Little Lady Killer
Whatever I was expecting to see - Lilyshade pinning Yellowsun down while the latter struggled for breath, Yellowsun chasing Lilyshade, both of them screaming at each other - it was not the sight that greeted me when Specklepaw and I arrived. To my utter shock, there was no struggling, no yelling, not even anything out of place. Just Lilyshade and Yellowsun, standing side-by-side, waiting for us to catch up.
"Um... hi Lilyshade," Specklepaw said. He couldn't have made the situation more awkward if he'd stood on his head and turned into a caterpillar.
"Hello, Specklepaw, Breezepaw," she said politely.
Oh boy. Nope, this was not what I was expecting.
Clamping my mouth shut, I refused to greet her, instead turning to Yellowsun for guidance. The warrior looked just as baffled by the situation as we were. "Um... about Shinecloud and everything, Lilyshade. Oakstar wants you brought back to camp."
For a second the white she-cat looked like she might resist. Then she sighed and flicked her tail. "All right then. I guess we'd better get going, huh?"
So awkward. "Yeah." The three of us tried to position ourselves around her in a guard formation without being too obvious. I mean, she wasn't acting anything like a killer. I'd expected at least a little bit of crazy; wasn't there any trace of the cat that had been driven to killing?
"By the way," Lilyshade said conversationally, licking a paw daintily as we padded along. "Rogues have come onto this side of the stream. They're getting too bold. You guys might want to do something about that."
"You guys? Not... the Clan?" I asked tentatively.
Something flitted across her eyes. "Yes, Breezepaw. You can't honestly believe Oakstar isn't going to banish me, and even if he doesn't, I think it would be best for the Clan if I left. I've outlived my welcome just about everywhere on earth. It's time for me to make a new life for myself."
Though I knew I shouldn't be talking about this too openly in front of Yellowsun and Specklepaw, I whispered, "But what about Blackheart?" The pretty she-cat tensed at my words, but didn't say anything. Specklepaw glanced up curiously, then dropped his gaze out of politeness. I pressed my question. "He loves you, you know."
When Lilyshade spoke, her sweet, feminine voice came out as a grating rasp. "I don't deserve him."
There was so many more questions I longed to badger her with - What made you do it? What are you thinking right now? Do you actually regret killing Shinecloud, or only its aftereffects? Was the murder a conscious decision, an accident, or just instinctual? - but I knew they were completely out of place right now. I would leave the questions up to Oakstar. Right now, all Lilyshade needed was a little comfort.
"You're not a bad cat," I murmured softly.
She looked up at me, and I could see tears shimmering in her big green eyes; I realized she wasn't as put together as she had first seemed. Inside, she was falling apart. My kindness was greatly needed; chances are everyone else would be really cruel to her now. "I am a bad cat, Breezepaw. I'm a murderer."
"We'll leave that to Oakstar's interrogation," Yellowsun said firmly. I kind of wished I could continue talking to Lilyshade(preferably in private) but I guessed that Yellowsun wanted me to shut up, so I did.
"Almost to camp," Specklepaw said gruffly, clearing his throat. I glanced at him, and saw he had a really nervous expression on his face. Nudging him, I gave him a thin smile, and he sighed wearily. "I don't want to do this anymore," he admitted in a whisper. "This isn't how I thought it would be."
"I know," I answered, flicking my tail.
We padded into the camp side-by-side, flanking Lilyshade in almost a protective manner. Oakstar and Quailfeather, who were sitting in the middle of the camp together, both looked up at the same time. Every eye focused on Lilyshade, who stared straight ahead without meeting anyone's gaze. I was glad Blackheart wasn't here- we had enough to sort out as it was.
"Daisypaw, please go tell the other cats that are searching to come back," Quailfeather said, rising to her paws. My friend nodded, brushing pelts with me reassuringly as she bounded out of the camp. I wished I could share her confidence.
Oakstar padded forward a few steps, then stopped. There was an almost fatherly disappointment in his eyes, and I knew how hard this would be for him. "Lilyshade," he said softly. "Why don't you come into my den? Quailfeather, Lionpatch, and Thistleblossom, I need you guys too. Oh, and when Goldenburst gets back, send him in."
Everyone was clearly bummed that they wouldn't get to watch the interrogation, but I was secretly beyond relieved. Yes, it was cowardly of me, but I just didn't know how I'd be able to stand it. I might break down and scream at the Clan leader, for crying out loud. It was better that I stayed here.
Behind me, I heard the leaves by the camp entrance rustle as Daisypaw popped in, followed by all the cats that had been sent out to search for Lilyshade. Minkpaw was among them, and she made a beeline for me as soon as she spotted me. "Hey," she said, a bit cautiously; it was almost like she wasn't sure if we could still talk now that our partnership in the case was over. "You look pretty... bad."
The tiniest smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. "I feel like it. Minkpaw, I'm not even sure if we did the right thing anymore, trying to solve the case."
"I get what you mean- but neither of us knew this would happen," she said stolidly. "A crime is a crime, y'know?"
I raised my head in disbelief. "Do you really believe that, even in this case?"
Her shoulders slumped. "No."
"Hey guys." Both of us turned to see Daisypaw standing there, an anxious expression on her face. I guessed the reason quickly, and moved to smooth things over.
"Minkpaw, Daisypaw," I said sheepishly. "I know you guys don't get along that great, but-"
"That's fine," Daisypaw interrupted breezily. The smile she gave Minkpaw was genuine. "I'm sure we can learn to at least tolerate each other." This was accompanied by her charming little laugh. I could tell Minkpaw was relaxing a bit too. Maybe someday we could all be good friends. Until then, I would settle for not ripping each other's pelts off.
Specklepaw joined us, and the four of us apprentices walked over to a corner of the camp to talk over the case. There was a general tension in the air over what would happen, but I also detected something I hadn't ever felt. For once, all of us were getting along. Talking together. Daisypaw and Specklepaw were together, Minkpaw and I weren't fighting... in the midst of a murder interrogation, we had somehow come together like a real family.
Enough with the sentimental thoughts. I rejoined the conversation, eager for something to distract me from what might be going on inside Oakstar's den. Unfortunately, the only topic of conversation was the murder case, which didn't really help at all.
"I don't think Oakstar will banish her," Specklepaw was saying with conviction. Then his gaze darkened. "But she said she'd leave anyway, so..."
Biting her lip, Daisypaw leaned her head on his shoulder and gazed towards High-Rock anxiously. "I... I know this sounds weird, but I can almost see why she did it. I don't know if I'd do the same thing, but I don't even think she deserved any of this. She certainly didn't deserve all the torture Duskwatcher and Shinecloud put her through."
Duskwatcher. Glancing about the camp, I located the tom standing near Bluebird. Neither brother was speaking to each other; Bluebird, for once, looked like he wanted to just blend in with the ground and not speak to anyone. I was tempted to go over and talk to him, but even I wasn't that bold, and honestly, I would rather stick with my friends.
Suddenly, everyone in the camp froze and turned towards Oakstar's den, where we could hear raised voices. Lilyshade's, mainly, a high, hysterical note. Blackheart, I noticed, looked especially anguished, as if every ounce of pain he had caused her was taken out of his own soul.
Fine-tuning my ears, I strained to make out what Lilyshade was saying.
"... don't know, Oakstar! You don't understand! I can't stay!" Suddenly, she burst out of the den, tears tumbling down her cheeks in a waterfall. For a split second, she didn't move, ensnared by all our gazes, seeming to realize that everyone was watching her. Then, with a resolute set to her jaw, she leaped on top of High-Rock, glaring down at the Clan with shimmering eyes. "I have something to say. I know I have no right to be up here, but this is the last time you'll ever see me, so you don't need to worry about it." Here she glanced at Oakstar, who had come out of his den and was staring up at her incredulously. He gave her a short nod, and she continued, "I didn't mean to do it. Duskwatcher, I'm sorry. But... I can't ever bring her back. I can't undo it. So I'm leaving."
Despite knowing this was going to happen, I felt my heart lurch. I stood up, meaning to say something as Lilyshade passed me, but the words caught in my throat. I remained silent.
"I think this was probably the weirdest case of murder that ever happened," Daisypaw commented quietly, no trace of humor in her voice.
Bitterly, I nodded. "Do you think we'll ever see Lilyshade again?"
All my friends were silent; we all knew the answer to that question anyway. There was no coming back from something like this. Even if the entire Clan forgot about the murder, a sensitive she-cat like Lilyshade could never bring herself to forget. Never look at things the same way. In fact, I'd been shocked that she'd even hidden the truth for the amount of time she had.
"Will you guys excuse me for a moment? I have to talk to Blackheart," I said hastily, getting up to intercept the tom, who was heading towards the warriors' den. "Hey," I greeted him. He gave me a cordial but emotionless stare. Feeling like the rudest cat in the world, I glanced at my paws. "I'm sorry. For everything."
His gaze went upwards. "Sorry doesn't really fix a single thing- but thank you."
Not feeling any better, I stepped back and watched him disappear into the den.
They were falling like snow in spring, twirling and dancing on the breeze, little blush-colored petals touching down on the grass delicately. I was no girly-girl, but even I couldn't deny that I felt the urge to roll about in the soft, sweet-smelling flowers.
A melodious laugh carried from above my head, and I glanced up to see a pair of lively green eyes peering down at me. A lithe, beautiful white she-cat with brown-tipped ears, perched on a branch of the cherry tree. Lilyshade, only looking much younger and happier, her face carefree and untouched.
As I watched, marveling at the beauty of this dream, she padded to the edge of her branch, still looking at me. "Things don't stay like this forever, do they Breezepaw?"
"It would be nice if they did," I commented, padding towards the trunk of the tree and placing two paws on it. "Mind if I join you up there?"
Shadows drew across her face, closing it off to me. "No! Don't come up here!" she screamed, with such vengeance that I leaped away from the tree. Thunder rolled above our heads without warning, and a fat, cold drop of rain hit me in the face. The cherry blossoms were wilting around me. Dying. Crumbling away into dust. And Lilyshade was changing. Blood speckled her snowy coat. Her eyes grew large and haunted, her face gaunt with worry and guilt. Her sister's name formed on her lips.
"Lilyshade," I whispered, longing to help.
Either her mind wouldn't let her hear me, or she just couldn't bring herself to listen. A scream was rising out of her, gurgling, rasping, horrifying. Like a wild animal. Something crazed.
And then, before I knew it, before I could stop her, she was running. Running away from everything, only wanting to escape.
Problem was, she was on a limb. There was nowhere to run to. Nowhere to go.
The next thing I heard was the snap of her neck as she hit the ground.
Panicked, my head shot up so quickly that a sharp bolt of pain lanced through my neck. It was all quiet in the apprentices' den. Darkness had fallen long ago outside, and I hadn't been sure if I would even get sleep. Now, I wished I hadn't.
Sweat glistened on my black pelt, and my heartrate refused to slow down. What could I do? That dream... was that Lilyshade's fate?
No way could I let that happen.
Desperately, I sat awake in my nest, trying to think of ways to stop it.
Over and over again, the same face came to my mind. Blackheart. If they could only get together... they could help each other get through this. But Blackheart belonged to the Clan, didn't he? What would be the punishment for sending him away with Lilyshade? And would he even want to? I wasn't sure, but I didn't think she even returned his feelings.
But it was worth a try. Anything to save a life.
Stealing out of my nest, I slunk across the camp towards the warriors' den, wondering how I was going to get Blackheart without waking everyone else up.
Lucky for me, his nest was towards the outer ring of the den, allowing me to poke him(hard) without even entering the den. Opening one eye sleepily, he mumbled, "Breezepaw? What are you-"
"Shh," I warned, beckoning with my tail for him to come outside. He did so, staring at me confusedly as he blinked sleep out of his eyes. "I had a really bad dream about Lilyshade. And I think it's a warning. Foreshadowing, or something like that."
Alert now, he stared at me. "What happened?"
"She..." I hesitated.
Blackheart gulped. "How did it happen?"
"A cherry tree," I whispered. "She was standing on the limb of one, and she just sort of..." Seeing his expression, which was like nothing I had ever seen before, I hastened to ask, "Blackheart? Are you okay? What's wrong?"
"The cherry tree," he said, his voice shaky. "We used to hang out there all the time. She would... she would perch on a low branch..."
His voice went on, and caught me up in a story of a bygone moon.
"I'm flying!" the she-cat yelled, standing on the edge of the branch, the wind blowing through her fur. Her eyes sparkled with joy, the light catching the many facets of their emerald-mint color.
Below her, a young black-and-white tom watched with a sort of blissful expression on his face, his eyes warm as he observed the slender shape above him. "Careful, Lilypaw!" he called. "You might fall!"
Laughing, she began hopping on the cherry tree's branch, sending blossoms raining down on the tom. "Blackpaw, you're always so serious! I'm not going to fall! I feel like a bird up here! I can fly!"
Blackpaw chuckled in spite of himself. "All right, birdie, why don't you come down now? We're going to be late back to camp, and our mentors will skin our tails."
"Mentors, training, being on time," she said, rolling her eyes affectionately. "Is that all you can talk about?"
He stretched and shrugged. "I guess so. It's better than being obsessed with my pelt, like Duskpaw and Shinepaw are."
"Don't say that," she scolded lightly, hopping down from the branch and landing beside him gracefully. "Shinepaw's my sister, and Duskpaw's not half-bad at all." Not noticing the dark clouds that covered Blackpaw's face at her words, she pranced around him in a circle, scattering cherry blossoms into the air. They caught in his fur and whiskers, but he didn't seem to care. The tom seemed to be in a sort of trance as he watched Lilypaw, unconscious of anything else.
"Blackpaw," she said, absently picking a petal off his nose. "When we're warriors, we should come back here. To relive our apprenticeship."
Nodding, he mewed, "It's a deal."
"We never did," Blackheart commented, his voice raw with long-hidden emotions.
I remained silent for a little bit. Then I glanced at him. "I think you're the only one that can stop her from- from dying, Blackheart. She's going to kill herself."
Pain dashed through his eyes, but he shook his head. "I can't Breezepaw. I mean nothing to her."
"You have to," I pleaded, wondering how to make him understand.
Silence fell over us. I held my tongue, sensing that Blackheart was wrestling with himself. Trying to make a decision.
Finally, he stood. Regretfully, he gazed at me. "I think this is good-bye, Breezepaw. I'll never be able to thank you enough for what you've done, or understand why you did it. May StarClan light your path."
"W-what?" I stammered, at first not understanding. Then it dawned on me. "You're leaving."
"I have to be with her. She needs me. I know it's a lot to ask after what you've already done, but-"
"I've got your back. I'll cover for you," I assured him without pausing to think it through. "Oakstar won't know the truth till you guys are far, far way."
He lingered at the exit to the camp. "I wish there was some way to show you... if I do save her in time."
I smiled. "I'll know."
Giving me a nod, Blackheart turned and raced out of the camp for the last time.