Episode One, Season One of HALO
Hope you enjoy guys! *crosses fingers*
Note: There are POV changes throughout the episode. A coded sentence will mark the switch.
Elm stared at the charred earth until her eyes burned.
She could almost imagine the smoke and the fire that once ate up the land like Twoleg monsters. In the deathly silence of her surroundings, she could hear the roar of the flames and smell the smoke. Hear the yowls of cats dying, devoured by those awful, awful flames…
And Elm was all too familiar with the sound of dying cats. Everyday some poor cat was crushed by a tree, burnt, murdered, eaten, cannibalized, kidnapped, trampled, poisoned, starved, or dead of thirst. Elm had had her experience with plenty of the above. Too much experience. The tortoiseshell let out a resigned sigh and turned her back on the pit of black earth. No use pondering the past, was there? Not when conditions were as great as fox dung.
“ Curse everything,” she grunted.Curse every single cursed thing. The she-cat tipped her head upwards to the sky, which was a nasty purple-grey. Judging from the faint image of the sun, she didn’t have every long until darkness fell.
And boy did she not want to be out when darkness fell.
Elm cast a last glance at the Burn, an ever present reminder of the disaster that made things the way they are. Then she forced her aching legs to move into a stumbling run. The dry and cracked earth was soon soaked with her blood as the ground wore away at her pads. No matter, they’d be tougher tomorrow.And tougher is always good. In this world, only the toughest survive.
Just as the first eerie howl rose from over the hills Elm reached home.
More correctly, the dingy hole they hide in to save their lives.
“ Elm?” a weary voice croaked, coming from the discreet hole in the ground. With two swift glances left and right, Elm shifted the dry grass with a paw and shoved her muzzle down the hole.
“ Yeah, it’s me.” She dove down it, paws hitting hard earth. Two blood paw prints marked where she’d been as Elm reared up and clawed the grass above into place. The other cat gently shoved her aside and began placing what looked like - and was- prickly strands of ivy over the floor.
It wouldn’t do to having an insane cannibal fall into their hole while they were sleeping.
After the ivy was placed, the cat and Elm moved along through a narrow corridor. Roots poked through the cracking walls and scraped her flank, but Elm was used to it. She was also used to the overhang she had to slither under and the darkness under it. As always, her heart began to beat faster when she felt her whiskers scraping against the pressing walls. Elm hated it, but she knew it was necessary. If a cannibal managed to get inside, it wouldn’t have the sense to crawl under the overhang.
Soon she was in the light again, with a lot more space. Elm sighed and shook out her pelt. The cat emerged from the tunnel and stood next to her. It ran its tongue through her matted fur and Elm calmed some. It was good to feel love after a day surrounded by hate.
“ They came calling, today,” the voice murmured between licks. Hmm? Who? Elm stiffened slightly. She felt confused and slightly afraid. No one visited no one since before anyone could remember.
“ Who?” Elm replied, feeling redundant. How do you feel redundant? She pushed the whimsical thought away.
“ They…” the cat stopped licking and shoved it’s muzzle close to her ear. “ HALO. They did.”
Something cold and hard spread through Elm’s insides. Her heart began to pound a little harder as she turned around and looked into the cat’s clear blue eyes.
“ Were they… what did they…” the words suddenly seemed thick on her tongue. A visit from HALO either meant you were dead, or that you were… it was too wonderful to think about. Too unimaginable. Would they really want me? Elm?
“ They did, my love,” the voice rasped again, but full of pride. “ They want you as a Recruit!”
“ Yes!” Elm broke away from the cat and reared up, jabbing her paws triumphantly in the ear. Something was roaring in her ears. They want to recruit me, they want to recruit me! I’m- I’m actually going to join HALO! She whirled around breathless, only to meet the cat’s blue stare. Sadness pooled in the edges, mixed with a fierce pride. “ Mother…” Elm’s eyes traveled over her the cat’s ragged and patchy silver coat, jutting bones and moist muzzle. She’s so old. Slowly, her racing heart slowed.
“ It’s fine,” the she-cat cleared her throat and purred. It sounded odd, like it was forced. “ I’m so proud of you to feel sorry for myself. All my life I dreamed I’d have a chance to join them, but my daughter having it makes me feel just as happy. Maybe happier.”
“ Thanks..” Elm didn’t know how to respond, but her mother kept talking.
“ You can get out of this hellish world. You can join them and really live a life. Find a mate, have kits, become one of the best fighters in this whole place. You, you-” she broke off as her eyes filled with emotion. Elm rushed to her side.
“ I’ll do it, Swan,” she said forcefully, full of conviction. “ I’ll avenge my father, I’ll avenge Shine, avenge baby Creek-”
“ No.” The old she-cat blinked her blue eyes.
“ No?!” Elm exclaimed in shock. “ But, you were so mad when they-died.”
“ Of course,” the she-cat said with a quaver in her voice. “ That’s natural, isn’t it? But overtime I learnt something important. You must not think of them with anger and hate. You must remember them with love, okay?” she paused. Elm realized she was waiting for an answer.
“ Okay,” Elm said reluctantly. “ But I will make them proud.”
“ That’s my girl,” the she-cat purred. “ You can do all that tomorrow when the sun reaches the middle of the sky. But for now, we have more important matters to deal with.” Her eyes twinkled, while Elm stiffened.
“ What matters?”
Do my dreams dare?
Movement pattern 3A. The sequence of kicks, jabs, and lunges sped through Prime’s mind as she pummeled the opponent below her. The cat was tough and much older, but Prime and the advantage of talent and skill on her side. As it lunged upwards she made a quick flip backwards out of its way.
Movement pattern 2C. Dodge, fake, kick, fake. Her paws shot out in a powerful arc towards the other cats face while her head ducked below the whirling claws. Exhilaration spread through her body as her paw connected. A yowl of pain pierced her ears.
“ You scum!” the voice growled, but Prime ignored it.
“ You maggot!”
She kicked the cat’s head.
“ You dirty rat!”
“ You lizard!”
“ You jumping bean!”
Jumping bean? Prime snorted and delivered a sharp blow to her opponent’s skull. With a moan, it crashed to the ground.
Prime tossed her head smugly and planted a paw on it’s flank.
“ Gotta improve your insults, Fling,” she teased. She motioned as if to help the cat, but it quickly scrambled to its feet and snapped at her outstretched muzzle.
“ I’m not helpless Prime,” the voice was surprisingly gentle. It belonged to a very beautiful, silver-and-white cat with amber eyes. She gave Prime a friendly nudge. “ You know, you really got me there with that 1D-1C sequence. Nice job!”
“ Thanks,” Prime said. She knew it was hard for Fling to get beaten by someone younger than her. Tough, though. She’d better get used to that if she wants me as a partner. Prime ran a paw over her face to smooth down a tuft.
“ You know-” Fling began, only to be cut off by a drowning yowl.
“ Lunch break!” the yowl boomed around the training crater. At once, a wild roar rose from the twenty-some cats drilling in the rocky hollow. Prime spluttered and gasped as she was immediately bowled over by the stampede of HALO recruits racing to be the first at the fresh-kill pile.
And nothing was more dangerous than hungry HALO trainees.
Prime kicked out blindly, hissing with pain as claws stabbed her shoulder. The sea of legs and tails swarmed past (and over) her as she finally managed to get a foothold. She looked ruefully at the vanishing forms of her fellow recruits.
“ Why are we never first to lunch?” Fling grumbled. The wiry she-cat began to trudge after them, looking back when she realized Prime wasn’t following.
“ You go ahead. Save me something nice.”
“ I’ll try,” Fling increased her pace to a steady trot and jogged away, waving her tail in farewell. Prime sighed and turned around, scanning the empty training area for the sight of a pale grey pelt. She let out a growl of triumph when she spotted it.
“ Smoke!” her voice echoed off of the crater walls. Prime was certain the grey shape stopped when it heard her. Without wasting a second, Prime took off at a breakneck pace towards him. As she neared, she could make out a thickset build with thick, smokey grey fur. The eyes were a bright brilliant blue. Almost handsome. Almost.
“ Prime.” The tom said, narrowing his eyes in… something. Prime knew he hated her.
“ Smoke, you know I can do all these drills,” she panted. His eyes narrowed further, but she was not dissuaded. “ Why do you not let me train with the older recruits? I can do it, you know that.” She was surprised at how pleading she sounded.
“ Prime, we’ve been through this one million times,” Smoke grunted. “ I will bump you up if you try. I was watching you this session, Prime, and I was frankly disgusted. Fling is one of out oldest recruits-"
“ And I beat her!” Prime said earnestly. I was disgusted. The words rang in her ear.
“ Life’s not about just winning!” Smoke burst out. “ What’s our motto? Only the strongest survive? And you know why?” he fired off question after question without letting her answer. “ Because we want to live. Life is not a win-or-lose game, Prime, and you don’t understand that.”
“ I-I…” Prime was at loss for words. Anger and embarrassment burned through her fur. She tried to cover up her guilt by directing hate towards Smoke, but some timid voice told her he was a right. Prime felt like ants were crawling through her fur. “ Okay,” she gulped.
“ Okay what? Are you going to listen to what I said?” Smoke fixed her with his brilliant blue stare.
“ Yes, okay!” Prime burst. “ Give me a chance to! A real chance!”
“ A real chance?”
“ Yeah, an actual chance to prove that I can try, that I can do something for just more than ‘ win-or lose-‘!”
“ Ah.” Smoke’s gaze didn’t waver. It grew sharper. There was a terse, stretched silence until he spoke again. “ I’ll do it. I’ll let you have a chance to prove yourself. You can go on a raid.”
“ A raid?” Prime said confused. Smoke nodded.
“ A raid. When we root out the… detrimental aspects of our society.”
“ And if I do well on this ‘raid’, I can…?” she let the question hang in the air.
Smoke nodded.“ You can be moved up.”
“ Yes!” Prime burst. Relief surged through her fur. “ Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Smoke's mouth twisted wryly.
“ Don’t thank me yet,” he gestured with his muzzle to the edge of the crater. Small shapes were clustering around it. “ Lunch break’s over. You’re up against a bunch of sugar-charged recruits about to go through an obstacle course.”
“ I can still win,” Prime muttered under her breath.