my father became leader of the Clan. He barely had any power though; Ash was the one with all of the power. But Ash rarely even left her den. She just had all of her slaveholder minions do the dirty work.
Softly, I crept towards the back of me and my father’s large den. I had created a small hole that I could squeeze through. All I could do was hope that Riverstar wasn’t in there at the moment.
And, it seemed like today was not my lucky day, because as I wriggled through, I saw the dark, angry face of my father looming over me.
“Um… hey!” I said, “I was just out hunting!” I was still half stuck in the den wall.
“Come into the den and talk,” he said calmly. When he was really angry, he got so quiet and calm that it was scary.
“Oh-okay.” I finished squeezing through, and then I sat down next to him.
The first thing my father did was smack me with his paw.
“Do you even know how dangerous it is to go out alone, Meadowpaw?” he raged, “You could’ve been caught, and became a slave!”
I pouted. “That’s ridiculous. They wouldn’t do that to the leader’s daughter… would they?”
“Maybe they would,” Riverstar hissed, “You can never know with the Tribe. With the slaveholders. They can do so many horrible things. You may have even been killed!”
“I doubt that,” I protested.
Suddenly, Riverstar calmed down again. “I’m going to leave, and make sure everyone is safe. I know about the uprising, Meadowpaw; I’m not stupid.” And with that, he left.
I curled up in my nest and sighed. For some reason, I found my thoughts were wandering to Blackpaw. I had won that individual fight against him, even though we had lost the uprising. He obviously didn’t believe in the Tribe’s cause, yet he was still fighting for them. He was really brave.
And then I realized that that was a cowardly thing to do. He couldn’t even stand up for what he believed was right. That was actually quite weak. Me, on the other hand, I always stood up for what was right, despite the consequences. Even if my father raged at me.
Yet when I thought of Blackpaw, there was a certain warmth towards him I couldn’t deny. I had only met him that one day, yet thinking about him made my heart as heated and fiery as a dry greenleaf day.
Sometimes being the current leader’s daughter made me feel guilty. As I watched the slaves file in to clean the den, I realized how much they must hate me for being exempt from the requirement of being a slave.
The only reason I didn’t become a slave in the first place was that an uprising would be more likely to occur if I did, due to the fact that I was the daughter of Riverstar. It was just unfair to all of the others.
The slaves began to clean out the old moss to replace it with new.
I heard my father sigh. “I’m going hunting,” he said, “Watch over them while I’m gone, and don’t mess anything up.”
With that, he turned tail and exited our den. Sometimes I felt like my father hated me too. Or perhaps he was just uncomfortable with our current predicament. Even though Riverstar could be cold-hearted, I knew he didn’t approve of slaves.
My thoughts were spiraling, as I watched the slaves clean. Just to be nice, I decided to chip in, when a timid-looking little gray she-cat caught my eye. She was the only one who wasn’t talking; rather, she seemed lost in her own thoughts.
Confidently, I approached her. “Hi. What’s your name?”
She looked up. “Mallowpaw,” she grumbled, before she went back to clearing up moss.
“Hey. I’m Meadowpaw,” I said.
An awkward silence follows. I got the idea that Mallowpaw wasn’t the most sociable of cats.
Before I could stop, I blurted out a few words that I would later regret. “Is it bad being a slaveholder? I mean, do you hate me because I don’t have to be one?”
She looked up again. I was expecting anger or irritation. But instead, she gave me a sad, withdrawn look.
“Being a slave is terrible.” She paused. “It’s like all of your rights have been stripped from you. You don’t know what to do. You just feel depressed and helpless, knowing you can’t fight back. And no… as much as I’d like to, I don’t hate you. You seem nice, and intelligent. Intelligent like this tomcat I know.”
Obviously, she had a crush. “Cool, what’s his name.” I gave her a smile.
“His name is Blackpaw. I don’t think you’ll know him, he’s still an apprentice.”
Memories flashed before my eyes. The failed uprising beneath Skull Boulder. The way he seemed brave and cowardly at the same time. There was a certain charm to him. I couldn’t deny the warm, happy, fuzzy feelings he caused me.
“I-I know him,” I stuttered, embarrassed. I was always confident; I had never stuttered in my life. “He’s actually… my crush too.”
Mallowpaw looked surprised. “Who said anything about crushes?”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t lie to me. I can tell from the way you talk about him. I’m your competition now, you know.”
She looked at the ground, mumbling something incoherent.
Suddenly, I thought of an amazing, crazy, and probably horrible idea.
“Let’s sneak into the slaveholder headquarters,” I said.
Now Mallowpaw was even more surprised. “What? That’s probably the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”
“Come on,” I protested, “It will be fun and exciting.”
She narrowed her eyes, making me feel suddenly self-conscious. “You know nothing about slaveholders, obviously. They could even kill us for doing that.”
I shrugged. “Fine, I’ll go myself and talk to Blackpaw before you, and he’ll be mine.” I turned to exit through the back, knowing Mallowpaw’s response.
“Wait!” she exclaimed, “I’ll go with, too.”
The other apprentice slaves didn’t protest, as I held power over them. Quickly, we left, and began trekking towards the headquarters. I had only been to them twice; and never had I thoroughly explored them. This expedition would rely on luck and wit.
The time seemed to fly by faster, as the headquarters loomed up in front of us sooner than expected. It was tricky dodging the slaveholders; it took all of our effort to remain unseen and unheard.
“This way!” Mallowpaw hissed under her breath, as she took a path littered with oak leaves and coated in snow. Finally, I could see a large rock looming over us.
“The entrance is here,” she whispered, “I think it’s most likely that Blackpaw is down here.”
The terrain was tricky. We had to avoid stepping on sharp rocks, or anything that would elicit a noise. It was a risky position, because you didn’t know if a slaveholder was going to see you in the clearing or not.
Fortunately, we made it past the clearing and entered into the cave. The sound of dripping water echoed through my ears, as well as the cold wind rippling my golden fur. Slowly, pawstep by pawstep, we came close to the cave.
It was when we heard water rushing, that we knew we were close.
“All right, Meadowpaw,” Mallowpaw said to me, “Stay quiet. I’m going to peak around this corner, and see if there’s any slaveholders in there.”
She quickly looked around the corner, then snapped her head back. “All clear!” she whispered, “But Blackpaw’s here, just as I thought.”
He looked much different, and much more concentrated than when I had last seen him in battle. There was a large stone pedestal in the room, sprinkled with pine leaves. Where he found fresh green pine in the middle of leafbare, I didn’t know. He was hunched over some stone scratches in the rock.
“Hey. Blackpaw,” I muttered.
He whipped around, surprised. “Mallowpaw… Meadowpaw?”
“What in the name of StarClan are you two doing here?” I asked, my voice tinged with fear, “You know what could happen if you were found out?”
“Yes, we are aware of the risk,” Meadowpaw mewed, “What kind of work are you even doing, though?”
I just shrugged.
Ever since my visit to the Star Falls, I had been assigned to study StarClan and soul connection. What Rustletail said rang prominently in my mind throughout the studies; the thing was, I didn’t know if Coal knew about that. If he did… I had my suspicions. It could be a very bad thing.
Mallowpaw rubbed her muzzle against mine. Meadowpaw tensed up for some reason.
“What are you studying, anyways?” Mallowpaw asked. The feeling of her so close to me made my heart pound.
I couldn’t dodge the question anymore. “I’m studying StarClan, and… well, and sort of the mechanics of souls.”
Meadowpaw stepped beside me, uncomfortably close. I saw Mallowpaw glare at her, but I didn’t have time to think much of it, because Meadowpaw shot me another question.
“What does that mean, the mechanics of souls?”
I wasn’t sure how to put the answers into words. “Well… sort of how a soul functions. If a warrior or an elder dies, they go to StarClan, unless they were evil, then they go to the Dark Forest. But if their destiny is incomplete, their soul stays down here. I mean… I have my suspicions… there’s just one missing link.”
Suddenly, a sinister voice rang out. “What suspicions, Blackpaw?”
Out of the Shadows, stepped Coal and Rose. Rose stalked up to me, until we were nose to nose. “Please elaborate.”
“Well, you see…” I stammered, “I don’t really know.”
Pain shot through my face as Rose delivered a glancing blow. “Lies. I knew you weren’t trustworthy.”
“I just… I feel like you are going to try something… related to soul connection.”
I felt her claw dig into my chin. “Specify more, please?” she snarled.
“Rose!” Coal shouted. She gave a last hiss at me, as she walked back to stand by Coal’s side.
“So… is this the project you told me of?” Mallowpaw asked timidly, under breath.
“So he told her, too. See?” Rose hissed. But Coal silenced her with his tail.
“Yes, this is a revolutionary project. The whole system will be changed due to this.” Just then, I noticed a leaf bundle behind him, which he pushed forward.
“This should help. The whole slave system will become something greater. Lately… due to recent uprisings… we feel that we need a tighter hold on the slaves such as you.” He gestured to Mallowpaw. “But not just us benefit from it. So do the slaves.”
Meadowpaw looked at him skeptically. “In what way?”
“It will make it so they won’t feel any sort of depression or pain. They will be immune to the displeasures of their slave labor.”
I saw Mallowpaw’s claws dig into the earth in excitement. “So does this make it so I no longer have to work?”
Coal smiled. “Not exactly.” Her face dropped.
“Stop talking in riddles,” Rose snapped, “Here we have a special concoction, featuring water from the Star Falls, as well as pine leaves and a few other choice ingredients.” Telling from the red tinge, I could guess what the “choice ingredients” were.
“This allows a soul lingering at the earth to be connected to the body. With any luck, the subject will be zombie-like.” She narrowed her eyes. “They will be completely obedient. They won’t be able to think for themselves. But they will also be rid of displeasure.”
My suspicions were correct. It felt like my heart was about to pound straight out of my chest.
Coal took over the speaking part. “So, either Meadowpaw or Mallowpaw will be our first subjects.”
I saw the horror across their faces as they realized their fate.
“You mean…” Mallowpaw began, “You mean that you want to kill me, and turn me into a living dead cat? So I can work easier?”
“Yes, basically,” Rose sniffed, “I have an idea. Blackpaw, you pick between Meadowpaw and Mallowpaw. Who do you want us to kill to become our first test subject?”
This couldn’t be happening. Fear coursed through my veins. I could never choose. Of course, I had known Mallowpaw for much longer, but Meadowpaw was wonderful too. She deserved just as much as Mallowpaw did. I… I couldn’t do anything. I was frozen, all eyes on me.
Then, Coal dipped his head and flicked his tail at rose, as if it was a signal.
Rose began to force Mallowpaw onto the stone pedestal in the center of the room. Coal was forcing Meadowpaw.
Meadowpaw hissed, and slashed Coal across the nose. In retaliation, Coal smacked her so hard she collapsed, and then began dragging her to the pedestal.
I snarled, and launched myself at Coal but I was much to scared and uncertain to fight properly. He easily swatted me aside. I lay helpless, on the ground, as my friends were dragged to their deaths.
Then, I realized what I had to do. I muscled past Coal and Rose, and unwrapped the leaf. I rolled in the watery substance, coating my fur in it.
Meadowpaw, regaining consciousness, yowled at me. “Blackpaw, no!”
I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t answer or I would collapse and be unable to take another move. I rushed to the pedestal, and stood on it, the pine needles prickling my pads.
“Oh, so you choose yourself. How gallant,” Rose sneered, “Let’s see how this plays out.”
I took a deep breath, and held my own claw over my throat. “Mallowpaw, Meadowpaw, can you promise me one thing?”
“No, don’t do it,” Mallowpaw choked, tears slipping from her eyes. I had to ignore her, no matter how much I hated to do so.
Meadowpaw, however, looked up expectantly. I saw tears streaking down her cheeks as well, yet she wasn’t making any noise.
I could see Coal and Rose snickering and watching in the background.
“Make sure you overthrow this system. I don’t care if you do it yourselves, or if you have help, but you need to do it.”
“Think again, kit!” Rose shouted from the background, “It doesn’t matter. They’ll all be zombies, anyways. There’s no point!”
I ignored her cruel tone and words.
“Promise me? Please?”
Meadowpaw took a deep breath. “I promise.”
“I-I promise,” Mallowpaw uttered between sobs.
I flashed one last smile; smiling was something I never did.
And then I raked my claws over my own throat. I saw my own blood spatter all over the pedestal, soaking the pine needles, their color changing from dark green to red. The blood dripped down the sides. I heard Rose cheering.
My legs wobbled, and dropped.
Mallowpaw rushed to my side, along with Meadowpaw. I felt the sticky red gushing out of my throat and my mouth. My usual dark pelt was stained scarlet. My vision was blurring.
“We promise, Blackpaw,” she mewed softly, “We promise.”
And with that, I shut my eyes. I felt the last stabs of pain at my throat.
I am floating.
I don’t know if I can see or hear. It is too black and silent to know. I have no sense of direction or location.
All I feel is a slight tingle in my chest and throat. If they are my chest and throat.
I don’t want you to join me. You have long, full lives ahead of you. So did I. But not anymore.
All I have is the darkness.
But if the worst does happen.
I love you both. I will wait for you.
Here I am.