HeliotropeBladeOfHope

---it is not a war

It was a quiet day, all things considered.

Lightning flashed in the sky above as the lone cat stretched her way out of the hollow tree. She blinked as drops of water hit her nose, right between her eyes.

"Sol, you're on patrol today."

She turned towards the sound of her name, to where a pure black she-cat stood near the den, her tail flicking listlessly back and forth. "Your partner today is Track. Stay with him and kill any other living thing you see."

She nodded, once, definitively, and the task organizer turned and walked away.

Sol walked down the little path made up of and lined by various long grasses, out of the denning area and into the main area and further into the rain. Maybe she should have cared that she was getting wet, but her den was cold anyways. Had been ever since her denmate had died after going off alone during a patrol. So it didn't really matter, and she didn't really care. His name had been Solo.

The grassy path opened up into the main area, which also had grasses lain all over the ground. There was a huge tree in the center of the space, its wide and sprawling branches offering some semblance of protection from the rain. Cats of all sizes and colors milled about everywhere, some with a definitive purpose or task in mind, others wandering about with little more purpose than a mouse. Actually, that was a lie. They were all very small cats. Apparently that was unusual. She wouldn't know.

"Hey, Sol! Good morning! What's your task for today?" Chip called out in that friendly, always cheerful voice she had. It was such a weird voice. No one else sounded like that when they spoke. Chip was... different. She stood inside the small ring of thorns that had been constructed to help protect their prey. Right next to her feet was a hole in the ground. Sol had always wondered if any cat had twisted a paw by tripping over it, or gotten stuck while trying to go down the tunnel. There were rumors, but she had never seen it happen. Apparently Bark was a very stupid cat.

"Patrol at midmorning," she replied automatically. Sol went on the midmorning patrol every other day. That's how it had always been, for as long as she could remember, but Chip always asked, so Sol always answered.

"Who did they assign to go with you this time?" Chip never mentioned Sol's previous partner, Solo. She claimed that talking about the dead after they were gone was disrespectful or something, and that it would keep their spirits in unrest, or something. Sol didn't believe that. Death was just another part of life. If you were un-rest-ful about it, then you didn't deserve to have lived in the first place. But Chip believed it, so Sol kept her opinions to herself.

"Track. He's bad. Are there any rabbits left?" she asked, shifting the subject of the conversation as her stomach growled. She never took more than her fair share, but she always got food first thing in the morning, every morning.

"You know it." Chip slipped down the hole. Sol could hear her shuffling around down at the bottom, and soon Chip's sand-colored ears and head and body and tail popped back up out of the hole with a rabbit in tow. "You want a mouse, too, or will this be enough?"

"This is fine. Thank you." Chip dumped the rabbit over the thorny barrier, and Sol leaned down to pick it up, nudging her rock into the other pile as she did so. She was one of the last cats to collect food that morning. Her rock had originally been black, but someone had painted purple and red and orange stripes on it. It was supposed to represent the sun.

She took the rabbit away from Chip's space, over to where the other cats scheduled for patrol were already eating. Some were in small groups, and some ate next to their partners, but most ate alone. No one was talking. She stepped off of the grassy area and onto the dirt, where she could eat her rabbit and bury the bones without having to dig fragments out of the grass. The dirt area was more exposed to the rain than the grassy area, so it was muddy. She lay down and turned the rabbit over so that she could dig into its stomach first.

"You are Sol?" A brown tom approached her, his muzzle already stained with the blood of his morning meal.

She swallowed the meat. "Yes. You are Track?"

He dipped his head. "Yes. We will leave soon."

"When I am done, we can leave."

He waited while she ate. She took large bites where there was meat, and licked delicately at the bones. When she was satisfied that no meat had been wasted, she dug a small hole in the mud and buried the rabbit's bones alongside all the prey that had been eaten before. She stood, mud covering her belly fur, but it began to wash off in the rain. "Let us go."

They set off together, away from the dens and to where the protective barrier around the space was broken by a narrow gap, which led to the Outside. A white cat stopped them just before they reached the gap. "Your names? he asked.

"Sol," she replied.

"Track," her temporary partner replied.

The white tomcat nodded and stepped aside. "Make it a good patrol," he said.

"We will," Sol replied.

---

A few easy steps took them out of the camp and into the Outside. Sol and Track stood side by side, looking left, looking right, wondering where they should go first.

"To the riverbank," Track suggested. Sol nodded her agreement, and the two of them set off.

Outside, there was no protection from the rain. They quickly became drenched, getting so wet so fast that the rest of the water ran off their pelts instead of soaking in. The noise of the thunder, which had been slightly muffled by the all-around barriers of the living space, now hit them in full force. Lightning struck a tree right next to them as they walked, igniting huge and leaping flames that devoured the wood in heartbeats, and they merely flattened their ears from the fire's roar and crackle and walked on. Everywhere they looked, more trees - more little camps - were burning.

They walked past numerous camps, built up with branches and thorns and grasses. Many had collected water beforehand and were now drenching their walls with it. Some camps were not so forward-thinking and found themselves engulfed in flames. They kept walking.

The riverbank came into view in the distance as they crossed over the top of a sloping hill. The rain pounded steadily on, drumming in their ears and pummeling their heads and backs. The muddy ground was peppered with stones specifically for the rain-times, and so the two cats used them to progress, stepping and reaching awkwardly for the nearest stones as they went. Neither was saying a word.

As they descended down the slope, a brave stray mouse ran across their path. Sol flashed out a paw, catching it in her claws. It squealed and writhed in pain until her claws dug in deeply enough for it to bleed out and die. Then it lay still, and she flung it to the ground. Its body rolled over a few times before sinking into the mud and vanishing with a lonely burble.

"That could have been prey," Track remarked, glancing at her sideways. The next flash of lightning and crack of thunder happened almost instantaneously, drowning out whatever he said next in a wave of noise and illuminating his forest-green eyes, making them look nearly white for just a heartbeat. Then it was gone, and Sol shrugged and continued walking. Her partner followed behind her, looking cautiously from side to side.

When they reached the riverbank, they saw a cat - lithe, light gray, long-furred - standing on the other bank, taking a good, long drink from the river. As they watched, the strange cat leaned forward even further and speared a fish with a long claw, all the while still slurping up the water.

"I'm going," Sol announced.

"Where?" Track asked, but Sol had already gone into the river, her fur thick and heavy with water, her limbs just strong enough to keep her afloat. But just when she was about to reach the far bank, she felt one of her front paws slam into a rock, and her stroke pattern faltered. She started to sink, stretching her paws for the riverbed, but it was just deep enough that she couldn't quite reach it. Then she heard a splash, and teeth dug into the back of her neck. Something in her wanted to fight and struggle against it, but she let the stranger drag her out onto the far bank. She fell onto the ground, shivering and wet and cold.

"That was reckless," the stranger announced, shaking her head down at Sol. You could have drowned!"

"I know," Sol replied.

"Then why'd you do it?" The stranger flicked a long, feathery tail at the far bank, where Track still waited passively. "Is he your mate? What would he have done if you'd died?"

"No," she answered, rolling onto her stomach and forcing her legs to hold her up.

"Well, whatever." The stranger cat shrugged. "You're one of those Saik cats, right? I've heard the rumors about you - about how small you are, and how emotionless you can be. I see the rumors weren't exaggerated." She peered into Sol's eyes with narrowed blue slits. "When you go back to your camp, you should go a little farther downriver. There are crossing stones down there. They might be submerged right now, though. Have a good patrol." She turned to leave.

"Wait."

Sol's voice was authoritative, and the stranger stopped obediently, peeking over her shoulder back at Sol. "What is it?"

Without even hesitating, Sol dashed over and slit the stranger's throat. Her blue eyes grew wide, reflecting the light of the storm brightly as she stared into Sol's uncaring gaze. She trembled and fell over, trying to get back up, trying to crawl back in whatever direction she had come from, only to collapse once more and lie there, gasping for breath and choking on her own blood. It took many heartbeats and many more flashes of lightning before she inhaled one last rattling breath and finally lay still, discarded and broken and silent just like the mouse's corpse.

"Why?"

Sol turned as Track approached her from behind; evidently the crossing stones were not fully submerged yet. "Why what?" she returned, narrowing her eyes against a particularly bright flash.

"Why did you kill her?"

Sol glanced back at the body. The rain had already washed away much of the blood, sending it down the gentle slope to puddle, diluted, around Sol's paws.

"Orders are orders," she replied. "Come on. Let us go."

And they proceeded, neither even sparing another glance at the cat who had once led an entire camp to victory against another, who had led a good life, who had five squealing kits waiting for her back at her camp, two of which were not her own.

That great cat did not even receive a proper burial. Her friends would find her later, having been slowly pushed down into the river, where her body would be caught on the very stones she had pointed out to her fellow cats, mangled and nearly unrecognizable. But they would know. They would understand what had happened.

"We should go back across the river," Sol decided. Track nodded and followed her.

you should be fighting---


---it is not a tale

-tbc-

you should be writing---

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