Honey flavoured lies
She's beautiful, the cat that lies so serenely on the moss-coated ground. Her glossy white coat is windswept but perfect. Her beautiful blue eyes are wide open, the moonlight reflecting off the azure colour. Her breath is ragged but a trace of her own voice is detectable in her deep gasps. Three tiny kits lie mewling by her side, nothing more than frightened scraps of fur. They voice the ancient, instinctive language that only a newborn kit could produce. The beautiful she-cat's eyes are fixed on them, and although she is weak, I can see love burning in her gaze. That love is echoed in my heart as I watch the tiny creatures nuzzle their mother expectantly.
"You're... so... beautiful..." she chokes out, each word an effort.
"What will we name them?" I whisper. The she-cat sends me a warm, loving look. My heart feels like it is going to split in two. I am living the last moments that I have left with the cat I love.
"You... you... can name two. But... I'm... I'm naming the gray kit Smokekit."
"After... me?" I feel the fiery, consuming emotion of love surging through my veins, digging deeper into my heart than I ever knew possible. In this moment, there is no cat in the world but she and I, lost in our own sweet, oblivious paradise. But that world is soon to be torn apart, and we both know it. Why am I not yowling with grief at out fate? Because I cannot accept that she is leaving. No cat so beautiful and pure could face such an ugly fate. I cannot comprehend life without her.
She doesn't reply. We gaze into each other's eyes for moments, then the tiny infants begin to grovel again. The she-cat sighs deeply. I lick her ear.
"You promise you'll love them and raise him in DarkClan? Especially our son. He... he reminds me of you so much. That... that kit is destined for greatness. He... he must be leader, one day. " she murmurs.
"Of course," I choke out, although we have two sons and she hasn't said which should be leader. But the beautiful she-cat is dying, and I hardly have time to complain. She purrs.
"I love you. Nothing can ever change that. I don't think I've loved anyone more in my life." she whispers. And with that, the beautiful white she-cat lies down her head onto the soft, damp floor, and the life leaves her eyes for the last time.
And I am left alone.
It's warm today. The sky is a warm shade of blue, streaked with wispy white. The scent of plants and herbs combined makes the air slightly thick. There's an ever-lasting chatter from the cats of DarkClan huddle beneath the Jutting Ledge. I'm lodged inbetween Frostpaw and Dustpaw, my two best friends. Smokestar, the Clan leader, is perched on the end of the ledge, his eyes frosty.
"Look, Smoke, it's Smoke!" Dustpaw exclaims. His eyes widen, expecting a reaction. Frostpaw's huge blue eyes roll.
"That isn't funny," she explained in a slightly bored tone. Although I couldn't agree more, I don't say anything. That would hurt Dustpaw's feelings.
"Don't you get it? Smokepaw and Smokestar!" he repeats. Frostpaw shakes her head in mock disappointment. The ends of my mouth twitch in a tiny smile.
"Hey, I just realized! I'm not going to be Smokepaw for much longer. We're going to have our warrior assessments soon!" I blurt out. Frostpaw sniggers.
"You just realized?" she says sourly. This makes me purr out loud, because it's such a typical thing for Frostpaw to say. Dustpaw's eyes drift towards mine, and I can see in his amused expression that he's thinking the same thing as me. But neither of us have a chance to comment before a deep, resonant voice interupts us.
"Cats of DarkClan, please settle down!" it's Smokestar, my namesake. His bright green eyes sweep across the clearing. I see a glimmer of recognition as he sees me and my siblings sitting amongst the pack of ShadowClan cats. An elder coughs, her frail frame trembling with the effort.
"As you all know, the Gathering is coming up. I will be choosing cats that come shortly. Those who are given the privilige of attending should remember that due to the ongoing argument with CaveClan, we must all be extremely precautious not to give away any key information, or - far more importantly - not to enagage in any actions that may put yourselves in danger. Is that clear?" even though Smokestar's eyes are warm green, like mine, they have an icy touch to them as they scan the clearing. The rest of us murmur our assent.
"I'd also like to mention that the apprentices of the Clan will be partaking in the upcoming warrior asessment," a flash of pain shines wildly in his eyes, and I'm sure I see his eyes flicker towards my siblings. His momentary pain is short-lived. Smokestar seems to redeem himself after a moment, and goes on to talk about rising river levels and increasing numbers of fish and other trivial pieces of information.
"Ouch!" someone suddenly howls. The Clan cranes their necks to see who has cried out. There's a soft murmur as everyone tries to work out what's happened. I'm the first to find the source of the noise. It's Dustpaw. My brother is lying flat on his back. A mixture of relief and amusement hits me as I realize that he's just tripped over. A few amused yowls sound out. Suddenly, everyone is laughing at my littermate. It's mostly friendly laughter, but Dustpaw looks horrified.
"Hey Dustpaw! What's the weather like down there?" I mutter jokingly, nudging the apprentice to his feet. If looks could kill, I'd be on my way to StarClan right at this minute. I'd be more dead than a dead piece of wood.
But not as dead as Dustpaw, who lies at the recieving end of Smokestar's thunderous glare.
"Great stunt you pulled at the Gathering," a deep voice murmurs. A reddish tom is standing near me, his expression a mixture of disgust and amusement. I don't say anything, but I can feel my face fur growing hotter. As I try to think of a clever comeback, the squirrel I'm chewing falls from my jaws and lands in a soggy heap on the floor. I curse myself. Why am I always the one that messes up?
"Hey, Fluffkit!" Smokepaw exclaims at the sight of the big red tom. I narrow my eyes in unison with the tom. What does he mean?
"My name's Redpaw, mousebrain," he says. Smokepaw looks genuinely sorry.
"Wow, sorry, Redpaw. I really should know your name by now. At least I didn't call you something totally ridiculous, like Bravepaw. Because... you know? Fluffkit is an easy mistake to make. For you, anyway," he says with utter sincerity. I burst into laughter. Redpaw looks furious.
"We'll see who's laughing when I'm made a warrior before you, Smokescum!" he hisses. Smokepaw shakes his head in mock sadness.
"I might, but you won't. After all, you're a little too... ah... vertically unadvantaged to be able to see all the way up HERE!" He draws himself to his full height. Like this, Smokepaw is at least a mouse-length taller than Redpaw. The confusion on Redpaw's face turns slowly to furious realization. The two of us are unable to stop ourselves from laughing. Before Redpaw can say anything, we've already taken off into the trees. Of course, Smokepaw is faster than me, but he makes an effort to slow down. We stop, panting, beside a huge oak tree.
"You totally showed that little mousebrain what you..." I pant, laughing. Smokepaw snorts with laughter, his amber eyes gleaming.
"You know, we shouldn't be so mean to Redpaw. I mean, Redpaw really looks up to us!" we're both doubled up with purrs again. Then I take a few deep breaths, and calm down.
"Seriously, though. You can't let that tom make you feel small - no, I'm serious! Because no offence, but you looked totally stupid, not saying anything back," Smokepaw says. I feel a pang of anger, but I'm not in a position to tell him so.
I wonder why Smokepaw's the way he is? I wish I was more like him. I could never had said all of that stuff to Redpaw. He's so funny, and clever. And he certainly wouldn't trip up in front of the whole Clan.
I mean, sure. I love my brother and all that. But he's just so good at everything. It's hard being a clumsy, fumbling idiot, and especially so when your brother is perfect.
"Do. Not. Say. Anything," I say warningly, as Nightpaw and Fernpaw pad up to me. They settle down in the moss next to me.
"About what?" Fernpaw asks. I roll my eyes.
"My brother," are they teasing me? No, they look serious. There's even a dreamy look in Fernpaw's eye. Good, I think. Becuase if Fernpaw is feeling dreamy, she's not going to talk about my clumsy, useless lump of a littermate.
"How did you know about your brother?" the brown she-cats eyes stretch open in amazement. She turns to Nightpaw, as if looking for some sort of explanation. But Nightpaw looks as lost as Fernpaw does.
"What do you mean? I was there!" I say, resisting the urge to claw Fernpaw's face into shreds.
"No you weren't. Wait... which brother are you talking about?" Fernpaw says.
"Dustpaw. Because... you know. Remember the Clan Gathering?" They both seem as clueless as ever. Just as I'm about to hiss vicious things at them both, Fernpaw opens her mouth to speak.
"We didn't want to talk about Dustpaw. We wanted to talk about Smokepaw." My eyes narrow. What do they want to say about Smokepaw? I hate to admit it, but I do have a slight amount of respect for him. Not like Dustpaw, who makes me cringe.
"I think I have a crush on him." Fernpaw says slightly sheepishly. I give a sigh of relief.
"Really? How long has this been happening?" I exclaim. Nightpaw remains silent. Fernpaw glances at the ground.
"And you never thought to tell me?" I say crossly, noticing her guilt with satisfaction. Let her feel bad. If she wants to keep secrets from one friend and not the other, that's fine with me. She had just better not expect me to understand her reasoning.
"I thought you'd go straight to him and tell him. And I didn't want that. But now, I think I do. I feel so sorry for you! You don't even know how amazing he is. And... oh StarClan, that tom is good looking," she squeals. Nightpaw shakes her head in mock disappointment.
"His eyes are so green. Remember what Sparrowcall used to say, when we were kits? Green eyes are StarClan's delight," she seems happy to babble on forever, but it's getting dark, and I'm tired. It's to my relief that Nightpaw intervenes.
"I think I prefer Redpaw," she says shyly. My stomach does a little flip at the sound of his name.
"Me too," I say. Then our eyes both widen in shock, and my gaze meets hers.
We both love the same tom.
I am at war.
"Smokepaw," a deep voice growls. My eyelids, which resist my will to waken, feel heavy as the blurry shape of my father is barely visible amongst the dim dawn light.
"Smokestar..." my voice is a bit hoarse, because my throat is dry after a hot summer night.
"Come with me," he beckons towards the small opening in the brambles that mark the edges of the apprentices den. Wait...
"Smokestar, why are you here?" the words slip out before I can stop them. Then I freeze, horrified that I have disrespected the Clan leader. He gives a slight smile, but doesn't say anything. We walk into the camp in silence.
"Do you know who you are, Smokepaw?" he asks quietly as we make our way into the deeper forest.
"Well... yeah. I'm Smokepaw," I say, wondering tiredly whether he's telling a joke. Smokestar sighs deeply.
"What more are you, Smokepaw?" he says quietly. Not knowing what to say, I carry on walking in silence. The moment should be awkward, but it's not. I feel peaceful. The forest seems to stretch on forever, making me feel free. It's all I can do not to break into a run, but I don't think that Smokestar feels as free as I do.
"Look into the water, Smokepaw." his voice startles me. Surprised, I see that we have reached the edge of the forest in our walk. We now stand before a river that I've never seen before. It breaks off in four different directions. Three different scents hit me all at once, and I realize where we are. This is the center of Clan territory, and the river must separate the land of each Clan. It's amazing how distinct each piece of land is. Directly opposite us, the rocky grounds of CaveClan lie. The morning sun shines on the gray forms, and I can see the array of caves that gave the Clan it's name. Beyond the river to our right, there's nothing but a tangle of weeds and nettles. No wonder PlantClan cats are so agile. Having to navigate through that jungle of greenery must have its advantages. The plain grass of HillClan seems boring in comparison. DarkClan's towering forests stand tall and proud above every other Clan.
"Look," he repeats. I look down into my reflection. There I am, with dark gray fur and bright green eyes. The image is perfect, even though the river is running quickly. Awed, I secretly wonder if the river possesses some sort of magic quality.
"Now look at me." I look at my father, and a small gasp escapes my lips. Because even though I've seen my own reflection before, and even though I've seen Smokestar plenty of times, I never realized how similar we really are.
"You are my son, Smokepaw. Be quiet, now, because I understand that you already knew that. But you have underestimated how much power you were born with. You are more like me than you will ever realize. And one day, you will grow to be leader," he says with utter conviction. I lower my head respectfully.
"But what about Frostpaw and Dustpaw? They're your kits. Why aren't they destined to be leader? And how do you know that I am?" I say quietly.
"Smokepaw, when your mother was dying, she told me that our son was destined to be leader. And we both know that she meant you. Dustpaw has been an embarassment, a disgrace. You will grow to be strong, no matter what you wish," a touch of anger and a lifetime of pain make his voice crack.
"How did Dawnseed know? She was just a normal queen, that died in kitbirth. Only a Clan leader could have told you that." I persist. Smokestar tenses.
"I meant to tell you this sooner, Smokepaw. But now is the right time. Dawnseed was not your mother, she was just a cat that loved me. Your mother was Riverstar of CaveClan, Smokepaw. You and your siblings are born to two leaders. So look at me straight in the eye. Do you truly not believe that you will not be great, one day?" he says. And although the shock is huge, I feel strangely calm.
"No. I promise you, Smokestar, that I'll be leader one day. I swear it by StarClan."
"Wake up, you idiot!" a pair of claws tug at my fur. I open my eyes in absolute shock as the scent of pure fury hits me. There's a loud yowling and scuffling of paws from outside the den. I try to find the cat that has shaken me from my sleep, but they have already left my sight.
"To me, DarkClan!" Honeyflame's voice sounds, her warm feminine tone tainted slightly with anger and confusion. I realize that CaveClan must have attacked. But why is Honeyflame calling the battle cry? Where's Smokestar?
"Quickly, get out of here!" Frostpaw screeches; she's obviously just woken up as well. Still feeling a bit drowsy, I follow her into the heat of the battle. Sure enough, a mass of cats are swarming the camp entrance, pouncing on any living target they can find.
"Where's Smokestar?" I screech. Duskfur, who stands protectively outside the nursery, shrugs.
"He's been out all morning!" he yowls over the sound of the battle. I'm about to reply, when a considerable weight bowls me over, leaving me sprawled on the ground. A jolt of horror hits me, as I realize how slim my chances of surviving today are. I'm no good at fighting; there's no denying it. Smokepaw always used to have to pull away other apprentices when they tried to playfight with me. But Smokepaw's not anywhere to be seen. Frustrated, I try to wriggle free of the cat's pin. Unfortunately, it's a fully grown tom that's chosen to attack me, and he's a lot stronger than I ever could be.
"Don't... kill... me..." I whimper. His cold blue eyes shine in a mixture of triumph and scorn.
"Your Clan has been killing our cats for moons. I'm going to enjoy watching you die," he hisses. I feel my body go limp. This is it. I'm actually, really going to die. I'm never going to be a warrior. Regret makes me choke up with tears. If only I'd had the chance to become more than the stupid, clumsy apprentice I am now. No cat was ever proud of me. No cat ever really cared about me, except from Smokepaw and Frostpaw. ..
"No!" I feel the weight disappear. A dark grey shape strikes my attacker over the head twice. It's Smokepaw. He has leapt to my rescue. I am not going to die.
I watch as Smokepaw leaps onto the tom's back. His claws sink into the tom's fur. Furious, the CaveClan cat tries to roll onto his back and crush my brother, but Smokepaw has been expecting this. He jumps to the floor the exact second the tom rolls over, thus leaving his opponent lying on the ground. Just as he's about to turn away, a second cat runs at my littermate. It's a she-cat, maybe a couple of moons older than him. But he now has two opponents to face.
She doesn't hold back with her attack, and her strength takes Smokepaw offguard. He collapses in a heap on the floor. The first cat comes up from behind him, but Smokepaw lashes out backwards with his hind leg. I can tell that he's injured, but he's still fighting. I try to launch myself at one of the CaveClan cats, but a strong pair of claws sink into my hind leg and I'm dragged into my own scrap. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see that Smokestar has also arrived, and is fighting with a gray she-cat that can only be Rockstar of CaveClan herself. But I find myself struggling to see if he's winning or losing; everything is starting to grow dim. I have one last feeble swipe at my opponent's eye, before I feel myself dragged into unconciousness.
The darkness that claims me is welcome.
Everywhere. Lying all around me. The shadows of the past.
My fur is matted with blood, and I'm shaking. My face stings. I feel faint. There isn't much life stirring around me.
"Hello?" I whisper. A heavy crunching sounds from across the camp; I realize in disgust that someone is treading on the dead bodies to make their way over to me.
"Follow me," a tall tom with bright blue eyes hisses. I can tell that it's a CaveClan cat, but I don't dare argue. DarkClan has lost the battle. What becomes of me is no longer my own choice. I follow the tom in silence out of the camp.
"You won," I say as we tread through the trees. My heart is pounding. I have so much to ask this tom.. Are my brothers and Redpaw safe? Who has survived? Who has died? What will become of me? Am I the only one left alive? Life seems too surreal to accept.
"You noticed," he says in a slightly annoyed tone. Before I can help myself, I unsheathe my claws and strike him across the face.
"Oh, I noticed, did I? Tell me, did I happen to notice notice if my family is alive or dead? Did I notice whether or not you've decided to kill me? I think not," I hiss. The tom should be angry, but to my amazement, he doesn't fight back.
"DarkClan has been killing kits. You've been stealing food. Cats are dying. We had to do something," he says quietly, as if he's trying to convince himself. Good. I have something to play on; a way to manipulate him.
"Maybe some of our warriors have. But is it worth killing innocent cats? I don't know if my brothers are alive or dead right now. I'm so afraid. And then there's Sunpaw..." my voice trails away. I blink my eyes, which usually works with toms. It does with this one.
"Who's that?" he says slightly gently.
"He's... he's..." I pretend to choke out the words. The cat blinks. I'm sure he's feeling guilty for what his Clan have done. I just need to play with his sympathy for me a bit more.
"Look, she-cat, I'm feeling guilty. Okay? I admit it. My Clan have ordered me to take all survivors back to our own camp. There are some others. Maybe your brothers have survived," he says quietly. I nod my head.
He's right. Maybe they have survived. There's always hope.
Why am I having such difficulty believing it?