Darkness. A blanket of black over everything, blocking my vision and soothing my senses. I didn't know it at the time, but that darkness was my protector.
Warmth. The brush of silky fur against mine, the sweet smell of milk. The first living being I'd ever known. Mother, I called her.
First steps. I tottered about on unsteady, stubby legs, exploring the dark chamber we called our home. Mother watched me with kindness in her eyes, her blue eyes filled with a love I'd never experience again.
Those were the good times, though I didn't know it then. It was just me and Mother; my siblings had been stillborn. I knew Mother still grieved for them sometimes. I could hear her sobs when she thought I was asleep, but I was too young to understand the full weight of what it was like to lose a kit. I've seen and experienced enough misery by now to know what she was going through.
Despite Mother's occasional crying, things were good for us. Then he came, and things were never the same.
Voices. One soft and pleading, the other gruff and angry.
Screams. On the nights he came, the screams echoed through our chamber. I would huddle closer into my nest, trying to block out the noise, trying to go back to sleep. I should've protected her, or at least tried... but I was only a kit.
Blood. Mother's coat was matted with it when she returned to me. As I nursed, my head would sometimes bump against one of her cuts, and she would give a strangled sob of pain. She never cried out though. She tried to be strong for me. But it didn't matter. In the end, she broke. And I broke with her.
Silence. One day, he came and stayed for a long time. The screaming died away. It was quiet, oh so quiet. Then, footsteps. Too heavy to be Mother's.
"Come along, little Morningkit. You're mine now." A pair of firm jaws grasped my scruff. I kicked my legs helplessly in the air, too shocked to do anything else. "So this is where she hid you, huh?" the tom - my father, I later found out - said as he took me out of the chamber. The air outside was cold, freezing actually, and penetrated my kit-fluff thoroughly. I started shaking almost instantly. My kidnapper was heedless. "Birdfly and her Clan. What an idiot; did she really think she could hide from me? First she betrayed us and our group by warning Coldstar of our 'secret' attack. Then she kept my own kit from me."
He put me down, lowering his face so it was inches from mine. His breath stank of blood. Mother's blood. I cringed away from him, the hard rocks undernneath me digging into my back. It was no use. His bulk filled my vision, terrifying me. "But Birdfly couldn't keep us apart, could she? She got all my rogues killed by her so-called Clanmates, she forced me to be on the run for moons, but she always knew I'd be back. Always knew I'd come for her. So she left the Clan, huh? And this is where she's been hiding."
He grinned maliciously. "Not good enough, daughter. You could learn a lesson from her. You can never escape me."
Once again, he picked me up, and we were on our way again, to who-knew-where.
And so, that was how night found me, as a little kit. It cocooned me in darkness and wiped away the innocence of my kithood. Night found me innocent and made me numb to the world.
The Clan found me a day later. Only a day, but it was long enough for me to learn that there are cats in this world who do evil beyond belief. I watched my father stalk Clan apprentices through the undergrowth, then slit their throats and spill scarlet blood on the ground. I watched him sneer into their glazed eyes and laugh at their dying breaths. I saw the mad glint in his eyes whenever he looked up after a kill. I felt like screaming, but I couldn't. I couldn't scream, or he might've killed me too. Besides, I was weakened from going so long without milk, and it was all I could do to stay conscious.
With the gory trail he left behind us, it was no surprise the Clan cats tracked us down. I was huddled behind a bush, trying to get warm - shivers racked my tiny body relentlessly - when they arrived. Yowls of anger rent the air, and I heard my father's shouts, his mad laughter. Peaking out from behind the bush, I saw four strange, strong-looking cats tearing my father to shreds. After only a few minutes, the one who had killed so many lay deathly still.
It was then that a ginger she-cat looked up and spotted me. She yowled something to the other Clan cats, and they walked over to investigate me. I could do little more than tremble and shake as they nosed and sniffed at me. One of them looked at me intently for a long time, as if memorizing my face and pairing it with someone else's. Then she said, "This is Birdfly's kit. I know it."
Exclamations filled the air. I was picked up and rushed back to their home - the MoonClan camp. Immediately upon getting there, the ginger she-cat took me to the place they called "the nursery". It was filled with laughter and milk and love. Even though I was placed among the other kits, I knew I didn't belong there, for they knew not the horrors of this life, and I did. To them, death was a far-off fantasy. To me, it was a stalker, always in the shadows and ready to pounce on those I loved.
Yes, help found me. It found me numb and made me lonely, for I saw exactly how different my life was from other kits'. I saw exactly how I could never fit in.
For a bit, I reveled in my loneliness. I kept my distance from the other kits, particularly the ones which I considered overly-friendly. Over and over again, I told myself that I couldn't rely on anyone. Couldn't trust anyone.
But I was young and naive. I lacked the willpower to carry out such harsh orders. And so, one day, I ended up letting my guard down, unaware of how much it would cost me.
His name was Wolfpaw. Charming, handsome, and filled to the brim with confidence in himself. For most of my life, I had observed him from a distance, watched him with a cool distaste. I never dreamed we could get close; he was the pampered, cushioned, self-righteous snob that represented all I hated and had been robbed of. For moons, I stayed in the shadows of him and his friends, simmering with loathing and irritation. Till one fateful night, on the full moon.
It was the eve of the Gathering, as I recall. All of MoonClan was eager and out for blood that night; SnowClan scent had been discovered on our part of the mountain, and our leader - Dovestar - was less then pleased.
For once, all of us apprentices were going. My mentor, a skinny hawk-eyed tom called Ghosteye, had informed me of this most unpleasantly. To him, and to the rest of the Clan, I was an outsider, despite the fact that my mother had been MoonClan. It didn't help that I did everything I could to push my Clanmates away.
The Gathering went well. MoonClan put SnowClan to shame, and Dovestar told off Peakstar extremely well. It was as we were heading back to camp that things went awry, slamming my and Wolfpaw's fates together.
A scream had split the air, raising the hair on all our spines and instilling fear into our hearts. I had pulled closer to Ghosteye, who had shoved me away impatiently. I remember Wolfpaw's face exactly as we heard the scream. His normally cool blue eyes had showed more emotion then I had ever seen, and his voice had trembled as he mewed, "That's my mother!"
Wolfpaw's mother, a beautiful she-cat called Cherrypool, was mourned greatly by the entire Clan. Heads were bent and tears were shed at her vigil. Through it all, though, Wolfpaw remained detached. The tom who had prevailed at the center of MoonClan's social web was now beaten down with sorrow. It broke my heart. Despite my pact not to make any friends, I had to reach out to him. So I did.
Our conversation is still imprinted into my mind.
"I get how it feels." My first real words to him.
"What are you talking about?"
"To lose a mother." Here I had choked back a sob, but kept going. "I lost my mother when I was a kit. My dad killed her." By now I had pieced together the story of what had happened to me as a kit.
He had looked up as if seeing me for the very first time. "Morningpaw..." Wow, I remember thinking. He knows my name. "Your mother was Birdfly, wasn't she?" His eyes darkened in sympathy, realizing what I meant. The whole Clan knew my story, but the sad thing was, very few cats ever connected it to me. Forget unwanted sympathy, my Clanmates seemed to hardly know I existed. Which I did nothing to help, but still.
"Yeah, she was," I said quietly.
That conversation, though seemingly meaningless, was the beginning of a glorious friendship. After his mother's death, Wolfpaw was quieter, more reserved, more sensitive. He distanced himself from his old friends - that posse of shallowness I hated so much - and hung out with me more. We fished, hunted, played, and talked about everything under the sky. There were times when I was sure I was in love; I was a young apprentice, and didn't realize how fickle love could be.
Those days were some of the best in my life. I realized all I had been missing, everything that had been robbed from me: happiness, loyalty, unconditional love. It was a special epiphany. For the first time, I opened my heart up to someone. Friendship found me lonely and made me hopeful. If only I had known how fragile hope could be...
It was a dreary, rainy day when Wolfpaw and I had our first, only, and last real fight. The only reason we didn't fight later was because I was too stubborn to even acknowledge his existence, let alone talk to him.
Anyway, back to the fateful day when our friendship - the first one I'd ever had in my entire life - was shattered. I'll admit, it wasn't a sudden thing. Lately, Wolfpaw had been becoming more detached, skipping dates we had to go hang out with the other apprentices, and not paying attention to the conversations that had once immersed us both. In some small part of me, I guess I realized what was coming, but I couldn't let go. No one understands what it's like to only have one link to having a normal life. One cat who makes you feel like life is worth living. And to lose them to shallow flakes like I did... It was awful.
I was sitting inside the apprentices' den, watching the rain outside. Droplets slid down the intertwined ferns above my head and splashed onto my fur, but I hadn't cared. Hopefully, I thought maybe a few would land on my cheeks and disguise the salty tears running down them. It was such a weak, girly thing to cry, and yet I hadn't been able to help it. Wolfpaw's latest stand-up was the last straw for me.
We'd arranged a meeting at the Crocus Pond, a popular hangout for apprentices back then. I had gone to the place eagerly, glad that I would finally be able to face the popular cats who occupied the place with someone by my side. However, when I'd gotten there, Wolfpaw was already there. With the popular cats, those who made my life a living hell. At my arrival, they'd errupted into snickers and hoots, with a rude phrase scattered in between. Quickly, it became a one-sided insult contest. They criticized everything from my fur to my parents and half-Clan heritage.
But that wasn't the worst part. The worst part is, I looked up during that time. Through my tears, I locked eyes with the cat I thought could save me. The cat I thought would finally rescue me; I'd been waiting for rescue so long.
Wolfpaw had seen my pain. He had felt it. And he'd turned away.
Back in the apprentice's den, I had sobbed my heart out, then dried my tears and decided what to do. It was over. Our friendship was over.
Oh, he pleaded. Pleaded and begged and made excuses, but I'd had enough. Just like our first conversation, our last conversation was burned forever into my mind:
"I'm sorry." A gentle nose against my shoulder, a lick against my ear. I turned away.
"Sorry isn't enough anymore, Wolfpaw."
There had been quiet. I felt his pelt brush against mine as he sat beside me, but I'd turned away. "I know it isn't, Morningpaw. But what else do you want from me?"
"Nothing." I stood as regally as I could, not letting him see the deluge of tears that were falling from my eyes. "We're through. I want nothing more to do with you."
I was strong about my decision, but as I walked away, I chanced one last glance over my shoulder. The look in Wolfpaw's eyes never left me; haunted, sorrowful, bewildered navy-blue eyes. The pain in them didn't fit in with the rest of his handsome face. Perhaps there was a true soul in there somewhere, a cat who could love and never let go. But he'd made his choice for this life. He had chosen his old friends over me. And I could never forget that.
I planned to never go back on my vow, and never speak to Wolfpaw again, and I threw myself into it with all the fervor of a young heart burning with subdued fury. I didn't fly into rages; such just wasn't my way. Instead, I ignored Wolfpaw with a quiet iciness that he couldn't ignore and couldn't penetrate.
To the outsider, it might have appeared that the poor tom got the worst end of the deal. But you can rest assured I did suffer; I cried my broken heart to sleep every night.
And so betrayal took ahold of my one flaw, my one fatal weakness. Hope.
Betrayal found me hopeful and left me broken.
Her name was Kat, something which amused me to no end. A cat named Kat. Haha.
I first met her on the border of MoonClan territory. She represented everything I'd always wanted to be and never could accomplish. She was intelligent, with those sharp amber eyes and that keen expression. She was tough, with a scathing sense of humor and a tongue like a whip. I knew she would never let a tom take advantage of her like Wolfpaw had done to me. But most of all, she was a leader. The fire that lit her face when she talked drew me to her like a moth to flames. Flames that would eventually consume me in their fury.
At our first meeting, she had laughed at me. "A Clan cat?" she'd laughed. "I knew your father. You do not belong in a Clan."
Though her words hurt me, my curiosity drew me closer to this strange, independent wanderer. "What do you want?" I asked, with more open friendliness then hostility at the intruder on the edge of our territory.
"Nothing," she'd said casually. "It's just... I think you could be so much more, Morningpaw, then you are right now."
Stunned, I had asked how she knew my name. She told me that she'd known my mother, Birdfly, and assumed I was old enough to be an apprentice now, hence: Morningpaw. We'd got to talking. Kat talked like I'd never heard anyone else speak. She used few but powerful words to encompass her views, and what views they were! She ranted on and on about how the Clans were bad, how they handed too much power to leaders and let loners and rogues starve. "Birdfly wouldn't want this for you," she said.
Confused, I asked, "But she was a Clan cat, wasn't she?"
"Not by choice." Kat was adamant. "The Clan isn't the right way to live. It's wrong, and it leaves nothing for the rest of us."
Slowly, I began to conform to her views. The Clan had always treated me like an outsider anyway, and Wolfpaw, their only redeeming feature, had broken my trust(I still wasn't talking to him). My mentor, Ghosteye, was awful to me, and I slowly came to hate everything that MoonClan stood for. Equality? Fairness? Fox-dung! They were awful, just awful.
Soon, Kat was the only cat I ever spoke to conversationally. She was planning a rebellion, she said. She was going to lead a pack of rogues into MoonClan in the night, and kill off everyone she could, including our leader. Then we could establish a new system, a fairer system. And I was to be their way in, their tour-guide through the territory. Before, such a thing would have appalled me.
Now, I agreed whole-heartedly.
And because I agreed, I let her continue polluting my mind with vile thoughts, thoughts about killing and domination and "reform". Being young, I didn't realize how most of Kat's changes involved making things better for herself. I fell easy prey to her schemes, and risked my standing in the Clan, and my life, for it. And trust me, I paid for it too.
That was the way darkness found me, a dark flame that reeked of sulfer and death, but I was too blind and numb to see its danger. I willingly stepped into Kat's trap, not knowing how much it would cost me.
Darkness found me broken and left me desperate for anything to cling to. Anything at all.
The night of the MoonClan invasion was perfect. The sky was an endless sea of navy, bathed in a wash of pure white light from a thousand stars. Kat was so excited that she didn't bother giving me her "be loyal to me and only me" speech. Instead, she briefly instructed me on the part I was to play in this evil plot.
I was to meet her group of rogues at the MoonClan border, and escort them into the territory, leading them straight towards the camp. Kat assured me this was a very important task, and so I was in a high state of agitation when I slipped out of the camp late at night and made a beeline for the border. In my mind, there was no doubt that Kat trusted me. I hadn't picked up on the suspicion in her eyes whenever she questioned my loyalty, or guessed that she read through my "rebel" outlook on things, and saw that me for what I was: a silly little she-cat who would never dare to stand against her Clan when the time came.
Thank StarClan she was right.
Upon reaching the MoonClan border, I'd looked about, paced, and waited for about half an hour. It was very unlike Kat to be late, and suddenly I realized with a jolt that she had stood me up. She'd tricked me. Never had it been her intention to include me in her plans, and she had merely been using me to gain information about MoonClan, information I gave with all the silly naivety of my youthful heart.
Such despair overtook me at this uncovering of truth! A chill of true fear tingled down my spine as I saw the full horror of what I'd done. After Kat and her rogues overtook MoonClan, the other Clans would be next. I would be crushed, slaughtered mercilessly, in the wave of their rebellion.
I had to make this wrong right the one way I knew how.
I had to stop them.
Never will I forget that mad rush through the woods that night. Even now I can feel the familiar fear, imagine the desperation. The once-familiar trees of my territory had leered out at me, mocking me, telling me I could never do it. The Crocus Pond, a well-known gathering place, appeared to be a dark, murky whirlpool with a prominent longing to suck in little she-cats who had done wrong. Fear propelled me onwards, much more then the little reserve of courage I had thought I'd called upon. Long after my courage had run out, fear kept me running, running towards home - the home I'd forsaken - like a coward.
Upon bursting into the MoonClan camp, I'd found no home to return to.
The place was a mess. Squalling cats - whose racket I had heard from far away - grappled together on the floor. Claws tore through flesh and muscle, teeth crunched on bone, and death was pungent in the air. Being just an apprentice, I had stood still with the sheer shock of this horrible revelation; even what I had witnessed my father doing as a kit was nothing compared to this(Later, I found out that many of these rogues had followed my father when he had attacked MoonClan before, but that did little to change anything; they were despicable no matter what, and I too, for helping them).
Nearby, Dovestar was wrestling with two toms, her mane of thick silver tresses billowing in the wind. Such courage in her violet-hued eyes, courage of a type and breed I had never seen before. The courage that defies life, needs naught but love for fuel, and laughs in the face of death itself.
Awed by the revelation I saw in Dovestar's expression, I was thrown out of my suspended state of horror, and hurled back into the reality of devastation that had ensued over my Clan. Determined to fix things, I let out a bloodchilling scream - a scream that let out all my self-hatred and frustration and anger, cleansing me and readying me for battle - and tossed myself into the fray with no intention of ever coming back again.
Though I didn't realize it back then, that was courage, the bravery and undying spirit of a warrior, the spirit of my mother within me. I made Birdfly proud on that night, I'm sure of it.
Courage found me desperate and made me reckless, possessed with the inate desire to serve and die and yield for my Clan, whom I found I loved after all, loved with a fire unquenchable. The fire of a warrior.
Let's see where it got me.
I found Kat in a corner of the MoonClan camp. She had probably stayed there to remain safe during the battle, but she wasn't alone when I found her. She was facing down a gray MoonClan warrior - nay, an apprentice, I realized - with a dangerous glow in her ever-burning amber eyes. Just seeing Kat like this, fully eclipsed in the flames she had toyed with, was enough to make me scared out of my wits, but when I saw her opponent, I nearly swooned.
It was Wolfpaw, brave, heroic, dashing Wolfpaw. I should've guessed it, for though he was as shallow and horrid as anyone could be, he was born with a sense of duty. I had glimpsed this loyal trait during our friendship, but had abolished any memory of it to a far land, leaving me with only terrible thoughts of him. After all, he had been so disloyal to me. Why should I credit him?
Now though, all my grudges and past angers were forgotten, washed away by the pure spirit that shone out of Wolfpaw's eyes.
Noiselessly, I took my place at his side. He spared a brief glance at me, his eyes widened, and he said, "Morningpaw? I thought-"
Kat took her chance then to strike, crashing into Wolfpaw with the force of a full-grown badger. I shrieked and leaped at her, claws unsheathed. I missed her vitals, but managed to tear deep into the tender flesh on her shoulder, and let loose a crimson waterfall of blood that tainted the ground.
"You'll regret that, little traitor."
"And you'll regret trying to take my Clan," I returned, lashing my tail.
"You are just two apprentices; easy prey for me."
As I helped Wolfpaw to his feet, I mewed, "That's what you think. But we're much better fighters then you give us credit for, and together we'll-"
"Together," echoed Wolfpaw in disbelief.
Irritated that he had interrupted my speech, and that he was concerned with such trivial words in the midst of such an important fight, I stamped my paw and launched myself at Kat without bothering to answer Wolfpaw's unspoken question. Perhaps I should've. Perhaps I should've judged how dangerous Kat was, and made time to apologize and make things right with Wolfpaw.
But I didn't, not knowing I would come to regret it.
The fight with Kat was both the longest and shortest of my life. Wolfpaw fought with me, but he didn't fight as I did, for guilt made me more determined then ever to bring Kat down, and to save MoonClan from the disaster I had helped evoke upon them. So the fight was mostly me against Kat, but it helped immeasurably to have Wolfpaw by my side, though I hardly noticed.
Kat's death wasn't melodramatic, nor was it epic and painful, with me standing triumphantly over her. Instead, I was shredding furiously with my claws when Wolfpaw dragged me off of Kat, and I saw that her eyes were glazed, and that blood leaked out of a million cuts on her body.
No sooner had I uttered a cry of, "Yes!" when I staggered backwards and fell onto the earth.
"Morningpaw!" And Wolfpaw was by my side. A halo seemed to form around his head, a ring of light that the rising sun was casting on him.
In truth, the halo was on me, for I was the one leaving the earth forever.
Like a little kit, I murmured, "Please don't, Wolfpaw, it hurts when you carry on so, pretending you care. When I know you don't..."
"I do care." The three words were a sob, wrenched out of him by a passion that can only be wrought from first love.
"No." I shook my head. My words were garbled by the blood leaking and spewing out of my mouth. "You don't care. She killed me, and no one will ever care and..." Here words failed me, for my brain was so fuzzy that I could hardly remember Wolfpaw's name.
He bent and touched his nose to my cheek with such a tenderness that I couldn't pretend at all that he didn't care. "I love you, Morningpaw. I always have. I was an idiot to give you up, like I could live without you. You're everything to me, and you just can't leave."
"I've been the fool, by not talking to you," I protested feebly, gazing up into the depths of his dark cobalt eyes. In them I saw not the cool, relaxed "popular" I had once known. But neither did I see the sad-eyed little tom I'd befriended after his mother's death. In his eyes I saw a full-grown warrior, who had been through the furnace and come out polished as gold. I regretted that I would never get to live my life with him at my side, but I saw the future bright for him, and that was good enough for me, for at that moment I realized how I'd loved him all my life, and how much I'd always pined for him during our separation.
Quietly, I whispered, "I deserve to die. It's all my fault."
"No," he said, and suddenly I knew he knew all about my "friendship" with Kat, and didn't care and loved me in spite of it. "No, no, no. It's not your fault, and you won't die."
With a sweet little smile, I said, "I love you, Wolfpaw, and good-bye."
When his wail split the heavens, my spirit was already in StarClan, looking down on him. I watched from above as the first light of morning touched my lifeless body, enveloping it in a sense of honor and light that I'd never experienced in my short life, but was rewarded by only through death.
Love found me reckless and made me whole. It completed me.
And it ended me.
Don't fret for me, oh please don't cry
Don't plead, don't beg, s'not worth a try
For here I am, and there you are
It's oh so close and yet so far
The heavens are my home now; it was my time
These things will happen without reason nor rhyme
It's paradise up here, eclipsed in sky
Yet still not worth the tears of good bye
Dawn found me, loved me, took me in
It claimed me with my sorrows and sin
I'm happy now, happy to sit and sing
All I ask, all I want, is this one small thing
When the days grow long and your life less free
Sit back, oh rest, and remember me
Oh, morning will find you
Where will you be?