Just believe me.
Rippleshine figured she was on top of the world. Pretty face. Best warrior. 'Popular', the one with all the friends. She didn't like mystery and secrets. That was why she set out to investigate the Snaketounges in the first place. The Snaketounges had been supplying the prophecy-givers for as long as anyone in the Clans could remember, yet they had never been seen.
But as Rippleshine soon figures out, she can't go wherever she wishes. She can't always say what she wants. And she's definitely not on top of the world. A broken promise and a series of mistakes ends up tearing the perfect fabric of her life and leaving it out to burn. And she's powerless to fix it.
It was a lovely day to die.
I'd spent the morning racing across the hills marking our border with SunClan. The breeze was perfect. Above me, the sky was an eye-aching blue smeared with white, wispy clouds. As the hills I was running on faded into woodland, golden sunlight sprinkled the forest floor. Far away, the pale tip of the Mist Mountain- the largest of all mountains that surrounded the valley the Clans lived in- was visible.
Why was I running? Because I wanted to. Also, it never hurt to give other Clans a glimpse of DawnClan's finest- me. I cut through the forest and headed back the way I'd come in order to return to camp. By camp, I mean, the fake camp... DawnClan did things right. From the fake camp, I'd take several underground tunnels to our main one, which lay several tree-lengths away.
I suppose it could be frightening to go underground, but it became monotonous after a while. It was like instinct- the sensation of my long fur brushing against the walls didn't bother me in the slightest. The tunnels weren't a bone-chilling cold, and neither were they scorching. Like I said, it was a lovely day to die.
And then, once I emerged from the tunnels, I'd see myself facing a roaring waterfall. In the case someone had followed me here, I picked my way through the rocks, where the spray would wash away my scent. Then I'd duck under a rock and find myself behind the waterfall- in our camp.
Oh, and this was also only our summer and late spring camp- the water would becoming freezing in wintertime. Then we'd move. See, DawnClan did things right.
Upon entering camp, I was faced with an unusual spectacle- noise. DawnClan were hardly noisy- it scared off prey and alerted others to our presence. It was unrefined. But now there was a buzz of conversation, and an underlying current of anxiety. I flattened my ears and looked around, finding the oldest members huddled around something on the rocky floor.
" Rippleshine!" someone said breathlessly. " You're back- thank StarClan-"
A tortoiseshell was picking her way through the crowd, coming at a half-trot towards me. This was Gullfeather, but her green eyes, so normally full of mischief, were dark. She reached me and briefly pressed against my side. When she moved away, her fur was damp and flattened owing to the waterfall spray I'd picked up.
" Tell me what happened," I asked, keeping my eyes on the cluster of elders.
" Prophecy-Teller's died!" she blurted out. " It was really scary- he sort of, like, fell over and twitched, his eyes rolled up, and it was so scary.-"
I hardly payed attention to her. My head was swimming in disbelief. How can Prophecy-Teller be dead?
My mother had told me he'd been old when her own mother had been a kit. I'd sort of assumed he'd been that way for ever- skinny, with patchy white fur, maniac blue eyes, and the tendency to jump whenever I came near. Even though he was almost comical, DawnClan respected (read:avoided) him. He was sort of always there. I didn't know him- no one was close to him- but it was like something you'd come to accept as part of your whole life being taken away. I wasn't sad, per say, but shocked. Definitely.
" D-dead?" I stammered, feeling rather stupid.
" Yeah," she said anxiously. " What's going to happen now? I don't think anyone in this Clan remembers how we replaced our Prophecy-Teller, do you? Think we'll- mmph!' she cried as I stuffed my tail in her mouth.
The Clan elders were moving out of the huddle. I saw it now- a small, white lump of fur. My heart twisted a bit at how sorrowful Prophecy-Teller looked.
" Prophecy-Teller is dead!" One of them- Carpfin- croaked. Like we didn't know.
Still, several startled gasps echoed from the crowd. Perhaps they'd been hoping it wasn't true. " As you know," Carpfin continued, " we would usually proceed with our Grieving Ceremony to pay our proper respects. However, Prophecy-Teller is not, technically, one of us. The Snaketounges will require us to bring his body to Mist Mountain in order for them to perform their rituals. Prophecy-Teller informed us of this a few sunrises before his death."
Startled conversation began- either about the fact that Prophecy-Teller predicted his own death, or the mention of the term 'Snaketounges'. For me, it was the latter- I'd noticed several older members blanch at the term.
Turning to Gullfeather, I asked, " Snaketounges? What on earth is that?"
Gullfeather looked nervous and glanced around as though someone was watching. " You didn't know?"
" Well, they're like- they're where Prophecy-Teller is from. They're the cats who see the future, all mysterious-like. They send us the Prophecy-Tellers to read our omens and give us our prophecies-"
" Got it," I said shortly, as the crowd was hushed and Carpfin continued speaking.
" Olivestar, Owltalon, Birchbranch, and myself will take the body to the Snaketounges-"
" That's dangerous!" a voice cried from the back. Dangerous? My ears pricked.
" Yeah!" another piped up. " You don't know what they're capable of- they could murder you-"
" Silence!" a deep voice boomed from the back. Voices dropped. Claws clinking on the stone floor, Oliverstar strode into view. Her head was held high, amber eyes glinting dangerously. She seemed to dwarf those standing near her. Those near her backed away nervously. " You will show proper respect to the Snaketounges. Prophecy-Teller has served us well for many, many moons- I see no reason at all to distrust them."
Hasty murmurs of 'sorry' followed. I took the oppurtunity to turn my muzzle close to Gullfeather's ear. " Has Prophecy-Teller ever actually given us a prophecy?"
Gullfeather's stare was fixed on Olivestar. The dark grey leader had turned to pick up the body. " Once," she replied tersely.
What? I was unable to question her further, because the cats carrying Prophecy-Teller's body began to move. Cats parted to leave a clear path for them. Birchbranch, a senior warrior, came first- likely to scour the way. Oliverstar was next, Prophecy-Teller's hindquarters on her shoulders. Next came the deputy, Owltalon, with Prophecy-Teller's head hanging over his own- my stare was drawn to it, partly because of how disgusting it was. And as it passed, my heart leapt into my throat.
He opened his eyes.
The eye contact sent powerful shivers through me, combined with my heart jackhammering at my chest. What in StarClan? I thought, legs rooted to the spot in terror. But when I looked again, he appeared as dead as ever. My mouth was completely dry. Idiot, I scolded myself. Acting like a kit, afraid of dead bodies. But Prophecy-Teller, how did he...? As Carpfin- last in the procession- left, my Clanmates stirred as if out of a trance and began moving about their daily activities.
As the shock wore off, I felt a familiar tingling in my stomach. Snaketounges... I wonder what's it about them that makes everyone squirm? No one's ever seen them, no one knows what happens... and Prophecy-Teller. He was alive, I swear. Why did he pretend to be dead...?
" Rippleshine?" Gullfeather said nervously, eyes searching my expression. I smirked.
" Get Crowbeak and Brightwhisker. We're going on an... adventure."
" Oh, no," Gullfeather groaned. " I hate those. What're we doing this time?"
As she met my gaze, I knew she understood. She opened her mouth in alarm, but I beat her to it.
" We're going to find the Snaketounges."
As I picked my way across the wet boulders, waterfall spray ricocheted off one and soaked the four of us. Gullfeather got the brunt of it.
" This is a really bad idea," she complained.
" It's just a bit of spray," I called back over my shoulder, eyes roaming the wet surface of the boulders ahead of us. Conversation continued behind me.
" I'm not a chicken like Gullfeather-" Crowbeak began.
" Definitely not a chicken," a voice drawled. Brightwhisker, I thought, imagining her picking her way across the rocks with her cocky ease. " I was thinking more of the bald bald eagle type, don't ya think?"
There was a silence. I grinned in the back of my mind, imagining Crowbreak giving Brightwhisker a withering glare, and the ginger she-cat refusing to be withered.
" As I was saying," Crowbeak's voice huffed, after the pause. " How are we going to follow them? The scent must've been washed away by the water."
" Way ahead of you," I snorted, pointing with my tail to pawprints on the dry boulders. " This way, amateurs."
" Amateur yourself," Brightwhisker hissed, nimbly picking her way through the rocks. I ignored her and leapt off the last rock onto sandy ground. The sand slowly gave way to grass- and there was the scent trail, clear as day.
" We'll follow it for a bit," I decided, " then go at a parallel course. We don't want them smelling us on the way back." I looked around at the group. Gullfeather nodded, eyes round, as did Crowbreak. Brightwhisker simply looked miffed she hadn't thought of it earlier. For the second time, I felt a sense of glee. It was always enjoyable to take the ginger she-cat down a peg or two.
It soon became clear the cats before us were heading in a pretty straight path, so we were able to give them quite a wide berth as we left the trail. When we stopped at a pond to drink, the conversation started.
I was looking at a turtle, walking at the edge of the pond. Briefly, I wondered how it was able to support the weight of the shell. Did it weigh much? Or was it really much lighter than it looked?
" So," Brightwhisker said loudly, causing Crowbreak to look up from her daydreaming, and Gullfeather from her nap. " What exactly do you plan to do once we reach the mountain?"
" I want to see what they do to Prophecy-Teller," I replied, briefly thinking about how he'd opened his eyes. Brightwhisker's eyes narrowed. As uppity as she was, she'd noticed my pause and I hastened to cover it up. They'd think I was a lunatic if I told them the old cat was alive. " And then I want to see the Snaketounges."
Brightwhisker snorted. " There are so many holes in this plan. Firstly, how do you even know the Snaketounges are going to be there? Maybe it's just custom to drop the body off at the foot of the mountain and let it rot there."
I met her gaze stonily. " If they're not there, I'll climb the mountain and find them."
Gullfeather gasped and we all turned to look at her. " That's so- how can you do that? We've never seen the Snaketounges! No one has! How're you going to just find them? They could kill you, or worse!"
I rolled my eyes. " What can be worse than dying? Gullfeather, I can take care of myself. Besides, like you said, no one's seen them. I bet they're just regular cats who have a fondness for living in a mountain entirely covered in mist."
" Yup," Brightwhisker said, voice dripping with sarcasm. " Because every cat in their right mind wants to live in a mountain permanently covered in cold, freezing fog."
" Are you serious?" I said incredulously. " You're all chickening out? Guys, it's exciting. No one's ever done this before!"
" Because no one's as insane as you," Brightwhisker sighed, then grinned. " Of course I'm in. I just plan ahead, y'know?"
" Name one time you've 'planned ahead', and I'll eat my tail," I rolled my eyes. Brightwhisker's eyes grew mischievous, but before she could comment, Gullfeather spoke.
" I guess you're right," she said, not looking like she meant it. I shrugged. I didn't need her to believe in it, I just needed her to follow me.
" Let's go, then," I said, rising to my paws. The thrill of excitement was pulsing through me- the mist-covered mountain was visible over the treetops. " We'll make it to the foot in a few hours time."
By the time we reached the foot of the mountain, it was evening, and the sky was blue-grey. Crouching down under the cover of bushes in the forest, we were able to see the mountain quite clearly. The foot of it was still covered in fog, but it was thinner- we were able to see the green grass beneath it, and the brown boulder scattered where the mountain sloped away.
" They're not there," Brightwhisker hissed from the tree above us. She scrambled down and began walking slowly out towards the rocks. Annoyed, because I should be leading, I jumped out. Gullfeathed and Crowbeak followed more cautiously.
I looked around, but there was no one in sight. Quickening my pace, I caught up with Brightwhisker. As we neared the foot of the mountain, a small, white shape was visible. Prophecy-Teller. A sudden, cold wind blew, ruffling my long silver fur and causing strands to fly into my vision.
" Head for those boulders," I whispered, gesticulating to the brown clump, fairly near the body. Without waiting to see if they acknowledged me or not, I trotted towards the rocks. The wind began to pick up, hinting at a storm, but the sky still bore no trace of any storm clouds. The wind was cold, too, so I was glad to be in the shelter of the boulders once I reached them. I secured myself a fairly good eyehole. When Brightwhisker and the others joined me, they had to scramble for decent ones.
I stared out at the patch of white in the sea of green until my eyes actually ache. Nothing seemed to be happening. Beside me, I felt Brightwhisker stir restlessly.
Then the wind's temperature suddenly dropped. It was like being submerged in cold water. Instinctively, we all pressed closer together, but I never took my eyes off of Prophecy-Teller's body. I knew in my bones that if something was going to happen, it would be now.
The mist, which had previously seemed to hang back from the foot of the mountain began to creep forward. It wasn't like the wind was blowing it- it was like tentacles were forming and reaching out. They were creeping down towards the body. Gullfeather shivered, and for once I didn't accuse her of being a wimp. It really was as if the clouds had grown arms.
And then came another level of frightening. When the mist reached the body, it began to thicken and swirl. I squinted. Even as the mist churned, I was able to see through it- barely. But what I saw nearly made me scream.
Horrible, twisted, black shapes were growing up through the ground. They were cats but so... demented. As if someone had tried to fold them away like an herb, and now they were unfolding. They contorted and made my stomach squirm. Yet I couldn't tear my eyes away as they surrounded Prophecy-Teller's body, slithered over and nuder him, like the shadows of snakes. Impossibly, the old tom's body began to righten. The storm died away and the creatures retreated, but the body stayed upright. To my astonishment, the shadow-creatures began to color and change until they looked like actual cats. One of them nudged the body, like an experiment.
His eyes opened. Only this time, there was nothing where his eyes should be.
I heard some strangled sound come form Gullfeather's throat. Crowbeak whimpered, and I felt Brightwhisker tremble beside me. But I had to see more, it was some sick desire to look again. I felt claws pierce my shoulder and rip me away.
" R-rippleshine," Brightwhisker's voice was quavering. " We've got to go. C'mon, stand up... what are you doing?"
What she said made perfect sense. After all, hadn't Prophecy-Teller become some sort of distorted, eyeless, undead thing? But it was a small part of my brain. I felt like I was half-asleep, trying to think but unable to do so because of the stupor on my mind. I had begun to walk forwards- I had to go up, I had to. Brightwhisker tried to stop me again, but I threw her off and streaked towards the mountain despite her frantic calls behind me.
I was halfway up the mountain and lost in the mist before my trance wore off.
My legs just stopped moving and I keeled over. I was panting hard and my legs felt like jelly. The mist was gathering around me, and I couldn't even see my own paws. Panic began to set in. I could just run back down, but when I looked around, I had lost my sense of direction. Just focus, I told myself. Just turn backwards, and you should be fi-
Something was growling.
My heart jackhammered at my ribs. My head whipped back and forth to try and locate where it was coming from, and my sense of everything went bonkers. I became so dizzy that I flopped down on my side and struggled to remember where the ground was. The growling persisted and I knew it was closer. I unsheathed my claws under the faint hope I'd be able to intercept the attacker. It was futile. I was so disoriented, I'd likely hit myself before I hit my opponent.
Then, with a savage snarl, whatever-it-was came hurtling at me. I screamed, throwing my claws out, but in the opposite direction of where the attacker was. My side left the ground and I skidded in who knows which direction, thankfully landing on my feet. However, the dizziness barely allowed me to keep my head up. My attacker had gone, but I could feel the mist begin to thin. My disorientation began to fade, and I knew my opponent was right in front of me.
A dark silhouette showed through the thin mist. As it came closer and closer, I imagined facing another eyeless body, another contorting shadow-creature. My legs felt weak with terror but I lifted my head. My attacker began to step out into the open. If I go down fighting an undead corpse or a deformed shadow, so be it. I bared my teeth as the figure stepped out into the open, expecting a creature of nightmare.
It was so much worse.
It was gorgeous.
My tongue forgot how to move, and my jaw forgot how to close. I simply stared like an idiot as the cat fully emerged from the mist.
At least, I thought it was a cat. It had ears, fur, four legs, whiskers, a tail, and the scent of a tom. But the way they fit together- it was so unnatural, so overwhelmingly beautiful it made me need to step away.
The fur was shining, sleek, and golden-brown, covering a trim, athletic form. Everything from the slope of his shoulders to the rounded ends of his paws gave off the aura of elegance and grace. His eyes- my breath actually hitched. They were a sea of intense amber flecked with scarlet, changing hues even though there was no sunlight reflecting into them. The expression within them was unreadable- but then amusement began to spread over his features.
I was acting like an idiot.
Hot shame washing over me, I forced my weak legs to stand. I narrowed my eyes into a glare while my brain screamed stop! You must worship him!
He was definitely a Snaketounge.
Yet he bore no resemblance to the twisty shadows I saw slithering down the mountain earlier. He was whole, for one, and didn’t have an empty look about him like the others. He-
“ I fascinate you,” he rumbled, voice a pleasant middle tone. He spoke so suddenly, my train of through disappeared and I gave an embarrassing hop in surprise. Next came Idiot Remark Number One.
“ Nuh,” I spluttered. I shook my head violently to clear the stupor I was in.
“ It’s okay, you don’t need to shelter me from my overwhelming beauty.”
“ You speak.” Idiotic Remark Number Two.
“ My voice is rather pleasing, isn’t it?”
“ Uh, no,” I said, managing to gather my wits. “ It’s not.”
“ Don’t lie,” he tilted his head to one side, as though considering something. “ Rippleshine.”
A shock went through me. “ That's my name. Why- how do you know my name?" I inched backwards, relieved when I didn't topple over.
" I'm- in the terms of your kind- a Snaketounge," he was studying me like an interesting piece of fresh-kill. No matter how stunning he was, I felt afraid.
“ My kind?” I blurted out. “ Okay, great. Nice to meet you and your lovely voice. I’m just going to go-” I began to edge backwards. My kind? He’s a cat… I think.
“ Oh, don’t!” his voice was edged with panic and he took a frantic step forwards. I stared, wide-eyed, and he dropped his head sheepishly. “ Please, don’t,” he continued. “ It’s a relief to see someone… normal.”
“ Normal?” I was slightly offended. His discomfort, plus the shock wearing off, were beginning to give me my confidence back.
“ Yeah, normal,” he said, relaxed again, as if this was an everyday conversation. “ Y’know, not speaking in riddles all the time or meditating. It’s a nice change.”
“ Snaketounges really do that?” I said curiously.
“ Yes,” he replied, and then it hit me. I’d done it. I’d seen a Snaketounge. A stupid, triumphant grin spread over my face against my will. I can’t believe it. Am I really the first one to see a Snaketounge?
“ Yes?! You," I swallowed, " you know what I was thinking about?” I suddenly felt vulnerable, like some had snatched away my fur. Can he see everything inside my head?
“ Yeah,” he shrugged like it was nothing. “ Mostly. Just thoughts that give off a strong emotional vibe- my elders can usually see all thoughts. I’m still learning.”
“ Um.” I thought of several brilliant plans to escape, most of which involved running back down the mountain screaming my head off.
“ Sorry. I haven’t really met any of your kind before.”
“ Please. Stop… saying it like that,” I begged. Can I run? Or will he attack me? I eyed him warily.
Silence. Then. “ You’re amusing.”
“ Gee, thanks," I said reflectively. " And you’re freaky.”
“ Really?” he sounded genuinely interested in how I’d just described him. “ I’ve never heard that.”
Several less-than-polite remarks to that rose in my mind, but I pushed them down. In the silence that followed, I wrestled with the need to bolt while my legs stayed stubbornly still.
“ May I make a deal with you?”
“ What?” I looked up in surprise. “ Why- what?”
“ A deal,” he said, wearing a smirk that made my heart melt (against my will- a little). Then the smirk faded and he looked bashful. “ I- look. I’m not like the rest of them. It gets a little lonely sometimes, and I’m in need of a friend. I was wondering,” he swallowed, “ if you’d be my friend?”
There was a very pregnant pause.
“ What’s my end of the deal?” I said cautiously.
His eyes gleamed. “ I can give you a powerful gift. I can," he seemed to savour what he was about to say next. " I can give you the gift of prophecy.”
My mouth became dry and I felt my heart begin to race at a frightening pace. Prophecy. The actual power of prophecy.
“ You- you can’t do that,” I said in disbelief. “ You have to be born with the gift! Only the Snaketounges have it.”
“ I can give it to you," he said simply.
“ Why should I trust you?” I said, but the desire to run had faded slightly.
" Why would I offer you the power of prophecy? It's not promise I throw around lightly, like you said, only Snaketounges have it."
" And so, if I become your friend, I get the power of prophecy? Tell the future? Read thoughts?"
He nodded slowly. " And that's barely half of it. If you promise to visit and be my friend- a true friend."
I looked at him, looked deep. Behind the stunning colors of his eyes, I saw a layer of sadness. I saw something empty and lost. It was there for only a few moments before the colors shifted and I could no longer see the emotion, but what I'd see was raw and true enough. He did not belong, and my heart twisted slightly. No matter how close my friends and I were, everyone knew what it was like to feel lonely.
" Alright, freaky," I said lightly. " You've got yourself a deal."
I didn't stay to pay attention to his reaction. The mist and the mountain were giving me an odd feeling, like I'd been underwater too long and need to surface for breath. Holding my head up to make up for the embarrasing moments before, I pivoted smartly on my heel and began to head back the way I'd come.
" Your home is the other way."
" The other other way."
Perhaps one day I'd find my pride again.