part one - nebula
My name is Nebula.
I'm your typical loner - well, sort of. I'm not very typical. "Typical" is not the right word - I think.
Well, anyway. I've got tortoiseshell fur and green eyes. I'm basically your average camo-cat. Or maybe I'm not? I don't know anymore. I don't have a typical life.
I have a brother. He's named Supernova, and he has my father's sunset orange fur. He also has my mother's eyes - the same yellow-green eyes that made my father fall for her. It's quite pretty, actually - his eyes are more yellow than green, and it makes him look adorable.
Well, enough about him. There is a story that I have to tell - one that you haven't heard before. One that nobody has ever heard.
Nobody has wanted to hear about my relationship with an eagle, and how I caused everything to happen.
You have never heard my story, and I need to tell this, and get this out of me - this killed me, and left me all alone.
Maybe after this, I will be forgiven.
I was born to a pair of rogues.
They weren't typical either. I've never heard of any cat with two toms as their parents.
I was described to be adopted. I was their adopted daughter apparently, and Supernova was my brother. We were both found at a young age by those two toms - hardly weaned from our mother's milk, who Padre, one of the two, had known. The other, Conocido, had never seen her.
Padre described my mother as being the spitting image of me. She apparently even had my green eyes.
Oh, right, you don't know what they look like. Hah, how could I forget the imagery?
Conocido was a deep brown tabby tom. His eyes were amber, and it often scared my brother. I was never scared of him - an intimidating look? Nice try. It never brought fear into my veins. Besides, Conocido's personality was the opposite of his look - he was sensitive, empathetic, and his love for Padre was passionate and strong. He loved Supernova and I very much.
Now, as for Padre, he was interesting. He was a cinnamon tabby tom, and his white paws made him stand out. It blended well with the forest where I grew up - it made him intimidating to face in battle. Padre's personality fit somewhat into his look. His green eyes were calming, and sometimes he'd even let Supernova and I talk about our problems with him. He worked well with Conocido, being his mate. He was there to calm him when the he got mad, would remind his love that he was valid and valuable, and kept Supernova and I company.
There's one thing I have to clarify - me. I wasn't the way I was later on in my life. I wasn't mean. I wasn't heartbreaking. I was apparently really sweet, according to Supernova. He's told me about how I started to scare him after a while. Apparently, I was so positive and I cared about him a lot, but that was all - I didn't care about anyone but myself and my brother and I was fine with it.
Oh well. I can't change it now.
Anyway, skipping ahead a bit. Let's come to the first time I ever attacked another cat.
You remember how Supernova said that I cared about him and him alone? It all happened with him.
Supernova and I went out one day, with permission from Padre and Conocido. We were about a year old - they were gonna let us loose soon, and had started to let us go wherever we wanted. They said it was only the best for our mother - and her name, appearance, et cetera? They finally told it to us.
Her name was Raji. She was tortoiseshell, which explains my own tortoiseshell fur. I inherited it from her, along with my eyes. Padre told me that I had her green eyes, and described how they would always shine with the moon. She cared about Padre and Conocido greatly, and supported them through their relationship.
She wasn't normal either, apparently. Padre told me that she watched eagles - big birds who swoop through the air - and loved few. She wasn't like Padre and his mate - no, she liked toms and she-cats. She did have few love interests and crushes - in fact, the only one she talked about often was an adopted sister. Padre said that she talked a lot about how she had developed a liking to her adopted sister at a young age, and although their relationship held strong, it all got destroyed as she became nervous. She didn't want her adoptive sister to know that she loved her, and she regretted it.
Padre said she died during our birth. Raji, he said, wasn't ever a large cat, but she gave herself up for her kits. She let herself go after losing her love interest - my father. Padre sometimes seemed to have dreams about how she was before she died.
Anyway. The first time I ever attacked someone else was when I was out with my brother. We were hunting.
I didn't really want to fight, but the cat just went after Supernova.
As soon as the first strike hit, I was there, just letting my instincts take over. I apparently gave that cat a pretty good beating, and I really didn't feel bad. After all, this cat was going to attack my brother, the cat who I had lived with my whole life.
I was proud of myself afterward, and I bragged about it to Conocido and Padre. They, of course, congratulated me with overwhelming support. Defending Supernova against a hostile cat was a great first step into the world, they said, and I wasn't really ashamed that I attacked the cat.
What I didn't know was that Supernova had known that cat, and the cat wasn't even going to hurt him.
I never cared. I really was only just mad at him. The liar, telling me that he had no idea who that cat was or why it had come after us.
It was a she-cat, he told me. A she-cat who he really liked and enjoyed.
Supernova was mine. Not some she-cat's.
She came back one day.
Padre and Conocido had been talking about letting us go for weeks now, and they finally decided that that day would be one of the last they saw of us. They expected Supernova and I to be out within a day and a half - aka, by sunset the next evening.
Supernova and I had started to fend for ourselves. He became distant, but remained the same he always was - quiet, anxious, reserved. Never worried about the past, always about the future and his sister. A great fighter, really - he hardened his fighting skill to cover for his anxiety and nerves.
We were talking. He was telling me how excited he was about leaving Padre and Conocido. I had to agree with him - it'd been a long time, and I wanted to be free.
Well, I really wanted to be free ages ago, but I never said that.
Anyway. Supernova and I then got into a conversation about what we'd do with our lives. He mentioned that he wanted to settle with someone, maybe be a father. I didn't really know what I wanted to do - up until that point, I really only knew three toms, and that was it.
That was when she came.
She stepped out of the bushes. My fur rose, and I immediately moved in front of him. I didn't trust her - that no-good, brother taker! She wasn't going to drag my brother out of my life!
Dirty brother taker. Get out. I allowed my eyes to narrow and a sinister growling to come out of my throat. I wasn't going to let her touch my brother.
"Nebula! Nebula, stop it, calm down!" He pushed past me, lashing out with his hind legs and kicking me in the face. It did loosen my grip, with the sudden pain that was in my face. I think there was a scratch above my eye - it became the scar that ran from the edge of my right eye to my muzzle.
Anyway, Supernova approached the she-cat, and she immediately relaxed. "Pippa," he gasped. "No, Pippa, what did we do?" It confused me at first - why was he saying that?
Then I knew.
Supernova was going to be a father - and sooner than he thought.
This queen - Pippa - was heavily pregnant with his kits. She looked to be close to her kitting, honestly - her stomach hung down fairly low.
"This is who you've been seeing?" I asked him, and he nodded.
"Nebula." He glanced back at Pippa, who was starting to look awfully sick. "Nebula, I think her kitting is near."
I didn't know what to do. "Stop it, no. She can't be having your kits. How long have you been seeing her?"
"Months." He spat the words out, and it made me feel bad. "Seven months. I knew she wasn't feeling well recently, but she only just revealed it to me."
She looked young, the poor thing. This was probably her first litter - and she looked scared, scared of what was coming. She was younger than us even - she had revealed that she was only a year old when she first met Supernova. He told me that.
And then everything sort of fell apart.
Her death haunts me to this day.
She hadn't been well, oh no. It was quite the opposite, really.
She had no right to die on that day, and yet she was taken anyway.
She had started her kitting within a few moments. Supernova hated it - he couldn't help her or save her.
I couldn't either, but he screamed at me anyway. "Nebula, get Padre or Conocido! They'll know what to do!"
It actually made me nervous. I didn't know how nervous felt until then. "W-What if they don't?"
"Don't worry about that." He gave me the saddest look I'd ever seen from him. "Just go. I think Pippa can make it through that span of time."
I ran to the den. Only Conocido was there, but he could see my panic. "C-Conocido, c'mon! I-I need your help!"
Her screaming. That was all I could hear at that moment.
Conocido couldn't do anything.
We couldn't do anything.
Over the course of the day, she was still in labor. She had born three stillborns, and there were still more in her. That was what we thought.
Sunset. She didn't look too well.
She bore her last one.
A tom. His fur was like Supernova's, exept that his fur bore his mother's darker shade of orange. It was beautiful, honestly.
But after that, she fell silent. She didn't breath. She didn't move.
She had died, and her son was an orphan.
We took Helix away and never brought him to his mother. We couldn't, really - he didn't need to see her body.
Supernova suggested we try tp find rogues. He didn't want his son to be around me - he only trusted Conocido with little Helix. He didn't trust me with his son - oh well, I didn't really care.
I never cared.
I feel as though I should give you an apology, dear reader. I wish I had cared.
I shall give you that apology another time. Catch me later, when I'm not telling a story.
We did live near the mountains - that's where Raji watched eagles. Conocido spotted one as we stepped out of the bushes. "Careful. We can't expose ourselves - there are probably eagles hunting, and as soon as they spot Helix, we'll all be bird crud."
I thought that there would be nothing interesting in the mountains, outside of the eagles.
But there was.
Near a patch of rocks, there was a faint scent. Two she-cats had passed by at some time, and it was faint - very faint, like they hadn't been here in months. I could smell it - a faint whisk of pine, another of the water.
Supernova and Conocido cramped into the small space with Helix, while I was left outside. "Nebula! Keep watch!" the latter hissed, and I flattened my ears - nobody was going to tell me what I should do.
That was when I saw them for the first time.
Eagles were huge birds, with brown wings that could strike you down with one flap. Their talons were pierced black, and the skin on their legs was layered, like scales. Their heads were mostly white, but there were a few brown ones.
The leader was bigger than all of them. She - yeah, I knew who she was - guided her flock. A few turned to go hunt, and a few more went towards a little black spot. The last eagle would land on a rock beside her and nuzzle her head. She enjoyed it.
I liked seeing her happy. I shouldn't have been proud of it - eagles' happiness is hard to tell - but I was, and it made me happy.
I should've known how she would change me.
She would let go of him - and let go of me - forever.
She heard my claws scraping the rocks. She turned, whispered something to the male, and flew over to me. "Who're you, tortie?"
"Who are you calling-" I glanced down at her, and I stopped myself from being surprised. "Oh, uh, my name's Nebula. Ever heard of me?"
"Nope," she said, jumping up beside me. It made her bigger - far bigger. It sort of spooked me at first - I'd never seen an eagle, and this was new. She made me feel small.
I didn't like feeling small, but I didn't feel any disliking to her being next to me, despite how big she was. "You new 'round here?" she asked, and I twitched an ear in response.
"No." She turned her head to me, giving me an amber glare out of one eye. Never fazed me once. "I've grown up near the mountains. My mother used to watch eagles."
"What are you doing here today?" She seemed distraught - I wondered if the male was her mate, and she was hatching eggs or something. "You weren't here to cause trouble, were you? We've got enough against us right now with you groups of cats-"
"I'm here alone," I barked, and she tapped the rock once with her talons. A shower of pebbles rained down, and I heard mewling from below.
"Liar!" She tapped the rock a few more times, striking down more pebbles. Louder yowls came, and I didn't immediately react - my relationship with my brother was deteriorating, and Conocido told us both that we needed to move on and start our own lives.
Eventually, the two toms stepped out, along with Helix, who'd opened his eyes to reveal an amber similar to the eagle's. The eagle tapped a few more times, hiding me behind her large figure. "So, it looks like we're having cat for dinner."
Helix screamed, and I leaped past the eagle, grabbing Supernova's son. I ran the heck away from that eagle - I couldn't watch the eagle kill my brother and one of my caretakers.
She didn't end up killing my brother, but she did kill Conocido. I could hear it as I was running - the loud scream of him, emerging from his body like a ghost had haunted him. Supernova caught up with me eventually, telling me what had happened.
I hated it and loved it at the same time.
Helix lived with some cats for a while.
Supernova and I had finally come to a stop - and at the foot of a cave, coincidentally. There were cats inside, and I knew it - I wasn't going to let anyone touch me, and one brush would land one in an incident with me.
We waited patiently. There weren't a lot of cats in there. Not many more than the ones I had seen all my life, and then adding in Pippa and Helix. There were about eight at that time. Three pairs of mates and a pair of she-cats.
It was the two she-cats who approached us at the time. One had cinnamon tabby fur, and the other was ginger. Aspie and Jasper were their names.
Aspie greeted us first. She was gentle, and Jasper was her counterpart - slightly aggressive, a bit more burly, and yet, still fun-loving. Both loved each other more than anything. It reminded me of Conocido and Padre.
Conocido. His name hit me in the gut. I actually felt guilty about his death, like it was my fault.
Because it is your fault, Nebula. Because of you, one of our caretakers is dead. The words sounded like Supernova, making me feel internally guilty. It's because of you.
When we entered, it seemed as though Jasper was protective of Aspie. The latter always reassured her friend - love interest? - by saying that she was fine.
I'd never seen two she-cats together. They were actually sort of adorable - one could see that they always had each other's backs, loved each other more than anything, and their ties to one another being unbreakable.
Something wasn't right, though - Jasper's protection seemed a bit stretched and overdramatic.
"So, can you all take my son?" Supernova asked. "His name's Helix. His mother died several hours ago, and he needs a home." Jasper had hesitated, glancing back at Aspie.
The tabby nodded, and she slowly sat, laying on her side. "I'll nurse him myself. I'll be bearing my own within a week."
My brother looked pleased. "Best of luck with your kitting, ma'am." She nodded at his praise.
"Although," she murmured, "I would prefer not to be called ma'am or sir. Aspie is fine." He nodded, and I dipped my respect to her.
We took little Helix towards Aspie, where the little thing settled immediately. With Jasper's trust, the ginger she-cat lead Supernova and I to a nest. "Rest. You both look tired. Settle in, make yourselves comfortable. You both look tired." She paused, an ear flicking back. "And please be friendly."
"Of course," my brother said.
I don't like it here. The thought occurred to me as soon as she left. I hate it here. It's too perfect. It's too sane. Where's the tension?
We waited quietly, listening to the sounds of water and speech. One tom was concerned that his mate wasn't going to survive - another, worried about storms that would cause rockfalls and get everyone trapped.
Nothing was interesting until the screech of an eagle.
Everything kind of broke apart.
The eagle from earlier - Talon, as I later learned - had flown in, and everyone started screaming. Aspe started to moan, from what I could hear - and with everything that had happened in the last several hours, I hated it.
Aspie moaned exactly like Pippa did.
I didn't want to be the source of another lightning strike of bad luck.
I ran out of that cave in a panic. I hated the sound of screaming.
Flying out, I could spot the worried tom being carried by a different eagle, and suddenly Talon shot out of there like a bullet. She was fast - the fastest thing I ever saw. Talon was the fastest of all the eagles.
She spotted me, turned in the air, flared her wings, and gave me her amber-eyed stare. Thick, intense, intimidating to all except me.
Her claws closed around my scruff before I could even try to learn about what her stare meant to me.
She flew away with me. Silent. She knew me. I knew she knew me, she recognized me, everything.
"...Can I know your name, my eagle friend?" I asked her.
She snarled. "Don't call me your friend. My name is Talon."
Talon. Such a great name. Fierce. "Thank you, Talon." I really don't understand why I didn't react any worse to the stabbing pain in my throat. I didn't seem to really care.
Talon took me away from everyone. I couldn't see what she was doing, nor did I really care, but I started to care when I saw nobody else. All it was was me, an eagle, and the edge of the forest. Why are we here?
Talon gave me her look again. "So. Why aren't you scared?"
I shrugged. "Should I be scared? Should I be something other than relaxed?"
"Obviously." She rolled her eyes. "Tell me." She leaned close. "Why are you different? Why are you the one who captures my attention?"
What? I didn't know how to respond. "Um, I really have no idea. Why am I different?"
Reversing the question on her seemed to slap her a bit. "U-Uhm..." She swiveled her head behind her and snapped her gaze back to me. "You aren't instantly falling for one of those ignorant prunes. All perfection, all kit-bearing, even the one couple who wasn't like everyone else."
Shrugging, I cocked my head. "Anything else? Or no?"
"You're at least a bit interesting," she coos, and it allows me to twitch an ear. "You're not normal. I like that."
"You're a bird. You can fly. I like that." I smiled at her, and her snort made it all better. "It's true."
She seemed less like her amber glare than ever. "It's rather fun, being able to fly." She glanced at the scratches on my scruff. "I'm sorry about that. I just really wanted to talk to you, and I accidentally grabbed your scruff and not your back - that's where I usually pick up prey."
"Are cats prey to you?" I asked her, and she shrugged. "Really, are they?"
"Maybe." A wing shifted. "They are, sometimes. We don't eat cats - eeugh - but sometimes we can lure our prey with the captive's dung before we kill them."
I shrugged. "That's rather disturbing. What do you have against them?"
"Everything." Talon hesitated - something that she didn't want to do. "They took our land - that cave had our source of fish and it was one of the best places to store our prey when it became cold. It was great cover, too - we used to gather under the cave and huddle together to keep everyone warm." Her eyes narrowed. "But then they came - during the summer last year. They had no right to come - it was our land. They took it away from us and haven't given it back, and they don't want to make peace wth us."
"Oh." I didn't know what to say. "Uh, since I don't really want to stay in the cave - it's way too sane in there - can I stay with you?"
Her eyes widened, the feathers on her back flared slightly, and her beak opened ever so slightly. "I'll try to see if I can let you in. You're not like them, Nebula."
"I'm aware," I chuckled, and her eyes seemed to soften. "I'll go back, fetch me later?"
She nodded, turned, and leaped into the sky.
I stayed at the edge of the mountains. Talon didn't come back for a few days, and it left me with some concern - I didn't want to go back to where Supernova was. I wonder how little Helix is doing now.
As the thought occurred to me, she came back. Her wings flared and her claws nearly scratched over my eyes. I flinched back in surprise - her arrival nearly took my sight away from me. "So... a response?"
"They'll let you stay," she cooed gently. "But be careful. Some of our companions aren't as willing to accept you."
"Pfft." I rolled my eyes; a few birds like Talon weren't gonna scare me. "There's worse things that can happen. Meanwhile, I want to work with you."
The words came out before I could even think about their meaning. It obviously surprised Talon as she tried as hard as she could not to accidentally crush me. It started choking my lungs, what with her claws having just tightened and not bothered to loosen. "What do you mean?"
Slowly, surely. "I don't like that they took your home away. I want to remove them. I want to help you." It reminds me faintly of something that Supernova told me, about a war between two groups. It was all over some piece of territory that they couldn't agree on. "Let me. I have ideas."
Talon's wings closed as we plunged, and the popping of the gale picking up her wings as she let go of me. She landed nearby - not very far away. "Okay. Mention them to Alby." Who's Alby? "Alby'll want to hear that. I may be up top in this community, but Alby is our general, our leader. Gar and I are second-in-command."
I followed her. "Our nests are at the tops of these trees over here." Her wings pointed to a few trees at the edge of the mountains. "You'll sleep on the ground, but I think that's okay. I've done it before and I'm sure you have too. It shouldn't be that hard."
Whoever Alby was came within a moment. Talon didn't even cry for him - the osprey was there within a moment.
Alby was young, and seemed to be the same age as Gar. He snarled at me at first - but it didn't really scare me. I wasn't really going to be spooked by some screeching bird. "Talon, who in the name of Derecho is this?"
Talon held her ground. It impressed me, if I'm honest. Her wings twitched slightly and one set of her claws burrowed into the ground. "Alby. Meet Nebula."
"...Nebula." He hesitated on my name; it made sense, given the circumstance. "What is your purpose here? Why have you troubled Talon?"
"She didn't interrupt me," Talon spat, but Alby snapped his neck forward towards her, a caw rupturing in his throat. She held his gaze, raising one of her feet to start scratching his face. He struck her down before she could even try. Blood was shed - his talons dug into her feet, sprouting a bloody mess. "Sorry, sir, for interrupting you."
"Better," he growled. "Talon, organize a patrol to catch dinner. I need to talk to Nebula alone."
"But-" He nearly shot into the air - his wings opened, and he appeared as though he wanted to launch up and hit her. "I'm sorry, I'll go right ahead. Expect tonight's to be the best we can manage."
He rolled his eyes. "Make it better." She nodded, her eyes catching mine, before she launched into the air and let out a call. "Meanwhile, Nebula, I want to see you alone."
Alby walked me to a corner.
"Describe your purpose."
I didn't know how to respond instantly. It took a moment of thought, feeling, and breathing to finally gather the guts to speak to him. Talon was one who I could speak with. Alby was not. "I'd say we develop our technology. Make use of abandoned areas. Find the easiest ways we can."
He cocked his head. "What'd you have in mind? We can go flying later, if you want."
I shrugged. "What about steel?"
"Y'know, the metal buildings?"
"That's what they're called?!" His tone shifted and he muttered darkly, "That's why Gar complained that he was scratched by metal."
I lashed my tail against the ground. "Stay on task. What happens if we leave?"
His eyes widened and his eyelid twitched. "We have nowhere else. That's like telling us that we've all been disowned by Derecho."
I almost pressed him on the topic of this 'Derecho.' "We could kill them."
His eyes almost appeared surprised. "But what about your family? Wouldn't they hate you for that?" He retained his serious look, but it was full of curiosity.
"My family doesn't matter." I immediately thought of Supernova and Helix. And Aspie...did she live? "What matters is your rights and your home. They took that away from you. It's an outrage, and they need to get out of there, and we will do whatever possible."
We paused. I waited, he hesitated. "That's just what I wanted out of a soldier," he said finally. "Welcome in, Nebula."
He took me back. "Gar! Come here, meet our genius."
Gar met my gaze. "Cat?"
Alby shook his head. "She's not like the others. She's got better ideas than all of you nimrods."
I met Gar's eyes and I didn't allow myself to get scared of him. "I'll help you."
He scoffed. "Tell me something I don't know. Prove yourself, shoshinsha."
"Call me that later," I snapped at him. "I will not let you defy me because I am of a different species. This may be a gruesome job ahead, but I will not let you stand me down because I am different."
He paused. "Sounds like Talon, when she was younger." His eyes sink. "And that was also how I fell for her - she had spunk. Maybe some of that younger energy has rubbed off on you."
I held in a gasp. I knew Gar and Talon were close, but I could've never believed that he would fall for her. "Moving on."
Alby snapped his head towards Gar. "Show her around. She can make her own nest near Talon's."
If eagles could flatten their invisible ears, Gar would've. "Come on, I don't want to show some insignificant newbie."
"Buck up. Show her around. Do whatever, just don't kill her."
Gar rolled his eyes. "Fiiiiiiine. But if Talon complains, she's out."
That night, I snuck away from Talon's curled position.
I wanted to at least say goodbye to Supernova. He didn't deserve to have me gone - even if I had done something terrible.
Well, I'll at least say goodbye. Maybe I'll see Aspie, or Jasper. The thoughts came for me and I loved them. I couldn't really say bye to them like this.
I ran away as fast I could. I wanted to act like I was never gone.
I practically broke in there like a robber. "Supernova," I gasped as I spotted him. Helix wasn't nearby - I think he was near Aspie.
He must've. I can't remember. It was really dark.
But I did find Aspie and Jasper. Both of them were awake. Aspie, stuck with the task of nursing her kits, was trying to keep them calmed down and safe. Jasper appeared to be with two of the little babes, and was trying not to fall asleep with them.
"When were they born?" I asked Aspie, and she shook her head.
"A few days ago, in the middle of the night." She sighed. "I bore five... and Helix adds on, six is no small number. I've been really concerned about them. Two appear to be far different than the others, and that's why Jasper is taking care of them."
I rubbed my paw against the ground. "Who's their father?"
She nearly gasped, and I immediately knew I probably shouldn't have asked. "Jasper's brother." I tried not to flatten my ears at her response. "Nobody ever asks me who their father is. Jasper had a brother - similar to her, thankfully. So I bore his - but we treat them as ours."
"Makes sense." I nudged one gently. It had cream fur, and mewled when I touched it. Aspie flared to life immediately and quietly nudged it to her belly with her tail.
"That one's Snowfall. She's quiet." She blinked and only stared at me for a moment. "Why did you come, Nebula? You won't be welcomed here in the morning."
I shifted and flattened my ears. "I wanted to say goodbye to Helix." At the mention, the little tom glanced up at me from beside her stomach. "Hey, buddy."
His green eyes met mine for a mere moment before he seemed to let out a silent but terrified scream. I kept my ears flattened - I terrified him when we first met Talon. Aspie's eyebrows furrowed, and I backed away from her.
She watched me, and it shook a sweat down my body. "Nebula. Good luck with whatever you're doing."
"Nebula, I'd like to see you, Gar, and Talon in private," Alby growled. "Go find them. They should be planning their daily schedules."
I nodded and dashed off towards them. I remembered Talon in much greater detail - broad brown wings, amber eyes that bore into your soul, and the nearly pure white head. Gar, of course, was nearby - I pulled both of them out.
"C'mere, you two. Alby wants to see us." Talon was more willing to follow than Gar. The latter seemed uptight and distraught.
"Why does Alby want to see us?" Talon asked, and I shrugged. "Our next raid?"
"I've no idea."
Alby was waiting nearby. "There you are." His head turned to us, and those amber eyes glared at me specifically. "We need to attack again. And start setting up."
"For what?" Gar cooed. "Some sort of machine?"
"Maybe," the former said. "Nebula. They'll be attacking. You, meanwhile, need to go to that building - the tall, steel one at the edge of the territory. I think there's old things in there."
"What kind of old things?"
"Sharp things. Sharp tools. Sharp wood, I think. See what you can do, and report your sightings back to us after the raid."
I nodded, and Alby waved his wing. "You can go, Nebula. Talon and Gar will decide the patrols."
I backed away solemnly, even though I was sure this was going to go wrong for me.
I spotted it soon. It was huge - towered over my puny body and made the clouds grayer. Alby wasn't lying - I spotted an entrance and shoved myself through it. It wasn't easy, of course - I knew there was a long scratch on my flank somewhere.
Interesting joint. I analyzed it for a moment. It was exactly as Alby had said - automated machines that could be started with the shove of a lever, a tangy scent of iron in the air, and tools - many of them.
I wonder what we could do with this. 'We' meant Talon... and Gar, and Alby. Don't let her distract you. You have a mission - and that's to get revenge. I almost wanted to ask who specifically - but I didn't bother.
Suddenly, I heard a noise. Heavy steps. Humanspeak that I didn't understand. Spooked, I shoved myself under one of those tools. Muttering, groaning - working? - humans who all talked. I heard a saw start to buzz above me - and I almost screamed.
Don't! They're going to see you! My instincts got the best of me and shoved any screaming down my throat. Breathe. Be patient. Watch them and how they do it. Levers were shoved to turn on saws. Conveyors powered by the shoving seemed to propel the target forward, cut it into pieces, and leave it waiting for the humans to take them.
Idea. Idea idea idea idea.
I waited until they were gone - and then I was gone too, barely making it out while the humans closed it up again, dashing into the bushes.
Place them on the wood. Get some of the spare rope in there and tie it maybe. Start the lever - and then they'll be gone. A gruesome way to die, I noted, but it didn't seem to matter.
I wanted revenge. I was going to get it.
"So your genius idea is to tie them to wood? How do we drive the humans out?" Alby cocked his head.
"We wait until they leave. They don't come very often." My breath accelerated and my voice rose. "We capture the cats and take them there. Then, we tie them - tie them to the wood. The lever - someone leans on it, then we go."
"How do we test it?"
"Test it on me, if you must." Alby's eyes widened with shock, and I could hear Talon and Gar gasp. "I won't care. If I die, it will work."
"How long will it take for the humans to leave?"
"I'm not sure. Probably a few weeks." It was hard to guess with the humans. "Don't be afraid to test it on me."
I turned away and flicked my tail. Alby was still shocked, and I could hear Talon speaking with Gar. She would approach me later.
"Nebula?" She stared at me the best she could. "Are you sure you want to do this? You could die if it works. Don't you care about - about - me...? About everyone?"
Her? "Why should I care specifically about you, T?"
"Because. Without me, you would've never come. Without me, you would've died. Without me, Gar and Alby wouldn't let you come in at all."
"They would've let me in."
"Not without hurting you." Talon's eyes were softening. "I don't really want you to get hurt if you don't have to. You're a genius, Nebula. We wouldn't have had as many successful raids."
I never not liked the look in her eyes when they went soft. She'd relax, gently, and she lowered her head ever so slightly. "...Okay. I'll wait until the humans are gone before we test everything. Alby and I can talk about it."
She relaxed more. "Thank you so much. You saved me a lifetime of worrying about what crazy thing you'd do next." She sighed. "You know, I never really liked killing cats, right?"
"Never have." Her body lowered to a sitting position. "It brings back memories of when I was just a chick. I was orphaned and taken in by two cats. I left them once we came to the mountains, but they were chasing the sea - that was one's dream, to see it." Her wings folded in. "You remind me of them. Both of them."
Both of... them? I'd really not known how to respond to this. Cats chasing the sea? Talon, abandoned? I couldn't think about it. "Talon." She flicked her head toward me, giving me a look out of a single amber eye. "I care about you, Talon. I don't want you to be abandoned."
She shook her head, and her voice broke for a moment. "Hah. Gar cares about me too, but not in the way you do." She gently moved closer to me. "Nebula. I know you're not a bad cat. I have met many who are like you. But I am also like you - cats have done me wrong several times." She sighed. "Those two come to my mind whenever I dig my claws into a cat's throat. I see them below me, and I just... I want to completely break down."
Her eyes looked sad. "Talon, I hate that. And I hate that that happens." My heart was rushing, pounding against my chest. "I will do everything I can to stop you from feeling bad."
Talon shrugged. "You're leaving this world in a few weeks, and all we have is this screwed up reality. Gar and I care for each other. You and I care for each other." She scoffed. "If only the world was full of good like what I see in you and Gar."
Well... I guess Talon sees some good in me. "If only cats - and other animals like us - weren't so rude."
Her head tapped mine gently. "If only."
part two - talon
And now it's my turn.
Nebula and I were friends. I never had anyone like her for the rest of my life.
One day, in those few weeks, she vanished.
I didn't understand where she went, so I followed her, slightly. Not really.
Nebula and I really had a close bond, so seeing her go off alone was absolutely terrifying - and I hated it. I wanted her to stay with me. I wanted her to stay and make me happy, make everyone happy because she was the genius machine.
I didn't want her to go. The fact that I know that she...
She did something.
And there are cats that remind me of her. All of those apprentices in that line. The fact that I am at the head of this entire operation.
Not just that, everything falling apart with Aspie-
I should really stop talking.
This cat - Nebula - was a genius - but a complete psychopath from what I knew. Siding with those other than her own kind? Plotting a revenge plot fit to survive for years? What was she doing? Who'd put this horrible state of mind in her?
But I also... admired her. She was one to stand up for herself, and wouldn't back down. She was so willing to die that she offered herself before anyone. She put herself in a life or death situation, just to make life better for us.
Someone like that wasn't present when Lapis and Amazon were around. Lapis was too fragile - the poor babe wouldn't be able to stand up for herself at all, and she'd rely on Amazon to do it. Amazon, though, wouldn't be willing to give herself up for the sake of results. She'd stick with her partner before any of it.
They were my adoptive parents. I couldn't remember Lapis and Amazon too well once Alby and Gar found me, but... I do remember them.
And Nebula had their soft attitude within her, despite her being such a psychopath. I remember almost hearing Amazon's soft calling for me in her voice. She told me she cared about me... and I could feel their warmth, from wherever they'd gone, surround my heart and nearly choke me. I hadn't had anyone like them since they'd left.
It was warm. It was nice. But my heart continued to ache for her. I was sorry she was going to die - and, honestly, pretty upset. She was a genius. She cared for few, but loved one. Her eyes were emotionless, always, but I could read them. She was never inconsiderate to me, never snapped, never... broke.
I broke. I snapped. I was inconsiderate. And I wasn't and never will be a genius.
I'm just a bird.
Nebula made me feel like something - someone - other than just a dumb bird.
Nebula would talk with Alby every day and discuss her plans. Unfortunately, I had to listen to her - if I didn't, Alby said I'd be punished.
I never liked his punishments. He was so rough with Gar and I that we both knew that getting in trouble would get us permanent scars.
Nebula's plans were genius. And she had one thing to do before she went away, and she told me a few days after their first meeting.
"We need to scare them. I need to scare them." She had this look in her green eyes, one that said psychopathy at its heart, but a passion for the good of me and my group of birds. "Talon. I want you to come with me."
"What?!" I didn't want to come with her. I didn't want to see her die.
"I need you to back me up. I need you to be my bodyguard. If they - Supernova - attack, I need you to prevent me from dying. Show them what happens when you mess with my friends."
We're friends. Gar doesn't enjoy your company. Alby is only using you for your intelligence. The thoughts came into my mind and I knew right then that they were right.
Nebula was a tool, but she was the tool Alby, Gar, and I always wanted.
"Nebula. When are we doing this?"
"Soon. Tonight, even."
She gave me that look again. I couldn't stop myself from nodding.
We waited until it was late to make our move.
As we approached, we noticed a guard outside - a pregnant she-cat, sound asleep on the rock. Nebula almost said to get her - but I couldn't stand the idea of killing a cat, especially when she just merely had the same goals as I did - to reproduce and grow.
It was an active breeding season when we entered, and I could even see Nebula's soulless gaze stare at a few toms a little too long as we waited. "Supernova's that orange tom. He's my brother." Her eyes widened at the sight of another queen - she was either the second or third we had seen in there alone, including the one on the rock. "Wow, they're active. That queen there - that's Aspie, and I think... I think she's going to have her kits pretty soon." She hesitated at that statement, and I could feel my heart accelerate.
She paused for a moment. She gave me a sad look. "Talon. I'm sorry. I'm a mess, but... I wish we could be like some of them. Parents, I mean. I'm a literal genius. I have someone I love. And now... I really don't want that genius to end with me."
"But it won't, right?" She cocked her head. "I-I mean, Supernova's in there."
She scoffed, and the psychopathy in her eyes reawakened for a moment. "He's dumb. He won't do anyone any good." She turned her head back to Aspie and sighed. "His children will just be dumb."
I could see the look in her eyes. She sighed as a third queen approached Aspie. They talked loud enough for us to hear over the silence. "How long until you're due?"
"About... maybe a week? A few days? I'll be adding to my family's survival. It's important in these dire times. What about you?"
"I've only just figured out I'm carrying Supernova's kits, so maybe a moon?"
Nebula's ears twitched at the sound of her brother's name. "How long have you known?"
"About two weeks."
"You're farther along than you think, dear. You'll start feeling them soon."
"Oh, really? He'll be pleased! He's always wanted another son, ever since Helix died."
Nebula jumped at the name. "Wow. His son's dead." She continued her focus on the queens.
"It was a shame how he died. Taken up by one of those birds."
Nebula nudged my side. "We need to move. Now."
She slipped out, a quick pace in her steps. I stepped out behind her, following her as she made a dash for the cave.
The queens flinched as I leaped into the air and flared my wings in the cave. Both the queens froze in fear as I heard the sound of the third queen behind me. "I can hear you, little she-cat. Join your group and you stay alive. If not..." I let my voice go dark, despite the pulling on my heart. "I will kill you and both of the other queens."
I could hear her scared pawsteps walk around me. Supernova, from the crowd, was staring Nebula square in the eye. I had to keep a neutral, dark glare, or I'd blow my cover.
"Cave cats. You have stolen from the mountain birds far too much. You horde the food they need to survive. The birds simply cannot gain from you all stealing their food. They need you to leave so they can have their land back." Nebula paused to let the effect settle before continuing. "I am working with them to find an alternative to you all leaving. But be warned: it isn't pretty."
From the crowd, a small tom gasped loudly and passed out on the ground. "You all must learn that stealing from others is a poor deed. You must learn that these birds need to live, and they have no choice but to kill you if you refuse."
"No." Supernova, from the crowd, approached Nebula. "You can't do this, Nebula. You're a monster."
You're a monster. "Actually, since I am on their side and am working with them on a solution... I can. And I will."
"Nebula. Stop this."
"Brother. I was never loved nearly as much as you were. This bird and her group have been the first to accept me. And because of that, I have a bond with her and the other birds. I have the power to do this. I am their representative."
"Talon, kill him."
It took a single second for me to launch forward and strike him, but it felt like an hour. There had to be another way.
The orange tom struggled in my claws for a moment before my talons found the fatal areas. He stopped struggling and dropped on the ground, his body pooling blood from where my talons stabbed. "If you all continue, you will all end up like Supernova. Another representative will here within two and a half moons to discuss your end of our bargain."
She nudged my side. "Let's go, Talon."
We left at a pace I had never seen in her.
"Why did you say two and a half moons, Nebula?"
"I have an idea. And Alby will not be pleased about it."
"I thought you were dying in two weeks."
"Postpone my death until after I do what I want."
She told me to tell Alby, and she said she'd be back in the morning. I knew this wasn't going to be good for me.
"What?" Alby roared as I told him the words. "We schedule this for two weeks and then she wants to push the most important moment in our history back?"
"Sir." I held a tough tone, despite my heart heaving. "Nebula is a genius. She has a reason for this. I know it's tough to push this back, but let her do this. She has a plan. She knows what she's doing."
He raised an eyebrow. "Tell me what you know about this."
"Sir, if I'm being honest, I think she wants to spread her genius. Teach her offspring to be like her."
"Offspring?" Alby turned his head. "She's pregnant?"
"I cannot confirm or deny that sir. I do not know. But I believe that is what she wants to do, considering, from my knowledge, female cats are pregnant for two moons."
He narrowed his eyes, then turned away. "Wait for her, then. See if it actually happens. You know her - she's unpredictable. Anything could happen."
"Yes, sir." Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Gar - doing his usual, sending out groups to hunt for the night. "I'll be with Gar if you need me."
He didn't respond, but by then, I didn't care anyway. I was already on pace to see Gar.
"Hey, Talon." He gave me an eye flick to acknowledge me beside him. "Where's Nebula?"
I shrugged. He said nothing and continued sending out patrols.
When the last one had finished, he turned to face me. "Talon, I have an idea." He took a breath and sighed. "This may not be any good, but... I think we should overthrow Alby."
Wait, what? "Why, Gar?"
He narrowed his eyes. "I see you and Nebula being bossed around all the time by him. You do nothing, probably because you're nervous and don't want to be hurt, and Nebula just goes with it, doing whatever she likes." He stared at the ground. "And now that she's off somewhere doing who knows what, we should do it. She listens to you more than she would ever listen to Alby. That kind of genius... is something we need if we want to do this."
"Is that it?"
"Of course not. Alby is also much older and weaker than both of us - he'll die soon anyway. We'll just make it faster." His voice had risen by now, and he paused to calm himself. "Are you in?"
I went silent and thought for a moment. "...I'm in."
We talked over the course of days how we planned to do it. Nebula, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen.
It was close to two moons after we'd first agreed to it when Gar approached me. "We do it today. We've planned for as long as Nebula's been gone. We need to do it soon, or else she could do as you said - show up pregnant and pause this whole thing. Even I refuse to kill a cat that is just trying to reproduce."
We were alone by some bushes. I could hear something... rustling. It sounded large, and I dug my claws into the ground. "Something's coming. Be ready."
We waited for a moment, and suddenly, out of the bushes, burst Nebula, who look unnaturally tired - and large. "Finally. Made it."
Gar looked confused, while I was just relieved. "So, Nebula. You decided to show up."
She nodded, then plopped down on her side, and Gar and I stared at her swollen stomach in both awe and horror. "Yeah. Side note for Talon, I've got some geniuses in me, hopefully." Her voice held a tired tone.
She gave Gar a hard stare, then turned her gaze to me. "I'm due in... three weeks? Maybe two? I honestly can't remember, stuff's been all over the place since... well, then." She sighed and rested her head on the ground. "Two. I think."
Gar's head snapped toward me. "Talon. We need to do it. Before he finds out about... this." His eyes held a new anger, a new drive. "If Alby finds Nebula, he may just kill her now. He never wanted this."
I took a glance at Nebula, who merely stared back at me with a look of confusion. "Okay, Gar. You approach him - tell him you want to talk, then I'll come from the air. Exactly as we talked about."
He held a determined look for a moment before nodding and trotting off "I expect to see you nearby when I have him, Talon."
I nodded, then glanced back at Nebula. "Sorry. Gar and I just planned for this - you showing up pregnant, regardless of if you were due the next day or four weeks from now. If you're lying about when you're due..." My heart sunk and I knew my eyes had sunk as well. "Tell me. And tell me now, Nebula."
She stared, then sighed. "I lied. I can feel it coming. Not now, but in a few days. It feels weird. Large. Crowded. Not what I really appreciate feeling."
A realization hit me like a bullet. "Nebula... You can't be having those here. Someone'll find you, and you know that. You could be killed if you're in the open."
She nodded, then pushed herself up. It suddenly became very obvious that she wasn't lying - she moved differently, her stomach looked rather large for her size, and she had a tired glint in her eyes. "Can you... come with me? To find somewhere where I won't be so obvious?"
"Sure, Nebula. Make this quick, though." She nodded, and I approached her so she could lean on me. "Where do you want to go?"
"I think you should take me to the bushes. Not these, but nearby. I'll guide you, Talon, I just need to lean on you." She pressed against me, and her weight nearly made me loose my footing.
"How many are you expecting, Nebula?" She sighed and turned her head towards me.
"I really don't know. I don't know what to expect." She used a paw to shove my side. "Now let's get going. They take quite a lot out of me."
She guided me over gently, and once she spotted the bushes, she settled quickly. She stared up at me, looking sad. "Talon. I want to say something before you go."
I returned her sad stare. "Talon... I have my regrets. One of them has become this decision. I know why I wanted to do this, but... I have realized this isn't for me." She rested her head on her paws. "If you spot one you like, do what you want with them. Afterall, I'll be dead soon anyway." Despite her generally soulless attitude, she reflected sadness in her state. She shook her head and blinked. "Check on me as soon as you're done, okay?"
seventeen - nebula
I started my regrets here. It was never my goal as a young cat to be a mother. It was never my goal to do, well, any of what happened.
I cared about Talon, and I'm sure it's obvious she cared for me, too. I don't know how she feels; I feel bad about what she had to do.
She watched me die.
She watched me do so much, if I'm honest.
I regret a lot with her, but my biggest regret was leaving her. There's a reason why she realized I was so terrible. You haven't seen it yet, but you will - and you'll think I'm terrible too.
I don't really care what you think, reader. I know you'll find me horrible after what happened.
The kits I had were my regrets, born into reality.
eighteen - talon
Gar had Alby in an intense conversation when I dug my claws into the wood. His head turned upward for just a moment before he said something to Alby and screamed.
We fought with him for several moments. Each time Alby was up, we cornered him and pinned him down again. Eventually, we had him pinned. I should've been thinking about what Gar and I would do as leaders. I was really thinking about Nebula.
Gar's wing smacked me for the final time that day. He gave me a hard stare, then glared at Alby. "Why have you done this?! Release me, you scoundrels! Pinning - killing - your own leader -"
"I suggest you keep your voice mute." I lifted a leg. This was the leg I killed my first cat with - and now, a bird. "Or I'll slice your neck off right here."
Alby groaned but kept quiet, while Gar had energy rising in his voice.
"We're being rid of you, old bird, for slowing us down. For not allowing us to be anywhere close to you." I watched his claws dig deeper. "For being mad at us all the time. We are the future."
Alby struggled once more, then let out a sigh. "Fine. Let's see how you do." I raised my talons to dig into him, but he let out a raspy breath. "Do as you wish, just remember what I did for both of you to get here."
Gar rolled his eyes and nudged me with a wing. We watched him struggle until his body stopped shivering.
We stared in silence for a moment before I heard Gar break. "Talon. We're in charge now. What do we say?"
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is..." He took a sad glance at Alby. "We have to explain his death somehow. And Nebula... she's still missing, according to everyone there."
Shoot. Nebula. "Hey, Gar, there's something you should know about her." He cocked his head. "She lied. About those kits of hers."
"What do you... what do you mean?
I could almost hear her screaming. "She's due to have them within a few days, Gar."
He looked shocked. "Oh. Wow."
We both went silent, and I waited a moment before muttering, "I'm gonna talk to those cave cats."
"Really? Trying to be diplomatic, aren't you?"
"I'm going to try. But this may not work, Gar." I closed my eyes and thought about the queens Nebula and I had seen, and the look in her eyes. "I killed a tom of theirs. It may not work out."
"Hey." Gar gave me a hard stare. "It works, it works. They move, we win. They don't... we continue. We're doing this because they're taking too much of our food - and we're hunting elsewhere too, but nobody wants to hunt that far away. We maintain the population if we continue this." He sighed. "But come back if you get hurt. Please, Talon. Nebula needs you - I need you by my side."
I nodded, then launched myself into the air, calling, "I promise I'll be okay."
I landed by the same spot we had looked in earlier. I poked my head to watch the cats again.
The queen on the rock, from earlier, wasn't present, and nor were Aspie and the other queen. However, a she-cat was wailing in the corner - when I listened, I realized she also was a queen. She wasn't wailing in pain - no, no, not at all. She was whining over a tom's death - her kits' father, probably.
Do I show up now...?
If I show myself now, she'll get scared.
But I need to be there - visible - somehow.
I tapped my talons against the rocks and slipped out slowly. Almost immediately, the poor she-cat screamed and ran into one of the dens. A different she-cat poked her head out and hissed, and I hardened a stare in my eyes.
"Jasper!" she called, and a ginger she-cat ran out from another direction.
"Oh, another eagle?!" She glanced over her shoulder and let out a cry, and several cats swarmed around me.
I wanted to kill them all, but instead I leaped into the air - don't provoke them any more than you already have with your presence. "Don't waste your energy coming for me. Move and I'll explain why I'm here."
I landed on the underside of their patroling rock. Unfortunately, it was steep - and of course I had to slip.
I landed hard on one of my wings and had twisted one of my legs, so I stood up slowly, gently balancing on one foot. "The eagles have a simple request. You take too much of our food and we can't survive. You all leave, we all live in peace and harmony and whatever."
My wing was starting to hurt at this point. "If you don't leave, we'll kill you - in one way or another." The cats gave me horrible looks of You're not allowed here, get out or we'll kill you and I was in so much pain, I almost couldn't concentrate. "We kill to make sure you don't bother us."
The cats talked for a moment before Jasper stepped forward. "We were thinking of leaving anyway. We will not stop our hunting here, as some are planning on staying, but we will try not to hunt in your territory." She lashed her tail against the ground. "Now, get out. You scare our queens and kits by you being here. Leave."
"One more thing." She cocked her head. "There is a cat staying with us who is close to giving birth. We may choose to kill her, or we may choose to let her live. You may come if you wish, but be warned: we will not hesitate if you attack one of the birds."
Jasper's eyes narrowed, but she said nothing - instead, she flicked her tail for her cats to settle. I limped off, determined to get home - to Gar, and to Nebula.
Poor Nebula was moaning when I found her. She was clearly in pain, but I didn't know what to do, how to help, anything. "H-Hey, Talon."
"Hey, Nebula. You feeling okay?"
She stared at me with tired eyes. "I could definitely be better. In less pain, definitely." She shifted her position, despite the evident pain in her eyes. "Stick around, maybe? Tell me what's going on outside of the small world I live in right now."
As soon as she said it, I nodded - then heard her moan again before she howled with pain.
I couldn't bear to watch it, so I moved my uninjured wing over my head to try to deafen the sound - but it did nothing.
When she stopped, I'd realized I'd dozed off a bit. The sun was high in the sky compared to the gloomy night earlier, and I glanced over at Nebula, who was quiet.
Five kittens pawed at her, while a solo one didn't move. "A stillborn?"
"Yeah," she muttered. "Five, huh... can't really believe my poor body could hold six kittens, despite the stillborn there." She returned her tired gaze to me and yawned. "I'm gonna sleep, Talon. I'll feel okay soon; just give me some time."
I stayed by her side for a while - it didn't feel like it, but it was certainly a few days. She had her names for most of them fairly soon.
"Acedia, Ira, Luxuria, Superbia, Avarizia." It was fortunate that most of her kits were she-cats - so Acedia, Ira, Superbia, and Avarizia wee females and Luxuria was the only tom.
She looked sad, and she let out a sigh some days later. "I have regrets, Talon..." She gave me a look of terror. "I- I just - I don't think they need to face up to my sins."
"Talon. I'm such a psychopath." She cast a sad stare at Ira, watching the ginger tabby kit poke her side. "I've done a lot of awful things. I don't really feel bad about them, but... I am aware that I should feel bad about them. There are many, many awful things I have done. I got my adopted father killed. I got Supernova killed. I even got into a fight with these guys' father and killed him, too. I don't understand why I don't feel terrible over it."
I didn't really know what to say. "Well, Nebula, you're also saving us." The realization of how dangerous she was was starting to kick in. "Y-Y-You're the most dangerous cat alive. There's a reason why we trust you."
She sighed, then closed her eyes. "We need to do it."
"Test the machine." She paused, and her eyes opened with a new, angry, determined light. "Kill me off. As for these five... I have an idea."
We waited until night before we executed the idea.
Nebula's eyes held a slight sadness to them but remained the soulless gaze they'd always been to everyone but me. The five kits were placed in a grotto... except for one.
Nebula, with her attitude, let out a sigh. Her eyes took on the look she had when we visited the cave for the first time. We knew what was happening.
Jasper had started guarding the cave every night. Loud yowls came from there the night we took Nebula's kits, and Jasper was gone.
We suspected Jasper was out. "Let's do this, Talon."
She pressed into my side and muttered, "Kill her."
Wait - what?! "Nebula, that's your own daughter, are you sure you want me to-"
"Just do it, Talon." Her soulless eyes returned with the most sadness I'd see out of them. "I'm sorry. I'm as sorry as I can make myself feel. But she is a regret." She let out a sigh. "Start with her and watch the rest die later."
She nudged me and breathed, "Do it."
Neither she nor I took a look at her daughter afterward. I'd done my worst. She had, too.
We hid in the bushes as we watched Jasper find the other four. "Well... we have so many kits right now, I don't know if they could take more..." She glanced around, probably looking for us, and Nebula froze when the ginger she-cat's eyes widened with shock.
"She's seen her." From beside me, I knew Nebula was tracing Jasper's steps. "She's taking the rest of them."
After she was gone, Nebula's tortoiseshell fur pressed into my feathers. "Talon, you probably hate me, don't you?"
Hate... her? "Nebula, I-"
"I understand if you do." Her eyes blinked once. "If I had any ounce of sympathy in me for someone other than you... I would too."
She stood and started walking, and I trailed regretfully behind her.
I let Nebula decide where we were going to go. She took the lead, pushing forward with every step she could, muttering curses to herself about what she should've been.
"Talon." She glanced over her shoulder as we stopped at the foot of a large building. "I realize now that I should have never been allowed here." She knew this building, and I did too.
I used to get cut there all the time, and so would Gar when we went to investigate it in our younger days. Gar would laugh as my back was stained red, and I used to snort at the fact that he would always scratch his claws on the sharp metal bits.
I knew what this was.
This was where the humans worked.
It was quiet as we stepped in. Nebula grimaced; she looked as though she had the weight of the world on her. "Talon. Tie me up to that wood there, and push that lever once I'm there."
I had the realization then and there that she was killing herself. She was so ashamed of her actions that she was going to kill herself... to test a machine.
"But why, Nebula?" I reached out and pulled her around by her tail. "Why are you doing this?"
She let out a long, heavy sigh, and with the utmost emotion, "Because I don't belong here. I killed so many cats - and I made you kill some as well. I divided Alby and Gar and you because I liked you. Plus, I just got you all into more trouble by telling you to kill Ira." Her sad, but soulless eyes returned to me, and I could feel my heart swell with heartbreak, anger, sadness, and most of all, longing. "I'm so sorry, Talon. I wish I could feel for something other than you."
I tied her regretfully, and she gave me her emotion-filled eyes, the best she could manage. "But, Talon, although you will likely respect me for what I did... you will realize how terrible I truly was for you in the end." She blinked, and honestly, it could've been tears. "See you, Talon. And come see me when you're ready."
I pushed the lever and turned away.
It didn't sting as much as I thought it would.
I told Gar what happened, and he was both shocked and disappointed, but he persisted nonetheless.
Within my years, the cats moved. We barely shifted - but the mountains were close to where they relocated, so we still have constant issues.
We still had mountain cats to deal with, and I watched Nebula's children grow. Of the four remaining, one she-cat stayed behind and the other three moved with the cats. I met one or two later - a descendant of Aspie. Aspenpaw was her name. Another was Supernova's relation - Sunsetpaw. Supernova's direct relative.
And a third - Nebula's. Falconpaw, who reminded me of Nebula so much that I couldn't kill her.
I became hardened like she was. I felt nothing until Aspenpaw and Falconpaw taught me to open my eyes.
Gar simply became harder and tougher and took birdcrap from absolutely nobody. He also learned from Nebula.
We killed cats from the Clans and the mountains for years, based on the deal Nebula had made. Eventually, nearly none of us knew the whole thing - just that it was tradition.
Nebula's legacy lives through us all. Here I am, burdened with her truths, her whole story, everything. My stories of killing cats from the mountains before this all even started. Ira dying.
I realize I should've never listened to her, and instead we should've at least tried to find a peaceful solution. If Gar wasn't so tough like he was post-Alby, I know he would've joined me on that.
I wonder sometimes what life would be like if Nebula was alive, and then I remember everything.
I want to be better than she was.
Please, let me recover from what she did to me, to Gar, to these cats.
epilogue - nebula
Talon has finished. I have finished.
She's not wrong about Falconpaw - daughter of my tom, Luxuria - who in the Clans was called Hawkthorn. Nor is she wrong about Sunsetpaw - grandson of Supernova. Neither of these two realize their family history.
As it should be.
She said she hated me, I'm sure. And as I told you, dear reader, I was never typical.
Not even mentally.
I wish sometimes that I could redo my life, and actually attempt to be normal, but then I think about Talon and the joy we brought to each other.
It was more than that, really, if I'm totally honest. There is a reason why she refuses to take a mate, and it is because she feels like she'll abandon me - but she'll never admit that's why. I don't blame her.
Anyway. I want to recover.
Please undo what I started.
I finished this darn thing.
Special thanks to everyone out there who's been encouraging me on this for the last several months - y'all really made a difference! I know it ended rather darkly.
Nebula, truly, was a psychopath at its worst. Her actions were just full proof of this.
And as usual, not every psychopath or sociopath is like her. Her character was just one at its worst - and had she not be meant to be this way, I would've written her as I do my other characters. But that was boring, and I needed a new route. So I picked the sociopath.
I hope y'all enjoyed, and yes, this does minorly spoil For the Birds, but that's alright. Nebula's story here is more relevant starting in S2, as it was started post-S1 of FtB.
Thanks again for reading!!