Episode Three, Season Four, of Beauty.
The crowd attending out trial is massive. The sight of all of them wanting to see us punished debases what I thought of them. I didn’t think so many of the Beauty cats believed in Redstar’s ideals.
I suppose they could be here against their own will, but the eagerness that I see on so many faces disgusts me.
“My mother and father are here,” Snowflare swears under her breath, “I wasn’t expecting much from them, but at least I thought my mother would find a way to stay out of it.” She shakes her head.
We’re standing behind Redstar, crouched respectfully. More like forced into the crouch. Our paws are wrapped with sharp brambles, linking all of us in one long line. Naturally, Redstar lets me be in the front, closest to Whiteflicker’s baleful gaze.
This must feel like a disgrace to her, knowing her only daughter is a traitor. I wonder if my father is out there in the crowd right now, without the knowledge that I am his daughter. I’m not sure if I want him to be down there.
“Cats of FireClan!” Redstar’s voice rings out onto the clearing below, “Today, we are to give a trial for these traitors. I am allowing so many people to attend and participate because this squad is a special case. We’ve had defects before, but this…we must vanquish this spirit. Let this trial be a message to all traitors out there: we will find you, and we will kill you.”
Cheers erupt from the crowd. Flareheart ducks her head from where she is standing, and I notice that Scarlet is nowhere to be seen.
“My own daughter is prided with discovering these traitors, with the help of a friend.” Redstar curls her lips at the word “friend”, and I know she must mean Scarlet. I don’t Cherrypaw got away with what she did in the Academy with us. Something is off about her alliance with Flareheart.
“We will start with stating their crimes!”
Redstar flicks her tail and Whiteflicker steps forward. A few murmurs ripple through the crowd and I see my mother stiffen. She must know they are talking about how she is the reason of my existence, and that she should have been able to prevent me from turning rogue.
“This particular squad is charged with aiding the rebels on crucial missions, harboring criminals, and giving secrets to the enemy.” Whiteflicker sounds bored, as if she is reading off of a script (which she probably is).
Whiteflicker then proceeded by describing all of our crimes in detail, framing us in every way possible.
Finally, she steps back, and Redstar looks pleased. “There you have it,” she announced, “who has any objection against any of these crimes?”
My eyes widen and I peer up from where I am crouched. There’s an amber tom who looks shockingly like Redstar herself. His bright green eyes glow with unnatural hatred, especially because his fur is groomed to perfection, as if he is an aristocrat himself.
Flareheart lets out an audible gasp from where she is standing and she stands fast, her eyes round. Redstar waves for her to sit back down before glaring at the tom. She is glowering at the tom and I suspect there is more between this mysterious tom and Redstar.
“Who are you?” She demands. “State your name.”
“Blazepelt,” the tom replies back easily.
I see Flareheart muttering the name under her breath, as if committing it to memory. “What do you have to object about, Blazepelt?” Redstar asks coldly.
“You fail to mention that the supposed ‘friend’ of Flareheart’s is actually the same apprentice you caught back in the Academy a few moons ago. How can we trust the word of someone who had been a traitor before? What if she is just framing a loyal squad to weaken our Clan?” Murmurs of dissent spread through the crowd at Blazepelt’s words. The amber tom narrows his eyes. “Or what does that say about Flareheart?”
“Do not insult my daughter!” Redstar snarls furiously, “She is the heir of FireClan, the princess of this regime. How dare you!”
But the damage had been done. Other calls ring through the crowd and in moments, the amber tom has disappeared the crowd is in a frenzy.
“Take the prisoners inside,” Redstar growls, “we will have a proper trial tomorrow with only the top elites.” Her gaze sweeps over the crowd disdainfully, “And find that tom. If you have to kill anyone to get to him, do so. Wipe out sections of the camp if you must.” With that said, she turns and stalks away with Flareheart following.
Scarlet woke up in Koya’s plain den. The amber tom was awake already, and was tucking into a mouse. The smell of prey fully woke Scarlet, and she scrambled out of her nest, her stomach growling.
Koya looked amused. “I caught a mouse for you too.”
“Thank you,” Scarlet dipped her head, “It was very kind of you.”
He looked almost disheveled. “It was nothing,” he shrugged, “it’s not bad hunting if you know where to look.”
Scarlet ducked her head to bite into the mouse when Koya stretched. “It was an interesting morning out in the Beauty section today,” he said nonchalantly, “do you know anything about it?”
“I was asleep,” Scarlet pointed out, “Do tell.”
“There was a trial,” Koya licked one paw as if it wasn’t anything new, “A trial for the special operative squad that Redstar had been monitoring since they came out of the Academy. Flareheart turned them in with help from a ‘friend’.”
Scarlet froze. “The special operative squad? Who’s the squad leader?”
“Amberfrost,” Koya peered over at Scarlet, “do you know her?”
“I was on their squad,” Scarlet mumbled, “at least I was pretending to be. Shadowfang let me tag along, though I was away when they had been captured. How did the trial go? Is the sentence…?”
“There was no result,” Koya shrugged, “I expect they’ll have a private trial soon instead. I can only guess what the sentence will be.”
Scarlet shuddered. What have I done? “How were they?” Scarlet insisted, “Are they hurt? Are they still alive?” Why do I care so much? If I wanted them to stay safe and alive, I wouldn’t have turned them in.
But Scarlet didn’t know how to answer those questions herself. She didn’t understand what drove her to follow Flareheart’s motives, to be the humble, loyal servant of Whiteflicker.
Why couldn’t she stand up to them like Amberfrost had?
Memories of prison invaded Scarlet’s mind and she squeezed her eyes shut, shaking in fear. It wasn’t until she felt a warm tail wrap itself around her that Scarlet remembered she was in Koya’s den.
“Scarlet,” his soothing voice cut through her nightmares, “are you all right?”
“Fine,” she said shakily.
But she leaned into Koya, feeling his warmth like a blanket of comfort, something she hadn’t felt in a very, very long time.
Snowflare is swearing her heart out and not even Lionclaw can calm her down. It’s the second time in the past few weeks that we’ve been imprisoned and I haven’t been enjoying it myself either.
“How do you think the trial will go?” Hawkpelt finally cuts in.
“How do you think?” Snowflare snaps, “Redstar will give us a sentencing of death or a life time in prison to humiliate us and make an example out of us. There’s no escaping it.”
“Don’t say that,” Lionclaw scolds, “we’ll figure something out.”
Brownhare is very quiet. I walk over to his side. “What are you thinking about?” My voice is quiet compared to Lionclaw and Snowflare’s bickering.
The brown tom gives a tiny shrug. “Nothing much,” he admits, “just thinking about Cherrypaw and what she did.”
I’m surprised by Brownhare’s way of addressing Scarlet. I have gotten used to seeing her as someone new, not the naïve, young apprentice who had fallen in love with Gingerpaw. “What about her?” I ask tightly.
Brownhare tips his head in an almost elegant manner. He has always been genteel, I realize, or he is calm and unseeing.
“She must have had a very good reason to turn us in,” Brownhare reasons, “and she must still remember how fond we are of Rainstorm to spare her.”
“Rainstorm wasn’t with us when Flareheart caught us,” I remind him, even though I know perfectly well Brownhare hadn’t forgotten.
“Scarlet had enough evidence to prove that Rainstorm is a rebel,” Brownhare shakes his head, “She must have spared Rainstorm for our sake, despite her obvious betrayal to us.”
“You think she’ll get us out?” I blink up at him. I hadn’t realized how much he towered over me. “You think she’s just covering up for herself?”
“No,” Brownhare crushes my initial hope, “I don’t think Scarlet would do that because she would lose whatever she gained for capturing us.”
“And what is that?”
The brown tom’s yellow eyes spark with intelligence that I can’t even begin to cover. “I don’t know,” he admits, “but I have the feeling Whiteflicker and Redstar are involved in her cooperation. There’s no way she escaped punishment that easily. We never heard from Redstar about Cherrypaw’s sentence or any of that. She was hidden away, kept from us until Scarlet made her first appearance to us.”
“By then, she already had Shadowfang under her claws,” I add, “Scarlet had it all planned out.”
“Would you do the same?”
I blink. “Would I do what?”
“What Scarlet did,” Brownhare gazes at me with passive eyes, “if you have no choice, would you have betrayed your former friends too?”
I don’t know how to respond to that. Logically, I realize that under certain circumstances, you have no other choice, but I shake my head. “I can’t do that to myself or to my friends. I’d rather be the sacrifice rather than let any of you be.”
Brownhare smiles sadly and suddenly I have my head buried in his shoulder, my tail wrapped around him, pulling him close to me. He doesn’t resist; his tail curling instinctively around me. I breathe in his scent, relishing the moment.
When we finally draw apart, I realize how ragged my breathing is. “I’m sorry,” I say hurriedly, “I shouldn’t have--”
“It’s fine,” Brownhare’s eyes soften, “we’re in a tough situation.”
“That doesn’t make it all right,” I turn away from the brown tom, determined to erase that moment from my mind, “I have my duties! I can’t get distracted.”
Brownhare steps up next to me. “Amberfrost,” he murmurs, “you don’t have to barricade yourself because you feel responsible for the rest of us. We can take care of ourselves. You can have a life too, you know?”
“My life is where I am now,” I respond, “leading you all to safety and hopefully freedom. I have no other duties.”
Brownhare stops me with his tail. “Wait,” he whispers.
I turn to face him, trying not to fall into his alluring eyes. “Yes?” I breathe out, my eyes on his.
Brownhare hesitates. “Take care of yourself,” he finally says, “don’t let your duties overwhelm you. We’re here for you if you need us.” I can almost hear him say, I’m here for you.
“Thanks,” I try to muster a smile and he returns it.
The trial is a mess: cats screaming incoherent words at Redstar until finally the leader demanded that the session be over and paraded us outside so she could sentence us.
“Cats of FireClan, we have come to a conclusion!” Redstar shouts, “These traitors will be stripped of their titles and they will be executed in a week’s time.”
I don’t expect the crowds to be mutinous, but I’m delighted by the muted cheers coming from the crowd. They are not as bloodthirsty as I had first imagined.
But it’s still inevitable. Either in a week’s time, I’ll find a way to free my squad and escape Redstar’s clutches, or we’ll be dead and the legacy we leave behind will be too small and insignificant to do anything.
As we’re escorted back to our prison, I can only hope that StarClan will aid me in my next task.