Episode 2, Season One of War.
A day or two ago if you asked me how much I liked my life, I would’ve been honest and told you my life was about as safe as you could get. Which, in other words, meant that it was boring as bugs.
Then I got drafted.
For most cats, that’s a death sentence. To join the army in the vicious war against FireClan? Suicidal. But for me it was a chance. A chance to escape the small camp where I’d spent my life with my parents, mostly friendless, without any big dreams. A terrifying chance, but a chance nonetheless. I’d like to tell you that I was offered this position and I jumped at the chance, heroically leaving my family behind to fight for them. Not so much…I was drafted at random, the first cat in our village ever to go. I was terrified. But then I met my squad.
I look up ahead of us where Badgerstrike trundles through the woods. His dark pelt and I can imagine his gray-blue eyes sweeping the forest rapidly looking for any ‘trouble’. I say that sarcastically because about an hour ago we had to stop because Badgerstrike wanted to go follow some tracks he thought were fox. It was a bunny. A baby rabbit.
Next to him…my heart stops a little. It honestly does. Gorsefur is the second in our squad and I can practically see the responsibility hefted on his shoulders. Whereas Badgerstrike is as crazy as he is good at tree pull-ups, Gorsefur is stable. And when he looks at me with those golden eyes, his deep gray pelt ruffling in the wind…I sigh dreamily and Adderscar shoots a glare at me.
Adderscar is the brain of our group. He comes up with almost all of the strategies although he’d be loathe to admit anyone else helps. Since he’s not much good on the battlefield because of his size, Badgerstrike likes to use him for spying missions. Adderscar was bitten by an adder when he was a kit, on his shoulder, you can see the fur has never grown back. It was a baby and the medicine cat was able to suck out the poison. But it made Adderscar sickly, but not sickly enough that the army didn’t draft him early because of his intelligence. “Did you say something?” he asks suspiciously.
“Lay off,” Oakclaw nudges him then smiles at me. I roll my eyes, but smile back. Oakclaw is a furball- flirtatious, sexist, cocky, arrogant, extremely loyal, and probably our best fighter. He’s not the sharpest claw in the bunch, but his heart is usually in the right place. “She was just staring at me.”
“As if,” Silverflower and Shadowsong say at the same time. They glare at each other for a moment, then turn back, acting as if it never happened. The two she-cats are the exact opposite- Shadowsong is one of the toms, a fantastic fighter, a brilliant strategist, not afraid to crack a crude joke, and pretty fun to hang around. Silverflower on the other hand is obsessed with how she looks, the very idea of love, toms, pretty things, toms, and toms.
“Almost there,” Gorsefur calls back. I sigh in relief. I’m tougher now but that doesn’t mean my paws aren’t throbbing a little right now.
We break through the trees and I gasp in surprise.
Huge rock formations cut across the land, their sandy red color the exact same of the sand/dirt that coats the ground. The Tall Rocks for which the place are named jut out of the land like spikes. Some are short enough to climb on, others go up so far they practically disappear into the clouds.
“Move, move!” Badgerstrike is shouting. I look down serenely only to realize my squad is leaving me in the dust. I race to keep up, “Where are we going?” I pant to Silverflower.
“There’s like, a battle up here,” she replied boredly.
I put on the speed, trying not to loose sight of the rest of them. As we get nearer to the center of the labyrinth of spikes, I can hear the yowls and the dust being kicked up by paws. I pelt after the others, loosing Badgerstrike and Gorsefur almost instantly. Silverflower sweeps past me after Shadowsong and Oakclaw. I stop, utterly confused.
The yowl comes from behind me and I turn, “Wha-”
A golden tom flies over me and as I spin, watching him, he takes out the huge russet colored FireClan cat who was poised to kill me. I blink in surprise, “Who-”
“I’m Sunstreak,” he meows, smiling. He’s…well, he’s gorgeous. He has a golden pelt- an uncommon thing for a WaterClan cat since most of us have red-brown, brown, black, blue, or silver/gray fur. And Sunsteak is an even stranger name.
“Who are you…what…?”
“New recruit?” he smirks, “I’m Sageheart’s second. You better stay with me for protections, you’re obviously not- what are you doing?!”
He ducks as I lunge for him, spinning away from me. I crash into the ginger FireClan she-cat who had been creeping up behind him.
“Look out,” I say dryly. The she-cat wriggles away and runs for the border.
Sunstreak looks at me like I’m crazy, then he stands, shaking his pelt. “I like you,” he laughs, whiskers twitching.
I feel something flutter in my stomach. I never thought I was this shallow, I mean I take one look at this tom and apparently I love him. And only yesterday I felt that way about, “Gorsefur…” I whisper, then louder, “We have to go help them!”
“Don’t worry!” Sunstreak laughs easily. He nods and I see my squad and Sageheart’s driving away the remainders of the FireClan raiders. The FireClan cats hiss and I shudder. Aving been raised on ghost stories of these cats, I’m not too keen on being this near. Then I realize I fought a FireClan cat a few moments ago. I look at my paws to see them speckled with blood. FireClan blood.
I let out a whoop, jumping in the air like a kit. Sunstreak watches me amusedly and the rest of the squads join us.
“See you picked up a recruit,” a small snaky she-cat from Sageheart’s squad meows, “Nice.”
There are some chortles and Badgerstrike and a brown-gray tom approach us, “Good job today guys,” says the gray-brown tom who I can only assume is Sageheart. “We’ll be back tomorrow…so will they. Now these two,” he flicks his tail at Shadowsong and Oakclaw, “Volunteered for guard duty. Since you seem to have so much to say, Pebbleroll, you can guard with them,” There are hoots and laughs and the small she-cat rolls her eyes.
“Sunstreak, can you come with us? We’re going to have a chat.” Sageheart pads away with Badgerstrike and Sunstreak gives me one last smile before padding after them. Gorsefur meets my eye for a moment, his gaze unfathomable. Then he turns and goes after the others.
Sageheart’s squad shows us to the guard house here, consisting of some Bunkers, a Watch Tower on one of the Tall Rocks, and a few trees they use for ‘training’.
“Those aren’t trees!” scoffs Adderscar. He shuts up when one of Sageheart’s cat growls at him.
We head into bed and I curl up in my nest.
Another good thing about being drafted. I think before I doze off. I never have trouble falling asleep anymore.
We’re woken up at midnight by a yowl from the Watch Tower, “They’re coming across the border!”
We spring into action, racing out of the Barracks. Suddenly Sunstreak is beside me, “Hey,” I say. He looks at me with wide eyes, “You’re not tired?”
“I love to run,” I smirk back, then speed up forcing him to grit his teeth and do the same still a step behind me. “Any idea what this is about?” I ask. “I thought they weren’t coming back until tomorrow.”
“They must have known we’d be prepared for them then,” Sunstreak meows. Then he lowers his voice, ‘Can I trust you?”
“Of course,” I meow, slightly flattered.
“We think there’s a mole. Maybe even someone in your squad.”
I blink, my squad flashing through my head. Adderclaw, Silverflower, Shadowsong, Oakclaw, Badgerstrike, Gorsefur, Gorsefur…
“But we’ve only been here a day!” I say in shock, dodging a rock.
“Well someone works fast because as soon as you got here FireClan seemed to know our guard would be down.”
We keep running, not talking. I keep wondering who it is. Who’s the mole.
We get to the battlefield and Sunstreak leaves me to fend for myself. I claw at golden colored cats and hiss at ginger ones. The FireClan cats have no right to be here! I fight well and am pleased to see we’re winning when a wail goes up.
I turn and look. Pebbleroll is hunched over a body.
A FireClan cat howls in triumph and the others take up the call. WaterClan warriors stand bravely, but down one leader we’re no match. Soon some of Sageheart's squad starts to break rank and pretty soon the FireClan cats have driven us down into the Barracks.
I hurry along the dark passages of the Barracks which are bustling with cats.
“…got us surrounded…”
“Pebbleroll distraught, she was supposed to help him…”
“…said to man the entrances.”
I stop, not knowing what to do. Then, in a moment of sudden daring, I head for the Commander and seconds area. Badgerstrike, Gorsefur, and Sunstreak are talking quietly. “Hello?”
“Brookfall, you need to go-” Gorsefur starts, his eyes dark. Then Sunstreak stands, “It’s alright Gorsefur, let her stay.” His voice is hoarse as if he’s been crying. Gorsefur glares at him then relaxes. I shoot the back of his head a glare.
“We need to find the mole,” Badgerstrike says impatiently. I look at him curiously- he’s an old timer, wouldn’t he and Sageheart know each other, maybe even been friends? He seems as stony now as he usually is. “Brookfall, since you’ve declared yourself a Commander apparently, that’s your job.”
“In the meantime we’re going to try and narrow down our suspects to a few cats…” Badgerstrike continues, “We’re going to go out and strike, now.”
“Now?” Gorsefur asks, alarmed, “But we just-”
“I know, which is why they won’t be expecting it.” Badgerstrike explains.
Gorsefur nods, still looking troubled. “I’ll go…tell everyone.”
He leaves quickly and I notice Sunstreak glaring after him with narrowed eyes, “You better get on finding that mole before he digs us in a deeper hole.”
We strike fast and hard. And it’s pretty freaking awesome. The guards are talking mostly, facing away from the entrance. We’re halfway between the guards and the entrance, nothing but air under us when it does wrong.
The guards turn and almost synchronized, slam us down. I hear a wail of pain.
A FireClan warrior darts towards me and I blink hazily, an ache in my ribs preventing me from getting up. Suddenly Oakclaw is there, shoving the tom back, “Brookfall, get out of here!” he yowls, “Go see Adderscar or Shadowsong or something.”
“I’m not a medicine cat you-” she strings together a string of insults that make me snort even through the pain. I drag myself back to the Barracks, several others doing the same. Adderscar stands at the entrance.
“Broken claw, get back out there you pansy…sprained ankle, go inside, wait for me,” he gets to me. “Bruised ribs, go wait inside…”
I pull myself past him gritting my teeth. I head down the tunnel.
“Brookfall!” I turn and see Badgerstrike running towards me, “Listen, come here.”
“I have bruised ribs,” I tell him, proud of my war wounds.
“Congrats kid. Now listen,” he eyes me intently, “Gorsefur is missing.”
I blink, then this settles in. Gorsefur’s hurry out of the meeting, him not being at the battle after that? “You think he’s the mole,” I whisper.
Badgerstrike nods, “I’ve sent Sunstreak after him. I…I wish it wasn’t…but everything points that way.”
The tom I like may have betrayed us to the enemy. “It can’t be true,” I tell Badgerstrike.
“You think I don’t know that?” his nostrils flare and it’s as if I can actually see everything coming down on him- his best friends death, his second’s possible betrayal to our greatest enemy who now lurks outside. And with the mole we don’t have a fighting chance. “But Gorsefur has been acting suspicious, sneaky ever since we got here. He was sneaking out last night and he left that meeting in a hurry only to not show up, now you tell me Recruit what I’m supposed to think?!” he looks at me through stormy gray eyes, “Well? Answer me!”
“I can’t,” I whisper.
“Then get out there and find them,” Badgerstrike meows. “There’s a secret exit out the other way…I think they went into the Tall Rocks.”
I nod and streak away before he can say more, the pain of seeing my steely Commander almost breaking down spurring me on.
I find the secret passage and squeeze through, my ribs burning. I have to take a break outside of it, then I pad into the maze of rocks.
The FireClan warriors don’t even seem to be in here. Only WaterClan warriors know how to navigate this maze, although FireClan have always wanted it, claiming the arid rocks are perfect for their territory. Doesn’t mean they can find their way through. I can barely do it, but the tour we got last night covered the basics. I do a quick sweep around, working systematically through.
I hear raised voices and speed up slightly.
The clearing I emerge onto seems to be the center of the maze. Gorsefur and Sunstreak are crouched low, tails lashing.
“Hey!” I yowl. They look up in surprise but don’t move from their positions. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Stopping a filthy mole,” they growl at the same time. I stare at them in confusion, the pain in my ribs clouding my thoughts.
Sunstreak notices my confusion and meows quickly, “After Badgerstrike sent me out here to catch Gorsefur I found him hiding in here…”
Gorsefur meets my eyes, “You don’t understand.”
I look at the two toms. One golden as the day, one dark as the night. I thought that just because I’d spent a few nights with my squad that I knew them.
I thought wrong.
“I can’t believe you Gorsefur,” I meow, my voice trembling, “I trusted you, I thought…but sneaking off and everything lately? I can’t believe you turned traitor.”
“You’ve known me for…urgh. And I was following him!” Gorsefur protests.
I cross over to where Sunstreak stands, and stand in front of him. The two toms pull out of their crouches, Gorsefur with his eyes wide.
“Now isn’t this touching?” the smirk in Sunstreak’s voice is palpable.
“Now can you please just come back to the Barracks and explain this like a nice-hrk!” I let out a gasp as my ribs are kicked.
I slump to the ground, my vision blurry. Gorsefur is rushing towards me only to skid as Sunstreak jerks me up, holding claws to my neck.
“Put her down,” Gorsefur’s voice is calm but full of contempt.
“Or what? You know how these things work Gorsefur, the warrior needs to be compliant so that the hostage doesn’t get killed,”
“And you know the charges for turning traitor,” Gorsefur meows, “If you get caught you’re dead.”
“Which is why I’m not going to get caught. Because you’re going to confess to turning spy.”
Gorsefur remains silent and my vision clears a little. This is all going to fast…Sunstreak can’t be a spy. I remember when he saved my life the first time I got here. But I also remember the nights his nest was empty, the meetings he left quickly. I didn't think of it earlier because I assumed Badgerstrike had ordered him to trail Gorsefur...And now here he is threatening to kill me.
Gorsefur glares at Sunstreak and I know he’s trying to think of a way out of this. But no one is here and with the space between us, my throat would be slit before he took two steps. Finally he hisses and I know he’s stuck.
“Fine,” he growls. I hear Sunstreak breathe a sigh of relief. He relaxes just the slightest. I wince, knowing my ribs are probably about to shatter, and rear back.
Sunstreak falls over in shock and my shoulders jam into his stomach. I hear the air whoosh out of his lungs. Gorsefur is racing towards us. But too slow. I turn and frantically claw at Sunstreak’s stomach leaving streaks of bright red to spill on the golden fur, but he still gets up and leaps at me again. I try to do the flippy move Gorsefur taught me, roll him off and push him away, but he’s too heavy. I struggle, my ribs on fire, but it’s too late.
“A valiant effort,” Sunstreak grants. “But maybe I don’t need a hostage after all, my word against Gorsefur’s…” he lifts his paw, claws out. I glare at him.
Gorsefur is staring at me, eyes wide. I can practically see the calculations running through his head- if he starts running now, if he tries to talk Sunstreak down, if, if, if…
Then Sunstreak let’s out a shriek and falls. I push him off of me, curling my lip in disgust. Then I see that Silverflower is on his back.
“What are you doing?!” Gorsefur bursts out. “He might have killed Brookfall!” then, after a small pause, “Or you.”
Before Silverflower could reply, Sunstreak rose and shook her off. She tumbled to the ground, then leapt up. She had more guts then I thought, but she was puny compared to Sunstreak. Then she smirked, “For such a gorgeous, supposedly smart tom, you have a tiny brain.”
“What?” Sunstreak asked, bemused. Then they hit him. Shadowsong and Oakclaw came in from the sides, quickly taking him down while Silverflower smirked. I rushed in to help. Once a smug looking Oakclaw had him pinned, Badgerstrike and Adderscar walked in.
“See, it worked amazingly!” Adderscar was saying, “I’m telling you, using Silverflower as bait is smart. She’s not a good fighter and there’s the added advantage of her possibly getting killed…”
“I heard that!” Silverflower yelped. Shadowsong rolled her eyes but she was smiling.
I let out a breath of relief. Badgerstrike stalks over to Sunstreak and just stares at him, eyes smoldering. “Oakclaw, you can let him up, he knows he can’t get away.”
Oakclaw grumbles but does so, sitting nearby with Shadowsong. Badgerstrike stalks forward, “You’re despicable,” he growls, “You had your Commander killed and you schemed to get the rest of us out of the way. Tell me what they offered you Sunstreak, because you used to be a good kit.”
Sunstreak gritted his teeth, “Just kill me already old timer.”
Badgerstrike’s eyes were dark and I both wanted to cry and marvel at this new side of him. This angry creature that replaces the crazy old tom I usually know. But it’s also sad and raw and I can see all the hurt he’s suffered the past day reflected in his eye. “Not until I get a good reason,” he growls. “I’m having your squad escort you to the Main Camp where you’ll be tried for murder and treason.”
Sunstreak growls back, “I wish you’d all been annihilated. I wish…” But we never heard what else he wished because his squad had come out from behind the rocks, eyes stony. They dragged away Sunstreak and I stared after almost mournfully.
“That kid was gonna go far,” Badgerstrike whispers. I’m the only one who can hear. “What happened to him?”
I try to imagine Sunstreak as a kit, fluffy golden pelt, wide, curious eyes. But I can’t even match that with the strong, proud warrior I met my first day, much less the lunatic being led away now. “Something,” I murmur.
Badgerstrike shakes his head, “Another squad is being sent in to help us finish up the riffraff here.”
“The FireClan riffraff or is there another mole we need to freak out over?” Shadowsong meows dryly. Oakclaw snorts and she looks at him in surprise.
I turn and see that Gorsefur is still standing where he was. I pad over, “You’re going to have to close your mouth eventually.”
He tries to look at his open mouth, then realizes how stupid that looks and clams up.
“So…it all tuned out okay?” I try.
“But it didn’t.” he protests, “You almost got killed because I was too…because I couldn’t have saved you!”
“Well it all worked out…’ I say again, not wanting him to blame himself.
“No, they lost a Commander and a second,” he says, looking at me, “I can’t imagine that happening to us..”
I don’t even look at the rest of the squad, “It won’t.” I tell him.
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I won’t let it happen.”
The words are out of my mouth before I can regret them and before either of us can say anything else, Badgerstrike comes up.
“Alright crew, good job tonight. We caught our mole. Huzzah. But we still need to get the FireClan cats back. We’re being sent another squad as back-up and they’ll be here before dusk. So until then rest up.”
“Aren’t the FireClan cats still outside?” Adderscar asks smarmily.
“Yes, we’re going to march straight through them,” Badgerstrike gives Adderscar a whap with his paw, “No! Once news that their traitor had been caught, they scattered for a bit.”
“Cool,” Shadowsong meows, faking a yawn, “Can we go now? Saving Brookfall and Gorsefur’s butts all day has made me sleepy.”
Gorsefur nudges her affectionately and they start padding off with Badgerstrike, Silverflower, Adderscar, and Oakclaw close behind. I smile.
I’d survived my first battle, my first betrayal, my first time being a hostage. I’d said some quasi-romantic words to Gorsefur.
I took my first step forward, feeling like an experienced Commander, powerful and strong.
Then I fell on my face.
“You okay?” Oakclaw looks back with a smirk.
“Ribs…” I groan.
I’d love to say I heroically toughed it out and walks back with the rest of them. But, to be honest, Oakclaw and Shadowsong carried me back. Oh well, sometimes you do need a little help from your friends.
Although, come to think of it, if I’d had some help from my friends my ribs wouldn’t be bruised in the first place…. Hm…