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Opening Locked Doors

Opening Locked Doors

By Brams

For Blazey's 100 Themes Challenge

Inuwa.

The tom had had a tough life, and he's struggling to make the most of it.

He hasn't known what to do with it...

Until now.


One - Introduction

It’s hard to find a point to start. It always has.

I know, from my ruins of a life so far, that I need to change – and drastically. But, there is always one question that bothers me every time I think of this – how? It’s never been easy.

You see, I know I’m not normal. My ideas are the strangest to what the normal cats think, and I don’t understand how they can be so… confident with one another. In the world of loners and rogues, I’ve always lacked the social skills required of them – and I still don’t have them.

They look at each other in the eye with a clear ease, while I shudder every time a cat yowls with fury at me when they notice that I’m not looking me in the eye. They never can take me seriously because of this. I’ve always wondered why I struggle unlike no other…

…and no answers have ever come to me. It breaks my heart.

Those are my weaknesses, and every time a cat meets me for the first time, they find these out very quickly. Then, they abandon me – thinking that I’m worthless, not ready for them.

I do know I’m not worthless – and every time a cat says it, it tears at my heart, already shattered by many before them. I have my talents, too, and they are oblivious to them, as they see me off before they realize who I truly am. I’m smart, for a cat – well, I like to consider that to myself, anyway. I know a lot about fighting and hunting – and although it took me a while to master by myself, I soon honed my newfound talents. I am also great at navigating these pine forests around my home – I rarely get lost, but I do know of times that I have done so.

See, I have my talents. However, in this society, every cat knows that perfection is the best, and that weakness cannot be tolerated. That is my biggest flaw in this life – my weaknesses. It seems I always have more of them than my strengths.

Speaking to others – confessing my feelings – is another one. See, I’m on a roll right now – it takes me effort to do this. I hate to be embarrassed, especially because I have suffered so much about it in society.

I feel trapped, because of these weaknesses. I know I don’t want to be a fool, like I already am. I’ve messed up that part of my life too much.

Now, I want a fresh start – and I feel that now, after all these moons, trying to figure out a way out of this. I need to open these doors that I have locked for so long.

My name is Inuwa. I guess you could say this is an introduction to my life, but I don’t know for sure. Who knows that the other cats call it, in their popular societies that they have, the ones that I have never had the chance to do?

I have no idea, but I wish I knew.


Two - Complicated

Around here, in these pine forests, life is very complicated. All of it sources from the center – the middle of everything.

It’s called the Clans. They are the cats that are the accepted in society – and if you’re not into that sort of thing, good luck to you if you want to get in a Clan.

That is one thing that depresses me. I was born a rogue, but after I was born, my parents were both accepted into one of the Clans. Moons later, my two siblings were accepted too. Now, I’m the only one left, still roaming the wild. I don’t even know if I’ll even become a Clan cat.

I suppose I’d better explain to you how everything works around here, or you won’t get anything.

There are five Clans, and all of them live in this huge expanse of pine forest – NeedleClan, BarkClan, MarshClan, MossClan, and ShrubClan. Each has their own traits that you need to have to be accepted into them.

NeedleClan are the fighters – the cats that are often large and thickset-built. They often brawl with the other Clans, their claws as sharp as the prickliest thorns. They are power-hungry, and want to be the powerhouses of the Clans.

Unfortunately for them, cats that are natural leaders are placed in MarshClan. These cats are often ones with calm attitudes, and don’t get angered so easily. They take the lead, and help their Clanmates with utmost respect.

ShrubClan’s territory, compared to the other Clans, has a lot more bushes that scatter around their territory. These cats are wiry, and have small paws – and are well reputed for their stealth and their athletic builds. This makes NeedleClan envious of them – and these are the two Clans that are most often fighting.

BarkClan are the healers. They try to cover up the damage that has been made, rather than to create them. They are kind, and welcoming to other cats, and are the only Clan that takes a risk of bringing cats inside their territory to them – they’re not hostile at all.

And then there’s MossClan. These cats are best all-rounders – the cats that fit into no particular category very well, but a deemed worthy of a Clan. However, half the cats there are seen as wise and intelligent, and are the best at thinking up new strategies for various tasks.

If I was to ever be put in a Clan, it would have to be MossClan. At least I wouldn’t be the odd one out there.

These Clans are cruel sometimes, however. When a kit born into a Clan reaches twelve moons, they are cast out. They have to wait until the Seasons’ End until they have a chance to re-join them.

The Seasons’ End is a ceremony held every three moons, at the end of a season. All the loners and rogues come, and hope to be accepted into a Clan. The five Clan leaders come – if they have a vacancy in their Clan, maybe for a cat that’s died or abandoned them – and pick new members - the amount accepted corresponding for the amount of vacancies they have in their Clan.

I am never accepted. They think I’m weird – obviously I’m not bred for the social life.

So as you can now see, life here is very complicated. I’m trying to think of a way to be included – but I need to think of a how. At this stage of my life, I feel that it’s time to finally take action – and fast.

I only have one life, after all.

Three - Making History

Speaking of the Season’s End, today’s the day it’s due to fall. At the moment, I’m at the front of the crowd of cats – I can’t stand being at the back – waiting for it to begin. It isn’t long now.

It’s the end of leaf-bare – the season that I dislike the most of them all. I don’t feel the cold, but the snow that drifts lazily into the clearing… it screws up my hunting. It’s not easy to hunt in the snow when your pelt is a shade of midnight black – like mine.

I turn around to the front. Three leaders are at the front. I assume that the Season’s End is about to begin.

I sweep my amber gaze over the leaders. One’s a brown-and-white tabby; a second is spike-furred, gray, and also a tabby; the third being smaller than the rest, their pelt a pale shade of ginger-and-white.

MarshClan, ShrubClan, and MossClan have vacancies. My heart leaps.

The brown-and-white tabby hesitates, and then he slowly steps forward. He silences the loners and rogues in the clearing with a stern meow of his deep voice, quickly grabbing every cats’ attention. His tail flicks, and then he steps back, letting the gray she-cat take over.

“Welcome to the Season’s End, for the end of leaf-bare,” the cat announces, their pine-green eyes wide. “Today, we express to you our vacancies, and we hope we can make you a warrior.”

A few cats cheer at the announcement of the cat – Gorsestar, who’s the leader of ShrubClan. However, these are all short-lived, as they die away quickly. They all want to be selected for a Clan - that's more important than anything else for them.

I stay silent. I do this for every cat that is ranked higher than me in society. I want to show respect, so that I can gain trust. I know that if I speak, I will be sent away.

They know I’m strange, after all.

Firstly, the cat that hasn’t spoken yet – the ginger-and-white she-cat – steps forward. “MossClan has one vacancy,” she announces, before stepping back.

My heart leaps at the announcement of MossClan having a vacancy. Even one vacancy is an opportunity. I shuffle my paws, wanting to look confident. I want a spot in a Clan!

Gorsestar then steps forward again. “ShrubClan has two vacancies to fill,” she announces, before stepping back once more.

I don’t take much interest to Gorsestar’s offer, as I see the cat who has spoken first off – MarshClan’s leader, Owlstar – step forward again. Every cat is deathly silent here – they don’t dare to speak when Owlstar’s around. As MarshClan is the head of society, and Owlstar is the head of them, he is the cat to look up to – except for the NeedleClan cats, who all despise him.

“MarshClan also has one vacancy,” he announces, before stepping back too. Then, the three leaders observe the crowd, their heads swivelling.

They’re choosing who they want for their Clans. And for some reason, they always make the right decision. They speak quietly as they do so – I hear them speaking quietly – and I wonder if they’re speaking to spirits.

Gorsestar is the first to move. She picks a brown-and-gray she-cat and a white tom with a brown chest, and then she leaves. There’s no more business for her to deal with there. Now, in the whole of the Clans, there are only two spaces left to fill.

Birdstar - the ginger-and-white she-cat – is next. She picks a calico, and my heart sinks. I know I’m not going to be selected now. I’m not a leader.

Only one space left, I think to myself. I won’t be picked.

I don't let my disappointment dwell on me for too long - and as I look up, I realized that I was right. Owlstar picks his cat, but it was one that I never expected. It was a tom with long gray fur, and eyes a shade of amber-green. He told me once that he used to be like me. His name was Chrome, and he inspired me, and strengthened me.

Now, he would be gone. For the Clans, he would be from now on.

“You need others to help you, Inuwa.” The tom’s words echoes in my wind, as I watched, shocked. I never would have believed Chrome would have got selected for a Clan – never!

Chrome looked at me as Owlstar led him off. His amber-green eyes were sad as he looked at me, and then he was gone.

Once Owlstar and Chrome had left, the group of cats started to split up. One cat yowled as they left: “That’s making history! No cat like Chrome has ever been accepted into a Clan before!”

And in that moment, I knew it was possible to achieve my dream.

Four - Rivalry

The next day, I found myself near the edge of the pine forest, where the trees became sparsely populated, turning from leafy overhang into smooth, grassy moor. My black fur was fluffed up as it usually was – although now that it was the beginning of newleaf, the winds that blew were still very chilly.

My ears flattened against my skull. I had no particular reason why I was here. I didn’t usually come out here – the tree cover was more of my preferring.

I tasted the air, for no good reason. I picked up various prey scents – a few mice and voles; a couple of squirrels; even the scent of a rabbit. But this wasn’t what was bothering me.

It was because that there were two scents of other cats in the air – and they made me feel most unsettled. These scents I could put a name and face to, and they weren’t the nicest cats on the block. In fact, they are bullies.

Their names suit their demeanor – Thorn and Claw. Both are dark cats – Thorn being golden-brown, and Claw being gray-and-brown. As soon as I envisioned them in my mind, they appeared from behind a bush, and stared at me. I looked down - I feel scared if I look cats in the eye. It makes me feel intimidated.

However, I could still see Thorn’s dark eyes darting to and fro in the scene before him, while Claw was standing beside him, his thick-furred tail flicking. They looked menacing – their long, curved claws unsheathed, their large thickset bodies imposing. And I knew that today, they would be especially nasty.

Especially because there were no vacancies for NeedleClan. It’s a fact around here that they want to be under Sharpstar’s rule, not the rule of their own type.

My ears flattened for a moment, as I saw then turn towards me. I was scared. I am scared of my enemies, and I don’t know how to fight them back, like other cats do. The only good things that I can fight back with all turn up after the moment is gone.

“Inuwa,” one of the cats hisses. It’s Claw. The gray-and-brown tom takes one imposing step forward, and his massive body makes a shadow over mine. I flinch, and step back – which causes the two cats to laugh menacingly.

“Oh, looook,” Claw mocks, as he sees me stepping back. “Inuwa’s scaaaaared.” He gives a rueful hiss at me, hoping for a reaction, but this time I don’t move.

My mind works in weird ways. Sometimes, I lash out quickly at Thorn and Claw’s taunts; on others, it takes a lot to trigger me off. Even less often I ignore them, and I turn and walk away. But it’s too hard for me to do that last option – the preferred option – most of the time.

“Maybe he’ll lash out soon,” I hear Thorn hiss quietly to Claw, not noticing that I overheard them. I stand there, still as a stone, not willing to move. They’ll pick on me if I do that . They turn back to me, their eyes flashing. I gulp, as I remember what they call these sorts of things. They call them ‘rivalries’, although I do disagree – I call it a rift, one that those cats have caused themselves.

Then, they do something I don’t expect. Thorn – the smaller of the two – shoots a triumphant glance at Claw, and then me. I click on that they're going something - something bad - as Thorn turns to me, bunches his muscles, and leaps in my direction - with myself unprepared.

No!

Five - Unbreakable

As Thorn leapt at me, I reeled back in shock. I’d never really thought much before, even though I knew what to do. Inside, I was panicking.

Get off of me, Thorn! Get a life! I hissed inside my head, still stiff with shock. I felt Thorn touch me with his broad paws, and I fell over with the force, flinching and groaning. I hate getting touched... I added, feeling defeated.

Did I mention that I really hate getting touched by other cats, unless I tell them they can?

I knew I had to act, but I didn’t know what to do. I batted weakly at Thorn, my claws still sheathed, while Thorn swiped at my flank. I felt pain where he had swiped at me, and I looked over. A few small streams of scarlet blood was pooling out from a freshly-made wound.

“Weakling,” Thorn mocked. I pricked my ears, hearing Claw jeer in agreement nearby. And in that moment which they had teased me, I knew that I had dealt with the two toms enough.

I felt my thorn-sharp claws slide open, just as Thorn managed to pin me to the ground with a swift movement. I wriggled uncomfortably, trying to get off Thorn. “Get… off… of… me…” I grunted, as Thorn’s claws threatened to dig even further into my pelt.

Thorn ignored me. He just cackled wildly before I felt the claws dig in harder. I knew I had to act – and fast.

Without thinking, I lashed one black-furred leg out, trying to kick Thorn off of me. I didn’t get the tom - and I didn't cause any damage, for that matter – but my movement threw him off balance, as I saw him stumble. As he did so, I saw Claw moving slightly further away, not wanting to get involved.

Thorn attempted to get back onto me properly – but I tried to kick him again, so - once again -he slipped off balance, his claws sheathing in shock. The golden-brown tumbled half-off my body in fright, but I could still see him crouching by my tail, grinning evilly, his sharp white teeth bared.

I felt happy that I had at least done something in my favor, for once. It made me proud.At least I wasn't completely useless - although I obviously wasn't very good at putting it into practice.

However, Thorn seemed not to agree with me. The tom retreated back a few steps, his amber eyes flashing. I scrambled back onto my paws, my wounds still bleeding. Warm blood pooled at my paws, making me feel uneasy.

I couldn’t tell what the expression on Thorn’s face was either – I had always struggled with that too, another one of my social problems – but I knew that he wasn’t happy. The area around his eyes was furrowed, and his tail was lashing.

“You know, I’ll be back,” he mewed, his voice dark and sinister. It made me nervous, just listening to it. But thankfully, Thorn only proceeded to look at Claw, and in a flash he was no longer looking at me – and this made me feel a lot more relaxed. In another flash, however, the two toms were gone.

I sighed in relief. I didn’t need any cat around me right now, after what I had just faced. It had caused me to shake - in shock, and in a slight hint of fear.

However, although Claw and Thorn had beat me in this battle, the bullying that Thorn and Claw have inflicted has never really gotten to me. I don’t dwell on that. They don’t know that my spirit is unbreakable, and it never will be broken.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me, I thought doubtfully, shaking my head. Not to the outside, it doesn't work - but for me, it does.

Six - Obsession

That night, the near-full moon rose in the sky, and I looked up with a twinkling in my eye. The moon had always inspired me: given me hope when I needed it the most.

I’ve never really understood why. However, it just seems to drive me.

The night sky reminds me a bit of myself. Only because it’s black, I've thought - I have never really had much idea about what else it could mean to me. Black reminds me of my black pelt, I’ve always thought.

Tonight, it sees different. Now, just a night after the Season’s End, I remember that the Clans have always liked the moon, too.

The moon and the stars are respected among the Clans. I have heard from young, ex-Clan cats that have been kicked out of their respective Clans due to the twelve-moon rule, that they have a Clan of ancestors called StarClan, and they lie up in Silverpelt with all these stars.

They say this is one thing that you must believe in to join the Clans. Most of the Clans will send you out if you don’t believe – except NeedleClan. NeedleClan does the extreme – they kill any cat in their Clan that doesn’t believe.

That’s one of the many reasons why I don’t want to join NeedleClan. I don’t have the personality traits, anyway, so I consider myself safe from that.

The stars seem to twinkle at me, disappearing and appearing. For some reason, the stars seem to… understand what I’m thinking. And they trust in me.

That’s the most I can ever ask for. If no cat in these pine forests won’t accept me, then no cat will. I feel sad, knowing at this thought; I may never be accepted into the Clans at this rate.

I admire the beauty of the moon next, shifting my gaze from the millions of stars that are around me. It’s large tonight – the Clans must be having their Gathering soon, where the five Clans share news in the clearing where the Season’s End is held. They share news, about what has happened recently, and their latest news. New cats from the Season’s End, appointments of higher positions, cats retiring, threats… that’s what I’ve heard.

If I became a Clan warrior, I’d long to go to a Gathering. It must be beautiful in that clearing with the full moon – the Season’s End only ever happens in daylight, so no rogue ever gets to see the place before they become a warrior.

The Clan cats that have been kicked out say that they have never been to a Gathering, either. They say that they have to stay in the camp, because it is against the protocol of the Clans – the Warrior Code – for them to go.

It must be harsh for them, knowing what will happen to them if they are accepted into the Clans, but they are not accepted into them themselves.

This is one reason why I am obsessed with these Clans. I wonder what they are like, as there is so much mystery shrouded in them. I wonder what’s really there…

…but the only catch is that I must become a warrior first – and will that ever come?

Seven - Eternity

Stars dotted the midnight-black sky, the moon casting a shadow over the ground. The tree cover rustled with a light breeze – to any cat passing by, it might have seemed normal.

Normal, if the place itself wasn’t completely dotted with stars. Everything from the trees, to every single pine needle, was dotted with the sparkling things. It made the whole place seem brighter.

This was the place where five cats had decided to meet that night.

First, a silver-and-white she-cat appeared, followed by a dark brown tom. A fluffy-furred gray-brown tom came next, then a small, wiry, dusky brown she-cat. Last came a gray tabby tom that arched his back in distaste, his amber eyes narrowed, his fur fluffed out – making him look even bigger than he actually was, which was pretty huge anyway.

Silence was evident for a moment as the cats sat down and gathered. Eventually, the first cat spoke:

“So.” The silver-and-white she-cat was the first to speak, her clear blue eyes round as she gazed at all the other cats. Like the scene before them, all these cats were covered with stars – more stars than cat, it seemed. “We must discuss this… situation that’s coming across the Clans.”

The dark brown tom snorted in reply. “Moss, I wouldn’t call it a situation,” he replied. The tom waved his tail slightly before adding: “It’s more of what’s going to happen in the future of the five Clans, if that’s what you’re meaning.”

Moss looked rather unfazed by the dark brown tom. “That’s exactly what I mean, Marsh,” she hissed back, before adding: “There are more of the abnormal cats joining the Clans – and there will be more as time passes. It’s not a threat, but they’re becoming more like us. They’re learning.”

There was silence, before the dusky she-cat spoke. She cocked her head to one side, her yellow eyes wide, before she mewed: “There is nothing wrong with them learning to be more like us –”

“She never said that!” The gray tabby interrupted the dusky she-cat, his amber eyes wide again. “It is wrong! Bark, the impure should never have the opportunity to join the Clans.”

Bark shook her head. “Your Clan, Needle, has always been the most ferocious of them all,” she mewed calmly, her yellow eyes suddenly narrowed. “I accept that your Clan may have different motives to some of us, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t say no to them all. You don’t make all the choices for all of the Clans.”

Needle hissed in frustration at Bark’s words, but he said nothing in reply. After this, silence once more enfolded, giving everyone in the clearing some peace. Then, the fifth cat – the gray-brown tom – stood between Needle and Bark, before they dared to spit another insult at one another.

“Things change,” the tom mewed. His green eyes were in a neutral state – not really supporting any side of the argument. “Owlstar accepted Chrome. We in StarClan can see what enfolds for him, but more cats may follow.”

Moss nodded in agreement. “Yes, Shrub,” she echoed quietly. “We don’t know yet, but –” She looked down at the ground – which was transparent – where all five cats could see a tom in the living world – his pelt midnight-black, like the sky – looking up at the moon and stars. “Maybe others will follow.”

These five cats founded the Clans many moons ago. They have known StarClan in its eternity.

And with that conversation, it looked like it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon.

Eight - Gateway

Two days pass by slowly. On these two days, the sun seems to drag in the sky: and everything I do seems to take more time than it actually does. It makes my usual routine – I despise change – seem different, somehow – and I don’t like it.

On the third day, the same thing happens. I lug myself out of my dusty den – which is a fair way away from MossClan’s border – and wash my pelt. Then, I go out to hunt – not usually near the Clans, though, because they usually get suspicious about that sort of thing.

Today is different. My paws seem to drag me closer to the Clans than I usually hunt, but I’m too lazy to protest.

After I take in my surroundings – pines with higher branches than I am used to – I taste the air. The usual happens, when multiple prey scents drift around me. My mind fills with visions of prey – from fresh-killed mouse to a tantalizing, juicy squirrel.

This time, I track a vole. I hear its skittering at the bottom of a pine tree – it’s near a rather large pinecone. I crouch down, and slowly slink forward.

I’m getting closer and closer, my pawsteps not making noise. The vole hasn’t noticed me. I get in reach, and lash one paw forward, for the vole to get trapped as I go in, and swiftly kill it with a bite.

I take it away softly in my jaws. I don’t want to tear up my prey, like some other cats do. I find that weird. I sit down, wanting to eat. I crouch down for a bite –

“Hey, you! I’ve never seen you before! What are you doing out here on your own?”

I jump at the noise. Another cat’s here! How did I not notice!? I think irritably, turning over to see a cat crouching over in the shadows of a nearby pine. It stays still, not moving when I turn to it.

“I know you’re there,” I grunt, feeling frustrated by this interruption. “Come out. I’m not in the mood for any suspense.” I don’t bother to add on something else that I know – I always hate suspense.

I see the cat. Their pelt is light brown, speckled with darker brown flecks. Their eyes are amber – like mine – yet they are larger and rounder. I taste the air – it’s a she-cat. “I’ve never seen you around here,” the she-cat repeated, turning to look at me. “I’m Renee.” She sits down, and I see her narrow her eyes at my vole. “You’re a great hunter, by the way. I saw you catch that vole – I can’t catch prey that neat!”

“Th-Thanks,” I stammer back to this stranger – Renee, she says. “Are you new around here?” I look down at my paws, feeling nervous.

“You need to look me in the eye,” Renee tells me, and I look up a bit, meeting her eyes for a moment. I feel intimidated, so I look away quickly. “Anyway, yes… I suppose. I’ve heard of cats talking about these Clans…”

“I know all about these Clans,” I grunt in reply. “But I’m not good enough socially to join them.”

Renee stared at me sadly. I see her amber eyes well up in compassion. “I have a brother that was a little awkward socially, too,” she murmured. “But he ran away… I helped him a bit, so I wonder if I could help you in that aspect.” She nods, and then she narrows her eyes. “What’s your name, anyway?”

“Inuwa,” I reply with a grunt, my gaze still lowered. “Why are you around here? It is because of these Clans…?”

Renee’s gaze now looked thoughtful. “Well, yes…” she mewed softly. “Do you know a lot about them? I presume you do.”

I nod, meeting Renee’s gaze again. This time, it isn’t so intimidating, but I still look away quickly. “Yes…” I mewed softly. But what’s bugging me inside is will I be able to join them...

It was if Renee could read my mind with the words she spoke next. “Why don’t I strike a deal with you?” she asked. “I help you with these issues that you have – I’ve come across them before – and you help me into the Clans. Fair? It could be our gateway there.”

In that moment, I knew that I had hope. “Yes, Renee,” I whispered, knowing that I couldn’t say no to this. “It’s a deal.”

Nine - Death

I eventually took Renee over around to the Clan borders, and tried to explain their purpose to her. I was not completely into what I was saying, but unlike most cats Renee didn’t mind every time I screwed up – she must have got patience from her brother, I presumed.

“So these borders… the Clan cats must only stay inside them?” she questioned me, tilting her head to one side. As I nodded, thankful that she had understood, Renee sighed in relief. “And that any other cat that strays inside will not be tolerated, and sent out?”

I nodded again. “Most of the time, they’re sent out,” I mewed softly. “There’s one Clan that kills cats if they trespass.” The words ‘NeedleClan’ were on my tongue after I had said this, but they were not spoken.

Renee didn’t look very pleased when I added the last bit. “Weird,” she mewed, sighing sadly. “If any cats didn’t know about what would happen… Anyway, Inuwa, carry on.” She nodded to me respectfully, waiting for me to take the lead again.

I glanced to one side before I set off again, Renee following. I continued to follow MossClan’s border – the only Clan I had properly introduced to Renee so far – until I could smell the different scent of MarshClan when I tasted the air. Their border smelled slightly stale – I wondered why.

“I smell another scent.” Renee padded next to me – a fair distance away, but not too far – and she tasted the air. “What is that? Is that another one of those Clans?” She turned to me, and we locked gazes for a split second, before I looked away again because I felt uncomfortable.

“Yes, Renee,” I mewed. “This is MarshClan. They are the head of society, and they are well-respected. However, this makes them a target for NeedleClan – the most ferocious of the five Clans around here. Don’t become a part of them.”

Renee nodded, and we both fell silent again as we trotted on the edge of MarshClan territory. It was very peaceful – for a while. Until I heard yowling in the distance, that is.

I pricked my ears. It was fairly close. I tilted my head – could it possibly be near the NeedleClan and MarshClan border? So far, Renee and I had gotten a fair way around the Clans’ territory, at a rather brisk pace, and we were doing well. Then, and idea came to my head… NeedleClan and MarshClan always fought. Could it be possible that these two Clans could be fighting yet again?

I looked behind me: Renee had stiffened. The brown-flecked she-cat’s amber eyes were wide. “What’s going on?” I heard her whisper. “I hear yowling…”

“I think NeedleClan and MarshClan have started fighting again,” I sighed sadly. “They always fight… come on.”

We set off again, and soon enough, my suspicion was confirmed. NeedleClan and MarshClan were fighting. Claws were unsheathed, and cats were hissing and yowling.

I saw Chrome among the MarshClan cats, too. I saw him gasping for breath, many wounds across his pelt – he was almost unrecognizable. The rest of the cats were too busy fighting to see him crash to the ground.

Renee flattened her ears. She was still near me. “That warrior fell!” she hissed. “I want to help!” I could see her tail lashing, but I didn’t know what she could be feeling.

I glared at Renee’s forehead for a moment, before I mewed brokenly: “It’s best not to interfere.” Then I looked back at Chrome, and I saw him take one last raggedy breath, and then he never took any more as his body lay still, and then a NeedleClan cat trampled ungraciously on it, not noticing that it was actually there.

Chrome was dead.

Ten - Opportunities

Renee felt different – more different than she had ever felt before that night.

It had been interesting, padding around those Clan borders that day. She never would have thought that they would have been as diverse as they were – she never would have guessed that each had specific traits that the Clan cats had to have to be accepted.

Some of the things Renee had seen had also seemed rather twisted to her. She didn’t get their logic. Inuwa had assured to her over time that would change, but she didn’t know.

Some things seemed strange, and especially the one about unsociable cats with the Clans.

Inuwa had raised that issue even more. The black tom that she had just met today reminded her of her brother, Aspie. He has the same awkward nature as her brother, and the same problem with not looking a cat in the eye. They had their own differences, obviously – but Renee knew they shared an issue.

In that moment, Renee wished that Aspie could’ve had the chance to meet Inuwa. He’d fled somewhere that Renee didn’t know, and all Renee was tempted to do at the moment was to call his name, beckoning him to come back.

It took some effort to stop herself from doing so.

Sighing sadly, Renee turned to looking at the sky. Thoughts of Aspie weren’t helping anything right now, so the speckled she-cat pushed them to the back of her mind. That was not her priority.

Her attention turned back to the Clans, and she recalled one warrior – MarshClan, Renee thought, cocking her head – that had fallen to the ground, dead. Inuwa had stiffened nearby as the cat took its final breath, and then as a NeedleClan warrior trod on the cats’ body, Inuwa looked like he was ready to hiss in fury.

That was disrespectful – for the dead cat. That NeedleClan warrior should’ve taken more care! However, Inuwa’s reactions surprised Renee slightly – did the black tom know the now-deceased cat? She remembered that Aspie raged when things did not go his way – Inuwa seemed calmer, but she suspected that he could have a fiery temper when he got really angry.

Renee then pushed that thought away. That wasn’t the main focus why she was here – she needed to focus on that.

That was why she had come here, to the Clans. The shadow that Aspie had left when he had gone was a reason that Renee had left. She didn’t want to be haunted by her brother’s memory for most of her life. She didn’t want that.

She needed to move on.

These Clans that Renee had been exposed to by Inuwa gave her hope for the future. She could definitely envision a life there, if she worked hard enough – but from what Inuwa said, the next opportunity to join them wouldn’t come for about three moons. For her, this was enough time to learn about them, to make sure she didn’t make mistakes.

Renee wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip from her grasp. She’d already had so many disappointments in life – and she wasn’t going to do it again.

But everything that she did, she would always remember Aspie. She hadn’t really – fully – gotten over it anyway – but she saw a chance with Inuwa.

I can heal myself, too. I won’t be alone again.

Eleven - 33%

Shaking out my pelt, I continued to pad through the forest, looking up at the branches above, leading to small blue dots above. I didn’t often do this, but for once I seemed to appreciate the beauty of the pines in all its eternity – for half the time, I had just passed them by, dismissed it as a regular sight – because it was.

The pine’s overhanging branches would be magnificent to an outsider, I thought. And all those leaves – needles – they bear off are so delicate. It’s beautiful.

This seemed to calm me down. I had come out for a walk to clear my head – terrifying thoughts had been nagging in my head of not getting accepted – and I didn’t want that to happen. Chrome had proven it was possible, and Renee gave me hope in the fact that I could do it.

Remembering Chrome, I sighed, remembering the battle that Renee and I had come across two days ago. At least Chrome got to die with honour, as a warrior. Owlstar will be warrior-hunting at the next Season’s End – I’ll be very surprised if he isn’t.

I then sat down, not feeling the need to walk any more. Dwelling in my own thoughts seemed to be the most desirable thing right now, in my eyes. Sometimes, even my own thoughts held great interest to me – sometimes it was a marvel to search through them, and see what I remembered.

I saw two branches above me when I looked up, from two different trees. They had weaved in with one another, became united. Between these two branches, three pinecones lay off them. Suddenly, I was whisked away with memories of the family I was abandoned by – by the cats who had successfully joined the Clans.

The two interlocking branches reminded me of my parents, first of all. The biggest one, with two pinecones hanging off it, reminded me of my father, Caillou. He had been small yet muscular, and his pelt was a mix of gray and black. His eyes were a green-blue colour, which reminded me of the stream that ran along the edge of BarkClan and MossClan territory when it had become overgrown with marine plants.

My mother was the smaller one. She was Sprenkeln, and she was soft and kind to us. She looked out for me as a kit when my siblings didn’t. She was silver with small black dapples, and amber eyes like mine.

Then there were the pinecones. One dropped to the ground – the one that was off Sprenkeln’s branch. That to me was Caldura. She had my father’s build – small – and was mainly gray, but she had inherited an unusual white chest and back. Her eyes were amber too.

Then another one fell. I thought that would be Feryat, who regarded himself as superior over everyone else. He had inherited my mother’s silver pelt, and my father’s blue eyes.

One pinecone still remained in that tree, and I knew that one represented me – the one who was still a rogue.

Out of my siblings, I was one out of three to still remain. Thirty-three percent of the original amount was what remained. But I wondered that one day, this amount could become zero.

Only if I manage to become a Clan cat, that is.

Twelve - Dead Wrong

I stared at the two fallen pinecones for a moment, before turning to the one that was still up there. For once, as I looked up there, I actually felt lonely.

I don’t usually feel loneliness. I am the type of cat who appreciated other cats being near me – even more so when they actually respect me for who I am – but half the time, I prefer to work alone, as that’s where I prosper most at. Working in groups with new ideas always… never turns out well at all.

I look up, sighing, before I slowly turn away from the scene before me, but I’m still glaring to the side as I look away, to savour what I’m looking at for as long as possible. Finally, I end up turning away completely, and I pad off.

That moment back there was so… surreal, I thought, shaking my head. Now I’m scared. My family… I hope they’re all right. They never tell you anything – not even the cats’ warrior names.

Sprenkeln and Caillou both got accepted into BarkClan five seasons ago. Feryat followed the next season, joining MarshClan, and Caldura the next, when she too became a BarkClan cat. I never heard anything after they had gone, not even a whisper.

I wonder why the Clans decided to keep all of this information so secretive. What were they going to do if a cat found out just one thing anyway?

I padded off until I found myself near the border with ShrubClan, as I tasted their bitter scent line. Narrowing my eyes, I could see the leafy bushes that gave the Clan its name. I wondered how those cats could live in this territory – those bushes would be a nuisance for hunting.

And then, behind me, I heard a soft rustle in the bushes.

I dismissed it for a moment as just the wind, but then I heard it again, stronger the second time. I turned behind me, and my stomach dropped as I saw two very familiar cats – and I knew who they were, as their tails were poking out from behind a bush.

It was Thorn and Claw.

I wanted to say something, to let them know that I was there – but I stopped myself. What would they say if I said anything? I flattened my ears, unsure of what to do.

And that was the particular moment that Thorn and Claw themselves decided to come out and see me. Their eyes were bright as they looked at me, my ears still flattened. “Oh look, Inuwa’s scared,” Claw mocked, expecting a reaction. I didn’t move, for once being able to concentrate on my actions.

For a moment, they watched me, waiting for something to happen. Finally, I saw then look at each other – admitting defeat. Thorn then mewed: “Well… that didn’t work.” They then turned back to me, and then Thorn asked me: “What are you doing here?”

I couldn’t read the emotion on Thorn’s face. I have always struggled to tell emotions – but for some reason other cats can tell them fine. “I –” I started.

Claw shook his head at me. “Whatever you’re doing is dead wrong,” he mewed, before he looked away – both of them.

I didn’t get what they were saying – was this a ploy? Whatever they were doing, I turned around and walked away, not wanting to deal with it any longer.

And behind by retreating back, I saw a surprised Thorn and Claw, and I finally felt pleased that I had outwitted someone for once.

Thirteen - Running Away

It was a cold, clear morning the day the gray tabby fled.

The sky had no clouds – it was spotless and serene. On the patchy moor where the cats lived, scents of rabbits could be found in all directions. No cat ever struggled to find sufficient prey.

On that cold, frosty morning, the tabby had emerged from his den on the side of a large hill, shaking. His green-gray eyes were dull with what seemed like a world of problems as he padded out, and seated himself out on the moor. He started to stare into space, looking uneasy; unhappy.

He stared up at the dawning sky, which was slowly turning from a warm orange into a beautiful sky blue. For the whole time, he didn’t move – he was absolutely still.

The sky was working its way through its transition when other cats appeared. They stayed far away from the cat, muttering things like: ‘Weirdo’ and ‘Why does he do that every morning? It’s weird, for a cat’. They didn’t even bother to look at the cat as they muttered these things.

But the cat heard. His ear flicked, and it swivelled in the direction of each cat that he heard speak bad things about him. He didn’t have the heart to tell them that everything they said hurt, but he knew what it felt inside.

The next cat to pad out of one of these dens was a speckled brown she-cat. Her pelt was mainly light brown, but the speckles were a darker shade. She padded up to this cat – the only one to approach him, the only one to speak words of comfort.

“Hey,” she whispered. Her tail seemed to flick in the direction of the gray tabby, but it stopped abruptly, and the tail stayed there in mid-air.

The tom looked up, but his gaze did not meet the speckled she-cat. “Hey…” he replied, softly, looking at the she-cat’s paws. “Have you gone hunting yet?”

The speckled brown she-cat shook her head. “No, I’ve only just got up.” As she spoke, she shook out her brown fur, and dust flew off it, and became visible in the rays of sunlight. Quieter, she added: “You know, you should –”

The gray tabby lashed his tail, hitting the other cat in the side with it. She reeled back as it hit, and she backed away slightly, even though she was unharmed. “Do you have to always correct me for everything I do wrong?” he sighed. “I appreciate it, but I don’t need it for everything.”

The she-cat sighed. “I know,” she whispered. “But I care for you – you know that. I won’t be here forever, you know, and we both you about your… issues. Just listen to me, and I –”

“No.” The gray tabby shook his head slowly. His tail started lashing again, and his green-gray eyes widened. “No,” he repeated, lifting his gaze to the other’s speckled chest. “I’ve told you what you should know already. Stop.” He then paused for a moment, and then he added: “Wait. I know an idea that will work. I’m going to run away.” The gray tabby then looked away, and without further ado, he sprinted into the open moor, just as the sky finished changing colour.

“No!” the speckled she-cat called, but it was too late. The cat had gone.

Fourteen - Judgement

I found myself sitting alone the next day in a field of pines, listening to the soft breeze blowing against the pine needles above. I feel calm for once; feeling the tranquility of peace. I don’t want it to end – well, not yet anyway.

“Hey.”

I hear a soft voice behind me from where I was sitting alone, and I stay still for a moment, trying to detect who the voice is from. My fur ruffs up – I don’t know why – as I reluctantly decide to turn. I wasn’t very happy – I didn’t want to be interrupted.

“You took a while.” The cat speaks again – slower this time. I see a speckled brown pelt, and amber eyes showing interest as she stared at me intently. I recognize Renee at once, and she cocks her head at me. “I’m surprised. You’re usually much faster than this.”

I’m a little bit annoyed with Renee for coming, but I knew I had to deal with it – I can’t stay alone forever, can I? I pause before I decide to speak. I know bad things happen if I speak too quickly – I am impulsive, especially when I get angry. “You’re calling me slow?” I mew carefully, looking at Renee’s forehead, too scared to look her in the eye.

Renee paused slightly, her gaze shifting to where I was looking. Her mouth opened to if she was going to scold me – I wondered why? But then she hesitated, and closed it again. “No, I wasn’t calling you slow, Inuwa,” she mewed, her voice high-pitched.

Even with my poor sense of social skills, I knew – instantly – that something was up with Renee. Why was her voice so high-pitched? It was never high – in fact, for a she-cat, it was quite low.

I have a very sensitive sense of hearing. It’s always been acute. Sounds that may seem not loud at all for a normal cat can be deafening for me, and I try to flatten my ears to block out the noise. I feel intimidated by it sometimes – but in others like this, I can’t help but feel gifted.

I don’t think about the next words I speak. “Your voice sounds weird today,” I blurt out, and I shut my mouth as soon as I said that. Renee’s mouth drops open, and she stares at me, shocked. And in that moment, I knew that I had said the wrong thing.

Her eyes rose with amber fire, and she took a step towards me. I stepped back, nearly tripping over myself, as she hissed: “Inuwa, no! Don’t bring up that sort of thing!” She then shuddered, before she added: “Cat’s won’t listen to you if you do that!” She shuddered again, and it was larger this time. “They – They –” Renee started stammering, before she fell to the ground.

I paused for a moment, wondering what had just gone on. What – what happened?? I think, a million different thoughts rushing through my mind. Then I hear sobbing, and I approach the slumped body in front of me, and whisper: “Renee?”

She looks up at me, and whispers: “I’ve made bad judgements,” before she slumps down again.

Fifteen - Seeking Solace

For what I had said to Renee, even though it was so small and petty, I felt extremely guilty for it. For a few very long moments, I had watched Renee sob about something I didn’t know. I couldn’t help but shuffle my paws as I watched her sob, my heart heavy for her, even though I was undoubtedly still very confused about the whole situation.

I could not fully detect what I had done to set Renee off. It must have been something close to her, I presumed, shrugging. However, at that moment for me, there were no answers that I could receive. All I could do was guess.

It was a while before the sobbing ceased, and even after that, Renee was still huddled in a ball for a long time. It took a lot of effort on my part not to bound up to her, to tell her that she was all right. No – I was scared that she would lash out at me again.

Finally, the she-cat finally raised her head in my direction, her amber eyes dull. “Inuwa,” she whispered softly to me, one of her front paws moving in a gesture. “Come here.”

I hesitated slightly – what was Renee going to say to me? But then, I looked at her gaze again, and realized that she was desperate – she really did need to talk to me. Slowly, I inched forward, one pawstep after another, until I reached Renee’s side.

Renee slowly heaved herself up, so that she was sitting next to me. Then, she looked me in the eyes – and for once, I did not shy away. “I’m sorry, Inuwa,” she mewed, shaking her head. “I really am.”

I paused. She’s apologizing? I should be the one who has to apologize – I was the cat that started all this. Not her. “I’m sorry too, Renee,” I mewed in a defeated tone. “I shouldn’t have made you upset. I didn’t mean to make you upset. I just wanted to…” My voice ended up trailing into nothing, as I realized how awkward that must have been sounding to Renee.

Renee was silent for a moment, still glaring at me softly, before she sighed, making it sound long and lingering. Then she moved her gaze away, looking at her paws, where she mewed: “No, Inuwa. You didn’t have to apologize. It was my entire fault. Before I came here, I made too many mistakes…” She trailed off, and before I knew it, she was sobbing quietly again.

I looked at Renee softly. I was one cat that had dealt with mistakes all too often, so I knew that all too familiar feeling. “Everyone makes mistakes, Renee,” I replied, remembering something that I heard Caillou telling Feryat when we were kits. “No cat is perfect.”

Renee looked up, and shook her head at me. “I know that,” she echoed. A few silent tears streamed down her face as she spoke, her eyes glazed over. “But I can’t repair these mistakes. Inuwa, I’m seeking some solace at the moment, okay? I need some comfort in sorrow.”

I sighed heavily. “Okay,” I sighed, submitting her to get close to me for once. Then we looked up at the sky, the breeze ruffling through our fur, our tails wrapped around one another.

I knew that moment was one of the few that I’d had in life that were flawless.

Sixteen - Excuses

Night fell across the Clans, and after Renee had cheered up after I had upset her, we had ended up spending the day together. We talked a bit about the Clans – Renee trying to correct me every time – before I told her to stop going hard-out.

Don’t remind me every time I do something wrong,” I told her flatly when she did it for about the tenth time, in the middle of us hunting together. “It’s just annoying, okay? I know I’m different, but if I forget, remind me every once in a while, if you don’t mind doing so.”

It felt different to the first time we had met. Renee was being a lot bossier, instead of letting me do my own thing. Whatever her reason was, I didn’t know – but I was confident that there was a legitimate reason behind her actions.

Renee looked shocked when I told her about my own opinions, but she nodded slowly to show that she understood, and that was what I was most thankful for. I was surprised by the fact that she was so shocked, but I pushed it to the back of my mind. It wasn’t a big deal, anyway.

Right now, the two of us were finishing off our catches under the stars, the wind softly blowing once more. I’d recently finished off a starling, after eating two mice before that. Renee was still eating a large squirrel, and I watched as she slowly took a bite out of its large, fluffy tail before she turned to look at me as she swallowed.

“It’s a beautiful night, Inuwa,” she whispered to me. Beside me, I could see Renee’s speckled brown tail twitching from side to side, as if she was tempted to stroke me along my back. “It’s beautiful.” A full moon rose in the sky, and I knew that tonight, the Clan cats would be coming for their Gathering, where the Season’s End had been held just days before.

“Yes, it is,” I replied, trying to sound normal for once, as I saw Renee take yet another bite of squirrel. I then paused, as I decided to bring up the Gathering. “The Clan warriors like the full moon,” I added, flicking my tail up to the sky.

Renee looked at me with an interested look. “Do they? You never told me this, Inuwa – I’d like to know.” Her amber eyes were round as she asked me this, her paws tucked underneath her.

I nodded. “Yes. The Clans have a Gathering every full moon, and they gather in the clearing where the Season’s end is held. Every Clan is present, and they share news between one another.”

Renee simply nodded, before she arched her back in a stretch. The speckled she-cat ten looked at me, and she tilted her head, before asking quietly: “Do you think we could spy on the Clan cats, Inuwa, and watch their Gathering?”

I was very taken aback with what Renee had said. It seemed so... abnormal, and way out of her nature. “No,” I mewed, shocked, as I took a step back. “Clan warriors will not forgive you if you upset their Gathering. It's part of their code. No non-Clan cat is allowed to see the Gathering.”

Renee snorted at me. “Oh, come on, Inuwa,” she hissed at me. “That's just an excuse the Clan cats use, to make sure you don't interfere with them. Surely it isn't a big deal.”

Then Renee turned and barreled into the darkness, leaving me in shock. I knew what she was doing was wrong - what would the Clan cats say about it?

That was why I headed straight after her, in trying to curb the whole issue.

Seventeen - Vengeance

It took some effort on my part to get into a light jog, as I would have very much preferred to walk all the way to the clearing. However, I knew better – I didn’t know what the Clan cats would do to Renee if they caught her over there. I knew something had to be done.

Picking up Renee’s scent, I followed it. The full moon shone down between the pine needles, shafting light onto the forest floor – and it meant that I could navigate this area without banging into a tree or two as I ran.

Renee’s scent remained the same strength as it always did as I tasted the air every so often. I was worried: I didn’t want her to get hurt. She didn’t deserve to fall to the Clans like that.

At that moment, I came into fear that she might be killed. I didn’t want that – no way. But then I realized that Renee might not know the way to the clearing, so I breathed a sigh of relief.

Finally, the scent became stronger, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Is she stopping? I questioned myself, looking into the shadowed trees as I slowed down, before looking forward again.

I then saw Renee, gasping for breath, her flanks rising and falling quickly. She was hunched over in a sitting position, and I was unsure if she had noticed me or not. I saw her raise one of her paws in the air, and then I realized why she had stopped so suddenly.

There was a thorn stuck in Renee’s paw. I could tell there was one there, as now she was nipping softly at her paw, trying to get the thorn out of her pad. Every time, she grunted in frustration, and hissed, and I also presumed that the thorn was driven very deeply into her paw.

I had an idea of what to do here. When I was a kit, Caldura and Feryat often got thorns in their small pads, from exploring a little too far. Sprenkeln would scold them softly before she would lick their pads softly, pull out the thorn – with high-pitched yowls coming up from my siblings’ mouths – and then put on some herbs to stop the bleeding. I would just watch them, and learn from it.

Now, it seemed like that something that Sprenkeln had taught to me would be put into good use. I stepped forward slowly to Renee, whispering: “You all right there? I can help.”

I saw Renee jump, and then reluctantly turn to me. She sighed. “Looks like I won’t be able to see those Clans…” she mewed. “Oh well. If you say so, Inuwa, sort it out for me, please.”

I nodded, and looked at Renee’s paw. Lapping it slowly for a while, I then put my teeth in it – and thankfully, it worked. Renee yowled in pain as the thorn was removed, the thorn itself lying on the ground, blood pooling out of it.

Renee relaxed, sighing in relief. “Oh, thanks…” she mewed. “I was looking for the Gathering place, but I don’t know where it is. And then I stepped on it… the thorn must have been swearing vengeance on me. Maybe it was not to be.”

I purred, thankful that Renee had changed her mind. “Maybe it is,” I replied.

Eighteen - Love

The following night, as she looked up at the moonlit sky by herself, Renee was transfixed by the sky. For once, because she was alone, she could truly experience what being alone could bring.

Renee had to admit, she preferred working with groups. But when she acted impulsively, not thinking through her actions, she knew that was where her main flaw was. The group would feel distrust in her that way - and she didn't want her to not be trusted.

She knew she wanted to protect others – she wanted to keep them safe. It was depressing to Renee that this often did not work to her favour, and that it went against her. Aspie had fallen into that trap, and she felt that this was all her fault.

She didn’t want Inuwa to suffer the same fate. Although he wasn’t the same as Aspie, Renee knew that the black tom shared something with her gray tabby brother – they were both awkward in social situations, and although they wished otherwise, they were powerless to stop it.

It broke Renee’s heart so many times, and she had helped them both – except, she knew that sometimes help was not wanted from them.

The speckled brown she-cat turned to the stars. The glittering up above calmed down Renee, and seemed to put her into a tranquil state. It also reminded her of Inuwa, when he had told her about StarClan, which all the Clans looked up to as their deceased warriors. She wondered how many Clan warriors had died over all of those moons they had existed, how many would be in the skies right now. It was a lot to think about, really.

So much was flying through Renee’s mind, and it was so hard for her to focus on just one thing. Finally, after so many moments pondering, she focused on Aspie.

She really did miss her brother a lot, and wished about him every so often. He had a great temperament, usually, and was undyingly loyal – except when he got angry. He would rage at other cats, not letting them go near him – except her. Renee seemed to be the only cat back then that could support Aspie, to give him hope when he was so lost in a world of community.

She mourned for the loss of Aspie, and Renee was never sure if she would get over his disappearance fully. However, she did know that she was slowly moving on from the loss in her heart, and she could now see Aspie in another cat that was close to her heart.

Inuwa felt important to Renee. And she wanted to protect him in the way that she had protected Aspie. She felt that he was the only way that she could overcome her sorrow – her own faults in life – and make herself feel better about the whole situation.

But Renee felt a connection that was a lot more than love. To her, it was something different. She felt as if she had met Inuwa, a seed had grown in her heart. She felt as if she could express everything she wanted to express to the black tom, to tell him how she felt.

It was almost as if she was experiencing… love.

Nineteen - Tears

I found myself back in the clearing like I had been at the Seasons’ End, a whole lot of cats around me. It was like I was back at the Season’s End already, although I was sure that it shouldn’t have rolled around this quickly.

… I didn’t know what was up with that. I felt not confident enough, almost knowing that the Clan cats wouldn’t accept me. I saw them all come out – all five of them. Sharpstar was on the left, then Birdstar, Gorsestar, Owlstar, and finally Windstar, BarkClan’s leader.

I take a deep breath, waiting for them to pick out cats from the crowd, but it never comes. All that happens is that Sharpstar, Birdstar, Windstar, and Gorsestar step back, shrinking into the shadows, until only Owlstar remains, staring at the crowd of cats. Then all the cats around me flee, and I am left alone in the clearing with Owlstar. And then, I realize that this is not normal. Something is terribly, terribly wrong.

Owlstar leans up close to me, and he stands right in front of me. He’s staring me right in the eye, and I want to flinch away – but I can’t. I want to move away, but I’m stuck there. It’s making me scared.

The words that Owlstar says following this haunts me greatly. “You’ll never become a Clan warrior, Inuwa,” he mews, his voice echoing around the clearing. “You’re too unsocial, and you will never be ready to join us.”

They then repeat themselves, continuing to echo like little, pestering voices: ‘You’ll never become a Clan warrior, Inuwa. You’re too unsocial, and you will never be ready to join us.’

I am frozen to the spot, and I don’t know what to do. I feel hurt: and I want to cry with pain. I want to be accepted – but Owlstar has just ripped this away from me, and I don’t know what to do. Owlstar himself moves into the shadows as well, and I am left alone.

Until the ground shakes, and shatters, that is, and then I fall into the hole, and into an everlasting void of black darkness that’s closing in on me.

My eyes open with a jolt, and I take a deep breath in only to find myself in my nest in my den. Hazily, I stare around it, wondering what has just happened to me.

And then I remember what I have just seen. The clearing for the Season’s End… Owlstar telling me that I will never be a proper Clan warrior… my heart fills with fear, and I feel my claws unsheathe onto the moss of my nest as I glare around warily.

Then, I realize it’s only a dream, and I sigh in relief, thankful that it wasn’t something worse. Thank StarClan! I think, relieved. Even though I’m not a warrior, I still turn to StarClan, in the hope that I will be a warrior one day. That’s the most important thing that I can hold on to.

And then, I feel tears welling up in my eyes, for no good reason. Uncontrollably, I start to cry – for fear or joy, I do not know. Fear about Owlstar, joy that it was only a dream – I didn’t know, but the pearly tears dripping out onto the moss calmed me down as each one slipped out.

I was so overwhelmed about it all, yet so happy. But from then on, I feared about Owlstar, and what he could do. That dream had left its own scar on me, and it wasn’t going to fade away quickly.

Twenty - My Inspiration

I took a few deep breaths, the tears finally gone, but the pain of fear seemed nowhere near ceasing, having no need to die down. I looked around, feeling wary, before I slunk down again, still breathing shallowly.

This wasn’t what I expected, or what I wanted, for that matter. But there were more important things than this. That dream wasn’t going to completely damage everything.

After all, dreams weren’t real, weren’t they? To me, they seemed impossible, just something to frighten and to change my path. But that was not going to work against me.

I decided to look back in time, and decided to remember the real reasons why I had pursued the Clans in the first place. My siblings hadn’t had to hold that desire more than me – they were different to me, had no troubles with the social norms that always tripped me up. Besides, they were all in the Clans now anyway, so there was no need for them.

That was why, after all of them had been selected to their respective Clans, I was left alone. Every cat I talked to would take an interest for a while, but when they realized that I started talking strange – and not looking them in the eye – they walked away.

Maybe the reason was because I always kept on trying to change the subject to the Clans. That is my passion, and my greatest interest – and there is nothing more I like to talk about than that. This passion, I know, also increases the desire I want by far.

All these cats that pass by me didn’t understand me. My family didn’t know why I was always out of the norm in social terms, and no other cat did, either. Not until I met Chrome, that is.

I dipped my head slowly, remembering the tom’s death in the battle between MossClan and NeedleClan that Renee and I saw. I missed him, and I had felt some benefit from him.

I know Chrome, again, wasn’t the same. He could meet cats’ eye contact just fine, but he was just… a little bit nervous to approach cats. He helped me a bit – I credit him for that – but I did not see him often, which meant a whole lot more could’ve been done before he headed off to MarshClan.

I shut my eyes tight, no longer able to bear the thought of Chrome anymore. It was too much for me, and it didn’t help that he was now dead.

I then put it in the back of mind, and decided to pursue my original point once more. It wasn’t Chrome that had fully inspired me. No – it was actually Birdstar of MossClan, in an incident that I had watched four moons ago.

That time, I had been lurking near the Clans’ borders, when a patrol of cats – Birdstar at its head – came along, and started to mark the borders when one of the cats picked up my scent. He had turned to Birdstar, and asked: “Why don’t we attack all the cats we see?”

Birdstar had sighed at this, and then she had looked the cat in the eye. She shook her head, and mewed. “We don’t. We have more honour than some rogues, and we have respect. We look after each other – our Clanmates we protect. We look up to the sky, and we thank our ancestors for their lives. Why would we be here, otherwise?” She had shaken her head again, before they padded off, the whole patrol silent.

I had watched this speech in awe, and had left in a transfixed state. I knew I wasn’t going to forget those words that Birdstar had said anytime soon.

That was my inspiration to join the Clans – and even today, it still burns strong. And as I remembered them again, I purred in delight, remembering how my dream had been set alight.

Twenty-One - Never Again

The reason behind the Clans’ decision to make the Seasons’ End was a very interesting one, they say.

In their early days, the Clans had always thrived with interest, just as they did in this current day. Many cats that lived around the pines – and in fact, from lands far and wide – had come as they had heard of the Clans, and they had started asking around the five Clan leaders, asking to join them.

Back then, the Clans were not as well developed. They still hunted, trained, and marked borders like todays’, but some of the ranks hadn’t been developed – like the kitlings: which was any cat that was under twelve moons of age, and was too young to go out and wait for acceptance into a Clan; the deputy; and most notably the medicine cat. The Code had been invented, but back then, there was no rule that was stated around loners and rogues joining the Clans.

In that time, instead of the Season’s End every three moons, these cats would often barge into the Clans’ territories whenever they chose to, seeking the leaders, and pledging their talents and weaknesses to them as they vied for a place in the Clans. Most of these cats got accepted into one Clan or another, and Clan numbers soared throughout all five of them.

However, soon the amount of loners and rogues decreased, and the Clans became overpopulated. Kits were being produced in the Clans, and being trained by them until they became warriors, and soon the Clan leaders realized that they could no longer continue with their current method.

They decided to kick out any rejects among their Clans: the cats that seemed too unusual, or that didn’t fit into the Clan, and from there they kicked out any cat that reached twelve moons of age. That was when the positions of deputy, medicine cat, and kitling were introduced into the Clans; as an attempt to make them more organized.

They also prohibited any cat wandering into their territories, asking for places. They decided to start up the Seasons’ End, so that only the best cats could be accepted into the Clans – the power-hungry, the caring and helpful, the intelligent, eccentric cats, the natural leaders, the stealthy and quick-witted. The Clans and rogues thrived in unity, and the Clan system stayed.

They refused each cat to have their own voice into this matter: Needle, Moss, Bark, Shrub, and Marsh all knew better when they realized this, as they decided to make this a reality a few seasons into their leaderships. Since then, it has never changed, and shows no signs of changing again.

There are mixed feelings about the whole issue, history tells us, about the five founders’ decision. Many loyal Clan warriors accept it, and uphold it. Rogues often like to criticize this rule, because they all feel that it excludes them from being part of a society. But these days, it’s the cats that are socially weird that are left out – the Clans have required that as a rule of acceptance, too.

They decided that they would never again go back to their old ways in the beginning, and that pledge shows no signs of wavering now.

Twenty-Two - Borderline (Free Theme)

The invisible lines that every rogue liked to talk about always had aroused great interest to any cat – especially to me. They snaked around the expanse of the warriors’ territory, and separated their own apart too, with these lines.

Borders, they call them. They’ve always been a mystery to my mind, and it has aroused much curiosity in me. I think this is one of the reasons why I am so interested in the Clans – but I don’t know.

Why do they even have these things that trap them, anyway? I do want to join the Clans, but I just don’t see why they want limited territory at all, and why other cats cannot go into their territories without getting chased off – or killed, in NeedleClan’s case.

Obviously, some questions are too hard to answer, in the end. Sometimes this is troubling, and for others… maybe it’s for the best.

Right now, I’ve managed to find myself outside Clan territory – near BarkClan, this time for a change. This is the Clan I visit the least often, but I have no idea why.

Five sunrises have passed since I had dreamed of Owlstar telling me – in my dream – that I would never be in a state to join the Clans. Every time I think of it, I shudder in fear, and then I remember once more that it wasn’t real. I’m scared; I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t want to tell anyone, as I always keep all my pain to myself, because I have no idea if any cat will understand my problems – or even listen to them.

I shake my head again, trying to forget it once more. It stays there, lingering on my mind, making me worry. Each second that it’s there makes me worry more and more about it never going away, having to linger in my mind forever.

I switched my focus back to the borders. I knew I was one of the few that had taken to their mystery seriously, although there was often interest and suspicion over the general population about them.

Over time, I had gradually noticed that each Clan’s borders smelt different to one another. BarkClan cats tended to have their borders smelling like herbs, while ShrubClan’s seemed to have more of a leafy scent. MossClan’s had a slight smell of the river to theirs, and MarshClan’s had a sharp scent – often there were rumours about there being a small swamp in the Clans’ territory which gave them their name. NeedleClan’s scent was very ordinary, and theirs – in my opinion, although I would never say it to their faces – was the most similar to a rogues’ scent.

Although, territory-wise, the five Clans’ territories were all so similar, their scents were very different. This always made me curious.

In that moment, I realized that I had become so focused on borders that I had forgotten about the dream, and as it came back to me, I shuddered again. Crouching low to the ground, I sniffed BarkClan’s herb-laden scent before backing away.

At the moment, I felt as if I was truly on the borderline – literally, and also on the borderline of breaking down mentally. Everything at the moment was just getting too much for me.

Twenty-Three - Failure

Scars do cross the speckled brown she-cat. They are not the ones you see – they are the ones that are inside her, and ones that are uncertain of being healed.

You see, she is that type of cat. Even though she may seem unfazed, not really hurt on the outside; she is very hurt inside. She can’t bear the loss that she has already faced, and she strongly fears of it happening again. She is a cat that really cares, after all.

She doesn’t want to be disappointed by others. She wants to help cats, but sometimes she gets into it too far – and she knows this. She feels guilty about it, sometimes – that everything that has been made wrong is all her fault.

This all started with her brother. A slender gray tom, whose tabby markings seemed to ripple on his pelt, his green-blue eyes either very bright, very dark, or not looking in any specific direction; this tom was Aspie. He was fairly intelligent, the speckled she-cat reflected, but he was often very volatile, or shy – and most importantly, out of sync with society.

The last part – being out of sync with society – was the part that bothered this she-cat the most. Using her initiative, she decided to help him in every way she could with society.

Sometimes it was taken in gratefully, and in others it was completely unwelcome. And in the times that it was completely unwelcome, the she-cat’s heart broke every time that happened.

She didn’t know when she had pushed it too far: she was too busy trying to help that she was oblivious to the fact that he – Aspie – over time was getting sick of it. Aspie knew that he had his own voice too, and one small social problem wasn’t the end of the world for him.

So one morning on the edge of the moor, when this she-cat decided to help Aspie yet again, the gray tom finally blew his top, told her to clear off, and then he left without a trace, never to return.

After that day, she became scarred and scared. She felt as if she had failed in her task of helping her brother, and she missed his presence. She wanted him back – but she knew that because of her mistakes, he wasn’t going to. She felt extremely guilty for what she had done. Now, she was powerless to stop her mistakes, and the chances that she had previously had to change it around had gone. Now, she was alone.

She grieved for her loss, even though the cat was never dead. Eventually, she got so over it – haunted by her past so much – that she fled. She didn’t want to be haunted so much by her familiar surroundings, so she wanted a clean slate.

Now, she’s found a new tom, which reminds her so much of her brother. He’s black and has bushy fur, which makes him look bigger than he actually is, and large round amber eyes. They may look different, but they share something in common – their lack of social ability.

This speckled she-cat is trying to help this tom, too. However, she doesn’t want to be a failure, like he last time. This time, she will never dare to stoop as low as that.

Twenty-Four - Rebirth

The skies were full of commotion that night, with the warriors of StarClan restless. The five founders had decided to gather once again, to discuss about the future, and what was going to happen.

They had gathered in a circle, their tails twitching – except for Needle, whose tail was lashing irritably. It was obvious that the gray tom did not want to be at the meeting, but he was still forced to be anyway. He growled as his head turned in the direction of Moss, as he inferenced that the silver-and-white she-cat would be the first to speak.

Thankfully, Needle was right, as Moss, being the natural leader, decided indeed to speak first. Moss swept her gaze around the four other leaders, before she mewed: “We have come here to talk about something important. It is about some of the cats over on the rogues’ side, which have created great interest in StarClan – and us, in particular.”

There was silence, after this. Each one of the five leaders knew about this, already – and it seemed like Needle didn’t want to have another explanation of the whole thing. He lashed his tail even harder this time, and then he hissed: “I do not need another going over of the whole incident, Moss. I have heard. We all know about those two cats – that speckled one who likes helping too much, and the one who is a social klutz.” He finished his statement with a spiteful hiss.

At this, Bark and Shrub both shook their heads at Needle. “We don’t need this, Needle,” Shrub hissed, his skinny gray-brown tail flicking. “We are here to discuss this matter, not to fight it all.”

Bark nodded in agreement to Shrub’s argument, and Needle, with obvious reluctance, fell silent, letting Moss take over again. She nodded at Shrub gratefully, before she took over again. “Thank you. Yes, I know that everyone knows about it –” Moss shot an annoyed look at Needle at this – “but we must discuss this together, away from the rest of StarClan. We must watch over them, after all.”

Marsh nodded, as he stood by Moss’s side. “They may not be descendants of the original five – like a lot of Clan cats are these days – but when the time comes, they will both shine where they want to be.” He shot a look around all five leaders – except Needle, who was half-seeming to be ignoring the whole conversation – before he continued: “The best is yet to come.”

There was some murmuring, and then assent from all five leaders came. Marsh nodded in satisfaction, before he flicked his tail. “Oh, and there is one more thing… maybe that one, Inuwa… maybe he’s different for a reason.”

Needle, Bark, and Shrub all scowled at Marsh in confusion, but Moss spoke up: “But Marsh… what do you mean? It is unknown to any cat where his issues come fr –”

Marsh nodded grimly. “I know,” he murmured. “But Inuwa… he has a strong sense of hope, one that really any other cat has had. Not since the early days.”

Moss nodded slowly. “So…?”

“He has been birthed with that gift, which has been rebirthed over generations. He’s one of a few that can never fall, and he’ll die trying for the Clans if he has to. He’s never going to give up.”

Twenty-Five - Breaking Away

I emerge from the pine forest, and duck my head as bright light shines in my face. Trying to avoid the light for as long as possible, I turn to the cat that is beside me.

“It’s rare that I go out here,” I mew to her, looking at the she-cat’s nose. “Usually, I prefer the cover of trees… but sometimes I come out here to clear my head.”

A way away from MossClan territory, the pine forest disperses, and it leads to a wide, sweeping moor that seems to go on for miles. Other rogues say that other cats live here, but I haven’t seen any myself. They also say that there are some ‘communities' – groups of cats that are similar to a Clan, but they don’t have structure, and any cat can join them – here, but I haven’t seen any of those either when I venture over in this direction.

The cat beside me shrugs. “I used to live on the moor,” she sighs sadly. Her head shakes from one side to another as she stares at the ground for a moment, and then she looks me in the eye. I stagger back as she adds: “It reminds me… never mind. Let’s do something, shall we?”

Renee moves her head away again, and I know she is distracted about something. Taking my mind off my friend – for once, I consider that I have actually gotten one, for StarClan’s luck of things – for a moment, I look across the sweeping moor, the grass moving in the wind.

Compared to the pine forest, the moor isn’t so condensed with its growth. I see a large boulder to my right – and to my left, a bush. I cock my head at these two things.

And in that moment, I come up with an idea: I know! Why don’t I ask Renee to have a race? In one voice, I knew it wasn’t that great of an idea – but who knows? It might cheer Renee up, for one – and who didn’t want a little bit of fun?

“Renee,” I whisper, slowly daring to venture closer again. Although I didn’t like getting too close with other cats, I felt that I would feel okay with it right now.

She turns towards me. I notice that her amber eyes are dull, and I step back, surprised, again. “What?” she asked me, her voice monotone and flat.

“Can we race? It looks like you need some cheering up.”

Renee turns to me, her ears flicking. “A race?” Her voice is higher now – it looks like I had – at least – sprung some life into her. “Fine, but I bet I’m faster.” She purrs as she turns towards the bush on our left, and we pad over together, slowly.

We eventually arrive at the bush, our tails flicking. Renee rears down, getting into a crouch, her tail suddenly still. Looking at her, I copied her, keeping my tail still. Clearing my throat to tell Renee that I would be making the calls, I mewed: “Three… Two… One… Go!”

We took off, and I was slightly disappointed as I saw Renee racing ahead of me. I pushed harder, my muscles burning – but nothing could work. Long before I was at the boulder, Renee was there.

“You’ve broken away from me!” I joked, as I finally reached Renee at the boulder. I paused to catch my breath, and I felt Renee’s tail land across my back.

“Yes, I have,” she whispered, her voice lighter now. And I knew my plan had worked.

Twenty-Six - Forever And A Day

I sit facing away from the setting sun, letting it warm my back. I lower my head slowly, as if I’m in a trance. For once, it felt so… right to be away from the Clans, and their pine forest, for once.

My head is full of thought at the moment. There are many things that are rushing through my mind, and it is so hard just to settle on one. So much always troubles me.

For one, sometimes I leap into things without thought – and then the next day, I wonder if I can actually get these things all done. However, I manage to calm myself down, and pull myself through it all. After all, I have a steely determination – and nothing can make me give up on my dreams.

Sometimes it even stuns me why I go into these things. However, then it turns out to be some of the best things that I have done, and I don’t regret it.

I think this morning might be the most recent example of this. When I saw Renee in the pine forest, her head drooped, her tail dragging along the ground, I knew I had to do something – so I suggested taking her to the moor. She reluctantly agreed – but on the way there, I started having regrets. I fought to push them away, to put them to the side – and it worked. I’m so happy it did.

Then there are also the Clans. I know the promise that I had made to get into one of them was made long ago, but at times, it had nearly shattered – fallen to dust.

I remember the Season’s End before the last one, where I felt so defeated after not getting into a Clan again. I trailed back to my den slowly, and started to sulk quietly, believing that my dream – the dream which I had followed for so long – would never be achieved.

I managed to pick myself after that, though. Otherwise, I might have decided to flee these pine forests, to forget about my past. I think I heard Renee mention to me that this happened to her brother, but I don’t know if she told me why. Maybe she had her reasons.

I sighed again, and rose to my paws. Looking up, I saw the coloured sky – from yellow, to orange, to red. Then a dark pink and purple, then at its edge there was dark blue. I also felt the warmth on my back fading, and I knew that soon I would have to settle down for the night.

Sunsets, I think, looking at the colours, being mesmerized by them. I hardly see them in all of this detail in the pine forest. It’s all covered by all those branches, those pine needles… I could stay here all day, looking at this if I have to.

I felt so happy about it all, and I could not ask for anything more.

For forever and a day, I’ll die trying for the Clans, I add to myself, as I feel my focus switching back to that again. Yes. I’ll never give up, no matter what.

Twenty-Seven - Lost and Found

Renee looked around as her eyes opened. She felt wind tugging at her speckled brown fur, and she noticed that she was on a wide, sweeping more – much like the one that Inuwa had shown her, and much like the one she had grown up in. She took a moment, taking in what was around her.

Her tail twitched excitedly as she looked in front of her, and then she looked behind. She paused, staring, and then she gasped softly at what she saw behind: she was not expecting what she had just seen.

A cat was behind Renee, and he was staring – very stonily – at her.

Slowly, and shocked, Renee stepped forward softly, cocking her head. The cat was a gray tabby tom, and his darker stripes seemed like ripples on the water. His round eyes were a blue-green colour, and Renee guessed that she had looked into these eyes many times – but they had looked away…

She stepped forward one more time, checking. Yes, Renee was sure this was him! Her heart gave one massive leap, and she willed to rush forward, and to embrace this cat. However, what surprised her was that the cat wasn’t moving. She wondered why…

“Aspie?” she asked, her voice seeming to falter. No cat replied to her voice, so Renee straightened her head, looking at her brother in the eye. Surprisingly, Aspie was not looking away, which Renee thought was unusual. Aspie would always look away if Renee even attempted to look him in the eye.

At least Inuwa tried to actually look her in the eye, unlike Aspie. She knew that the black tom wanted to be normal with other cats, wanted to be accepted into the Clans. Unlike Aspie, he always had a goal to work for – because Aspie never set any. Aspie disliked making goals for himself.

“Aspie?” Renee called again, and still there was no reply. She padded up again, so close as if they were touching noses. She paused there for a moment, closing her eyes, expecting breath to come onto her, but she felt nothing even ruffle her fur.

She opened her eyes again, and she stumbled back when she realized that she couldn’t see Aspie anymore. Gasping with shock, she looked down at the ground, feeling guilty with herself. Why had Aspie disappeared so suddenly, and in the moment she least expected it?

The wind blew past Renee again, stronger this time. “Aspie?” Renee yowled into the wind, but it wasn’t heard: she could barely hear herself over the wind, which was blowing stronger and stronger with each passing second. She thought for a moment, that she would be blown off her paws –

And suddenly, it receded again, and the wind – as soon as it was there – was gone. Taking a few deep breaths, Renee stared around for a moment, expecting something to be there that wasn’t before – but no. Nothing had changed – at all – and Renee was disappointed.

But then she heard the wind pick up again – but this time, she swore it was different. She could hear a soft voice in the wind, and she heard it say: ‘You’ve lost your brother, and he may never be found. Aspies are hard to find, but shade brings some, and you will find yourself there.’

The wind died back down again after this mysterious message, and confused, Renee cocked her head. What did this message all mean? Why had it been told to her?

Then, she felt a dark, black mist swallow her up, and she knew nothing more.

Twenty-Eight - Light

I awake to see the last of the pine forest in front of me, the bright sun rising to the east. I can see it all from the entrance to this den – a little rock cavern at the edge of the pine forest, where Renee and I sheltered together last night after she finally had returned from hunting. We decided that it would be too long to travel back, so we stayed by the moor.

I doubt we’ll stay much longer, though, I think to myself. My home is in the pines, not the moor. Also, I was never even meant to spend the night here.

I look beside me, expecting Renee to be sleeping near me - but no. I jump as I realize that Renee isn’t there. Maybe she’s hunting… I think hopefully, as I slowly rise to my paws, and make my way – pawstep by pawstep – outside.

Deftly, I shake out my black fur as I pad out from the edge of the den, and the pine forest. It’s a lot windier as I step onto the moor, and I can feel my fur being tugged by the wind that’s passing by. I narrow my eyes, looking for Renee – if she’s anywhere – and then I see her nearby, her head bowed as she looks out onto the moor. I approach warily, because I know that Renee can be unpredictable.

When I get close, I hear Renee grumble softly, and I see her head shake. “Hi, Inuwa,” she grunts softly, and she looks at me. I flinch and step back when I notice that her eyes are bloodshot.

I shoot backwards at once. “What – what happened to you?” I meow, shocked. You’re not usually like this… what has happened to you, Renee? Because I don’t know…

Renee shakes her head at me. “You don’t need to know, Inuwa…” she mews softly, so that only I can hear her – even though we are the only cats here, as far as I know.

After this, I give up, not even bothering to try anymore. Slowly, I have learnt that nagging Renee wasn’t the best thing to do – even though I knew that I wanted to know everything. Sighing in defeat, I mewed: “Let’s move away from here, then. Let’s go hunting to clear our heads.” I looked at Renee’s nose as I spoke – I almost looked her in the eye, but I ended up chickening out of it.

Renee grunts. “Fine… we’ll go hunting, but only because you suggested it.” The specked brown she-cat rose to her paws, and she flicked her tail at me to lead the way.

Although I wasn’t very experienced when it came to traversing across the moor, I found that it didn’t take much effort – apart from the blustering wind, obviously. Leading Renee and I down from the hill, we came into a dip, with numerous prey-scents drifting about in the air.

Yum – food,” I heard Renee mew, and I guessed that she felt better now, after all of that. I nodded slowly, and at the edge of my vision, I could see Renee dropping into a hunter’s crouch, and I saw her stalk forward until she went outside of my vision range.

Under my breath, I purred softly. Even though it looked like Renee was suffering so much inside, it was obvious that one thing was happening: there was some light at the end of the tunnel.

Twenty-Nine - Dark

We continued to hang around the moor for the whole day, Renee showing me a few tips and tricks to life on the moor. There was a lot more to it than I actually thought.

To tell the truth, I was very surprised as to some of the things the speckled she-cat knew – I had never known about the rumours of cats going into rabbit warrens, and hunting rabbits in cramped, dark conditions. Renee fluffed out her fur as I said this.

“I’ve never done that sort of thing,” she had announced, her voice seeming rather proper. “I’m not the sort of cat to wander around in a cramped rabbit burrow, almost choking myself to death… anyway, Inuwa, we shouldn’t be focusing on that,” she finished, and then she changed the subject.

I was disappointed when Renee did that, but I was too lazy to protest with her.

Now, it was dusk again, and we were a fair way away from the pine forest – further than I had ever been before. We were walking into the distance – Renee leading, myself trailing behind. As I looked at the sunset, I bounded up to Renee, asking: “Where are we going?”

Renee turned to look me in the eye, and I held her gaze. “Oh – you’ll see, Inuwa,” she purred.

I stared, confused, at Renee – it was unlike her to keep secrets from me, and I also despised surprises. I hissed, annoyed, but Renee ignored me and continued to pad forward, while I dropped behind again, my tail sagged slightly in disappointment.

We continued padding into the sunset, until it was nearly dark. Suddenly, Renee stopped, and I crashed into her with a thud. She looked back at me, scowling. “Sorry; should’ve warned you we were stopping,” she mewed apologetically. “Anyway…”

“What, anyway?” I asked, cocking my head to one side. “Tell me Renee, you cannot keep every secret away from me forever. I’m not exactly that abnormal.”

I thought I saw her wince as Renee turned towards me, her eyes flashing slightly. “I’ve come up with an idea,” she told me slowly. “It means that we will have to stay away from the Clans for a while –”

I turned slowly to face Renee, and I felt my claws unsheathe in anger. What do you mean, stay away from the Clans??!?! No! If you were going to do this, you should’ve told me earlier!!! I was fuming with what Renee had just said to me – why didn’t she tell me earlier?

I hissed angrily. “You never told me you were going to do this to me!” I yowled, my claws digging into the ground. “I always stay near the Clans! They’re my passion! I –”

Stop protesting, Inuwa.” Renee quickly cut into her argument, her tail lashing. “Do you want to be a Clan warrior, protecting your Clan with undying loyalty one day?”

“Yes, I do,” I mewed quickly. That question was very easy to answer. “But I –”

“Yes, yes,” Renee mewed sarcastically. “I’ve heard this all before, Inuwa. Well, if you don’t want to get into the Clans, we’ll start journeying home tomorrow. This is going to be good for your chances.”

“But –” At that moment, I realized that Renee might be getting on to something. Her idea was trying to help me, if what she said was actually true… “Fine,” I mewed in defeat. “I’ll do it…”

Renee shot a satisfied, smug look at me. “Good,” she mewed, satisfied. “We’ll finish this tomorrow… let’s go see if there’s a place to bed down for the night.”

I nodded slowly, before I saw Renee disappear in the dark. And in this darkness, I started to wonder about Renee’s idea, and what she was going to do to me.

Oh, StarClan! Please let this be a good thing!

Thirty - Faith

I credit one thing for holding my whole life together, even when I have almost failed inside my mind.

The reason why I decided to start following it was not in vain, I’m sure. I think that from the first time I heard of it as a kit, I truly started to believe that there were cats – cats with stars in their fur – above the Clans. I could never envisage them in my own mind – but I’d always stuck to that belief.

I think that the name that cats have given for it suits it very well. It’s called StarClan.

Sprenkeln and Caillou told Caldura, Feryat and I about them when we were very young – only a moon old, I guessed. Maybe it was because they wanted to get a place in the Clans, or maybe it was because they wanted us to get used to the life we would grow up in – I don’t know now.

Anyway, I remember – vaguely – of them telling us of a place up in the stars, where all the cats who have ‘gone to sleep’ – I think Sprenkeln secretly meant ‘dead’ – had gone to live. Feryat had asked if he could fall asleep and go to StarClan, too – but Sprenkeln quickly told him off.

I had been transfixed ever since that day: ever so interested by StarClan, and the real stars. I think that’s also another reason why I have such a love for the Clans.

I wonder what StarClan thinks about cats that have died. Do they accept every cat that has died a warrior, regardless of what they have done in life? Do some cats get rejected by StarClan because they’ve betrayed them too much, or been proved unworthy of their trust?

I also wonder what StarClan thinks of the Clans in general. What do they think of NeedleClan, and their cruel motives to kill? To MarshClan, for leading them all? To BarkClan, for helping others?

So many things interest me, and it would kill me if I had to choose only one thing to find out. I wonder if there are other things – apart from the Clans – that believe in things like StarClan. Are there other beliefs that cats follow on this big wide world?

StarClan has been the cause of so many questions that I have always had in life.

There’s so much I want to know, and there is no answers to receive in this life. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s all true: if it’s all a lie. But surely, if StarClan wasn’t real, it would’ve been forgotten long ago?

However, about the Clans and StarClan, there is one question that I would like to be answered – more than all the others that I have ever wondered about in my life.

It is this: what does StarClan think of the Season’s End? Were they the ones that wanted it to happen in the first place – or were it cats that were living? Do they even want the Season’s End to exist?

However, the Season’s End is just another obstacle to me – it’s not exactly a roadblock. I can still make it to the Clans, if I persevere and do my best to do it.

But without my faith in StarClan, I am sure I would’ve given up on this long ago.

Thirty-One - Colours

That night, a cloud cover drifted across the moor, and a light rain started to fall. Steadily, it grew heavier as the might wore on, setting itself into a rhythmic pattern. This rain woke me up a few times in the night – and it didn’t help that I wasn’t in my own den like I usually was.

I drifted in and out of sleep multiple times, but I don’t think Renee did. We slept a fair way away from one another in this small den we were in – but each time when I peered over, her eyes were closed. I wondered how Renee could sleep through all the rain.

It was morning when the rain finally subsided, and it stopped. Soon after, dawn light filtered through the entrance to the small den, and I blinked open my eyes yet again. Letting my eyes adjust to the light, I turned towards Renee again. She was still asleep.

I groaned softly, before I rose to my paws. Stretching my legs, I padded slowly out of the den. The clouds above had started to clear off, although the rain hadn’t stopped too long ago. The sun was getting into the later stages of dawn – half the sky was indeed sky-blue by now.

The ground was moist from the rain, and it brought water too. I saw a puddle of water in front of me, and I lapped at it slowly, needing something to quench some thirst that had been nagging at me for a while, pleading to me to get something done about it.

I’d just finished lapping up some water when Renee came out of the den. “Morning, Inuwa,” she mewed tiredly to me, while I got the last of the water off my lips. “Did it rain last night?”

I nodded. “It kept me up,” I groaned. “It did it all night, and it stopped just before dawn…” I yawned as I felt a wave of tiredness go over me: I knew I hadn’t got enough sleep.

Renee shrugged. “Maybe you’ll get used to it when you start to live on the moor,” she mewed softly, flicking her speckled tail as she bent down to lap from the rain puddle that I had drank from.

I scowled at Renee at the mention of ‘moor’. I knew that would never be my real home.

My real home would eventually be with the Clans, back in the pine forest that I called home.

I looked up at the sky, to see if dawn was over yet. I noticed that it was, but then I gasped. I had seen something else which had taken my breath away.

A bright rainbow had appeared in the sky, and it arced across its whole expanse. I stared for a moment, admiring its beauty, my whole body completely motionless.

Beside me, I could see Renee, at the edge of my vision, look up too. “It’s a rainbow,” she whispered. “I haven’t seen one of these in a while… I’d almost forgotten about how pretty the colours were.”

I purred in delight at Renee’s comment, and my tail seemed to wave in agreement. Even though I was away from home, there were some things that you can’t help but admire.

Thirty-Two - Exploration

For the first half of the day, I continued travelling through the endless moor with Renee, wondering when we were ever going to stop. My legs were already weary from travelling, and all I wanted was to have a break from all this continuous walking.

We didn’t stop once until sunhigh, not even to drink. I was exhausted by then.

For the whole time, Renee seemed to have been leading me in a direction of a fairly large hill, which seemed to dominate over the moor. It seemed too small to be a mountain, but it was huge. I wondered why Renee was leading us there.

We stopped a fair way away from this hill, and not even then did Renee let me have a proper break. The she-cat started to circle me, as she started to speak to me: “We have nearly completed our journey, Inuwa, to the place you’ll call home for a while. Now, I’ll reveal to you what it is.”

I gulped. I didn’t know if I was ready to know what Renee was going to tell me. “Okay…” I mewed slowly, feeling slightly doubtful. Then, putting on a brave face, I added: “Tell me.”

Renee took one deep breath in, and then she let it out again. Her head lowered to the ground, before she turned to look me in the eye. Sighing again, she spoke: “You have shown me my home, Inuwa, and I think it time to show you mine. You see… I used to be part of a Community.”

I gasped softly. Renee was… part of a Community? I had heard of the Communities on the moor, but I had never met a cat from the Communities before.

“My idea was… to take you into my Community for a couple of moons, to prepare you for the Clans,” Renee continued, breathing shallowly. “I thought it would be good for you.”

Take me… to a Community? I thought slowly. “Why?” I mumbled, feeling that this whole experience was becoming rapidly unrealistic. I’d always thought of the Communities being real, but something that I would not join… and now, I was being forced to join one.

Renee shook her head slowly. “They accept anyone, Inuwa…” she mewed softly. “Even you. I was born into this very Community, and they will welcome me back – they don’t hold grudges against anyone. Everyone who’s been in a Community knows that.”

I lowered my head slowly. Maybe, Renee was doing what she thought was best, after all… and all I could do was try. If this would help me get into the Clans… it seemed okay

Fine…” I grunted slowly. “Now, can we finish off this journey? My legs hurt from all this walking.”

Renee shot a look at me, and then sighed. “We might as well.” She paused for a moment, before adding: “I’m sorry, Inuwa – I should’ve told you earlier. But I’m sure this is all for the best.”

Slowly, I nodded, and I couldn’t take my eyes off Renee as she turned around again, and started the last leg to the foot of the hill. I followed too, unsure of what to experience.

I was sure that Renee was sure of what she was doing – but I had no idea. This was familiar territory for her, but for me, it was something new to experience for me. It was something to help me, too.

And I knew that today started my exploration of the Communities.

Thirty-Three - Seeing Red

I was feeling very nervous after that, as Renee and I proceeded to edge towards the foot of the giant hill, which I guessed was where the Community was situated. Each pawstep seemed harder than the previous one, and I felt like I wanted to stop at every movement that I made.

I lowered my head, trying to slow my breaths to calm me down. It didn’t work, much to my dislike. Often, I used this method to calm myself down when I was feeling anxious, but today it didn’t work.

Sighing in defeat, I looked back up at Renee, who was still trotting ahead of as if nothing had ever happened. The speckled she-cat’s tail was flicking pleasantly, and I guessed that she was secretly enjoying herself with returning to her home Community. I knew I had my doubts, however.

I knew I needed to let her know of my feeling. So, gathering up my courage, I whispered: “Renee?” I wanted her to know what I felt – I was still uncomfortable about the whole thing…

Renee sighed as she stopped walking, and then she turned her head to me. “What do you want now?” she sighed, her tone flat, and her amber eyes flashing with what seemed like annoyance. I wasn’t exactly sure why her tone wasn’t bright – but I stepped back, slightly surprised nonetheless.

“Are you sure this is the right decision for me – to come to a Community with you?” Renee sighed again, and looked at me listlessly. “I thought I told you already,” she mewed. “It’s going to help to boost your confidence… Please don’t ask again…” She turned her back on me at this.

Even as we started to set back into a steady rhythm again, I was still very unsure.

It was mid-afternoon when we finally started to approach the camp. I could smell many scents, which reminded me of the Clans – but the scents were of moor, not pine. This made me feel a little sick to the stomach as we reached the camp entrance – an area banded by a thick layer of gorse.

“They won’t hurt you, Inuwa – they’ll welcome you,” Renee whispered, her tone considerably lighter, as we got ready. She padded in first, while I hesitated. Is this going to be alright…?

However, I knew that I’d look like a real fool if I stayed outside of the Community’s camp, just because I was too scared to go in it. So I took a deep breath, and stepped forward to follow Renee.

There was silence for a moment, as we stepped in. I saw multiple cats, doing their own thing – until they scented us, and then their heads would lift in surprise as they scented strangers. I felt myself grow more embarrassed with every second that went past, and I started to go red, until:

I saw a cat – their fur a mix of ginger and brown – rise to their paws, and stare at Renee. “Renee – you’re back!” they gasped in delight. “And you’ve brought a friend with you!”

There was some excited murmuring from the cats in the Community after this, and I started to feel slightly calmer. Maybe this will all be okay after all… not as bad as I thought…

“Renee?” A reddish-furred she-cat, her fur bushed up, padded over to the two of us. “You’re back? You never said you were going to return to us… that’s a nice surprise.”

Renee dipped her head to the she-cat. “There was a change in the plan, Vlam,” she mewed politely, her speckled tail flicking. “I’d like to come back for a few moons with him.” She flicked her tail at me.

Vlam snorted slightly – I guessed that she was slightly annoyed. “I guess you could…” she mewed, her tone unsure. “Yeah, you can. The Flame Community is always welcome to receive new members into their ranks,” she mewed, as her gaze set on me for a moment.

Renee gratefully nodded, and I felt relieved at once. A few cats cheered, and I felt much better. But Vlam was still looking at me – and I knew that I was seeing red – literally.

Thirty-Four - Shades of Gray

The first night I had with the Community was probably one of the nights that opened so much out to me as a cat. It felt so surreal to finally be part a group – even if it wasn’t a Clan that I was in.

Renee had to quickly explain the whole structure of a Community to me – and I quickly realized that living in a Community would be very different to living in a Clan.

Unlike Clans, the Communities had four cats, of which had their own charge in different roles. The Alpha – in this case, Vlam – was the cat who was like the leader – a lot like a Clan. But from then on, it all just became a whole lot more complicated. The Communities were different.

Then there was the Beta – who, like a Clan deputy, was the cat who organized the patrols. Communities had no territory, but these patrols would scour the land, checking for any enemies. However, Betas also were in charge of getting the older cats in the group to teaching the younger cats how to fight. Each time, they had a different cat take them out, to teach them new skills.

Renee said that the Community’s Beta was a tom called Slate, but she said she didn’t know him.

Then there was the Gamma. The Gamma was the cat who kept the most eyes on the cats in training, and they also organized the hunting expeditions, and training for that area. Renee said that the Gamma of the Community was a tom called Archie, and that she didn’t know him either.

Finally, there was the Delta. The Delta was the cat in charge of organising the herb supplies, and cats to get fresh stocks. All cats in the Community had herb knowledge, however – but the Delta was the one in charge. The Delta of the Community – I heard – was a she-cat called Copper, who apparently was no good at herbs – just the fact that she was a good leader got her in.

Then there were the standard Community members – cats like Renee and I; the older-cats, cats who had served the Community for moons, but were now respected, and the kit-mothers – which, as the name says, indicated that these were she-cats caring for kits.

Kits were not allowed to start to train until they were at least five moons, and they could only gain full Community status when the Alpha – in this case, Vlam – deemed the young cat ready.

It seemed a lot different to the Clan – and it seemed like everyone had a say to be included, and not feel left out – unlike the Clans, who kicked out cats who hadn’t successfully been through the Season’s End regime at twelve moons of age. It made the Communities seem so much calmer.

Later, I got a look at the other three cats as well. Copper was a dark ginger tabby with dark sky-blue eyes, she seemed nice enough: Archie was pale with darker points, and blue eyes as well, while Slate’s fur was unusual: he had a white tail-tip, but his fur seemed to shade gently down, so that he had a pitch-black face. It was as if he had all the shades of gray on his pelt.

I found it very interesting, if I had to say so myself.

Thirty-Five - Forgotten

Some words are words that I have always feared for the eternity of my life. I’ve wondered why I’ve always feared them, but there’s simply really no good reason for them to be feared.

I know that I worry about a whole lot of things that aren’t necessary. It happens all the time.

Fears are sometimes very real for me. It’s when I’m scared, and feeling vulnerable, when these feelings come out. When my mind is on brighter things, they never dare to come out at all.

One notable fear that I know that I encounter often is the fear that I will never be included fully in social life. Social life is something I crave deeply – I don’t know how well the Community will help me to do this – and I want it desperately, in the form of the Clans, the place that I have grown up beside.

I’m not staying in the Community forever – it’s only because Renee thought it was a good idea. However, I know that the Communities are more accepting than the Clans – and that’s something that I like. But the Clans I have known more – and I have always been more interested in them. I’ve grown up beside them, and I definitely don’t want to forsake that dream of mine.

I have no idea why I have always struggled with it, too. It has always wondered me, especially when none of my family has the difficulties of which I suffer through every day…

Other fears that I have I don’t have to be dragged through every day. Once, when I was young, I got a bit stuck when trying to climb a pine tree – and for half the day, I was stuck in a tree as no cat found me – or, if they came, ignored me. I was scarred after that incident.

I discovered that I had a fear of heights, and never dared to climb a tree again – especially not a pine tree. Now that I look back on it, I know that it was a foolish idea to start with.

But this wasn’t the time to dwell on the past. Having a fear of heights was definitely not my greatest fear that I had ever had in life – because I never admit my greatest fear to any cat.

This is because they all ignore me, treat me as if I am nothing. And I think this is what inspired my deepest fear in my life – and a fear that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

My greatest – and deepest – fear is that when I am gone, is that I will be forgotten.

Not by cats in the deceased world – apparently StarClan warriors know all the names of every Clan warrior, even if they’ve never lived alongside them – but in the living. I shudder to think of descendants – maybe even my descendants, eventually – not knowing about their history.

My parents didn’t know much about their ancestry. I wonder why that isn’t passed on from generation to generation sometimes – it all mystifies me.

I just don’t want to be forgotten. I shudder to think what the world will be like without my name being echoed by at least one cat living on the land.

Thirty-Six - Dreamer

Aspie looked out onto the sunrise; the gray tabby’s blue-green eyes alight with no emotion. The tom’s tail-tip flicked ever so slightly as he looked out, his body completely unmoving.

He was the only cat that was about this early in the morning. The sun was only barely able to be seen along the horizon: but the sky was already bright with colour.

Aspie liked colours. He thought they were beautiful, so he admired them every day with the sunrise.

Some cats thought this was weird: others thought it was just some unusual habit that the tom had inherited from his parents. However, even though they had both passed away, they both seemed normal – unlike Aspie. Either way, he was always scorned for it.

Not that Aspie noticed it, anyway. He never noticed it when another cat bullied him.

Slowly, the cats started to filter out of their dens in the morning, their eyes drifting over Aspie for a moment before they looked away in disgust. The new Alpha, Vlam, was one of the first: she ignored him completely before she gathered, waiting for the rest of her Followers to come out.

The Beta, Gamma, and Delta were next: they all looked at Aspie for a moment before looking away. “He’s weird,” the Gamma muttered under her breath – an ageing gray she-cat with water-blue eyes.

The Delta, who was next to the Gamma, nudged her fiercely. “Don’t let him hear – he doesn’t need to know what we really think of him,” the cat hissed. “We live in a Community, remember? As long as we are here, and he is here, we have to treat him as if we are family.”

The Gamma hissed softly under her breath. “I can’t wait until he’s gone, then,” she mewed ruefully.

The Delta scowled at the Gamma as they walked towards Vlam, their tails still twitching irritably. They started gathering, and talked in hushed voices about the day ahead.

Meanwhile, Aspie was too busy concentrating on the sunrise that he didn’t even hear a word of the Gamma and the Delta’s conversation. He didn’t even know that half of the Community thought that he was weird; a mismatch in a group of cats that all worked well alongside together.

The first Followers too came out of their dens – if you decided to exclude Aspie, who always beat Vlam outside the dens every morning. They all proceeded towards the Alpha, while the red-furred she-cat gave instructions out to each cat that strayed near them, sending them to the Beta, Gamma or Delta for their duties to be organised for the day. All the followers did this – excluding Aspie.

All except one Follower, that was. She did go and join them, but as she padded out of her den, she stopped as she saw Aspie alone, watching the sunrise – and her heart broke like it did every morning.

She really did hate to see her brother like this. She wanted him to be like the rest of them.

Renee could only wish for what she wanted, though. In his own world, Aspie was happy with what he had, and he didn’t want to change it – not one bit. He had no regrets.

They said that he was the dreamer in the Community, but Aspie didn’t care. He was too ignorant to hear – and other than that, he was too happy with his life as it was.

Thirty-Seven - Mist

I felt my eyelids lift as I came to consciousness, and I blinked slowly as my new den materialised in front of me. It was warm in my nest: although it was lined with sheepswool, which the Community used to line their nests with – back in the pine forests, I used moss – it was still fairly comfortable.

It was so warm in the nest, however, that I didn’t want to get out. For a while, I stayed in my nest, the sun shining through into the den, until I finally brought the courage up to leave.

In the Community, there isn’t one den for each rank. Although the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta all have a den to themselves, there are a whole lot of small dens in the Community’s camp that the main body of cats – often called Followers – can sleep in. I have a den to myself – although half the cats share. Renee is also by herself, and her den is the closest to mine.

Sighing contently, I stretch my legs, before I pad out of the den. The sun is dawning – but there’s no cat in sight, despite the fact that dawn probably started a while ago, judging by the son’s position.

Where is everyone? I ask myself, looking around. There no cat – oh wait, there’s someone –

I spot a cat in the distance, their body shrouded in shadow. I pad forward slowly, trying to see who it is, knowing that it’s a cat that I probably don’t know – or haven’t even met, for that matter.

However, that prediction is quashed immediately as the cat turns around – and to my shock, I recognize the cat that I have seen by his sleek, shiny gray fur, and his bright amber-green eyes.

It’s Chrome – I know it is. However, I doubt it straight away, remembering the time that Renee and I wandered around the Clan borders to find NeedleClan and MarshClan fighting, to Chrome dropping down in battle, dead, and then a NeedleClan warrior trampling over his body…

No. I’m sure it’s not him. Chrome’s dead – I saw him die. It’s not him, not here.

“I know you’re so doubtful, Inuwa, but your first guess was the right one all along,” the cat mews suddenly, his head craned in my direction. “You doubt yourself a little too much.”

I gasp in shock, not expecting that response, or any response for that matter. Chrome…? How? “But you’re… dead!” I mew hoarsely, staring at Chrome’s gray nose. “How can you appear here? I never thought, that in a place like this, I –”

I must’ve rambled on a little too long, because Chrome then silenced me with a flick of his tail. “I am dead,” the sleek gray tom mewed calmly, “and I am sorry for the fact that I didn’t get into the Clans earlier. However… there is a reason why I have appeared to you tonight, Inuwa.”

I froze, a little bit surprised. “So…” I mewed awkwardly, feeling like a fool. Oh, I hate it when I feel like this! “So really, I’m not actually here? It’s just a vision, a dream…?”

Chrome nodded slowly, and he rose to his paws. He stared me in the eye – I really wanted to flinch away, but I was frozen to the spot. He didn’t answer my question, and jumped to something else: “Inuwa… just don’t suffer the same fate as others have, alright? There are others that have failed in the Communities – cats like you. Although the communities are more welcoming, they –”

“They what?” I interrupted, gazing indignantly at Chrome, but I was silenced with a tail flick once more.

“They may seem more welcoming,” Chrome whispered, “but in reality, even though it may seem that way, it could be different to what every cat really thinks.”

After that, I felt cold. I looked to the side, and saw mist coming towards me… and before I could clarify what Chrome actually meant, the mist had swallowed me up and taken me away.

Thirty-Eight - Burning

When I really did wake up from my first night in the Community, I was shaking – not by the worry of being somewhere different, but from the unexpected dream with Chrome.

I still wondered why he had come to me. Well, I didn’t think he’d come here, of all places – if he was in StarClan, wouldn’t he stay there and not venture off? – but he had. I wondered why…

The thoughts of Chrome still pestered me in my head as I slowly got up, stretching a little bit before heading out of the den, where what seemed a whole lot of cats were smarming near one end of the camp. I felt nervous – I didn’t want to approach all these cats at once.

I felt a tail touch my back, and I turned to see that Renee had approached me. The speckled brown she-cat had her tail on me, her amber eyes reproachful. “They don’t mind if you don’t go and see them in the morning,” she soothed. “You can head off straight to duty. Let’s get outta here.”

I nodded slowly, knowing that Renee knew a lot more about the Community than I ever did, as she had been living there before. We crept past the huge cluster of cats – a few scowling at us.

I wondered why they were scowling – was that unusual to not receive orders from the Alpha?

Renee and I straightened up again as we got out of the camp, sighing. Renee looked apologetic. “Not many cats do that,” she whispered softly, “not going past the Alpha first. I could tell you were a bit nervous – but you know? You have to build your confidence around other cats to get –”

“You’ve told me about a million times about improving my confidence,” I mewed coldly in reply. “It’s not natural for me, like other cats, Renee. Get used to that, alright?”

Renee looked a little bit miffed at my words, but she shrugged anyway. “Let’s keep going, then…” she mewed, shaking her head slowly as she took the lead for the two of us.

Renee led me a fair way through the moor – not territory, as Communities don’t have specific territories for themselves – and we came to a stream, where a few scents from cats in the Community were scattered – all of them were stale. There was also another smell in the air – not a cat-scent – but I couldn’t remember what it was. It was a scent, but…

Renee had obviously smelt it too, as her ears pricked. “What –” she started.

But Renee was interrupted as a large russet thing hurtled out from a nearby bush, and crashed right into Renee, snapping at her with fierce, tough jaws. Renee screeched.

“Fox!” I heard her gasp in fright, as the animal bowled her over. “They rarely come out onto the moor – but – this one’s come here! I’d heard rumors, but –” She was cut off as the fox launched another attack on her, and it snapped at her again, nipping her on the face.

I knew that I had to do something… but I didn’t know what. I felt myself burning with shame as I watched her, feeling helpless. I needed to do something…

So that was why – reluctantly – I decided to join her in battle, and I leapt onto the fox’s back.

Thirty-Nine - Out Of Time

I felt air rushing past me, as I felt myself plummeting into the fox’s direction. It seemed like I was in slow motion as I moved through the air – and it was interrupted by a great thump as I landed.

I felt my claws unsheathe in instinct as I grabbed onto the fox’s back. I heard the fox howl in pain as I hit it, and – thankfully it turned away from Renee, and I saw a flash of brown as she moved away.

I felt a sense of relief, and I relaxed for a moment on the fox, forgetting that I was actually meant to fight the thing. I went to move away, but then I remembered: I was fighting the fox –

And then I felt myself plummeting back down to the ground again: the fox had obviously loosened me from its back, but I had been too subdued in my own thoughts to notice anything.

Pain was the first thing that hit me as I hit the ground. My whole body stung, and I felt dazed from the fall I had just had. I looked up blearily – the fox was still there, and it was still for a moment, before I saw it move, and lash out at me again with its snapping jaws.

It nipped my back legs, and I hissed in pain. I wasn’t prepared, and my eyesight was still foggy. I started to gear myself up for another attack, and I braced my back legs for another bite –

But then I heard a yowl: “Get away from him, you foul, ungrateful brute!” – and I saw something – pale brown, with what seemed like darker flecks- lunging towards the fox with a flash.

Renee! I had forgotten that she had been there! I sighed greatly in relief, and I felt my muscles relaxing, as I knew that I wasn’t in fear of being attacked anymore.

I attempted to scramble to my paws – failing the first time as I tripped over myself – but I did it in the second, as I got onto my paws at a sluggish pace. My eyesight was slowly getting clearer: now, as I saw Renee fighting the fox with more confidence that I saw the first time, I could actually make out the darker speckles on her pelt, when I couldn’t before due to my extremely blurred vision.

Renee was yowling with fury as she swiped at the fox, her claws meeting flesh. The fox yipped as it reeled off in pain, and once again I felt an urge to get back into battle, to support Renee.

I steadied myself, reassuring my worn body that I would be okay. Calm down, Inuwa. Renee needs you. You can’t just leave her to fight that fox alone. She could die, after all.

That, inevitably, gave me the determination to help – so I reared up, and pounced forward again.

When I went forward, I heard Renee gasp as she saw me, and mew: “Inuwa!” in surprise, staring at me round-eyed. I looked away, and looked straight into the fox’s eye for a moment.

I was about to move away when the fox let out a very loud yip, and it lunged forward at me, bowling me over due to its heavy weight. I felt myself on the ground again with a thud again, and I felt dazed once more as I stared hazily up at the fox, who I knew was staring at me intently.

Then I felt a whole lot of pain as the fox nipped me a few times again, and I felt a rush of scarlet wash up over my eyes. I heard a voice shout: “Inuwa! No!” in the distance, as my vision darkened.

You may be out of time… I swore I heard a voice whisper in my head, as I knew nothing more.

Forty - Knowing How

Renee was overwhelmed with grief after that incident, when Inuwa had saved her twice, and had dared to sacrifice his own life in the process. She had been shaking with worry and fear, full of apprehension of unknowing Inuwa’s fate of whether he’d live or not.

Copper, despite the Delta’s lack of medicinal knowledge, had been watching Inuwa’s condition very intently since he had come back with his injuries. The fox had given him a great deal of nasty bites that had bled onto Renee’s pelt as she had taken the black tom back to camp, and it had taken her a while to get it all off her speckled pelt. Her wounds had been treated, but they weren’t major.

Cautiously, Renee crept over to the Delta’s den, fearing that something bad had happened to Inuwa – or that something bad had happened. Copper had barely been out of her den all day…

But much to Renee’s surprise, the dark ginger she-cat was out there for once, nipping softly at a small vole. Renee padded up slowly to the Delta, a pit of worry in her stomach.

As Renee approached, Copper looked up at the nearing she-cat. Her large, dark sky-blue eyes were round as she stared at Renee sadly. Renee, still feeling sulky, gulped before she asked quickly: “Do you know what is going to happen to Inuwa? Will he be all right? Will he live?”

At the string of questions that Renee put in front of the Delta, Copper sighed slowly. “I can tell that you care for your friend,” she murmured softly, still staring up at Renee. “But calm down. I will answer your questions, if have time.” Renee hesitated, before Copper added: “Inuwa is fine for this current moment, and there’s not much I can do for him at this stage. Come, sit down with me.”

Slowly, Renee sat down next to Copper. Feeling her nerves come up again, she shuffled her paws softly, and nervously. Secretly, she was dreading Copper’s news about Inuwa.

Copper shook her broad, tabby-striped head slowly. “Your questions all have a very similar answer,” she murmured softly. “And, to tell the truth… it is too early to tell what will happen to him.”

Renee felt as of the pit of dread that she had been holding onto had just become a whole lot worse. I want a definite answer! Not an ‘I don’t know, it’s too early to tell’ – I want yes or no! Renee knew she was furious with Copper, and she unsheathed her claws in anger and fear.

Copper saw Renee’s reaction, and her tail flicked ever so slightly. “Sheathe your claws, Renee,” she mewed calmly, but to no avail: Renee just started to glare at Copper instead. Copper ignored Renee, before adding: “It’s just too early… even most good Healers, I don’t think, could tell completely.”

At this, Renee finally sheathed her claws, calming down quickly, and feeling satisfied. For a moment, the two cats were silent again: Copper finishing her vole for dinner, while Renee was still staring sideways at Copper. Then, finally, Renee mewed weakly: “…But I want an answer! Copper, I’m drowning in grief for Inuwa – he might die! I don’t know what to do!”

Copper looked softly at Renee, and rested her tail over the younger she-cat’s shoulders.

“I remember you with your brother when you were younger,” she mewed softly. “You grieved a lot when you ran away, and by your actions I can tell you don’t want the same thing to happen to Inuwa – correct? All you need to do, Renee, to help you, is that you need to have a think about yourself.”

Renee paused, taking Copper’s words in, and she knew that Copper was right. The she-cat had to hold herself in to stop herself raging again at the Delta. “But… how? I can’t help but care! Copper, I –”

“Sometimes, caring too much is not a good thing,” Copper mewed softly to Renee, so that no other cat could hear. “I think that this is your biggest fault, and knowing how to care in moderation would greatly help you – and your peers that are close to you. They’ve been fussed over too much by you.”

With that, Copper abruptly bustled back into the den to check on Inuwa’s condition once more, and Renee was left outside again, one again drowning in her own, twisted thoughts.

Forty-One - Fork In The Road

Darkness was still encroaching on my vision, my eyes tightly shut. Under my eyelids, patterns seemed to dance in swishing motions, making me feel dizzy as I lay on the ground, spinning.

It felt as if something was swarming around my beaten, worn body. I felt as if I was going to fall asleep, to fall in a blanket of darkness as I had before, after I’d heard Renee’s screams.

As soon as I had thought of them, I swore that I heard those echoes in my head again.

It was as if I was reliving the moment. I remembered that my blurred vision was refusing to let me see in full detail as the russet shape of the fox bustled around me in all directions as it nipped me fiercely. Scarlet rushed up over the black under my eyelids, as if it was really happening at this very moment. I felt pain shooting through me again, and I wanted to yowl out my pain…

Then I heard a shriek, a misty voice in my ears: “Inuwa! No!” It was Renee’s voice, loud and full of fear. I felt my hear coursing as if it was on end as the scarlet died away again from my vision.

Then silence enfolded on me again, and I shivered in the pitch-black darkness that surrounded me, as I finally came to that the place that I was in was freezing cold.

I knew that the place I was in was nowhere that any cat had been – at least, not recently. Even in my void of a place where I seemed half-asleep, I could smell no scent but my own. It also seemed like leaf-bare, as I felt my bushy pelt fluff up as yet another cold, swift breeze ruffled my fur.

Where am I…? Only now did I really ask where I was, as I started to come to. I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids stubbornly refused to lift, keeping me in darkness once more…

I didn’t know what to do after that. I couldn’t open my eyes – something was up there – and I was too frozen in fear to get any form of help. There, on the cold ground, I felt extremely helpless.

I didn’t even know what was going on any more, and I felt like giving up on this right now…

But then, it felt as if something was breathing on my ear. I felt something warm on my face, and I shuffled around to face the breath. For some reason, it kept on following my ear, and only breathing on it: I never felt the breath once on my dark face. I didn’t know what was happening.

“What…?” I murmured weakly, but to me, it sounded like a very long groan.

The thing that was beside me continued to breathe on my ear, and I was still in wonder. Then, I heard it whisper: “There’s a fork in the road that you must decide, Inuwa. One leads to dreams, and the other leads to regret. Make up your mind, or things will be lost forever.

I wanted to scream out in terror, to know what the thing was, to know what that whole message meant – but I realized that I was frozen again, and I couldn’t move…

And then another pitch-black tide washed over me again, and I was swept into nothingness once more.

Forty-Two - Start

For the next few days, Renee had often tried to see up on Inuwa’s condition, as Copper still hadn’t said anything that indicated what his fate was going to be. It made the speckled she-cat nervous every time she padded past the Delta’s den, her blood becoming freezing cold with imminent fear.

She didn’t want Inuwa to die, not when he hadn’t fulfilled his dream yet.

If the black tom did die, Renee swore her heart would break in pity for the tom – and maybe, just possibly – for herself. He didn’t know anything of what she really felt for him.

She was pretty sure that Inuwa didn’t suspect anything of her, Renee, actually liking the tom. She was sure that Inuwa simply saw her as a companion, a friend in his life. That was all he wanted.

Aspie was the same as Inuwa, in that aspect. She was sure that her gray tabby brother had no desire for love – only to make sure he could see the sunrise every morning. Renee sighed slowly, as an early morning mist arose as she breathed out, sending spirals of smoke up to the sky.

Most of the cats had already swooped past the Alpha, and been sent off where the red-furred she-cat had sent them. There was still a few milling around, and they were all being sent to either the Beta or the Gamma: Copper the Delta had retreated back into her den once more.

Slowly, Renee trudged up to Vlam, now that the last few cats were going to see her. They had all been sent off by the time Renee approached, looking up at Vlam with round amber eyes.

“Been worrying about that friend you brought with you?” Vlam mewed sharply, making Renee jump. When Renee nodded in response, Vlam looked at her side, before adding: “Go to Slate. I’ll make him assign something to you.” Vlam then trotted off, and Archie, the Gamma, realizing that there was no need for him to be there either, trotted off too, his dark tail high in the air.

Renee padded slowly up to Slate, who was busy sending off a sleek-furred gray-and-white tom to join a patrol, which headed off without further ado. The shaded-furred tom’s dark green-gray eyes fixed on her softly, not really moving anywhere. Renee gulped nervously, expecting the worst.

But the tom’s words that came out were not like Renee expected it to be. His voice, usually gruff in the times that Renee had mumbled to him, seemed smoothed out, and the words chosen carefully. “You don’t seem like you could cope with a whole patrol of cats at the moment, can you?”

Renee stared for a moment, and then nodded, her throat dry. How does he know…? He barely knows me for one! He came to the Community after I’d left the place, for the pine forest –

Slate nodded. “I thought so.” His eyes brightened for a moment, before dying down again.

Renee shook her head slowly. She didn’t understand how Slate could be so transfixed on her… “I’m going to go hunting alone,” she mewed gruffly, before ditching Slate, who looked thunderstruck.

Renee padded out of camp, feeling hopeful. Today felt like the day that she could really start to commit to the Community. Anything was open at the moment – especially when Inuwa’s condition threatened to haunt her at every step, to take her back in memories…

But Renee shoves those thoughts to the back of her mind, and stalked away.

Forty-Three - Nature's Fury

The cloud cover condensed gradually as Renee roamed along the moor by herself, struggling to really clear her head. Inuwa had continued to nag at her thoughts as she tried to hunt, often putting her off, and causing her to miss any prey that she was trying to catch.

After missing her fifth rabbit in a row, Renee finally decided to give up, realizing that her mind was too fragile to really be continuing with such a simple job as hunting.

Renee knew her mind was fragile in its current state. She was suffering emotionally, she couldn’t deny it. First Aspie had run away – that didn’t help. Now Inuwa, one of her most loyal friends she had come to love over a short space of time, might be on his deathbed

Renee sighed, feeling miserable. She didn’t want to feel like this, not now… The only way that Renee could see to escape from it all was to hide somewhere, and hope that no cat found her. The question was – but where would a suitable place be to hide away, especially on the moor?

It was as if the answer was found at once. There seemed to be a cave of boulders nearby, and it seemed rather sturdy and strong. If Renee wasn’t in the small dip she was in, she might’ve missed it – the rise that it rested against was taller than the imposing structure.

Gratefully, Renee padded in. She felt a lot warmer as she padded in, and she let out a long sigh in comfort – the warmth was so nice, especially when it was so cold outside, not to mention the always-chilly wind.

Slowly, she sat down. Instantly, it seemed that her head was a lot clearer, she could see things a lot clearer now. Renee felt happier in an instant, and she purred in delight.

This is what I want! I want to be happy, like this all the time! I just hope that Inuwa recovers from –

Renee’s thoughts were cut off as she felt the ground trembling below her.

It got worse and worse, and in each passing second Renee struggled more and more to stay on her feet. In the end, as its power lurched, Renee toppled over in the den of boulders, landing with a loud thump on the ground as she did so. She lifted her head, dazed – and also terrified.

Even after that happened, the ground was still shaking madly. Renee wondered when it was going to stop – in fact, if it was ever going to stop. Renee just wanted nothing bad to happen –

But then something did happen. The ground seemed to feel it was rising, for a moment, and then it suddenly lurched back down again. Then, all of a sudden, the ground split between her paws.

Renee yowled in fright, and scrabbled to her paws. What’s – what’s happening? A mild state of panic was coursing through her, and she wondered what had happened. The shaking below her paws seemed to be receding a little, being not so intimidating – maybe it was finally over

However, there was a nasty slipping noise, and then Renee saw what was going on: a boulder had slipped from its firmly wedged position of the den. The shaking of the ground must’ve loosened it, she guessed, but it was this moment of thought that distracted her.

She didn’t realize that the boulder had landed with a loud think on the side of Renee’s head until it had happened. Renee staggered for a moment, shocked, and then she slumped over.

Must have been – must have been nature’s fury… she thought to herself, before she passed out, her limp body falling into the small crevasse that had formed, as the shaking finally died away.

Forty-Four - At Peace

That last dream I had was still haunting at me the next times I had visions in my own mind. I felt as if that dream had caused me to shatter, to suffer at myself. I’d felt ripped by seeing that vision.

I felt that possibly, I’d let Renee down because I hadn’t protected her properly. I felt like I’d failed

All that I could deduce was that I felt guilty about the whole thing. However, between these visions that I had been having, there had been no time to think much. Every time that I entered a new one, my mind seemed to have blanked itself out – and this greatly disappointed me.

I wish my mind would hold itself to – I had thought during the fifth time this had happened, before blacking out mid-thought, and forgetting about it as I ventured into another vision.

I felt destroyed in myself, unsure what was going on. I was confused, and now, I was really starting to freak out over this whole incident. What if these flashes never stopped…?

However, the next time I opened my eyes, I found myself in a small pine forest clearing, which reminded me – achingly – of my home, as well as the Clans. At once, I wondered why I had even followed Renee’s pursuit, claiming that she knew what would be good for me.

But then I remembered why she had done so, and I quashed that thought.

I knew that I wasn’t in a vision this time, and when I realized I sighed in relief. They’ve been driving me nuts! I thought scathingly about them, as I sat down, and looked out into the pines.

For once, it seemed so refreshing to be… home, even though I had no idea where I really was anymore. I placed one paw forward, and thumped it softly on the ground.

Then, I swore as I lifted it, I heard soft voices on the ground too: soft pitter-pattering noises. I looked around hazily, guessing that there was another cat there – but no, there wasn’t.

Then, I started to doubt myself. Am I hearing things? Am I becoming even more of a klutz than I am now? Because it feels like it! At that moment, I felt my cheeks burning with shame.

But then I heard a confident voice, echoing through the clearing too: “You’re causing a racket! Get away from there, you two!” There was a pause, and then some more invisible footsteps followed.

I knew something was going on, but I could see nothing. Flicking my ears back in distaste, I stalked out of the clearing, frustrated and annoyed again. This happens all too often…

I wondered why everything came and bothered me, and never left me alone. Fleetingly, for a moment, I remembered Thorn and Claw, who had often terrorized me back in the pine forest – and I smiled for once. They were nothing compared to traversing through moor to come to the Community… that, in my opinion, was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life.

All I want is to be at peace… I found myself thinking; as yet another black wave of nothingness came to sweep over me. Before I knew it, I had fallen – once more – into that trap.

Forty-Five - Heart Song

Renee woke up to find her head spinning a little bit, her eyesight a bit fuzzy. Blinking slowly a few times, the mist in front of her eyes seemed to evaporate: now, she could see that she was not alone. She could see, although slightly hazily, a dark ginger she-cat in front of her, bending over in another direction, looking over someone else, and muttering words under her breath that she couldn’t hear.

Renee was pretty sure that she knew where she was, although she had no idea how she had gotten there. Last time she remembered, wasn’t she on the moor, trying to hunt, before she shot frustrated and gave up. Then, she wandered off… but to where, Renee could not remember…

She softly grunted under her breath in defeat, and that was when the dark ginger cat turned, surprised that something had actually happened, and she hadn’t realized yet.

“Oh, you’re awake, Renee.” The dark ginger she-cat – Renee recognized the Delta, Copper, as she saw her – mewed, her voice soft. “I didn’t realize… I was busy looking over your friend.” She moved out of the way, and Renee rested her eyes on an unconscious Inuwa. Herbs still covered his many wounds, and he wasn’t moving – but Renee detected the soft rise and fall of his flank.

“I think he’s going to live,” Copper added, “but I don’t know yet for certain. I thought you’d like to know, as you’d been nagging me since before you got your injuries.”

Before I…? Renee mewed confusedly, looking slowly up at Copper. Then, she remembered: the shaking below her paws… the boulder… her fear… “Shaking…” she mewed hazily, not thinking.

Copper stared at Renee, curious. “Of course…” she mewed softly. “We felt it over here.” Her voice was distant, before her tone became suddenly brusque as she announced loudly: “You got knocked on the head, Renee… you may feel a bit dizzy… stay where you are. I’m just going to speak with the Alpha, to tell him that you’re awake.” She then bustled out of the den in a hurry.

For a moment, Renee’s gaze followed Copper, before she looked back at Inuwa. The words that Copper had told her rang in her mind: I think he’s going to live… the words echoed, ringing in her ears as she heard those six words over and over again in her spinning mind.

That seemed to comfort her, before the last words that Copper said came back to her. For a moment, she stared, slightly confused, and then she let it go, staring back at Inuwa.

The black tom looked peaceful when he was asleep. Despite the fact where there was wounds – and where there was, some of the fur had also been removed – it could’ve been normal.

Renee took in a sharp intake of breath at that moment. SA wave of affection crashed over her, and she couldn’t help herself as she opened her mouth, and whispered. “Inuwa… I love you…”

There was no indication that Inuwa had heard, as the dark tom snored and attempted to roll over.

After that, a dizzying wave of pain in her head caused Renee to retreat back suddenly into her nest. Maybe I pressured myself a little too far with that… she thought to herself, as she closed her eyes again, hoping that going back to sleep would at least stop her moment of pain.

However, Renee couldn’t help but admit, as she felled asleep, she had really let her heart’s song out to Inuwa. Even if he didn’t hear her… she knew, at once, that she had admitted her true feelings.

Forty-Six - Reflection

My vision opened up again – more freely that the times that I had returned to consciousness. A heavy rainfall sounded in the background, the raindrops thundering in my ears, trying to lull me back to sleep. I resisted the temptation, and slowly got to my paws, staring around hazily.

I was in a pine forest – a lot like the one that I had grown up in – but I was in a clearing. In the centre, it was unsheltered, and the rain that was falling thundered down into a dip in the middle. Rainwater gathered in the dip, and slowly the water level grew – painfully slow.

I wanted to move forward, but I was frozen to the spot – I couldn’t move. I remembered when I had felt like this before – why was it happening again? I felt curious, I wanted to know…

But in a flash of a moment, the rain’s fall subsided, so although it was still falling, now it had only become a drizzle. The pool of water seemed to rise a little bit before stopping as well.

Finally, I realized that I was able to move forward again, and curiosity took me over to the pool.

For a moment, I looked into it, and I saw an image of myself: my black face staring curiously at myself, my bright amber eyes alight. Looking at me was the only cat I could truly look at, without looking away from them - I knew that I couldn’t bear to look another cat in the eye for too long.

Then I saw my image fade into the depths of the lapping, rippling water, and I wondered why… Then, I started to see images flashing by in the shadows of the water, and I felt myself freeze.

Memories were flashing by in my eye’s mind. First, I saw the time that Sprenkeln first noticed that I wasn’t looking at her, and she asked why… then I saw myself stalking off in a rage, after having an argument with my two siblings… and then I felt my heart break in two as the memories came to the place of a previous Season’s End, where my parents both got into BarkClan – together.

Seeing the flashbacks of my parents reminded me of the short time we had together as a family – and although I was the one that preferred to be alone, family was still important to me.

The next flashback was when Feryat got into MarshClan, and the one that followed was the one of Caldura leaving me too. After that, I felt alone – so immensely alone that it hurt.

I was almost tempted to cry, but I held it in. I didn’t need to do that – not now.

Next, I saw the familiar speckled pelt of Renee, in the moment that we first met. Then it skipped ahead to the time that Chrome died in battle, and once again I saw his death flashing before my eyes. Another pang of loss hit me, and I wondered why I had lost so much.

The last vision then turned back into what I had seen first off, and I found myself staring at my own reflection once more, but my eyes were more clouded now than they were before.

I shook my head slowly, as I felt the rain stop above me. Sighing sadly from all the depressing memories that I had just relived, I turned around, and stalked away, my tail trailing in the dust.

Forty-Seven - Perfection

After a few days, the dizzying spells that Renee had been suffering ceased, and she was finally dismissed from Copper’s den to head back to her own. It was such a relief to be out in the main camp once more, without Copper swooping around, and waiting for the moment to hoover her back into her den, for yet another check-up on her still-recovering head.

The camp was surprisingly busy for mid-morning. A few Followers that had risen late were dragging their feet as they stepped up to the front – seeing Vlam, Renee guessed. It was normal for a few cats to rise late – but today, there was more cats than there usually was arising at this time…

Renee was curious, but she paused for a moment, her ears flattened, as she expected a wave of dizziness to come – but thankfully for her, no such wave did come. Sighing with relief, she looked up. All the cats had now dispersed, and Renee expected Vlam to sit there, her amber gaze burning –

But no. Vlam was not there – and Slate was the one standing in the middle. Archie paced nervously around the Beta, looking shifty-eyed as the dark-pointed tom did so, his tail flicking anxiously.

At once, Renee knew that something was up. No Vlam in camp, Copper acting shifty, Archie pacing nervously, and Slate seeming to be in charge… There was definitely something wrong. A pit of dread formed in her stomach at that thought, and she gulped nervously.

She turned away from Slate, and stalked back to her den. She needed to let everything out… and if something bad had happened to Vlam – a cat which she had deeply respected, even when she had left the reins of the Community the first time – she would be upset about the whole incident.

The den that Renee slept in was pleasantly cool as she stepped inside, and she felt her fur fluff up as she realized that the den itself was slightly chillier than what she wanted it to be. She felt a little stronger by this wind: she felt as if tears were going to spring to her eyes, but they never came.

She really did hope that nothing bad was happening to her: it almost seemed like a curse. First Aspie ran away from her, blinded by a desire to be independent, and then Inuwa had nearly died in the battle with the fox – and although Copper said he would most likely live, Renee could tell that the black tom definitely wasn’t out of the woods yet. He could still die.

Then there was Vlam. She never knew her well, but she did care for her Alpha. And now…

…Renee wasn’t exactly sure if she’d ever see her friend again, even though she had no idea what had actually happened to her. At that thought, her heart clenched in fear, and she felt herself seize up.

All these thoughts made Renee upset – and now only did she feel the silent, silver tears slipping down her cheeks. All this loss was hard for her, for a cat that liked to care for others…

…But Renee knew that perfection never came in a cat’s life, and that this was all a part of it. Suffering was always going to happen to her – and it seemed for her that the time was now for her to grieve for every cat she may have lost in her life so far – and the ones yet to come.

All of you, who have been in my life at some point… just watch over me, alright? I’m suffering…

Forty-Eight - Everyday Magic

Pain coursed through me as I returned to consciousness once more, my vision blurred with sleep. I blinked slowly a few times, each time my vision becoming clearer and clearer.

I knew that I had become conscious before – every time that my wounds ached – but each time I fell sleep soon after, from what I remembered. However, I felt better now, better than I had been since the incident. I breathed a sigh of relief, wincing as another wave of pain hit me.

Then, I heard a faint, soft voice breathing: “Oh, Inuwa… you’re awake. I didn’t notice…”

I turned around, surprised – I thought that Copper was the Delta of the Community, last time I had looked. Instead, there was a small, sleek silver she-cat, her fur extremely shiny. It reminded me of Chrome with a pang, and I felt myself remembering the tom that had died.

“I thought –” I croaked weakly, but it died down again quickly – I didn’t have much strength.

“That Copper was the Delta?” The silver she-cat spoke softly again – I guessed that was how she naturally spoke. “Not anymore, she isn’t. Last night, she was officially promoted to her new rank of Gamma.” Pausing for a moment, realizing that the she-cat hadn’t introduced herself yet, she added shyly: “I’m Hiriwa… and I’m the Community’s new Delta.” Her paws scuffled along the ground.

I paused for a moment, letting the information process through my mind when I wasn’t grunting in pain. “What happened?” I mewed softly, because even I knew that if Copper had been promoted, something had happened to the Alpha, Beta, or Gamma. The question was – who?

Hiriwa’s blue eyes suddenly turned dark with grief at my words. Her long tail twitched once, before she mewed: “There was an earthquake, nearly a quarter-moon ago now. The pile of boulders that Vlam likes to talk upon… it collapsed, and the boulders crushed her. She died before we could save her from the rubble.” The she-cat’s head shook as she spoke, before she had to look away.

My stomach dropped. Vlam – dead? That meant Slate was Alpha – and I didn’t know what to think of him. To me, the gradiented-furred tom seemed like a cat that was not to be crossed.

By then, Hiriwa seemed distracted, and I saw the silver she-cat pad quietly out of the den, leaving me alone once more. I shifted slightly in my daze, before I flicked an ear as I heard a brushing noise.

Then I saw a flash of brown come into the den, her gaze shifting over the den. She then laid her eyes on me, and she stared for a moment, as she realized that I was awake. She let out a strangled cry.

“Inuwa!” she croaked, padding up to me cautiously, her amber eyes round as full moons.

I recognized the she-cat at once – it was Renee! I guessed that when the speckled cat saw that Hiriwa had left her new den for who knew where, Renee had taken her opportunity to sneak in while the other she-cat had left the den unsupervised, and vulnerable.

I purred weakly. “Renee,” I mewed hoarsely. “I…” It felt so good to be with another cat again – apart from Copper and Hiriwa, when they’d been in charge of the Delta duties.

Renee purred happily in response, before she added: “Did you hear? Hiriwa decided that she thinks you’re going to recover fully!” Her voice lowered, before she added: “I’ve been worried sick about you, especially when Copper had no idea whether you’d even live; at first… your wounds were nasty…” Renee’s voice trailed off, as she waited for a reply from me.

I felt relieved, and then I purred, shaking my head to say that Hiriwa had mentioned nothing. “This healing…” I whispered softly. “…It’s like everyday magic, isn’t it? And so is you,” I added cheekily.

Renee looked very pleased. “Yes…” I heard her whisper. “Yes it is…”

For a moment, we were there together, alone and happy. And I knew that before I died, I would have as least one golden moment left to enjoy with someone before it happened.

Forty-Nine - Umbrella

Eventually, Hiriwa had returned to her den to find that Renee had snuck in, and she had not been very happy. Inuwa had started to turn slightly delirious, and had fallen asleep soon after: Renee, on the other paw, had become slightly restless over everything she had faced.

She could tell that Inuwa appreciated company, when she wanted it. Aspie had been less willing – he had always wanted to be independent – but that didn’t stop Renee.

When Renee looked back on her kithood, she was pretty sure that her parents held the same belief.

She remembered her parents vaguely – although she never knew what happened to them. She guessed that they left the Community after she did, or they died – but she didn’t really want to know. They weren’t overly close to her, anyway – they protected Aspie more.

Not that Renee minded, of course. She felt the same about her brother like they did for their son.

She first remembered her father – a large, sturdy dark gray tom with dark brown, almost black dapples. His name was Wellington, and from what Renee remembered, the tom always looked out for his fellow Community members, and most importantly, his family. He had a regal attitude around him, and was undyingly loyal, and strongly respected any cat ranked above him.

Renee’s mother, on the other hand, was different. Small, sleek-furred, and with a soft, fluffy dark ginger-brown pelt, with rippling tabby stripes, her name was Honey. She was softer, more easily swayed to a cat’s will than Wellington ever was. Her personality was a lot like Renee’s.

Renee looked up to her parents, and they treated her well. She just wished that maybe if Aspie hadn’t decided to flee, she’d still be with her family. Maybe if she hadn’t let too, Honey and Wellington might’ve still been around – but then again, she would’ve never met Inuwa…

Breaking out of her thoughts, Renee looked around, blinking. A crimson sunset was drifting over camp, and various cats were sitting together, and sharing tongues. If Inuwa had been around, Renee would’ve hung out with him – but he was still cooped up with Hiriwa in the Delta’s den.

She was alone, but she didn’t really mind one bit. Sometimes, Renee liked being alone.

Realizing that there was nothing going on, and thinking about cats that were no longer with her, it made her think of Vlam. Only yesterday did she find out that her worst fear had come true: the red-furred she-cat had indeed died, and in the earthquake that Renee had knocked her head in. Slate had become the new Alpha, Archie the Beta, and Copper the Gamma. A silver she-cat called Hiriwa – whom Renee remembered from the first time she’d been with the Community – became Delta.

Vlam, I hope you’re up there, looking over your Community, Renee thought solemnly, looking up at the crimson sunset, which was slowly turning to a dark purple colour, and then to midnight blue. Like all the cats that have predeceased you. Her head shook sadly at the thought.

It seemed as if her wish was answered, and in the next moment, she felt as if cats were pressing against her, as if they were really there. Renee purred in delight, although she could see nothing when she looked around. An invisible umbrella of cats had come – to protect her, to cheer her up.

I wish it was like this all the time, Renee thought sadly, as the forced pressed in once more. I wish…

Fifty - Party

Eventually, the full moon came around like it usually did, and I was amazed to see time going so fast.

It took a while for my wounds to slowly heal over, but heal they did. I spent days recovering, and I had been out of the den a few times since, but not for very long periods, obviously. Although Hiriwa was never as strict as Copper – as far of my limited knowledge of the Community went – she still kept a watchful eye on any cats that went past her – in this case, it was only me.

Hiriwa had assured me that I would be allowed to join the celebrations that the Community was holding tonight, as well. I found this ironic – a little like the Clans – but not really.

The Community, as they worked with others that were nearby, don’t talk with others, like the Clan warriors do at their Gatherings. Renee had mentioned to me a few days before that usually, most of the Community stays up, and uses it as a night of respect for their ancestors and the moon.

But Renee said that tonight was different, and the whole point was that Slate had become Alpha at the death of Vlam. The only twist to that rule, Renee said, was if there was a new Alpha.

If a new Alpha had been announced in the previous moon, the Community wouldn’t show as much respect. There would be a feast, Renee mentioned, and that they would officially welcome Slate as their head of the Community. I also remembered that Renee said it was a big deal.

“There’s not often a new Alpha,” Renee had replied, when I had asked her how often this happened in the Community. “Alphas like to make sure that their Betas are capable, and up to the job first.”

So that conversation echoed in my mind as night fell. It was a crystal-clear night: no clouds could be seen, and the midnight-black sky was dotted with many, small silver stars that shone.

I found it a little bit chaotic, if I had to admit so myself. Although I wanted to be accepted socially, I was not a huge fan of this – it was a little loud, but I kept it silent as I stalked near the back of the crowd, while most of the cats feasted on prey. Renee and I were sharing a plump rabbit together where we sat: on an overhang that gave us a great view of the entire camp.

“It’s beautiful tonight, Inuwa,” I heard her whisper softly into my ear as we sat together.

I didn’t have the words to tell her I agreed. I could see Slate in the middle of the crowd, the shaded-furred Alpha obviously lapping up the attention that the Community gave to him.

At once, I knew that I would never want to be a leader like Slate, with that much attention. I’d rather be a warrior – the cat that stayed to one side, just being loyal, and unwavering.

Below me, the party raged on, and I was happy enough just to look on, watching. I pressed against Renee, permitting someone to touch me for once, and I purred under my breath, ever so softly.

All that it mattered for me that was Renee and I were partying with ourselves – just ourselves. To me, that meant more than anything that the Community could ever offer – or anything.

This is just perfect. Nothing can change that.

Fifty-One - Troubling Thoughts

Two cats. Two different backgrounds. Two different lifestyles they were raised in.

One shared perspective on how the end should eventually be for them both as time went past.

Many common things these two cats share between them, although they don’t know that much.

The first is the caring one from the moorlands, who thinks of others before herself. Her speckled brown fur is naturally sleek, and her amber eyes – closer to the orange side – are round and narrowed. She, the one who looked out for her brother, the one who’s caring, was too much for others, and which is deadly in large doses. Caring is her biggest – and most notable – flaw.

Then there is the other one, who is too oblivious to the fact that the she-cat knows more about him than he thinks – the one that was brought up among the pines, near the Clans. His midnight-black fur is bushy and very dark, and his amber eyes are larger than his counterpart’s. He prefers his own company, or with just one other cat at a time – he despises large groups, and he feels uncomfortable around them, for one. His flaw is socially – he can never fully understand it…

…Even though he wishes otherwise to what he actually ended up getting in life.

These two cats seem very different at first sight. They may seem like they are complete opposites, cats that are not really meant to be together – even as friends. They could be enemies.

But in reality, this is not true. Each of these cats has thoughts which consume them.

Thoughts that consume them in worry and fear. And in some of these thoughts that they end up with are notably similar to one another – very hauntingly similar, in fact.

It all starts with the black cat, and the speckled cat’s brother, a gray tabby with rippling stripes.

These two share an issue – a social issue. One desires more, the other doesn’t really care. They each have had their own struggles, despite the two cats having never met one another.

This is some of the echoes, the thoughts that concern the speckled brown she-car on a daily basis. Although she really cares for her new black friend, she is haunted – her brother’s in him…

The black tom knows nothing about this – it’s her deepest fear, after all. He knows of him, but he doesn’t know the other cat’s worry about him – and how much she meant to him.

He, himself, has his own fears that he worries about, and it has nothing to do with family. In fact, it has nothing to do with his friends – even though he has very few – either: it’s about his social life.

His home in the pines is truly is guardian, and the pines are well reverenced from lands far and wide. It has nothing to do with abundance – it’s all for the Clans that live in this forest.

It’s been such a big deal to this black cat – it always has, and always will be.

Both of these cats have troubling thoughts in their mind, and they do not wish for them to be revealed anytime soon – to any cat, let alone to one another. However, maybe one thing will happen one day that will benefit them both in this field of doubt:

The benefit that they will find their answers that they seek in one another.

Fifty-Two - Stirring Of The Wind

The day after the all-important party, I was finally dismissed from Hiriwa’s den to return to my own. I knew that I wasn’t fully recovered yet – I knew that there were still wounds on my midnight-black pelt – but Hiriwa said that they would heal fine as long as I left them alone.

It was such a relief on my part to finally get released – it wasn’t great to be stuck up in that den while I was in there. To get back into my own nest was a huge relief, especially since that fight.

Renee said that I was bleeding so much, I could’ve died. This worried me greatly, of course.

I fear death, in a way of sorts, even though I know that there is a life afterwards. StarClan, at least, gives me some hope in that aspect – otherwise I don’t think I’d ever want to die.

At the moment, I found myself on the overhang where Renee and I sat upon while we had seen the rest of the Community parting before Slate the night before. Sometimes, I felt as if the Community wasn’t the best place for me… but I didn’t really know what to do at all

I lay down on the overhang, looking down on the rest of camp. It was late afternoon, and a small smattering of cats had started to filter in from early afternoon patrols into camp, dropping prey on the fresh-kill pile, heading into dens, or trotting into Hiriwa’s den with mounds of herbs in their jaws. Communities are nearly not as exciting as Clans, I decided slowly, looking around dully. With the Community, there seemed to be no excitement in it as much as the Clans did. The Clans had rivalry, unlike this place, which preferred peace over anything else, rather than battle.

It all seemed very boring without battle. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of it, it made everything seem a lot more exciting with it around… I shuddered, remembering Chrome’s rather untimely death in battle, and I dipped my head silently as I pictured the sleek-furred tom in my mind.

He didn’t deserve to die like that… It didn’t help that I had seen his death.

I sighed slowly, and slowly made my way down the overhang. More cats were steadily streaming into camp now, their faces uninterested as I swept past them silently. Reaching the camp, I looked out to see a gap in the procession of cats, and I took it as I bolted out before another cat came.

It was such a relief to be outside camp again, despite the fact that I hadn’t been out since my accident. Wind tugged at my dark fur as I moved along, threatening to take me into the air. Slightly shivering with the cold wind, I pressed on, narrowing my eyes as I stepped forward.

It died down again for a moment, and I sat upon a small mound, looking down. No other cat was in sight, and I sighed, feeling the need to be alone for once. I didn’t need Hiriwa – or Copper, for that matter, although she was the Gamma now – swooping over me again. By now, I knew I was well and truly sick of the silver cat’s actions by now, after at least a quarter-moon stuck in that den.

Suddenly, I felt the wind returning, and it was stronger than before. This time, I felt it nearly gust of my feet as it blew fiercely. I shuddered as it stopped suddenly as well, and I slowly stared around.

For some reason, there had been a stirring of the wind just then. And, when I thought about it, it meant my life too – and not just what I had just experienced.

I swear my life is becoming more chaotic with each day’s passing…

Fifty-Three - Future

Sometimes, I wonder what is to happen to me beyond the present that I currently experience.

There is a lot of unexpected things that happen, as I have discovered – and a lot over the past moon, especially since Renee turned up. My life, I supposed, changed when I met her.

I don’t know if it was for good or for worse just yet, but at the moment it looks like it’s in the good – to my relief. I’ve felt that she really has helped me on my journey, although I’m still struggling.

I think it must be a fault in me that’s causing all this. Oh well, not that it really bothers me anyway.

Sometimes, the past leaves bitter marks on me – mental scars. These mental scars, I suppose, define who I am. Of course, these are some of my fears originate – the scars that are on me are these fears – well some of them, anyway. Others are more like moments that have defined me.

It reminds me of the times that I have lost control of all emotion, like I did a lot as a kit, and completely lost control over my whole actions, and I was made to be left alone to calm down. I’ve always had a fiery temper, but as I’ve grown older I’ve learned to curb it, so it’s not a huge issue, not like the gargantuan anger outbursts I had all the time when I was a kit, always over petty things.

I don’t need to remember those now. That’s all behind me, and although I think a lot about the past, I know that I need to set my mind more on what’s going to happen, not what has happened.

Then there is the present – the moment in time which passes for a fleeting second – whatever the shortest amount of time is – before it’s gone into the past too. The past is a large thing, and always increasing, swelling its numbers. There is a lot in the past that I could revisit.

Then there is what is beyond the present, what happens after. There are a lot of things that I wish to achieve later on, and I will never give up trying until I get to some of them.

If you know me fairly well, you’ll know what one of these is going to be – surely.

I suppose Renee is helping towards that cause, and I gratefully thank her for that. She’s been a great companion for me, even a great friend – but now, it seems like she’s more than a friend, after what we’ve been through together in such a short space of time together…

I don’t know if it’s admiration, or something else. But I feel… as if she’s family too, in a way.

I know I’ll return to the Clans eventually, from this Community, which I’m not really enjoying, despite the fact that I feel a little more confident now. All I want to do is to become a warrior.

That’s always been the main goal that I’d aimed towards in life, and it ain’t going to stop now.

The future for me is going to bring many surprises into my life. I just hope that everything that comes towards me will all be for the benefit, and never for a loss at anything.

Fifty-Four - Health and Healing

It took a few more days of recovery before my wounds fully healed over, and I revelled in the delight that my body was back to normal again after so long in doubt. I felt happy – overjoyed to be out of recovery at last. I was so overjoyed, in fact, that I started to feel a bit full of myself.

That meant I was taking a few too much risks than I wouldn’t have normally taken. I’d done a whole lot of stupid things already – well, what Renee had said, anyway – before I nearly attempted to jump off the overhang down into the main camp, which was a fairly large drop in itself.

It was only until Renee nudged me, and asked me what I was doing, that I jolted back to reality.

“What are you doing, Inuwa?” I remember her asking me, her voice scathing. “You really do know that you shouldn’t be jumping off that thing, especially after you’ve just been injured.”

I stared down below, my gaze hazy, where a few Followers were lazing around, before Renee added: “I’m sure you won’t want to end up in the Delta’s den again… not after the fox…”

After that was when I jolted back fully, and I looked down, and fully realized what I was doing. I backed away cautiously, muttering under my breath before springing down the soft, grassy path that led to the main part of the camp, where the patrols got sorted out every day.

I avoided Slate and his group of leaders and trotted straight out of camp as well. I wasn’t in the mood to be ordered what to do on this fine morning especially.

I heard pawsteps behind me as I headed out of camp, venturing into a patch of long grass, where dew was lying off the ends on. Pausing for a moment, I turned around, expecting another cat to be there – Renee, I had already guessed in my head as I turned around, expecting someone –

Surprisingly, there was no cat there. I turned around in all directions, soaking my pelt with dewdrops as I stared around, trying to confirm my speculation that I had already inferenced.

In the end, I decided that another cat had indeed been past – a Community cat as well, by the reek that was now around the patch of grass that I was in. I padded out slowly, then more confidently as I made my way out, before shaking my fur as I got out completely, my dark tail flicking over my back.

I felt nervous. I knew that the scent that I had tasted was familiar, but I just couldn’t pinpoint the exact cat as to which the scent belonged to. I realized, after thinking it over for a little bit, that this was a tomcat – so it couldn’t have been Copper, or Hiriwa – or even Renee, for that matter.

That narrowed my field down a lot. Now, I only had to deduce between the tomcats.

It didn’t help that I didn’t know the Community very well, but I knew – when I tasted the scent again – that I had come across it before, and frequently. It wasn’t Slate, which was for sure…

And that was when it all clicked together, and I took a deep breath in as the scent came back, and a dark face stared in my direction. It didn’t look very friendly – and I feared for the health and healing that I had received in the Community at this very moment.

I shuddered as I took a deep breath in. No… not the Beta… especially not him…

“Why do you always sneak off?” I heard Archie snarl, as he turned to face towards me.

Fifty-Five - Separation

I was silent for a moment, staring at Archie, whose sky-blue eyes were narrowed fiercely as she stared at me. I heard the tom’s claws unsheathe in anger, and I felt myself jump, my fur bristling wildly as I stared around in Archie’s direction. The dark-pointed tom had started laughing at me.

I was furious by his actions, and I felt my claws unsheathe in anger as well.

“Why do you always sneak off?” I heard the Beta repeat. I saw pointy white teeth bare out from the tom’s mouth as he stared at me, and it took all of my willpower to not flinch away. “Half the time, I watch, and see you avoiding us with your friend.” He paused, before repeating: “Why?”

I paused for a moment at this, confused as to why Archie was being so hostile to me…

Then I remembered. Every time when Renee and I had headed out together, I felt a sensation go through me, as if I was being watched. I’d dismissed it without thought, thinking that I was imagining things… when actually, I wasn’t. The thing that I was going through was true… it was not a lie…

“I…” I stammered in reply, still in shock, and not even sure what to say to Archie.

Archie hissed delightfully, and the dark-pointed tom scraped his claws into the dirt, digging up grass as he did so. He then looked back at me, and asked: “That’s not normal for cats to do…”

I stood up straighter at this, infuriated by Archie’s comment. “No cat said that it was ever compulsory,” I retorted, my teeth bared into a snarl. One more insulting word and I…

Archie looked at me with a look of sadness on his face, before he added: “Oh, really?” he mewed, lengthening out each word. “Well then, I should make it compulsory to check through the Alpha first.”

…will fight with you. I finished my thought, and I snarled angrily, blinded by fury. I leapt forward, slashing my paws wildly in mid-air, before I landed back on something with a loud thud.

I heard Archie’s voice mew “What are you –”, but it was cut off as I started to wave my paws around wildly again. I was completely furious, and I was out of control. I didn’t want to stop… I felt as if I needed to beat something up… damage something… to feel all right again in my own mind.

I felt something move below my paws, so I aimed down there, seeing scarlet flashing before my eyes. I also heard shrieking – bloodcurdling shrieking – in the back of my mind, but I ignored that as well. There were more important things to deal with now than just unearthly yowls.

Slowly, the moving started to get less frequent. Then, I heard Archie’s voice again: “What – are – you – doing –” with gaps between the words that the cat spoke. I wondered why…

And in that moment, below my paws, was when the moving below me ceased fully.

I finally felt my mind clear, and I stood up fully, shaking with what had happened. What have I just done…? I thought slowly, turning back to where I supposed that Archie was.

I didn’t see him, so I looked below, and let out a strangled cry as I’d realized what I had done.

I saw a mutilated body where I had just been, a large pool of scarlet surrounding the body. From the patches that weren’t covered with wounds at blood, I could distinguish a pale body, with darker ears, face, legs and tail… At once, I knew I had done something wrong, very wrong…

I looked down at my paws, and I saw scarlet blood pooling around them, and red stuff on my still-unsheathed claws. That was when I realized what I had actually done.

In my fury, I had managed to kill Archie – and in fact, made him look almost unrecognizable.

In that moment, I knew that I couldn’t be part of the Community any longer. I’d done a huge crime, and the only way to prevent it was separation. Without looking back, I turned on Archie’s broken body, and hared across the moor, the news that the Community was no longer my home.

I’ve killed a Community cat, and I know that I’m never going to be forgiven.

Fifty-Six - Everything For You

A crimson sunset streaked through the sky as a soft breeze rustled past nearby. Cooling and refreshing, Renee purred in delight as she felt the breeze go through her fur, trying to calm herself down from the chaos that had been erupting over camp the whole day.

Slate had been especially concerned, and Renee couldn’t blame the tom for his extra concern. Today, two cats had become missing in the Community’s realm, and no cat knew where they were.

One of them was Archie, the Beta. Slate had reported that he had permitted the dark-pointed tom to go out of camp – for an unknown reason – early this morning, and that the tom expected to be back soon afterwards. However, after lunch, Slate had started to become concerned for his Beta, especially that he hadn’t returned – and was forced to do the Beta’s duties himself.

There were a few search patrols out, which Slate and Copper combined had organized. Apart from that, the camp was still as busy as it usually was at this time of day.

Slate had also mentioned that a Follower had also disappeared, but the identity he hadn’t revealed. He also added that he was pretty sure that he knew who the missing Follower was – to stop speculations from certain cats that others had gone missing from the Community.

However, this didn’t stop a whole lot of rumors from flying through the ranks that day.

Renee had seen a few kit-mothers muttering darkly to each other about abhorrent Followers who never listened to rules, and wandered off. She had silently agreed with them – there had been a few Followers over the times – both the first and the second time – who disobeyed rules and left…

“Hey!” There was the voice of a cat yowling, which made Renee look up. “Where’s our Alpha?” A skinny, young ginger-and-brown tom hared into camp, his green eyes wide as he stared around wildly. All of the cats in camp had looked up – not just Renee – at this.

At that moment, Slate came in, the shaded-furred tom’s lighter tail twitching in annoyance. He padded up slowly to the ginger-and-brown tom, and asked: “Well, Myles? What is it?”

The ginger-and-brown cat – Myles – looked a little startled by Slate’s curt response. His tail twitched anxiously as he looked up at his Alpha. “The search patrol found Archie,” he mewed quietly.

The Community held bated breath as Myles announced this. Renee held her breath after this. Slate still looked annoyed by Myles’ response. “You went ahead of the patrol,” he mewed slowly, as he looked around himself slowly. With a jolt, Renee remembered Myles heading out of camp with the search patrol just after sunhigh, their tails flicking in eagerness as they went out.

Myles nodded. “Watson told me to go ahead, my Alpha,” he mewed solemnly. “He wanted you to know the news that I have to say to you.” He paused, before adding: “He also said it’s important.”

Renee heard Slate sniff impatiently. “Fine – tell me Watson’s news!” he demanded angrily.

Myles paused for a moment, and the Community was so silent that she swore she could hear Myles’ breath rattle as he took it in. He let it out as he said three words: “Archie is dead, my Alpha.”

Slate opened his mouth to speak, but he fell silent as a pale ginger-brown tom padded into the camp, with a wiry black she-cat and a broad dark gray tom with him. All three of them had a very mutilated, bloody body over their backs – and it was unrecognizable.

Archie, Renee thought, awestruck. What happened to him? She turned to her side, expecting Inuwa to be there, looking on with his amber eyes round, at Archie’s ravaged body –

But no – Inuwa wasn’t there. Renee looked around slowly, trying to spot a shaggy black pelt among the large group of Community cats, but there was none, as far as she could see.

At once, Renee knew who the second missing cat was, and her heart filled with a sudden dread.

Inuwa, I’d sacrifice everything for you, she thought silently, thankful that no other cat could hear her. Where have you gone…? I just don’t hope you haven’t suffered the same fate as Archie…

Then, she heard Slate’s voice, and what he said made Renee's blood run cold. The shaded-furred tom had sniffed over Archie’s body, and said: “The other missing cat’s stench is all over Archie’s body.”

Fifty-Seven - Slow Down

I hared over the moor as I ran away from where I had brutally murdered Archie, not wanting to be caught by the cats that were in the Community. My fur bushed out in all directions, slowing me down – I was really scared. I didn’t intentionally mean to kill Archie… it was all an accident…

I just… lost all control. Lost all control of my body when Archie insulted me.

If I had to tell the truth, I was slightly mortified over the whole incident. I hadn’t had an angry outburst in moons, and I knew that this was definitely the worst that I had committed. I don’t know if I’d ever forgive myself for killing another cat – honestly.

I ran, not slowing down, not relenting. Wind whipped into my face, and I had to narrow my eyes to see properly. Everything rushed past me as I ran, everything a blue as it went past.

Slowly, my legs started to ache, and I was forced to slow down. Eventually, when I was sure the Community wouldn’t find me anymore, I skidded to a halt, and my flanks started burning as I fought for breath. I looked around slowly, still panting heavily, taking in my new surroundings.

I was still on the moor, but there was a shadowy shape in the distance that indicated that there could be a forest nearby. Here, the moor seemed to have a few more nooks and crannies than the wide, slightly hilly place where the Community settles. The grass was patchier and lighter, too.

It was different here, too. It wasn’t so populated – I could smell cat, but only a few scents. I noted that there were two different ones – one was stale, however, the other was –

“I’ve never seen you before.” A husky voice sounded from behind me, and I whirled around.

Behind me was a she-cat with fur that was a dark shade of a golden-orange colour. Her reasonably small frame was compact, and her green-blue eyes were small and round.

“Of course you haven’t seen me before,” I mewed gruffly. “I’ve just run away from –”

“The Community?” the she-cat inferenced, her tail flicking slightly from side to side. “Of course. I’ve never been a part of that thing. Apparently, they seem nice, but not really.” She shrugged.

I paused for a moment, thinking about what to say. “How do you know all this stuff?”

The she-cat shrugged again. “My mate used to be part of the Community…” she sighed softly. “He ran away from them. But if you mention them to him… he goes psycho, so don’t mention it.” Her tail flicked once, before she added: “I’m Marley. Who are you, by any chance?”

I shuffled my paws nervously. “Inuwa,” I mumbled into my chest fur, feeling nervous. I wasn’t in a good state, not since I had killed Archie… Then, I realized that I still had scarlet blood on my paws – which was now dried – and I started to lick it off hurriedly, hoping Marley wouldn’t notice.

Unfortunately, she did. Her eyes rounded, and she stepped forward. “What’s that on your paws?”

I felt myself redden, now feeling embarrassed with myself. “I…” I mumbled, ashamed, before I proceeded to mumbling inaudible things under my breath that even I did not know.

Marley’s tail flicked in the direction of my mouth. “Slow down,” I heard her whisper in her husky voice. “Save it for later. Look, come with me for a while, and you can tell me everything, Inuwa.”

I submitted to Marley’s argument, and followed the golden-red she-cat as she headed in the direction of the shadows in the distance. Now, all I could wonder was as if Marley was actually telling the entire truth in the first place – about everything that she had said.

Fifty-Eight - Heartfelt Apology

It was a fine day on the moor, the shadows of the small obstacles that were on it small and nearly unnoticeable. The speckled brown cat padded cautiously over the springy grass, glaring around nervously onto the moor, her pawsteps delicate as she stepped over it.

She seemed more relieved with each pawstep she took, her pawsteps slowly becoming more confident. Soon, she was padding along at a rather fast pace, her amber eyes narrowed.

Pausing at a small mound, the she-cat sniffed around it. Her tail twitched once, as she noticed a gap in the side, the outside of it borders by small rocks and pebbles. At this, she hesitated.

Eventually, she put one paw forward, and stuck her head slowly inside the small cleft.

As she did so, an echo filled her head. The voice that she could hear sounded familiar…

At first, she couldn’t make out what it said. The voice that she heard sounded angry and annoyed at the same time – but she couldn’t really tell. It took a while for her to make out what the voice said.

Eventually, she got the message. A cat was yowling at her in her mind. She swore that she heard it say: “Aspie! You should be looking in the cat’s eye as you speak to them. Don’t look away – please!”

A vision swam in front of the she-cat’s eyes, and she found herself sitting near a cat that looked very familiar to her. It was different now – she found herself looking at gray paws that were not her own, and out of the corner of her eye the she-cat looked furious, her amber eyes narrowed to slits.

Suddenly, the she-cat knew what was going on in this whole incident.

She wasn’t looking through her own eyes anymore. She now realized who the speckled brown she-cat was in the distance – that was herself. But then – who was she, then? Who was the cat that she was trapped in a different body with, one that seemed… different than usual?

Then, it finally clicked with her. If she was a gray cat, who struggled to look others in the eye…

…She knew who she was now. She was her brother – Aspie – just trapped in his body.

“I’m – I’m sorry,” she was forced to mumble, still looking at the ground. “I just – find it very uncomfortable to look other cats in the eye, you see. Renee, please, you need to –”

“It’s not natural for a cat, Aspie, to do that,” the vision of the she-cat retorted, and the she-cat inside of Aspie’s body flinched as she realized how harsh her words came out. She felt herself back away in fear and shock, and she looked up, looking at the brown she-cat’s chin.

The cat inside felt broken. “Please, no more,” it muttered, before it hared away, the cat being trapped in the vision being carried along with it. The cat’s vision was blurred with tears…

…And then slowly, the vision returned to black, before emerging back into the place before.

The speckled she-cat stuck her head outside the cleft, feeling different now. She knew, finally, that she really had done wrong, and where she had found out it hurt.

Now, she could truly pledge a heartfelt apology towards Aspie, and apologize for everything.

Fifty-Nine - Challenged

I followed Marley for a little while, until we reached a medium-sized rise in the moor. We had gotten closer to the forest as we have travelled, and I could see the trees more clearly now than I could before. At this rise, Marley flicked her tail for me to stay where I was.

“I need to warn my mate about your arrival,” she announced, her voice proper.

I cocked my head at this; a little bit curious as to why Marley’s mate had to know about my arrival. I don’t get it. Even though I’m not normal, cats don’t do that. Why does he?

“He goes psycho if he isn’t,” Marley added, her blue-green eyes wide. “I like routine, so it’s all good with me. Don’t wander off, will you?” Then, Marley disappeared into a hole in the rise we were at.

I was curious for a moment, and then I pricked my ears as I heard Marley’s naturally husky voice softly whispering in the background: “We’ve got visitors, my love.”

There was a shuffling from inside the den, before I heard a deep voice mew slowly: “Visitors?” There was the noise of claws scraping along the ground, before the second cat added: “Marley, I was not aware that we were having… um, visitors…” His voice trailed off, and Marley let out a sigh.

“It was unexpected, Aspie… I’m sorry; I wouldn’t usually do this to you.”

The second cat – obviously named Aspie, snorted angrily. “I don’t want to see the visitor,” he grunted angrily. “This is too soon, Marley, too soon. Change is happening too soon.”

I flinched at the cat’s words, because these – remarkably – reminded me a lot of myself. I knew I didn’t like change overly much, but this was a bigger reaction than I did.

“Come out when you’re ready then,” I heard Marley sigh, and before long, I saw a flicker of golden-orange as Marley emerged from the hole again, her tail flicking slightly in annoyance.

“I apologize, Inuwa,” she mewed softly, her head lowered to the ground. “My mate Aspie is sometimes uncomfortable around over cats… he’s never understood them very well…” She sighed sadly, and then added: “Whatever you do, do not mention the Community to him. He hates it a lot, and he has a lot of bad memories from them. He’ll get very upset, too – so please don’t.”

I nodded in understanding, taking in what Marley said, and still not meeting her gaze. Marley herself didn’t seem to notice, the she-cat’s eyes were now aimed in the direction of the hole – she was obviously trying to see if Aspie would come out, and see me – well, if he wanted to, anyway.

I personally didn’t think that he would want to come out, but I didn’t tell Marley that.

Marley then drifted off again, swooping around nearby, her tail flicking as she left me alone. In this moment on my own, where I could think clearly, I thought about this Aspie.

To me, it seemed as if he was challenged in the same way that I was in – socially. It seemed like he was the same as me in that aspect – and the thought warmed me, made me feel better.

It finally seemed like I had found a cat that was just like me. And there was only one thing I could say to that, in my own perspective.

And that thing was that it was perfect.

Sixty - Exhaustion

It took a while for Marley to realize that convincing Aspie at that particular point in time wasn’t going to work at all, so eventually, the two of us wandered off too hunt on the moor. By now, it was a fair way after sunhigh, and my stomach was rumbling with hunger as we went off.

We went off hunting for a while on the barren landscape, scenting off prey by ourselves. Marley seemed a little bit shifty: on the other paw, I was a little bit tired with everything.

Mainly tired about the Community – even though I had left it behind now – but mainly, it wasn’t to do with my mind. It was mainly to do with my body in itself.

The run had seemed now to have taken the wind out of me, and my muscles ached. My pawsteps had turned sluggish as I padded along, and I felt weak. I didn’t want to do much anymore.

I tried to hunt as well, but I kept on getting distracted, so each morsel that I tried to catch ended up running away from me. Eventually, Marley sighed as she realized that I was distracted.

“We’ve got enough prey anyway,” she sighed in defeat, after looking at me for a while. A couple of rabbits – both dead – were at the she-cat’s paws as she spoke. “Let’s head back, and see if Aspie’s convinced now – do you mind carrying one please, if you’re up to it?”

“Fine,” I muttered weakly, “as long as it’s the smaller rabbit… I’m really tired…”

“Not surprised after you ran away from that Community,” Marley rumbled, her tail flicking delightedly. “That’s a fair way away, mind you.” She then passed over the smaller rabbit, before fixing the bigger one in her jaws before she headed off, padding forward at a slow pace.

I followed behind Marley, almost tripping over my paws in tiredness, and nearly dropping the rabbit a couple of times as well. My eyelids were drooping by the time we returned to the rise.

A gray cat was outside the rock at this point, and it was gazing intently at the sunset that had started to form on the horizon. When I approached, it slowly registered to me that this cat was a tabby, and he had long, dark, rippling stripes that seemed to have a blueish tinge to them. His pelt was unusually clean, and from the corner of the tom’s large eyes, I noticed that they were blue-green.

Marley dropped her rabbit swiftly by the tom, before moving away. Hesitantly, I lowered mine to the ground too, before moving over to the cleft in the rise, where Marley was sitting.

“That’s Aspie,” she whispered into my ear as I neared. “Don’t bother him while he’s watching the sunset – and the sunrise, for that matter, when morning comes. He hates being disturbed.”

I nodded, only to yawn as a wave of tiredness hit me with a pang. “I need –” I muttered, as my mouth stretched wide open, and my eyes closed for a moment. It was hard to open them again.

“Go into my nest,” Marley whispered. “You can guess which one it is. It’s in the cleft.”

I nodded, not really paying attention, before padding in, my vision hazy. I followed Marley’s scent, until I reached a nest that reeked of her scent, before I collapsed into it.

I fell asleep as soon as I got into it, purely because of exhaustion from everything.

Sixty-One - Accuracy

Renee froze, her paws rooted to the ground in shock. She refused to believe what Watson had said about the cat that was supposedly Archie’s killer. She wouldn’t believe it until she saw it herself.

Everything seemed to fall into place, if this had happened: Inuwa heading out of camp, with Archie apparently heading out close behind… Archie then going missing – and maybe Inuwa, too… and then Archie being found dead, his body broken, with the second cat – the cat that killed Archie – gone.

In that time, Slate had started sniffing around his Beta’s body – well, former Beta now, Renee thought wryly – with his tail flicking anxiously. The shaded-furred tom looked up, to where Copper and Hiriwa were standing in shock, both she-cats’ blue eyes round with shock. He then padded over to them, and they gathered, where Shade muttered something loudly so that every cat heard:

“That cat who came with Renee – remember him? Inuwa, I think his name was, if I’m correct…” Copper and Hiriwa nodded with assent, before Slate continued: “That’s his scent all over his body.”

Copper and Hiriwa themselves shared a look, before turning back to Slate. Then, both cats proceeded to moving over to Archie’s body, then sniffing it cautiously.

Renee’s blood ran even colder at this, the speckled she-cat hoping in her head that all of this about Inuwa wasn’t true at all. She didn’t believe a word of it – at all. She shook her head slowly.

Eventually, both she-cats’ looked up, and Slate looked at them accusingly. “Well?” he mewed sharply. “Do you believe me now? You looked rather doubtful before….”

Copper and Hiriwa backed away cautiously. “Yes, Alpha…” they both muttered in unison, “that’s his scent… but I just don’t believe, from his time in the medicine den, that he’d do such a thing…”

Renee backed away, shocked and slightly disturbed. So it’s true… she thought in disbelief. She didn’t want to believe it… she didn’t have to believe it, even… but something told her that they were right.

Inuwa had killed Archie. And Renee felt slightly hurt by this revelation of murder.

While Slate had now crouched by Archie’s body, with Hiriwa, Copper, and the search party that had found the tom beside him, Renee retreated off back to her den. She didn’t want to be out here anymore, not after what had just happened, what had just been revealed.

Scampering up onto the ledge, she didn’t even look at the den beside hers, which was Inuwa’s. Shaking slightly, Renee barrelled through the entrance to her den, and sat down, shaking.

Her head sunk down as she laid down into her heather-sprigged nest, her tail whisking over the shrubby leaves that lined her nest. She didn’t know what to do at all – with everything.

So much had happened, and Renee was torn by it all. She knew that she didn’t want to say anything – well, not yet anyway. She didn’t want to believe what Slate had said – but really…

…Renee knew that Slate was right, although she’d never admit to that. She knew that the shaded-furred tom was definitely accurate – and that piece of information tore her apart.

Oh, Inuwa… she thought sadly, lowering her head until it touched the nest. …How could you do this? Now… I don’t know how easy it is for me to trust you as much as I did anymore.

Sixty-Two - Irregular Orbit

In society, there are many different types of cats, and each has their own traits. They are all unique, they all want to be a part of it – but only a few can be the best of the best, the most superior.

Only the most popular cats – the best in society – will ever achieve this highly sought-after rank.

The others are mainly followers, the ones that are in sync with everything. They may not be that great at stuff, but at least they’re one to be with others – and that’s what gets them by.

And then… there are the cats that don’t really seem to fit into society at all.

The ones that stay away, it seems, fall into this group of cats. Others are just plain weird – some of them wish they weren’t even in that situation – and they’re left out because of it.

They wonder why, all the time, why they aren’t in the full part of society, but they are powerless to stop it. Here, it’s either work your way, up or staying at the bottom. There is no other choice.

The Clans are one group that sometimes judges this rule a little bit when it comes to the Season’s End, but sometimes they don’t realize – and sometimes, it’s not entirely their fault. There are lots of rumors that go around the loners and rogues about how Clan leaders know who to choose for the Clans every Season’s End. And for some reason, most of these choices were good choices.

Some cats claim that the leaders are spoken to by spirits, but there’s never been a cite to say that this was true. Others say it’s just their amazing skills – but that’s doubted even more.

For whatever reason they have, they always seem to ignore the cats whose brains are wired differently to the rest of them. No cat knows why – and no cat seems to care.

This is one reason why our main character has been struggling so much. It’s not because he doesn’t want to, or doesn’t try. The logic in it is that it’s something that’s uncontrollable.

He’s not the only one that has this problem too. He doesn’t know that he is – definitely – not alone.

There are others that he’s met that are like him, although they are worse off than he will ever be. He doesn’t realize how lucky he is – for him, it isn’t that severe: he could almost be… normal.

But for the other cat, he will never be normal. Does he care about that at all? No – he doesn’t really realize the difference, and thinks that a lot of cats are similar to him – sadly.

Sometimes, these are referred to as ‘orbits’ in places where there are no groups. They say that the cats that are normal have ‘regular’ orbits – that is to say, they are normal. They are either the leaders of society, or the followers – they aren’t anything else. They’re just… the same.

But all these outsiders – the eccentric cats – even if they are accepted, they’ll always be different.

They are sometimes called as having irregular orbits – but these cats don’t mind. Half of them don’t even care about it – but some do react violently to it, for who knows why.

But for the others that want to get into something… it doesn’t hurt at all, either.

All it does is increase their persistence, and it ends up helping them for the better, really.

Sixty-Three - Cold Embrace

The next few days that passed by came extremely slowly for Renee. She found it painful all the time, especially since the Community had refused to relent the case of Archie’s death too quickly.

Slate, however, was surprisingly quick to announce his new Delta – a tom called Ora who had a little bit of an attitude. Renee didn’t trust the brown-and-black tom, who had been a young Follower when she had been born into the Community – but it was obvious that Slate did.

Three sunrises had passed since Archie’s murder, and Inuwa’s disappearance. Since then, Slate had been ordering Copper and Hiriwa on overdrive, while Ora often stared smugly at the new Beta and Gamma: as he was the Delta not much of the focus was on him, so he didn’t get bothered much.

However, every time that a search patrol for Inuwa was mentioned, the speckled she-cat felt herself feel sick. She didn’t want this for Inuwa – she’d hoped that he’d fled away from this terrible place.

With a pang, in that moment, she realized that she’d made the wrong decision in the first place.

She should’ve let Inuwa stay in the pine forest, where he was more comfortable. Renee knew that the dark tom still missed his home – due to the fact that he was a little bit slow, he didn’t have great speed, and struggled to catch large prey. The forest did suit him better.

Renee shuddered slowly as she gasped, grabbing a snatch of air as her breath rattled in her throat.

It was night at the moment, and Renee felt as the cool air filed into her den. She wished that the air wasn’t so chilly as it was – it was freezing. Renee shivered in her nest and rolled over.

All night she’d been kept awake, by fear that Inuwa would get in trouble with the Community if he returned. And in truth, that was what would happen to him if he did return to them.

She knew that the Community would not accept a killer – especially a cat that had killed one of their own. At the revival of this thought, it chilled Renee to the bone, making her freeze cold.

Literally and emotionally, she felt as if she was trapped inside herself. She didn’t know what to do.

There was no way that Renee could abandon Inuwa – especially not now. She knew that she was never exactly popular in the Community – and this, if she left again, would be the second time she had left the Community’s grasp. She knew that her loyalty had always wavered to it.

At that moment, she felt completely restless. Another cold wind blustered into the den, and she didn’t flinch as she felt it rush past her. Renee felt as if she could overcome everything.

And she wasn’t going to leave Inuwa. And in that moment, she knew what to do.

Renee ventured out into the cold. The camp was quiet, as it usually was at night. Renee took a deep breath as she looked around, knowing only what she knew, and nothing else about it.

This is truly the last goodbye… I will never stay at this place again. It really is bad…

And as she let the cold embrace her, Renee turned her back on the Community’s camp. She hesitated, before she shot out the entrance and into the night, never to be seen again…

…well, never to be seen again by the Community, at least. She knew she was gone forever.

Sixty-Four - Frost

A whistling wind echoed in my ears as I came to, even though my eyes were still shut. My fur was fluffed up, even though I felt fairly warm: the wind that had rushed passed me was freezing cold. I could sense light threatening to shine in my eyes, and a heard a tell-tale pitter-patter on the ground that indicated that I was not the only cat around this place. I curled up even tighter at this.

Then, I heard a voice: “Brr, it’s freezing today! This wind is – oh, why has this come, at –”

I vaguely recognized Marley’s voice, and then I remembered vaguely where I was. I remembered fleeing from the Community after my ‘accident’, and eventually falling asleep on my paws. I realized that I must’ve still been there – with her and her mate, Aspie, in their little den in the cleft…

A deep voice replied: “Sssh, Marley! You know I have to watch the sunrise!”

I guessed that this was Aspie, as I hadn’t heard the tom speak much. However, from their first small encounter, I felt strangely… surreal with Aspie, as if we were similar in some way…

…Then I remembered the thought that I had about us sharing a condition, a condition that no other cat – as far as I knew – had. I rolled over in my nest and slowly blinked open my eyes as I faced a dark wall. My ears flicked in the direction of the noise, as I listened to the conversation outside.

I heard Marley grumble: “Fine, Aspie… do whatever you want, then…” before I heard more pawsteps coming in my direction, and I guessed that Marley was coming back inside the den again.

I rolled over again slowly, and saw the ginger-golden she-cat flick past in the corner of my vision. The she-cat’s slightly frizzy pelt was ruffled, and I guessed that it was caused by the freezing winds that had been blowing into the den. She saw me looking at her, and she paused for a moment, gaping.

Then, she added: “Inuwa! I didn’t know that you were awake… are you all right there? You were asleep for the whole day yesterday, so I was starting to get a little bit concerned.”

I’ve been asleep for over a day? I thought hazily, my head spinning. “You don’t have to care for me so much…” I complained, but my words came out all funny, as all the sounds came out too long.

Marley shrugged. “I need to show good hospitality: I imagine you’ll move on soon enough,” she purred. “Now, Aspie’s out watching the sunrise, so don’t disturb him, okay? I went outside, and he told me off for muttering at myself.” Marley shook her head slowly before slouching off to the other end of the den, her tail lowered as she padded over there, her paws dragging over the ground.

As Marley moved off, I scuttled out of my nest, feeling a little bit better about myself. Another blustery wind thundered into the den, and as it receded I looked out through the entrance.

I gasped in surprise – not as Aspie’s unusual habit, but something else that I had seen.

A large blanket of white – not thick, it seemed like that it was just on the grass – was the expanse of the area in front of me as I looked out. It didn’t look like snow, which I had seen in the pine forest – it seemed too thin of a layer to be that. I stared at it, confused by all the white things.

“It’s frost,” I heard Marley whisper from behind me. “Comes up if the weather’s cold at night…”

I nodded vaguely, half expecting Renee to appear on the moorside as I stared into the frost’s white expanse. But it never came – so I just stared out onto the frost, one small tear trickling down my cheek.

Sixty-Five - A Moment In Time

“Why do you always sneak off?” asked the dark-pointed tom, as he turned up from behind a bush, staring out onto the clear moor. The cat that he was pursuing – that weird, black tom that really didn’t go much up to his Alpha – was nearby, and the tom saw his target move in his direction.

He expected the tom to speak after he had pursued him, but he didn’t. There was no reply.

Annoyed, he unsheathed his claws, his dark tail flicking. He wanted a reply from this cat. Laughing coldly without thinking, the tom cackled, thinking of how happy Slate would be if he found out this information about this cat. He didn’t care for his name – he didn’t need to know.

As the other cat’s claws unsheathed as well, he asked again: “Why do you always sneak off?” He paused, thinking about what else to add, before he found something good. There, he added: “Half the time, I watch, and see you avoiding us with your friend.”

He remembered the cat that he always hung out with – not that he had known her before. All that he knew was that she was a traitor for leaving the Community in the first instance.

He believed that she never should’ve returned. But Vlam had shown her justice to them when she was Alpha, and she let them both in. If he was Alpha, he would’ve disagreed – shut them down.

“Why?” he added, for extra effect, getting ready to snarl at the cat. He wanted an answer. He wanted it now. He didn’t want to wait any longer. He’d had enough of everything.

Then slowly, he heard the other cat stammer. The black cat’s face was blank, and his amber eyes were fixed on the ground. His mouth hung open as he said quietly: “I…”

The dark-pointed cat knew that this wasn’t a normal reaction. He’d been in Communities all his life, even though he hadn’t been in this Community for nearly as long as his previous one.

He hissed happily. He was pleased with this. This was evidence he could use against this cat. In delight, he scraped his claws across the ground – he couldn’t help himself. He then proceeded to seize large clumps of grass in his claws. He looked up to see his victim backing away cautiously.

He’s scared. My plan’s working! he thought at this, pleased. “That’s not normal for cats to do,” he mocked tauntingly, hoping that the next stage in his plan would work.

He wanted to chase him off. He’d been waiting days for this moment, and he wasn’t going to let it slip away. He didn’t want him to be in the Community, because he was a weirdo.

Then, the other cat retaliated: “No cat said that it was ever compulsory.” His amber gaze burned as he stared at my chest, and for once the dark-pointed cat knew that he had a fair point. He slumped, pretending to be sad.

Then, he mewed slowly, just so that could push him to the limit: “Oh, really? Well then, I should make it compulsory to check through the Alpha first.” He shrugged nonchalantly along with this.

At this, the other cat snarled, and lunged forward, and he knew that he’d got the reaction he wanted. But suddenly, he felt a weight on him, and many claws – many fires – springing up on him.

“What are you –” he gasped, surprised. He never expected this, of anything…

The fires continued to erupt over him, the weight on him, and he didn’t know what to do. Scarlet flashed before his eyes like blood, and he didn’t know what was going on.

Hi strength was weakening too. He yowled in pain from the many fires, and he knew something was up with him. There was something very, very wrong with him at the moment.

“What – are – you – doing –” he gasped, surprised.

And in that moment in time, he felt his vision darken from scarlet to black and he knew nothing more.

Sixty-Six - Dangerous Territory

It was still pitch black outside when Renee finally emerged from the furthest extent to that the Community visited and looked over, and when she crossed that line, she was instantly relieved.

After what had happened to her, Renee was scarred in all belief in the Community. She’d already changed her assumptions on it completely, and she knew that there was no chance of her ever returning there. The damage had been dealt too many times for her to cope with it now.

She looked back for a moment, craning her neck to see if any cat had followed her, but she looked back in front of her almost at once. It was all too much to bear at this moment for her. She knew that she didn’t want to know the Community anymore.

Renee’s eyes narrowed in the darkness as she padded forward, everything she saw being shadows. A sliver of moon was above her – the smallest sliver, so she didn’t have great visibility. She ended up often tripping over herself in the dark, and over small boulders and stuff in the way.

After a couple of times when she had fallen over, and slowly gotten back on her paws, she felt a little bruised and injured after suffering a few bumps. She didn’t want this to put her off finding Inuwa…

…wherever the tom was, and Renee knew that she had no idea where he may have gone.

However, after the third time she had tripped over a boulder in the near pitch-black darkness, she gave up. Sprawled uncomfortably across the ground, all Renee wanted at that moment was to curl up in a ball, and pretend none of this had ever happened. She tried to imagine herself, still in the Community with Inuwa, still living without fear, not hurting all over from tripping over…

But all that did was make Renee hurt more – this time on the inside. It wasn’t helping at all. She was scarred, and Renee knew it. At the moment, she just wanted to fall into a pit of blackness, and hope that the pain that she was in would stop. She felt crushed, betrayed by everything.

That was when the tears started to well up in her eyes, for everything. Everything she’d done…

She finally knew Aspie’s pain when it came to the Community. Renee knew from when she was young, her gray tabby brother had hated it constantly – and now she knew why. She felt as if she could finally relate to him, in a way that she could never do so before to him…

…And in that moment, Renee knew that if Aspie was by her side at this very moment, she could finally say sorry to him. For judging him, trying to correct him. With Inuwa, and everything she had experienced, she truly realized that this was all beyond the tom’s control – like Inuwa.

The tears also started to slip down her face as she thought: Aspie… I’m so, so sorry for everything…

Renee felt her eyelids close at this, feeling the warm liquid of tears that was around her face. The last thought that she remembered before her vision went completely black was her relief.

At least I’m out of that territory… that dangerous territory of the Community’s…

Sixty-Seven - Boundaries

After a few days, I felt completely recovered, and the few scratches that Archie had managed to give me were – by now – well healed over. Marley had continued to show kind hospitality to me, and I was touched by that. Meanwhile, Aspie had continued to ignore me – and he seemed grumpy.

I’d asked Marley why Aspie was ignoring me, and Marley had simply laughed when I asked the question. Her tail flicked eagerly as she mewed: “Maybe it’s because of your unexpected arrival.”

I still shrugged after this, not really getting it. “But… I’ve been here for a while now… I thought he –”

Marley flicked his tail across my back. “He holds grudges,” she mewed softly. “He doesn’t forgive very easy. Just leave him alone – it takes a lot of time for him to forgive others, all right?”

I’d nodded at this, and proceeded to keep my distance away from Aspie after this. He’d left me alone, much a relief as to what Marley said about the whole incident, as it was a little confusing.

It had become a little bit lonely after a while, so I had become disappointed after this.

At the moment, I found myself outside the cleft that Marley and Aspie called their home, on the top of their small rise. It was late afternoon, and I could hear Aspie complaining loudly to Marley – they were both nearby, outside the entrance – about the importance of watching the sunset.

“You know, Marley, that I don’t like eating when I watched the sunset,” Aspie whined, looking at Marley’s paws. The gray tom’s tail was flicking wildly, and I could tell that his claws were out.

Marley didn’t look very pleased with Aspie. “Sometimes, change can be a good thing, Aspie…” she whispered. “It’s a little like your sunset. Do you complain when the sky turns from blue to black?”

Aspie looked defeated after this, and stalked away from Marley in frustration. Marley herself looked at Aspie for a moment – who had now reared on his hind legs to see if the sky had started changing colours yet – before turning around, and going out onto the moor. I guessed that the ginger-golden she-cat was just going hunting, so I stayed where I was as I watched her head out.

The dot that was Marley headed off into the distance, as far as I could see. Eventually, she was gone, just as some yellow was hinted on the horizon. I turned to see Aspie behind me, staring intensely at this yellow streak as if it was something that he had never seen before in his life.

Then I saw another dot coming from another direction, and I froze as I saw it.

This dot was moving slower than the dot that had been Marley’s – and I was sure that this was a different cat. Slowly, it came closer, and closer to me, and my muscles bunched up in apprehension.

What if this cat’s an enemy? A predator? Oh, that would be terrible for everyone…

Nut this cat wasn’t an enemy at all, I realized, as the cat came up to me. Their amber eyes showed a sign of relief as they met mine for a second, before I looked away. “Inuwa…”

“You escaped from the Community’s boundaries?” I mewed, surprised, as I shot a look back at Aspie.

The other cat didn’t look in the direction that I had turned in, as they mewed: “I have worried about you, Inuwa. Now, can you tell me everything that happened? Everything about…”

I knew what they were going to say, and I sighed in defeat, murmuring softly: “Okay… let’s talk.”

Sixty-Eight - Unsettling Revelations

As I speak, the she-cat turns back to me, and pads up to the top of the rise to face me. Amber eyes flash at my forehead as she sits down right in front of me, staring at me accusingly.

Speak. Tell me what you did,” she mews at me, her tone dark. I flinch away in surprise.

After that, I’m half-expecting her to trail back across the moor, streak back to the Community, and tell Slate for what happened. My blood has frozen cold, and I don’t what to do. It feels like I want to move, but I cannot lift a paw to do anything for anyone. However, I knew I had to tell someone.

So that was what I ended up doing to this cat – and I was sure I wouldn’t have told any cat. Any cat – but her, as she was the only cat that had ever truly touched me in my life – mentally.

“It was an accident,” I mewed softly, starting after I felt a wave of intense fear course through, causing me to nearly keep my mouth shut. “I didn’t mean to kill him, honestly…”

I watched as the she-cat’s eyes narrowed, her specked tail twitching in an agitated fashion in the fading sunset light. “And how can killing a cat be an accident, Inuwa? Tell me that.”

I felt hurt after that comment. She didn’t understand what was going on in my mind – only in hers. Annoyed, I shuffled my paws, and replied: “I… lost control. Over everything… sometimes, my body just flies into a sudden rage, and I can’t remember anything… except… what happens afterwards.”

Unfortunately for me, the speckled she-cat still looked unconvinced. “Really? Prove it, Inuwa.”

I gulped after this. I could remember a little bit about the whole incident. The words rushed out before I could think about them properly. “Archie came after me when I headed out of camp,” I mewed. “He started asking me questions why I always snuck away from Alpha every time I wanted to head out of camp, and I felt intimidated. He then started laughing at me, saying that it wasn’t normal for cats to avoid Alpha, and I said that it was never compulsory to do so.”

As I spoke, I slowly noticed that the she-cat who was listening to me’s eyes were round like amber moons. She fidgeted uncomfortably. “He said that, did he?” she mewed hoarsely, her mouth open.

Even though I sucked at it, I knew that this had made an impact, judging by what now seemed like a very strained look on her face. “What happened after then?” she asked me, her tail twitching.

I took a deep breath. “He told me that he’d tell Alpha to make going past him compulsory,” I admitted. “And that was when… I lost control. Lost control of myself… and I killed him.”

She didn’t reply. She was bust looking over the hill, While we had talked, night had fallen, and the sunset had gone. Stars now dotted the sky, and there was no moon – just shadows.

Aspie had come up the hill, and was now staring – evidently open-mouthed – at the she-cat. I heard his deep voice say, with a touch of hoarseness in it: “Renee? Is that you?”

And in that moment, I realized that more unsettling revelations were going to occur before I settled down that night. I wondered how Aspie and Renee could’ve possibly known each other.

And then, I remembered Renee’s first words to me, all those days ago, and I suddenly knew.

I have a brother that was a little awkward socially, too. But he ran away…

Aspie and Renee were littermates.

Sixty-Nine - Shattered

Many thoughts were whirling through Renee’s head – thoughts that were making her head spin dangerously. Sometimes, she wished that she hadn’t left the Community, just so she could live without what she had just found out. But to her, Inuwa was more important than all of this.

Archie had brought some of his death upon himself – it wasn’t entirely Inuwa’s fault.

And now… Aspie had returned to her. After so long they had been separate, he had returned.

Aspie was staring at me curiously, his large, round blue-green eyes seeming even rounder than Renee had ever seen them, while in the corner of her eye, she could also see Inuwa gaping, evidently surprised about what had just happened between them. She couldn’t believe it either.

“…Yea, Aspie,” Renee mewed softly under her breath. “It is me. Renee. Your sister.”

Aspie looked a little bit miffed, while Inuwa padded slowly down the rise, still shooting a very accusing look at both cats as he did so, before looking away and trudging off.

Both of them were silent for a moment, and they were both looking at the ground. Finally, Aspie looked up, and spoke: “So you’ve finally gone after me. I thought you might… but I thought –”

“I would’ve gone after you sooner?” Renee guessed. After this, a feeling of guilt started to hang inside her, seeming to drag her down the longer she kept it inside of her.

The truth was, she had almost gone after Aspie the time he had left the Community. That was one of the reasons why she had followed Inuwa in the first place – so she wouldn’t lose him.

After all, Renee had vowed what seemed like moons ago that she wouldn’t make the same mistakes with Inuwa as she had with Aspie. It hadn’t been perfect, but… she’d tried to keep with it.

No cat was ever perfect, after all. Renee couldn’t let herself forget that. Now, as Aspie had appeared in her life once more, it seemed like she’d been given a second chance at Aspie.

And she wasn’t going to waste it after the first time she had let him slipped away from her.

It took her a while to say the words, and when they did come out; Renee swore to herself that they sounded high-pitched, and strange to her ears. “…There’s something I have to tell you, Aspie,” she murmured softly, avoiding his gaze. She felt really uncomfortable right now.

Aspie, on the other paw, looked stiff after Renee had announced this. “…What is it?” he mewed cautiously, his broad head swinging from side to side slowly, his paw pressing against the ground.

Renee looked up at this. “I’m sorry. Sorry for everything I did to you in the Community all those moons ago,” she whispered. “Over the past few days, I’ve only just realized how you may feel.” A lump arose in her throat as she said this, and tears threatened to well up in her eyes, but she stayed strong, her head raised in confidence. “I didn’t mean it, Aspie, honestly… forgive me…”

She felt terrible about what she’d done, and there was no way that Renee could change it now. Aspie’s gaze was soft, but he simply nodded curtly, before looking off once more.

Renee wished she was as confident as Aspie looked – he looked better. But inside of her, she was shattered. Shattered physically, shattered mentally, and shattered emotionally…

…All Renee wanted to do was to just let all this sadness away from her, to relieve her of everything.

Seventy - Bitter Silence

Two sunrises had passed since Renee had come to Aspie, Marley and I in our small cleft in the hill, and since that time I had become a little bit more relieved about the whole incident.

Renee had confessed to me the day after she had come that she ran away because she cared about me, and not because she was going to go back to the Community and report her – ‘especially not after what you told me about Archie’, she’d mentioned in her little spiel.

“I never would’ve thought that stupid Beta would’ve done such a thing!” she had hissed, her tail lashing. “Vlam’s knowledge of future leaders must’ve been appalling back them!” After that, she had raged as she went off, leaving me to stare curiously at her backside as she drifted across the moor.

If truth was to be told, I had no idea why Renee had reacted to Archie in the first place.

Anyway, as far as I am concerned, I don’t think we – Renee and I – will be staying here for much longer. There’s been a few feuds going around – all of them being between Renee and Marley, apparently. That was what I heard Marley saying, anyway, to Aspie just now, at sunhigh.

The ginger-golden she-cat had come back to camp with a large patch of fur missing from her shoulder. Renee hadn’t been in sight. I had been sunbathing quietly when I heard her yowling.

I was also not very happy to have been awoken from my small doze, but I didn’t say anything. “You know what your so-called sister has done to me?” Marley had shrieked into the air. I opened one eye to see Aspie jumping in fright, his ears flattened in a mild state of panic as he did so.

“Don’t shout,” I heard him whine. “You know I hate it when cats shout at me. It hurts my ears.”

By the sound of Aspie’s complaint to Marley, I guessed that the gray tabby had sensitive hearing – a little like me. Sometimes, I could pick up sounds that no other cat could hear, and they couldn’t. They’d ask me how I knew that something was there – and I could only say that I just knew.

Marley calmed down after this, but I could tell that she was still angry. “You know what your sister did?” she repeated, and Aspie had started to shake as Marley showed him the patch of missing fur.

“We had another argument,” Marley growled, irritated. “And she lashed out at me.” She paused to lick at the patch – which had started to ooze a small trail of blood from it – before continuing: “I think she’ll leave soon, because she’s really angry with me, from what it seems.”

Aspie was silent, before he lowered his head slowly and headed inside the cleft, as he disappeared from my view. I fidgeted nervously from my perch at the top of the rise at this.

That was when Renee turned, obviously in a bitter mood. She shot a look at Marley – I don’t know of what, but Marley hissed angrily, and she too scampered inside the cleft, disappearing from view.

Renee then came up to me, and her tail whisked lightly along my backside. I flinched, and moved away – at the moment, it was best seemed that I wanted to work alone.

Maybe Marley wasn’t the only cat to hold a bitter silence for a little while at the moment.

Seventy-One - The True You

Renee looked down below from where she was sitting on the small ledge, feeling a little bit guilty about what she had done to Marley in her small bit of anger at her. She hadn’t wanted to hurt Marley; she had just gotten… a little bit out of control, if that was a thing that existed.

It was all much of a misunderstanding; she tried to convince herself, nodding at the same time. However, nothing that she tried to tell herself was working, and it made her even more miserable.

It didn’t help that Marley had made an accusation to her that had both insulted and angered her.

It wasn’t even intentional that they had met up in the first place. Sure, Marley didn’t seem very happy to Renee to start off with, but now… this was getting all too much for her. She didn’t want to hold anything in one moment longer: she had to let everything she knew out at the moment.

They’d both been hunting separately when they had met up on the moor. Marley looked positively irritated at the sight of Renee, while on the other paw; Renee tried to be friendly instead of hostile.

“Aspie is surely not your brother,” she had accused Renee, when she had come along. The words were like some cold, unpleasant welcome, and the words rang in her ears as Marley had spoken them. “You left him, apparently – abandoned him all those moons ago – he deserves better!”

Renee was appalled at Marley’s accusation. How dare her! She thought, infuriated by Marley’s lie. She stepped forward, her claws unsheathed in fury at the thought of what Marley had said.

“Say that again to me,” she’d replied, her amber gaze burning, daring Marley to admit she was lying.

However, Marley never tried to back down from what she had said. “Aspie is surely not your brother,” she repeated, her voice made deliberately louder. There was a pause, before she added, quieter this time: “Oh, for the spirits’ sake, Renee… you can’t even hear what I could say…”

This made Renee even angrier, and she stepped forward even closer. Marley looked surprised as Renee approached her, and she pretended to dart back in shock and fearfulness.

“That’s a little… um, close, Renee,” she had mewed awkwardly when Renee had started growling in her face. “Haven’t you heard of ‘personal space’, bro? You need to take a chill pill, and calm –”

“Of course I have,” Renee interrupted sassily, interrupting Marley. “Now, Marley, it sounds like that you need to learn about something called the ‘personal bubble’.”

Marley looked positively enraged by Renee’s response, as her tail lashed once, furiously.

“Yes, of course I’ve heard of the ‘personal bubble’,” Marley replied, her tone dark. “But, my lady, you don’t abandon your littermates. I didn’t have any, so it didn’t matter for me, as I –”

That was when Renee had blown her top, lashed out, and taken that fur off Marley’s shoulder.

Looking back on it, it seemed petty now. However, Renee knew that soon – somehow, she knew it was going to be soon – she would return to her love interest’s homeland – the pines.

She swore she heard a voice calling to her through the message as well:

Take care, Renee. I’m sure that at the pines, you will find who the true you really is.

Seventy-Two - Pretense

The warriors of StarClan all knew that after a moon or so of quietness in the Clans, a moons or so with two less loners going around the outside of Clan borders, that they would be returning.

The five founders had also discussed the matter, seeing the need for it to be talked over.

It was night when these leaders gathered in their starry clearing with a pool beside them. Everything was back and silver except for the faint brown colours that appeared on Shrub, Marsh, and Bark’s fur, and the soft white colour from Moss. Every cat was silent when they gathered – even Needle, who would often ramble about something none of the other leaders ever cared about.

This was one of the reasons why out of the four leaders, Needle ended up being the first one to speak. “The ones who left a while ago… they’re returning,” the silver-gray tom growled. By the tone in his vice, it was obvious that Needle was displeased with this knowledge.

Moss nodded in agreement to Needle’s words. “I don’t think it should be described in that particular tone,” she mewed sharply. “But you are right. StarClan knows these things – always.”

At this, Needle shot a scathing look in Moss’s direction, but he couldn’t do anything about it.

There was a short pause after this, before there was a scraping of leaves across the ground as Marsh got to his hefty paws, and strode across the clearing to the pool, and sat down. Slowly, the other four leaders followed in turn: Needle pointedly sat as far away from Moss as possible in the circle.

All five leaders looked down into the water’s depths, as if they were seeing some sort of vision. Each of the five seemed frozen as they stared into it – and only when they moved again was it obvious that they were still moving, and still functioning properly as cats.

Bark was the first of the five to look up again, the dusky brown she-cat’s eyes round. “That’s their destiny?” she whispered softly. “It’s hard to know what those two have been doing on their antics to the moor – StarClan usually won’t reach out that far, although we have recently –”

Shrub looked a little bit miffed at this comment. “It wasn’t my idea to send Chromefur over to them,” he mewed bluntly, shooting a narrowed look at Marsh. “Chromefur also wanted to…”

Marsh shook his head. “He feels as if he owes something to him,” he whispered softly.

Another wave of silence followed this, as the cats looked warily at one another. Tense silence hung in the air before Moss spoke again: “This will be their destiny?” she confirmed, turning to Marsh.

Marsh paused, before nodding slowly. “If they make the right decisions… yes, they will. I am confident in their abilities, although my reach will never expand out to them, unfortunately.”

Marsh sighed, his head hung, while there was another silence No cat dared to speak.

Finally, Bark spoke up again: “Are you sure this isn’t pretense, Marsh? Not about the last time, I hope? The last time this happened, it didn’t turn out to be… and it turned into disaster.”

Marsh’s head was still hung, and his eyes seemed a little glazed over as he nodded. “I’m sure it won’t be like the first time,” the tabby assured back, his amber gaze dark. “That will never happen again…”

Seventy-Three - Patience

I slowly blinked open my eyes, wondering if it was morning yet. At the moment, it seemed like forever it had been night, and every second that passed I expected there to be a tiny ray of sunshine to appear on the horizon, to start the new day.

But after I looked outside for a few moments, there was nothing. I slumped in defeat as I turned back to myself, half-sulking in annoyance.

I was annoyed because now that I knew what was going to happen to me tomorrow, my heart had taken a humongous tug towards home, my desire for shelter over me unleashed again.

Also, at this, my desire for being with the Clans – which had been buried a little bit by all the events that had happened in the past moon or so – had returned, and this time it was stronger than it ever was. I knew whatever I had benefitted from my time on the moor must’ve helped – or else.

There was yet another argument with Renee and Marley today – and this time, Renee had apparently had enough. Apparently, she had said that she’d told Marley that she and I would be leaving tomorrow – no excuses – before stomping off in anger away from the she-cat.

At the arrival of this news, Aspie looked very downcast, and so did Marley about the fact that I was leaving. The ginger-golden she-cat – I guessed – had started to consider me a friend, in some way.

Renee, on the other paw, hadn’t really minded either way. I turned my ears in the speckled she-cat’s direction, and I saw her freckled flank rising and falling rhythmically in a soft, steady motion.

It seemed so peaceful, watching her for a moment, watching her flank rise and fall, before I flopped slowly back into my nest again as a sudden wave of tiredness hit me with a pang.

Maybe I should head back to sleep… I’m getting tired… I thought slowly, as my jaws stretched out in a wide yawn. My eyelids flickered closed for a moment as well, before they reopened.

For a moment there, the darkness that I had seen under the eyelids had been tempting.

However, I resisted the temptation, and kept my eyes open as I stared into the rocky den wall. I touched a paw to its smooth, dark, and cold surface, and shivered as a cold feeling went through me.

I lifted my paw away at once, and tucked it under myself as yet another wave of tiredness hit me, and my eyes closed once more as my mouth once again stretched into a wide yawn.

When I stopped, however, I let my eyelids stay there, in the darkness that was around me.

I let my mind wander into what I had seen today, everything that I had seen while I was on the moor. I knew it was well different to the pines, and the Clans, but I wouldn’t forget it.

I vowed that to myself that night, as tomorrow seemed to mark a new stage in my life.

And to get to tomorrow, I need to have patience, I thought to myself quietly, before I let myself sink into an echoing blackness again, and I knew nothing more from that moment onwards.

Seventy-Four - Midnight

The first thing I realized when I came to was that a paw was jabbing into my side.

Next thing, there was a hiss in my ear – a soft, sharp one. “Wake up!” it hissed, its tone sharp, yet soft. I moaned softly, darkness still enclosing around my vision, wanting to stay where it was.

“I want to sleep…” I moaned at the voice. “Can you just please, let me rest?”

There was a soft pause from the voice, before I heard a paw scrape across the dusty ground impatiently. “No!” it barked, its voice now turning hoarse. “I must talk with you now.”

I groaned as the scraping on the ground continued as the voice moved away, and it took me a while before I managed to coax open my eyes out onto a dark sky, with scattered dappled shadows across the ground everywhere I went. I reflected that this place was more beautiful at night than in the day.

My muscles ached as well, but I ignored them as I got back onto my paws, and followed the scent trail of which my companion had left behind, while I wondered why she had woken me up at this particular time of day to talk to me about something – something unknown to me.

Today, we had started our journey back to the pines – and to the Clans. Tomorrow, we would have to sneak past where the Community lived, so naturally, I was nervous – they wouldn’t forgive me if they saw me, not after Archie. However, Renee assured me that I would be okay on our journey.

“We’ll just make sure that we don’t head out too early,” the speckled she-cat had announced to me earlier, her head held high. “Otherwise they will find you. Later is better, knowing them.”

I had felt reassured after this, and I felt much better. I thought about this again as I padded out.

Of course, Renee was already out there, her tail still as a stick as it streaked out from behind her. A large half-moon was in the sky, round on one side, flat on the other. Cautiously, I padded up to her, and sat down beside her awkwardly, shuffling my paws to get her attention quietly.

She heard, and her ears swivelled in my direction before her face did. “Oh, hi,” she mewed slowly, as I came to sat down. She then turned back to the moon, and I looked up at the huge silver orb, wondering why Renee was staring at it intensely all of a sudden. I shrugged in confusion.

“Inuwa, look at the moon,” Renee told me, her tone sharp as I looked up.

I didn’t see anything very interesting in the moon, so I looked away quickly in boredom, hoping that Renee would stop it soon enough. However, Renee seemed to have other ideas on the matter.

“You told me that the last Season’s End was just after half-moon, correct?” she asked me, her amber eyes situated in my direction. As I nodded, Renee flicked an ear in satisfaction.

“You have one moon left until the next one, just over,” she mewed softly under her breath. “Just like you told me. One moon to settle back in, and impress yourself. One moon, until hopefully… you may achieve your passion.” At this, Renee looked extremely satisfied, but I was more doubtful.

Renee, of course, didn’t understand my agony of trying every third moon, and every time failing.

“Are you sure about this, Renee?” I asked doubtfully, looking up into the sky of midnight, wondering if it would bring me any hope. I flickered my gaze back to Renee after a while – and she was smiling.

“I think you’ll find that socially, you’ve improved much more than you think,” the she-cat purred.

Seventy-Five - Shadows

Morning eventually came, the day dawning cold yet bright. I could tell that from the beginning of the day that Renee seemed very wary of what was going on around us, especially since today was…

“The hardest day of our journey,” Renee had said, after I had risen. A few mice were around, and we ate them together in small bites. I felt a little queasy, and I didn’t want to eat at all, but Renee said that I should, ‘for the better of this journey… you don’t want to die before you get home, do you?’

It was a slow morning that drifted past, as the plan that we had discussed before was coming into Action, especially as we were near the Community’s outer limits. I was extremely nervous.

On the other paw, however, Renee seemed confident, even though I couldn’t pick up – like usual – what she was actually feeling. She seemed happier than I did – probably because she’d never killed a cat, let alone one from the Community that was the Beta – and she tried to make me happy too.

For a while, we stayed in the shadows, until Renee guessed that it was safe. Her tail brushed lightly alongside my flank as she got up. “Let’s go,” she whispered in my ear as she rose to her paws.

Shaking, I rose to my paws as well, and I did – although slowly – followed Renee over the moor.

The place was silent apart from the soft blowing of the wind as I stepped forward. I could taste some stale scents across the ground – Slate, Copper, Watson, Myles, and Hiriwa, just to name a few of them. Scenting them made my fur bristle in fear, but I continued to walk on.

I noticed that Renee, too, seemed a little bit nervous as well, judging by the fact that she kept on looking from side to side in quick motions, and her ears were pricked forward. This made me scared.

It took me a long time before I fully calmed down from that incident of fear.

By then, we’d kept up a steady pace, and before I knew it, we’d trekked a fair way of the distance. Renee’s glaring to the side had also become more distanced, and I felt more relaxed.

“We’re nearly there,” Renee called from up the front, her tail waving in delight. “Once we’re out of that Community’s reach, we’ll sit down and get some lunch. You hungrier now, I’m guessing?”

I brightened up after this. “Great!” Then, I heard my stomach rumbling with hunger, and I added: “Yeah, we do need lunch… I’m getting hungry, you mind-reader!” My tail waved as I said this.

Renee purred softly under her breath. “Thought so!” Then quieter, I heard her add: “Toms!”

Then, I crashed into a pile of brown fluff that was ahead of me, and I felt amber burn into me.

Renee had stopped. The speckled cat was tasting the air, and then she moved out of the way from me, so that I fell on the ground. Renee had now launched into attack mode at this.

“Get up!” she hissed at me, and I did so as the shadows moved in front of me, and a cat stepped out. Their fur was brown-and-ginger, and their large eyes were round as they stared at Renee and I.

“Myles!” hissed Renee, fury in her voice. “Community scum – what are you doing here?”

Seventy-Six - Summer Haze

It took a long time for the gray tabby to stop himself from running, even though his legs – and body for that matter – ached all over. More important things were on his mind at the moment.

He had to get away from where he came from. He couldn’t stay there any longer.

He knew all the cats there had stared at them with interest – but not a likeable interest. He’d figured out what it was: it was hate. They didn’t want him around.

So that was one reason why the gray tabby was granting his enemies a wish, even though he didn’t really want to. All he wanted to do was to save himself before any other cat he came across.

After all, he preferred to be self-reliant on himself – but to have company at the same time. That was what the gray tabby truly desired – but he hadn’t found a way to achieve it yet.

The tom finally skidded to a halt, flicking up dead grass in his wake as he skidded across the moor. A warm breeze of greenleaf ruffled past, warming the tom as it went past him.

The view that he saw from where he was now standing was beautiful. The moor that he was on had small rises every so often, and he had found himself on a fair little rise that gave him a larger view over the whole moor. A large shadow was in the distance – the tabby didn’t know what this was.

He also picked up a fairly fresh scent in the air, which made him jump with surprise when he first smelt it. For a moment, the tom thought that he was alone – obviously that assumption was wrong.

He padded down the rise in pursuit of the scent, and he found himself at a small gap in the rise. He poked his head in, and tasted the air. The same scent was there, but it was a little staler this time.

He didn’t see any cat in the cleft either, and this made the young tabby even more curious.

So that was why he decided to venture into the little cleft. As he stepped in, his pawsteps were light, but they became increasingly stronger as he padded further into the little den.

It was a very tidy place, the tom observed as he looked around this little den for the first time. It was large, but only one cats’ scent was in it, with a little nest in one of the sides of the den, which seemed to be in a rough circle shape. It seemed so spacious, so welcoming… but for only one?

At once, the gray tabby almost wished that this was his home too, before he backed out of the den in the cleft, and headed back up onto the rise to sit on it once more. His gaze turned to the sky at this.

Yet another breeze buffeted past the tom, in its warmth, and the tom felt happy for once. As he purred, he reflected on the warm weather at this time of year – the time of which some of the cats in the Community had called the ‘summer haze’. He’d always wondered why they had used that particular term, but of course, he didn’t need to know anything about that now.

He’d left the Community. The Community had left him. So what was the point?

The tabby sighed sadly and looked out onto the moor once more, hoping this would be the start of a new life for him.

Seventy-Seven - Memories

The cat that Renee had just labelled as ‘Myles’ was very still after this announcement. In fact, every cat that was there – Renee, this ‘Myles’, and I – were all very still in that moment as our eyes each laid upon one another in surprise. Then, Myles’ gaze hardened up, and he looked suddenly angry.

“You killed Archie,” the brown-and-ginger tom said quietly as he approached me, his eyes suddenly dark as he stepped forward to face me. His claws unsheathed and stuck into the ground, and my fur bristled in fear as I stepped back, my claws unsheathing in fear as I did so.

However, before I could move, Renee had stepped in front of me. The speckled she-cat’s amber eyes had turned suddenly dark, and I heard her growling as she stepped in front of me with a flourish.

“You’re not attacking him, Myles.” Renee mewed sternly, her amber eyes narrowed, her tail flicking angrily. “You’re not letting the Community take him. He’s with me. We’re not coming back to you guys anyway; we’re heading back to where we came from in the first place.”

Myles, on the other paw, still looked unconvinced as he padded forward to face Renee. “Prove it, traitor,” he hissed. “You’ve left us twice. And he killed out former Beta.” Myles’ gaze shifted to me in the middle of his speech. “Slate is still upset, and he wants revenge for what happened.”

I started to tremble. The Community… it’s so much different to what I thought it would be like! I thought in shock, my throat dry. “No!” I mewed hoarsely, my voice coming out as a long groan.

“Yes,” Myles mewed, his voice low. “I wish it wasn’t like this, but… Slate has a bigger tendency than Vlam to attack others, as he’s more volatile, with him, the Community will become more feared.”

I remembered the times that I’d had in the Community, in all its calmness… freeness… and for some cats, acceptance. Was Slate going to take that all away, just because he was now the Alpha?

Myles still looked very uncomfortable. “The rules are getting tighter. The Community is not the same,” he breathed. “Slate is not letting any new cats join or leave his Community, and if he notices that I’ve been with cats like you, I’ll be a prisoner. I’m supposed to kill you if I come across rogues like you guys. I hate all these new rules… but…” Myles’ voice died away in the middle of his speech.

Renee shot a look at me sadly before she turned back to Myles, and I felt extremely bad. The Community really had changed… and it all seemed like my fault. “I’m sorry…”

Myles looked annoyed, but he shrugged. “Don’t tell me sorry,” he mewed gruffly. “I’ll let you off this time… but don’t let me see you again, alright, or I’ll be telling Slate.” He winked.

I was surprised by Myles’ reaction, thinking that he was going to slaughter Renee and I, or take us to Slate, who now seemed like a very ruthless cat indeed. “Thank you, Myles…”

Myles nodded slowly. “Don’t you dare go near here again, guys. Slate will never forgive you if you do.” And with that, Myles turned his back on Renee and I, and sprinted across the moor once more.

I watched Myles go, a sad look in my eye. The Community had changed. All the memories that I had obtained when I was in the Community… it would never be like that again…

I felt something nudge me, and I saw Renee nudging me. “You awake there, Inuwa? Come on, let’s go and get some munch. You said earlier that you wanted some after this stage, remember?”

I nodded wearily before following Renee, my head lowered. I couldn’t help but think about the Community – the destroyed, ravaged Community – at this. Slate had turned it into something unbelievable, something that I could not recognize… and I knew I would never set foot there again.

Seventy-Eight - Change In The Weather

“Community, to me!” A large tom sat on a ledge as he called this command, his pale tail flicking anxiously as many cats pooled out from various dens on the side of a large hill. His amber eyes were narrowed as he watched his cats gather, his dark muzzle tilted forward as he watched.

This cat was very unusual, to say the least. The tip of his tail was white, and as the fur along his tail and body progressed, it seemed to all get darker and darker, to the tips of his muzzle and face, which were black. Large amber eyes completed this look, making him look a commanding character.

Most of the cats that had gathered were now talking between one another with doubtful looks between themselves and him. The only other cats that were silent were the cat’s Beta – a dark ginger tabby she-cat – his Gamma, a sleek silver she-cat, and his recently promoted Delta, a thickset black-and-brown tom. These looks and talking continued until the dark tom decided to stop it.

His tail waved as he spoke the one-worded command, his eyes narrowed as he demanded attention from all of his followers. “Stop,” he ordered sternly, as cats turned to face him at the command.

They all fell silent at once, and it was silent before the dark tom knew anything else.

There was a reason why he’d gathered them today. After the disappearance of two cats – two outsiders, to say the least – and the death of his former Beta, his Community had been left in tatters. The first cat who went missing was also widely rumoured to have killed that Beta, so after that he was widely hated by many Community followers, although no cat had seen him since.

“I think most of you know some of the reasons I have called this meeting,” the tom began.

At this announcement, there was a smattering of murmurs, which the tom quickly silenced with a sharp flick of his tail. “Did I tell you to speak? No speaking until I’ve announced everything, please.”

This caused every cat to be quiet, and to stare up at him with renewed interest once more.

The shaded-furred tom purred under his breath softly at this. He knew that after this meeting, the Community that he had grown up in wouldn’t be the same again. After all, he wanted his Community to be safe from all these enemies that were coming in from all sides.

“There will be change!” he announced loudly, only to be greeted with a stony silence. “After all of this, I vow that what I bring to this Community today will be positive, and that we won’t see what… happened to Archie once more. Not very fortunate that was… anyway…”

He cleared his throat. “First of all, any cat that leaves camp from now on must report to me for jobs to do from our Beta, Gamma, and Delta, or if there is something that you want to happen apart from this, you are now required to seek permission from me first.” There were a couple of shocked gasps at this, but the tom flicked his tail at this. “What did I tell you guys?!? Silence!”

There was still a little more muttering before it quietened down again fully.

“No intruders will be tolerated in our area,” he announced as well, his tail lashing. “Any intruders will report to me, and will be severely punished. Any disloyal Followers will also suffer the same fate, and these cats will most likely become a new rank that I am creating: ‘prisoners’.”

There was a shocked silence, before a wiry black she-cat called out: “Prisoners?”

The tom scowled. “Emma, I said I wanted silence!” he hissed. “However, your question is a good one… a ‘prisoner’ will do all the dirty work for us, get last choice of the prey pile, and are subject to being under command of any other cat. Excess prisoners will either be kicked out – or, if they are good enough, be invited to become a full member of the Community and become a Follower.”

This time, there was no murmuring. The borderlines had been set under a new regime – stricter than before – and no cat seemed to be in a mood to judge the Alpha’s rules.

“That all good? Great, let’s get this all started, shall we? Meeting dismissed! All of these new laws start now, as well – so if I see you breaking them, you know what’s coming for you!”

There was a soft grumbling as the shaded-furred tom leapt off the ledge, a very sombre tone in the air, a very obvious change in the weather for the Community, yet a much unexpected one.

For the Community, nothing was ever going to be the same again. It used to be something that was respected and honoured – but with this, it had fallen to its lowest low that was possible.

Seventy-Nine - Illogical

I know for a fact that I take everything that I hear into a literal context, and never think that it could be something else that it actually isn’t. Sometimes, this makes me a magnet for things.

However, I think I’ve become more aware of this through my time on the moor than beforehand.

I remember, sometimes, when I was young, of the times that I had been fooled that something was real when it wasn’t. Once, Sprenkeln was telling us three about the afterlife, and StarClan when we were four moons old, and Feryat, being naturally curious, asked Sprenkeln what it was like.

“It’s a slice of heaven,” Sprenkeln had described it, her eyes shining at her silver-furred son as she said this. “No cat can get hurt, and there is peace. No blood is spilled – unlike the Clans, who spill blood all the time – because in the afterlife, cats know better than we do in the living.

Of course, being the cat that takes everything literally, I had asked: “But how can the afterlife be a slice of heaven? You just said that it was something totally different, didn’t you?”

Of course, after this, I was met with some very curious stares from Sprenkeln and my littermates, and I think now that they must’ve thought how I’d come up with that theory.

I think that day all those moons ago was the day that I realized that I was different from other cats.

Since that day, I became a little more distant from my parents and littermates, and although I liked company, I also liked to be on my own, and I often roamed around a lit, and explored the territory around the Clans – which even back then was my greatest interest in my mind’s eye.

I’ve never had any other great passion in my life but the Clans. I think that it was the first time that we saw a Clan warrior that fully mesmerized me into the interest, when I was five moons old.

Caillou had taken me out to the MossClan border, and was telling me what the scentmarkers were, when a ginger-and-white she-cat stepped out. Back then, the cat was Birdstorm, deputy of MossClan – but nowadays, she’d Birdstar, the leader. She’d looked at us with interest when she first saw us, her dark blue eyes narrowed in warning, her tail moving from side to side from inside her territory.

“You’d better not step in, or I’ll take you to Ravenstar for trespassing,” she’d warned. Ravenstar was the leader of MossClan back in the day, and he was often described as a wise, peaceful leader.

Caillou had nodded at this, his eyes wide. “Of course not. I was just showing my son your borders – I’m hoping that one day, he’ll be a warrior for a Clan.” He looked at me, and my head shot up as I scented Birdstorm, and for a split second, I met the MossClan cat’s eye.

And in that moment, the first flame for my passion for the Clans was set alight.

Well, I do know that I can never be illogical – I have to be logical, in my mind, for everything to make sense. But this sense of logic never drags me down, never tries to hinder me at all.

Instead, I like to see it as a gift StarClan has granted me, as a wish that will benefit me for the future.

Eighty - Only Feline

A few days of the journey passes, as Renee and I travelled across the large sloping moor, heading in the direction we came from. Before long, my paw pads started to hurt from walking, and I started to get tired from all the walking that I was doing, and I was also growing less optimistic with each step.

Renee tried to encourage me, but every word that she said came into one ear and out the other, as I refused to acknowledge them. This, eventually, got both of us frustrated over this small matter.

Eventually, this so-called ‘small matter’ eventually turned up, and for a moment, I almost entirely gave up on this whole journey, never believing that I would return to my true home once more.

I’d sat down in defeat on the moor, groaning a little bit in panic. My legs ached, and the sun was shining really brightly in my eye so that I had trouble seeing. For a while, I was alone on my own corner of the world, with no other cats around in the world. Renee hadn’t noticed I had stopped, however, and continued to pad on, oblivious to what she was doing at that moment.

Then I saw her stop in the distance, and rotate in a full circle on the spot as she realized that I wasn’t beside her anymore, and she did this for a while. It took her ages to spot me, too.

However, when she did, she ran over to me, looking stressed as she came over. Her eyes filled with tear, and they were full of emotion that I didn’t know. I got confused because of this.

Inuwa!” she shrieked loudly, as she barrelled down the slope, tears spilling on the ground as she raced towards me. “Why have you stopped? What’s wrong?” Her voice was high-pitched and rushed as she spoke, and it made me feel dizzy, and the words didn’t seem to register in my brain.

“I…” I stammered, not having the heart to tell Renee what I was feeling for a moment. But I knew I had to tell her. So as I took a deep breath, I mewed: “Renee… this journey’s too hard, and I don’t know if I can finish it.” My head was lowered, and my head shook slowly as I said this.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Renee softly staring at me, her eyes still teary. “Inuwa, you’ve done this journey once before,” she whispered. “You can do again – I know you can.”

“But this journey’s longer,” I complained softly. “I’ve travelled from beyond the Community this time, a longer way to travel. I’m exhausted, and every step feels like my last, that I’m going to fall.”

“Inuwa, I’ve done this journey once more than you have, remember that,” she mewed softly. “I have had to travel across these stretching moors to get to the pines, and I know the first time that I ventured this way, I almost lost hope myself. Inuwa, please… for me. For the Clans.”

And at the mention of ‘Clans’, something snapped in me, and I knew I had to carry on at that moment. “Fine…” I sighed slowly, as I got to my paws, shaking in exhaustion.

Renee purred. “Inuwa, we’re only feline. Of course we’re going to make mistakes,” she mewed, as we started venturing into the light of the day, ready to continue on our journey home.

Eighty-One - A Place To Call Home

“Inuwa,” a voice whispered in my ear. “Look over there. I told you so, didn’t I, remember?”

I broke off from where I was looking at the side, as I was transfixed by the boulder – a fair distance away – that Renee and I had raced to on the first day on the moor, before we made a decision to pursue for the Community. A shadow – large and dark – shone down, blocking the sunset light, and putting us into a little bit of shadow where the front of our bodies were, as we looked forward.

As I looked forward, my heart gave a nervous flutter from where it was in my chest. A sensation was spreading over me – it seemed like relief, it seemed like homecoming to my roots, it seemed like joy.

That was probably because I did feel homecoming, as I looked up into the dark shadows of the pines in front of me, for the first time in a long time. I sighed out slowly as I looked at it, hardly daring to believe where I was, what I was doing. I couldn’t believe the luck that I had been granted to me.

I was home, and I knew it, even though my mind was still in disbelief. And as I, still in my trance of disbelief, looked over at Renee; I saw the she-cat looking at me, too, and our gazes locked at this.

The time that we spent staring into each other’s eyes seemed like a long time – much longer than ever before – and for once, it felt a little bit welcoming, and comfortable. It was when I looked away that a tingly feeling – it seemed like thankfulness – rushed through me as I stared, mouth open.

Home,” I breathed softly under my breath, still hardly daring to believe it. “I’ve arrived back home.”

I heard Renee purr softly under her breath beside me, and her tail-tip touched my shoulder lightly. Recently, I’d become more submissive to Renee’s attempts to touch me, and I had slowly given in, but at times I had still felt sensitive, and had told her to leave me alone for a while.

It was much to my relief that she had listened to my request, and this made me feel happy.

Renee’s voice jolted me out of my trance as well. “Yes, your true home,” she mewed quietly, and I saw her amber eyes soften as she stared at me. “Where you’ve always belonged…” There was a soft sniffle after this – I knew for a fact that Renee now felt incredibly guilty to taking me to the moor in the first place. “…And now, what is my home… since I abandoned the Community to Slate’s rule.”

I was still relatively speechless, and I continued to purr softly under my breath. Renee’s words were true. This was always my home, never the moor. Shelter under head had always felt more comfortable than having nothing. It was where I’d grown up, and been raised…

I knew that I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, and my tail waved a little at this, as I looked at my paws. An unknown affection for Renee coursed through me at this, and I knew that without her, none of this would’ve happened. None of this would’ve been possible at all.

And I also knew that I’d found a true place to call home.

Eighty-Two - Advantage

It felt so surreal when I finally wandered into the shelter of the pines after so long, and shade fell over my dark pelt once more. It made me feel so happy, so joyous inside, that I couldn’t believe that I was home – home at last. Slowly, my gaze turned towards the sky, and I started to gaze at the pine needles above, and their criss-crossing patterns that seemed to weave together into shadows.

I was so absorbed in this homecoming that I got a little bit self-centred on me, and I almost forgot that Renee was even near me until she came up to me, and gave me a soft nudge on my shoulder.

“Are you ever going to get out of this little excitement?” she’d asked me as she came up, her tail flicking. “We need to find some shelter before it gets dark, and tomorrow you can get excited about all your homecoming business to the Clans.” There was a soft purr after this, before silence.

I thought that Renee had a fair point, so I snapped out of my trance. “Fine…” I mewed, a little bit carelessly, as I turned around to – maybe – start loping through the pine trees, to find a place.

Renee came up to my side, and our pelts bushed for a split second as she looked up at me. “You ready to find a place for us?” she purred, her amber eyes alight as she said this.

I nodded, so with that, we headed off into the pines, ducking under a low branch nearby as we entered a place which I had never ventured in before – well, not that I recognized, anyway.

It was a very small clearing, surrounded by low-branching pines on the outskirts of it. Sunlight dappled into the hole, revealing a small dip, and on the other side there was a yawning gap in a large, dead pine tree that was lying across the ground at one of the clearing’s far ends. It was all beautiful.

“This is perfect, Inuwa,” I heard Renee whisper from beside me, as I felt her lean on me. I submitted to the she-cat’s actions, looking at her as she rested on me. “We should stay here for a while.”

I knew this was different from my original home outside MossClan territory, but at the moment I had no idea of where I was, and another cat may have taken my old then, so I nodded. “Fine…” I mewed softly, still slightly unconvinced, before I asked doubtfully: “How long will we stay here?”

Renee’s voice seemed very airy after this. “Oh, if we need more space, if we want to make a family one day…” she mewed softly. “Or, of course, if we find our way into the Clans, we’d have to leave this place for them. You’re still passionate about joining the Clans – is that correct?”

I nodded stiffly, a little speechless. If Renee was thinking about kits already, I certainly wasn’t – and long ago, I’d almost ruled out the possibility of ever having my own children.

Renee nodded, her lead lowered. “We could maybe join the Clans together,” she whispered. “I’d like that… I’ve always preferred groups, and the Community is no longer my home, not after Slate.”

I nodded, and pressed against Renee myself. I knew that here, it was different – I had an advantage over the ways of the Clans here, and Renee didn’t know much about them, obviously.

“Yes,” I whispered into Renee’s ear. “I’d love that to happen, Renee, I really would.”

And after that, we purred delightedly at this, knowing that we wanted to stay together.

Eighty-Three - Breakfast

A dark figure stood in front of me, and its imposing figure made me shiver in fear due to its intimidation that it was causing. I wanted to move away from the thing, but I couldn’t move. I was frozen, rigid to the spot in fear as I looked up, feeling wave after wave of fear course through me.

The figure then stepped into the light. A pale tail flicked in front of me, turning to a light gray by its base: a darker body followed, then a darker gray scruff: until finally, the cat had a pointed, pitch-black coloured muzzle thrusted in my direction. It also had amber eyes, staring intently at me.

It didn’t take too much brains to guess who it was, for me. It helped that I’d only seen one of this type of cat before – and I wasn’t going to forget that cat any time soon, from what I knew.

It took a threatening step forward, and this time, I had the freedom to step back, so I did. It helped, too: without it, this cat would’ve surely squashed me, due to his massive size.

Slate, I thought, feeling panicked, as the cat paced towards me. How can he find me? I escaped from him!?! What’s he doing here? I wanted to run away from Slate, but I found myself frozen again.

I heard a soft snicker come from Slate’s mouth, and then I saw his amber eyes narrow sharply. It was only then when I realized that something was going to happen – and it seemed really bad.

Murderer,” Slate spoke in a slow, power-hungry tone, his amber eyes glowing. In a way, it looked like Slate’s eyes were almost glowing red. “You killed Archie, I know you did. You will pay.”

Another burst of freedom let me scuttle back again as Slate took yet another imposing step forward.

I saw him bear his teeth at me threateningly, before he snarled in my face: “This is how you’ll pay.”

Suddenly, Slate lunged at me, and I had no time to move. Scarlet flashed suddenly over my vision, and I knew that I was a goner. I was falling… down, down, and down…

“Inuwa! Inuwa! What are you doing? You’re thrashing around the whole place and making a mess!”

I blinked open my eyes to find sunlight streaming through an entrance to the den, and Renee staring at me curiously through narrowed eyes. It took me a while to realize what was going on. Thank goodness… it was all a dream… I thought into relief, sinking slowly into my nest.

“You all right there?” I heard Renee call, as she peered over to take a good look at me. I noticed that her amber eyes were round like Slate’s had been before he had narrowed then, and I shuddered in fear as I remembered the dream that I had just seen, before snapping back to reality.

“Yeah… I’m fine…” I lied, even though I knew – mentally – that I was the opposite of what I said.

Renee still looked slightly unconvinced at this, and I noticed that her mouth opened as to ask me a question, but she stopped herself. “I’ll just get breakfast, okay?” she muttered, before she left.

For a while, I just watched as Renee left our new den, before a sad sigh managed to escape my lips. Although I felt that my time in the Community had been beneficial, I still had many scars from it – especially from Slate. He was a brutal tom, and I wasn’t going to forget it.

But at least that I’m back home now, I can put all of this terror behind me.

Eighty-Four - Echoes

It seemed as if there were many voices in Renee’s head, all trying to say to her a lot of things as once as she rested in her new den. Squirming nervously, she squirmed a little closer to Inuwa, who was nearby. Renee could sense the black tom’s warmth, and she longed to be beside him.

These voices were repeating themselves over and over again, and were constantly trying to drown the other voices in her head out, which continued to make Renee considerably confused.

All she wanted was for them to stop, for her to be relieved of these echoing voices. But they weren’t relenting, they were not ceasing to stop – and this was what annoyed Renee the most.

You don’t understand what goes on inside those cats’ minds, one of the voices seemed to whisper to her, its voice soft like the wind as it spoke. Inuwa and Aspie… they’re not exactly normal.

But I do understand them a little bit; Renee had tried to contradict at the voice, as she felt her ears in the real world flatten in annoyance. I understand that they’re different, okay?

You never really understood Aspie the first time around, the first voice had retorted in silence.

Renee was getting annoyed by now. I know that! She thought furiously at this. I didn’t understand fully then, and even in this second shot that I’ve had, I haven’t the time to reconnect.

You’ll never fully understand them, then; the voice had finished sternly, daring Renee to reply with anything further. As Renee declined the dare, the voice repeated itself, especially the words fully understand, as it got gradually softer and softer until it became non-existent.

Renee blinked open her eyes slowly after she was sure the voices had gone. It was dark outside, although she could see the faint light of dawn starting to stretch into the den from the outside. It was also tempting to fall back asleep.

From beside Renee, Inuwa fidgeted in his sleep, before the dark tom grunted and rolled over, so that Renee was now half-resting on the tom’s back. Looking up at the dark roof of the den, Renee became still for a moment, as she looked up at the continuous darkness above her.

It was only when Inuwa fidgeted again did Renee finally decide to get up, and she did so slowly, as if she was reluctant to get up from the warmth of the nest she was in. Her paws dragged as she heaved herself to her paws, swaying slightly before she reached a firm grip on the den floor.

She’d only shifted to one side of the den before she heard another noise, and Inuwa had rolled over yet again. Renee reflected softly that her definite friend – and more than that – was a fidget.

You move a lot, don’t you, Inuwa? Renee thought to herself affectionately, before heading outside to see scarlet light staining the sky, as a rich sunrise struck the sky. Softly, Renee purred under her breath.

Aspie would be up at this time, looking at the sunrise with his continuous interest.

It hurt for Renee to think about Aspie, but she also thought of it – in a way – as a blessing to her. Nothing, of course, was going to make her forget her brother. But even in her completely different world, a long way away from where her brother was, there were always echoes of him everywhere she went – from the ripples when cats splashed in puddles or streams, to the sunrise and sunset.

Aspie, don’t forget me, will you? I still remember you even though we have parted, and I hope you are the same.

Eighty-Five - Falling

A gray-and-white she-cat entered the pine-filled clearing; her blue eyes filled with tranquillity as she padded calmly in, and sat down on the forest floor. For a moment, she was still as she took the scene in, her tail lying on the ground as she did so. She didn’t move until a soft scuffling of paws on the ground alerted her to attention, and the she-cat’s ears flicked backwards in surprise.

“Who is it?” she asked, her voice wavering slightly as she spoke, as her head craned over to see behind her. Her fur had lifted slightly, but she did not look surprised at all as a gray-and-brown tom padded in, his green eyes round as he stared at the she-cat for a moment, in silence.

“Moss, it’s only me,” the gray-and-brown tom mewed calmly, his green eyes wide. “I just came over to say that the rest of them are coming. We need to sort out the preparations for the Season’s End.”

Moss nodded; her fur flattening as she realized that this cat meant no danger at all. “Good, Shrub, good. Come and sit down with me, I’d appreciate a little bit of company at the moment.”

Shrub nodded; his tail high as he sat down with a thud beside Moss, his ears angled in the direction where he had just emerged from the rest of the pine forest. For a moment, in the clearing, both cats stayed in silence, neither speaking to one another at all, until there was yet another soft noise.

“That better be them,” Shrub muttered gruffly. “We have no time to waste on a night like this.”

At Shrub’s words, three cats entered the clearing: one dusky brown, one silver, the third a dark brown tabby. All three of them sat down in unison, before they all turned their attention to Moss, as they all guessed that she would be the cat that would speak first of them all.

But it wasn’t. After a long moment of silence, the dark brown tabby decided to take up the conversation. Clearing his throat, the tabby announced: “So, the Season’s End is due to occur in a half-moon’s time from today, and the Clan leaders must be notified of this incident.”

The other four leaders nodded, while Shrub decided to speak: “Thankfully for ShrubClan, there has been no death for the past three moons, so we will not have any spaces available in my –”

Yes, yes, we get the message,” snarled the silver tom, shooting an annoyed look at Shrub as he spoke. “We don’t need your stupid blabbing. All the rest of us will have at least one new representative joining our Clans, and that is well more important than listening to you.”

Shrub looked extremely offended as he stared at the cat who had spoken, but the silver tom ignored him. However, before either of those cats could speak, the dusky brown she-cat mewed: “Shut up, Needle, that’s not important now!”

Moss shot a grateful look at the she-cat. “Thank you, Bark,” she mewed sincerely. “Now, how many new cats are the rest of you getting? And you –” Moss shot a venomous look at Shrub at this – “will keep your mouth shut while we undertake this. Understand, Shrub?”

Shrub nodded reluctantly, as the rest of the leaders moved forward to draw clawmarks on the forest floor, which was already rather bumpy from countless scratches before. Needle scratched one clawmark before moving away; Marsh – the tom who was the dark tabby – set down two. Bark hesitated slightly, looking jumpy, before she put one mark in the ground as well: and finally Moss clawed two marks before moving away. Following this, there was silence, before Moss mewed:

“There will be six new warriors joining the Clans at the end of newleaf.”

The five leaders nodded slowly, knowing that they – as StarClan – had spoken. Shrub interrupted again after this, as he picked up that his time being silent was over. “Shall we let the leaders know?”

There was a pause, before Marsh nodded. “Of course – they’ll want to know, naturally.”

At this command, the other four leaders suddenly parted as they either disappeared – or raced quickly out of the clearing, in the case of Shrub – before Moss was left alone.

She would tell Birdstar later how many cats she needed to fill her ranks. Moss was focusing on something else at this current moment. She knew her plan was falling into place.

And if her plan did not work, she would be distraught that all she had worked on had failed.

Eighty-Six - Picking Up The Pieces

Birdstar shivered slightly as the MossClan leader found herself not in her den, but in a starry forest.

She knew where she was, as she had seen it before. She last visited it about three moons ago, from what she remembered – when Moss, the legendary founder of MossClan, had alerted her that the Season’s End was coming, and that she needed to prepare for a new warrior to come to the Clan.

She presumed that it was going to come again, especially since there had been death in her Clan.

A soft noise that sounded like thudding then became present; and Birdstar’s ears flicked in the direction of the noise. Sitting up frantically, the ginger-and-white she-cat quickly lapped at her pelt, which had managed to gather a soft layer of dust on it. Licking the last bit off, she looked up.

It was just in time, thankfully, as at that moment, a sleek, silver-and-white she-cat stepped into the clearing, her large, wide blue eyes staring at Birdstar softly, and with unwavering interest.

“It’s glad to see you here, Birdstar,” the she-cat whispered softly. “And we must talk.”

Birdstar paused, before nodding slowly. “I’m sure you’re right as always, Moss,” the leader mewed solemnly, their blue gazes meeting for a moment. “Is this about the Season’s End?”

There was a little pause, before Moss nodded. “Of course. I have just been discussing that very topic with the five other founders, and it is time to announce that the Season’s End, indeed, will be held a half-moon from tonight, as what always happens when I come to tell you about the Season’s End.”

Birdstar nodded, guessing that this was coming. It had happened to her every third moon after Ravenstar’s death in battle, and it depressed Birdstar greatly to think of him.

“That’s a relief,” she sighed, feeling a little downhearted at the thought of Ravenstar. Then, trying to brighten her own self up again, she asked: “Well, how many new warriors will I be receiving?”

Moss, who had seemed very calm until Birdstar had said this, now leapt up, suddenly looking very jumpy. “You will receive two new warriors for your Clan, I think,” she murmured.

Birdstar cocked her head at this, realizing that something was up. In her previous meetings with Moss, she’d never got this perky all of a sudden – in fact, from what Birdstar knew, she h=guessed it was very unusual to Moss to change emptions in a quick fashion like this.

“Moss, there’s something up with you,” Birdstar insisted, not thinking the words through properly.

At this, Moss looked extremely offended. “I’m fine, Birdstar, don’t bother with me!” she hissed softly. There was a soft grunt, and then Moss mewed, apologetically: “Sorry, I have a lot on my mind right now. Anyway, about your new warriors… I cannot say much about their identities. All I can say about them is that they are the speckles in the shade, the outsiders that need a chance.”

Birdstar got completely confused after this. She didn’t know what that meant… how could there be speckles in the shade, for example? “What?” she mewed loudly at Moss, in her confusion.

However, Moss herself was fading. “You have to be picking up the pieces, Birdstar,” she whispered. “You can’t leave everything to yourself this time… and all will be revealed at the Season’s End…”

For a moment, Birdstar stared as Moss vanished, before turning her back on the place where the leader had stood. She thought this was going to a lot less complicated than this…

Now, she wasn’t so sure about this next Season’s End anymore as she used to be.

Eighty-Seven - Gunshot

I shook out my fur as I padded through a tangled mess of bushes near ShrubClan territory, growling furiously as my usually sleek black fur became twisted and matted as the twigs from the bushes caught into my pelt. I hissed as I got through the last of the bushes, and then I proceeded to getting the twigs out of my fur, nipping at the branches softly to get them out.

Behind me, I heard a soft purring as Renee came out of the bush behind me, and I saw her gaze settle on my now scruffy pelt. “Someone’s definitely not going to get into ShrubClan,” she purred softly under her breath, as she started to pace around me in a quick fashion.

I grunted softly as Renee teased me, not very pleased. “Of course I’m not going to join ShrubClan,” I snorted at Renee. “They like stealthy cats, remember? I’m incredibly clumsy; they’d never accept me into their Clan.” At this, I whacked Renee softly with my tail, purring slightly under my breath.

Renee purred softly at me. “Never mind about those bushes,” she purred, indicating to me to snap out of being angry at the shrubs. “Let’s get out and hunt for some supper, eh?”

I jolted back to reality as soon as Renee said those words, as I remembered the original purpose for heading off to ShrubClan territory: Renee had insisted that they go for an adventure around Clan territories while they had some lunch while on our travels. I had agreed, basing off my knowledge that I hadn’t been near the Clans much since I had returned, and that I needed to do so.

“Yeah, let’s get out of the way of these stupid shrubs,” I growled softly, as Renee brought up the mention of the beastly things. “I’ve had enough of them – I don’t know why ShrubClan can bear to live in that territory of theirs with that many bushes. If I was one of them, I’d probably die.”

I heard Renee purr softly, and butt my flank gently as we started to pad along, now near the border between ShrubClan and BarkClan. My fur lifted a little bit as I reached the border, as I managed to pick up a fresh scent – BarkClan – nearby, and immediately I felt my fur lift in surprise.

It was unusual for a Clan warrior to be hanging around a Clan border, and I knew this well. I turned to Renee, whom I judged that she had picked the scent up too, by the fact that her tail had lifted.

“Let’s go see what that scent is,” she whispered tersely to me. “You said that it was unusual for Clan warriors to be by borders for a long time, correct?” As I nodded, she relaxed a bit, and moved off.

I followed Renee, slowly passing by the ShrubClan border until I was outside BarkClan territory. There was where I saw the Clan warrior: a pale she-cat, with darker flecks scattered along her fur.

Her eyes were amber as well. Also, she looked strangely familiar… very familiar…

At once, I knew who it was. The pain like a gunshot hit me, and I felt as if I was going to fall over in shock. I hadn’t seen her since she’d left for the Clans, all those seasons ago…

“Sprenkeln?”

Eighty-Eight - Possession

I watched as the BarkClan warrior’s gaze turned to me at once with interest, her ears flattened, and her head swivelled in my direction. Her eyes were narrowed in suspicion, but then I saw them light up with what seemed like recognition as her gaze swept over me.

“Inuwa?” I heard her whisper softly – yet hoarsely at the same time – under her breath. She paced forward once, her eyes suddenly turned round. “Is that actually you?” She then paused, before adding: “Still haven’t got a place in the Clans, I see, my youngest son.”

I shook my head at my mother’s reply, not meeting her gaze. “Still trying,” I murmured quietly. Sprenkeln looked a little disappointed in this, but she nodded slowly at my reply. “I thought so,” I heard her mutter under her breath softly, and I saw her shake my head.

Then, I felt a sudden nudge on my shoulder, and I turned around to see Renee. I’d almost forgotten that she’d been there the whole time! I stared for a moment, while Renee started to complain: “Inuwa, who’s this? You never told me who this cat is, thank you very much.”

I couldn’t bring myself to reply to Renee: it was too much. All that I could manage to mutter was “My mother” before I fell silent, and pressed into Renee’s side with a lot of force.

I heard Sprenkeln then turn her attention to Renee, and I heard her soft voice mew: “My name was Sprenkeln before I joined the Clans. Now, it is Dappleash, as all warriors get new names.”

Dappleash? I thought, a little bit shocked, even though I knew that Sprenkeln would’ve got a new name when she joined the Clans. This knowledge made me feel sick to the stomach.

Meanwhile, Renee looked a little bit miffed. “Only the warriors get those names?” I heard her mew. “And any cat ranked higher?” Sprenkeln must’ve nodded, because the next thing that Renee said was: “What about the kitlings, the ones that get kicked out? What about them, and their names?”

Sprenkeln – no, Dappleash’s voice trembled as she spoke the next words: “This is one of the things that I dislike about the Clans,” she sighed, “although I’d never tell Windstar, or I’d get kicked out… the thing is, they’re not allowed Clan names is because they need to be accepted by the leaders – and StarClan – to have a Clan name. So they are given rogue names instead.”

I heard Renee shriek: “What?” hoarsely from beside me, while I just stayed silent, leaning against Renee quietly. My eyesight had gone all blurry as well, and I couldn’t see properly.

“Yes.” I heard Dappleash speak once more, her voice flat. “And you, my pretty…” – she was obviously talking to Renee there – “what may your name be, young one?”

“My name is Renee,” I heard Renee say, as I finally decided to straighten up again. “I’m from the moors, and I’ve come to the pines to live, after hearing of the Clans.”

Dappleash’s eyes twinkled for a moment, and I saw her and Renee meet eyes for a moment, amber against amber. I watched on, wondering what was going on, before Dappleash stepped back.

“I can tell you treat him like your greatest possession,” I heard Dappleash whisper, before I saw her – suddenly – turn around, and disappear before I could say anything more.

My vision was still blurred as Renee padded forward to me. “You all right?” I heard her whisper. “You want to head back to the den?” Her voice was soft as she spoke to me.

I didn’t hesitate before I nodded. “Yeah… let’s go home.”

Eighty-Nine - Twilight

Dusk swept over the tops of the pines, turning the now mainly-blue sky into shades of yellow, orange, crimson red, and purple. I looked up into the sky in Renee and I’s little clearing, thinking of Aspie as I looked up at the sky, still shell-shocked by the day’s events that had happened.

Dappleash… My thoughts were still half in thought of my mother, while the other half had wandered off, and it had felt like it had all been zapped away, as if I had nothing left to do.

I felt empty, hollow-headed, defeated. I lay down on the forest floor, sighing softly under my breath.

“You all right there?” I heard a rustling in a bush nearby, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Renee emerge into the clearing, her amber eyes round as she set two squirrels on the ground with a loud thudding noise. “You don’t seem all right, not since you saw Dappleash today.”

“No…” I muttered weakly, knowing that I was very much in a delirious state at the moment.

I heard Renee sigh softly under her breath, as she moved one of the squirrels towards me. “Eat, Inuwa, it may help to feel a little better,” she mewed quietly as she sat down on the ground. Her gaze, too, lingered at the darkening sky for a moment, before turning back to me.

I stayed on the ground, groaning softly under my breath for a while, before slowly getting to my paws and turning back to Renee, and reluctantly accepting one of the squirrels.

Renee shook her head slowly at me. “There are some things that I will tell you some day,” she whispered softly, “but I don’t have the heart to tell you now.” Her tail waved a little as she spoke, before her gaze then shifted to her bigger squirrel as she tore a chunk out of it, and began to eat.

I then turned to my squirrel too, and proceeded to taking a small, meagre bite out of it, just so that Renee wasn’t going to chase me down for not eating anything for my dinner.

I saw Renee swallow her bite of squirrel, before she cleared her throat. “But, Inuwa…” she whispered, “There is something that you would like to know, that I think you should know now, well in advance… it’s about the Season’s End that’s coming soon.”

My fur lifted. The Season’s End? I thought curiously, cocking my head. “What’s it with that?”

Renee shuffled her paws, before mewing: “A rogue mentioned something to me after I caught one of those squirrels in front of his face. He’d said that he’d seen Sharpstar outside the NeedleClan border, and… he said that the Season’s End is due to be held in a half-moon’s time from today.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, as I knew that this was going to come. “Oh, that’s a relief,” I sighed softly. “I knew this would be coming soon enough – remember? Remember that time when we were heading home from the moor, when you showed me that half-moon, saying there was about a moon until the Season’s End was due to come again?” As Renee nodded, I added: “I thought so.”

Renee purred. “Inuwa, sometimes you have an amazing memory,” she purred loudly.

I found myself purring too after this remark, as I stared up into the dusk, the twilight sky. Even though today was full of flaws, this one moment in the day that he was having was perfect.

Ninety - Nowhere And Nothing

The effect after that meeting was still present for a couple of days after the incident, and only on the fourth sunrise after the incident did I feel that I had fully recovered from the shock of the ordeal. That day dawned warm and sunny, with the promise of greenleaf looming on the horizon – and it was, according to the Clans’ rituals of the Season’s End as well.

The end of newleaf was coming. Ten sunrises until the next Season’s End beckoned me, and as each day passed I made a mental note in my head, counting down until the big day.

The Season’s End has always been huge for me – bigger than most of the other cats would think about it – and this time, it was evidently no different to the times before. I’d always loved the fact that it had been shrouded in so much uncertainty (I don't know why I liked the uncertainty of it) and routine – but afterwards I felt bitter, as I had failed once again to seal a place in the Clans.

Not being picked, I knew, was slowly taking its toll on me, and each time I failed only increased the desire for me to be accepted into the clans – the opposite of this never happened for me.

“You’re in a cloud of thought today, Inuwa. Are you there? I left because you weren’t responding.”

Renee’s soft voice snapped me back to attention, and I stood there, blinking slightly as my vision came back into focus. The speckled she-cat was staring at me with interest, her dark eyes round as she stared at me. Her tail twitched slightly, and I guessed that she wasn’t very happy.

“I… got in a little bit of a trance,” I mumbled under my breath, as my tail swept across the ground, shaking a whole lot of dust into the air in its wake. I shrugged as I watched the dust motes fall.

Renee still didn’t look very pleased, but she nodded anyway. “You’ve been often in trances since Dappleash,” I heard her sigh – very quietly – under her breath. “I miss the old Inuwa.”

I ignored Renee, not sure if this was intended for my ears or not, before I shifted off to the other side of our little clearing, thinking of nothing else better to do than to mingle around boredly.

I then started to groom my pelt casually, occasionally looking up at Renee. At once, all the thoughts in my brain emptied about Dappleash, and they all turned to Renee instead – I didn’t know why.

She really does care for me, was the first thought that struck me, before I realized that she had been doing this since the first time we had met, which was two-and-a-half moons ago now. I was pleasantly surprised with how much time had passed – it seemed like much less than it actually was.

I stopped in the middle of licking a tufted fir on my back at this, and just proceeded to stare at Renee mid-lick. It hit me for a moment that this wasn’t like any friendship that I’d had before – even through the very few friendships I had had with cats over the moons in the pines.

Nowhere and nothing indicated that she was being more than a friend, but I was sure that I had just realized that everything – to both of us – meant more than what it seemed on the outside.

That same wave of affection that I had felt time and time over again washed over me again: and this time, I knew what it meant. I couldn’t even believe myself when I realized what it was.

Then I knew that I would never take this friendship in the light that I had been taking it again.

Ninety-One - Answers

My tail twitched slightly as I stood up on the rise, overlooking the moor as I stayed in the shelter of the pine trees. Today, I had decided to visit the moor one last time before the Season’s End was due to occur in just over a quarter-moon’s time, and my paws tingled as I looked at the sloping plains.

I had ventured out on my own, after I had told Renee that I needed some space. She had looked a little upset, but she accepted my decision, a small smile etched on her face as I had left her behind.

And as I looked out onto the moor with fresh eyes after some time back in my home territory, it brought back so many memories.

The good and the bad all seemed to return to me with one look on that moor. I thought with pride on the good, like the time where I thought I could use the Community as a good thing – to a guttering feeling on the bad, when I had killed Archie when I had lost control, and had decided to flee from the Community to save myself from danger.

Then there were the times of relief, when Marley had offered shelter, and when I discovered that Aspie was a cat like myself - not quite the same - and that I wasn’t alone: there were also the times of fear, when Marley and Renee had been spitting with anger at one another, and Myles’ news of Slate’s new, vicious rule.

There were also the times like this: the times of uncertainty and unknowing. I seemed to always extremely dislike these times.

The only thing that I like that is confusing is the Season’s End, because it is related to the Clans. Things that are shrouded in mystery make me anxious, as I like to know everything.

I remember that when I was a kit, I had a knack that I used to find out about things that had happened at some point that I wasn’t meant to know about, and if I was told these things by another cat, I would often call out, and give it away, and the other cats around me would stare.

They also asked me how I knew this, and of course, I was a little too nervous to reply to these things.

I was jolted out of my trance as a pine branch snapped and fell to the ground, and as I heard this I snapped out of my own personal thoughts, and returned to the moor… to the Community…

I wondered about the Community for a moment, about Slate and his disastrous rule. I felt sick feeling about it: I didn’t know what had driven the shaded-furred tom to do something as unthinkable as that, and I didn’t need to know now: it wasn’t my business.

It wasn’t as if I was ever going to be a part of the Community a second time…

It was only in this moment that it fully hit me that this – for me – could be my last look at the moor I would ever see in my life, as I knew the Clans never ventured far from their territories, from what I have heard.

I shook with shock for a moment. I had too many questions at times that I wanted to know what the solution was to it – but as always, there were not enough answers to satisfy my need.

Sighing softly under my breath, I looked at the sloping, quiet area around the moor, before I slowly turned my back on it, and – without looking back – wandered away forever.

Ninety-Two - Innocence

“Hey, Aspie! You want to play a game with me?” A small speckled brown she-kit danced around her slightly bigger brother, who was sitting, looking at the ground, avoiding his sister’s gaze. The she-kit continued to prance around her brother, before she stepped forward and prodded him.

“Oh come on Aspie, please? All the other kits don’t want to play with me; they claim there’s no places left for me.” She continued to pace around her brother, her amber gaze often darting around.

Aspie didn’t look up at his sister speaking: his head continued to stay lowered to the ground. “I don’t like playing games,” he grumbled softly. “And don’t touch me; I don’t like it, Renee.”

The she-kit called Renee looked very displeased by this. “But Aspie, I want to lay a game!” she whined. “I don’t get how you never want to play games. You’re no fun at times, you know!”

“Renee, calm down, and stay away from your brother.” A ginger-brown she-cat – full size – came over to the two kits, and started to herd Renee away from Aspie, while Renee tried to protest against her mother’s attempts at sending her away by batting at her legs. “He’s alright on his own.”

But on the she-cat’s face was a look the she-kit knew was a look of worry, and concern.

Aspie shot a look at his mother. ‘I’m alright…” he murmured softly, before padding up to a rise in the Community’s camp, and looking out onto it. It was late afternoon, and the sun was threatening to touch the horizon, and start the process of the sly turning from pale blue to dark, dark black.

Renee also knew that no other cat had some habit that, like Aspie. No other cat watched the sunset.

He’d been doing that since as long as Renee could remember, when he’d first seen the sunset when they were three moons old. From that day, he’d watch the sun rise and fall below the horizon.

That was the day that Renee realized that her brother, Aspie, was different from all other cats.

Renee breathed a long sigh as she stared at the darkening sky. A quarter-moon still pended until the day that the other cat – who seemed a lot like Aspie himself – would try once more for his passion.

Renee didn’t understand why both of those cats had such vivid interests, and so different ways of expressing their thoughts than to what she did. All she could uncover was that they were different.

A little more different than usual, Renee corrected, reminding herself that no cat that she had ever seen was exactly the same. Being unique was important, but this was different.

She shoved those thoughts out of her mind, and watched as the stars started to appear in the now-black sky, darkened with night. Renee couldn’t help but admit that it was beautiful.

A rustling of bushes appeared, and then she heard a soft voice say: “I’m back,” before there was a soft, muffled thumping noise as another thing came and sat by Renee, its amber eyes bright.

Renee breathed a long sigh of relief. “I’ve been expecting you for a while.”

The other cat sighed. “Yeah… reflections…” he mewed softly, letting out a sigh. “The good and the bad have returned… Archie… Aspie and Marley… the Community… Slate…” His voice trailed off.

Renee softly leant against this other cat. “Get rid of the other thoughts. Your innocence in all of those situations holds true, and it’s not your fault at all.” This made her feel guilty – if she didn’t decide that the community would be a good place for Inuwa, none of this would’ve happened.

“Thanks,” Inuwa whispered softly, as he rested his head on my shoulder falling silent.

Renee stared on quietly, unable to speak a word. A quarter-moon remained: a quarter-moon to finish the job that she had started nearly three moons ago – and a quarter-moon until her choices, everything that she had sacrificed, would either be rewarded, or put down for nothing.

Ninety-Three - Simplicity

I looked behind me with narrowed eyes as I padded into the clearing, my heart feeling as though it was going to burst out of my chest. Moving to the front of the clearing, I sat down, shifting into a position that made sure that there was nothing obscuring my vision to where the leaders would be.

The Season’s End, after many long moments and days of waiting, had finally come around. Renee hadn’t seemed too eager on it this morning, even though the day had dawned warm and very sunny, which I had taken to mean that it was a positive sign. She’d snapped at me a few times.

“I’m really nervous, okay?” she’d barked at me when I’d asked her why she seemed so snappy. “I want to do the best for us, okay… but I don’t want my work on you over these moons to fail!”

After that, I’d left her to rage, and I scuttled off, feeling a little bit nervous inside.

I looked around me: a lot of cats had gathered. I saw a dark golden-brown cat and a gray-and-brown cat beside him, and I shivered slightly as I recognized Thorn and Claw, who I hadn’t seen since I had returned to the pines just under a moon ago. However, they stayed where they were, and nodded.

Surprised, I nodded back at them, before they both turned back to one another and started to converse between themselves, their voices low as they shot occasional looks forward.

A lot of cats were now craning their heads to look if the leaders were there: not all lived in the pines, as some travelled from the moor around the forest, or from nearby woodland whose closest point was near ShrubClan and NeedleClan territory. I’d never been there, but I had heard talk of it before.

“All right there, Inuwa? Sorry I was so long, I tripped over a tree branch…”

I jumped, and turned around to see that Renee had sat down next to me. The brown she-cat looked considerably happier than when I had last seen her, although her front right paw was raised.

“I’m alright,” I mumbled quietly, looking down at my paws again. “Just a little nervous…”

“I’m sure that everyone here feels a little nervous here, Inuwa, it’s natural,” mewed Renee breezily, who seemed to be looking rather confident. She then paused, before asking: “Where’s the leaders?”

I shook my head. "They won’t be coming just yet,” I mewed slowly, my tail twitching. “They’re probably hanging around nearby, waiting for us to finish gathering.” I looked behind me to still see a few more cats filing into the clearing, their faces grim. “Look, they’re still coming in.”

Renee nodded slowly, one ear flicking in distaste at the slower cats, which all seemed to be rushing in, and quickly looking if the leaders were there yet, before slinking off, looking calmer.

Then, there was a scraping noise, before a wiry brown tom stepped into the clearing through another entrance on the other side. Another cat – dark ginger – followed him.

“They’re here!” I hissed quietly to Renee, as the rest of cats fell silent. Two other cats – which I immediately recognized as Owlstar and Birdstar – followed the other two, and my heart leapt.

MossClan has vacancies! I thought, feeling extremely excited. I’m just going to hope the simplicity of this attempt is going to be easier than the times before – I need to get in this time!

And I let my mind go clear as the dark ginger cat stepped forward, and announced: “Welcome to the Season’s End, for the end of newleaf” to the completely silent crowd, who were staring at the cat, with no cat’s gaze wavering.

Ninety-Four - Reality

This moon, it looks like that all but one of the Clans has vacancies – and the only one who doesn’t have a vacancy is ShrubClan. I shuffle my paws nervously, waiting for the ceremony to start.

“Today, we hope that you can make you a warrior,” Sharpstar announces – NeedleClan’s leader – announces, and immediately cheers erupt, before every cat falls silent once more in apprehension.

My heart leaps in worry as I shuffle closer to Renee, as the clearing falls silent. I’m more nervous than I’ve ever been before, and maybe it’s because I didn’t want to lose the companion that I had gained over the past three moons. I looked at Renee, and her reproachful amber gaze made me guess that she too felt the same way as I did. I stared for a while before turning back.

Windstar, the wiry BarkClan leader, is the first of the leaders to step forward. He mews: “BarkClan expresses the opportunity for one new cat to join our ranks,” before he steps back in line.

Sharpstar then followed Windstar’s lead, the dark ginger tom turning back to standing in front of all the other leaders again. “NeedleClan also has one vacancy,” he meowed gruffly, his eyes narrowed.

As Sharpstar steps back, I shoot a look to the side, where Thorn and Claw were sitting. I saw them shoot annoyed looks at one another, and I swore I could hear Claw mouthing: “One vacancy?!

I guessed that they seemed annoyed, before I turned back to the front, where Owlstar was now standing. He was the only leader that I knew would definitely be turning up – I knew that he would want to replenish his stocks of warriors after Chrome’s death nearly three moons ago.

To my surprise, however, Owlstar mewed: “MarshClan is happy to announce that we have two vacancies for new warriors.” Shooting an annoyed look at Sharpstar, he too stepped back. Finally, Birdstar stepped forward, and I swore I could feel my heart thumping in my chest at this.

Her gaze found Owlstar’s before she started speaking, acknowledging the brown-and-white leader first with a quick nod. “Like MarshClan,” she mewed confidently, yet quietly, “MossClan, due to unfortunate circumstances where our deputy came to his demise, has two vacancies this moon.”

I couldn’t believe my ears at this. I nudged Renee excitedly without thinking, the words two vacancies ringing in my head, and I looked at her. She too looked pleased, before she signalled to the front. “Let’s make a good impression for them,” I heard her whisper to me under her breath.

I sat up straighter, and shuffled my paws together at this, determined more than I ever was.

The leaders had started to make their decisions. Owlstar had already picked out a cat – a weedy-looking gray tom with matted fur – from the crowd, and was scanning the crowd with narrowed eyes for his second cat; Sharpstar, too, was scanning the crowd with his eyes narrowed.

Then Sharpstar found what he was looking forward, as he flicked his tail, and I watched slowly as Thorn came up from the crowd, looking very pleased. Claw hissed in frustration as his friend left with Sharpstar, before moving away quickly. Now, only three leaders remained.

Owlstar then picked out a second cat: a ginger tabby she-cat whose green eyes seemed abnormally large, and they too were led away by the MarshClan leader. My tail twitched anxiously.

As Owlstar could be seen no more, I snapped my attention back to Windstar, who too seemed to find what he was looking. A sleek white she-cat came up from the crowd, looking enormously relieved as she was picked. Windstar whispered something in her ear, before they too left.

Now, only Birdstar remained, and my stomach started to twist in pain. Don’t make me fail again…

My heart started to beat extremely fast as Birdstar scanned the crowd of cats, from the left to the right. Her head shook a few times as she looked, before her gaze swept around the middle of the group of cats, where at the front of these Renee and I happened to be sitting.

She stayed there for a long time, and I wondered if ever my dream was going to become a reality…

…Before she looked down at Renee and I, gave a humongous sweep of her tail, and she whispered something so soft that no other cat could hear: “Guess what? You can join us. Welcome to MossClan, you two.”

Ninety-Five - Acceptance

I took a huge deep breath in, nodding without thinking, before I seemed to rise up slowly before following Birdstar slowly away from the clearing. My legs were shaking: I was still half in disbelief. After so long trying… and so long failing… I had achieved my goal of getting into MossClan.

I could feel Renee continuing to press into my side as we walked on. Birdstar’s tail was high as we followed her on: while a burning sensation spread down me as cats turned to stare at me.

I felt myself going red, so I was very much relieved when I finally got out of the clearing.

We got cornered by Birdstar after this, once we’d stepped into MossClan’s borders, which were near the clearing. The clearing was in the middle of the Clans, but for each Season’s End, the border between BarkClan and ShrubClan was often used for getting cats to and from the venue.

I’d felt weird walking in BarkClan territory – as that was the side most cats tended to stick to, except for the ShrubClan hopefuls. However, that wasn’t going to happen anymore, I didn’t think.

Not that I was a Clan cat now, anyway. I would have to say in MossClan’s borders until my death.

The three of us eventually stopped a little way into MossClan territory, and we entered a clearing. I felt moss under my paws, soft and cool as I padded in to a clearing, with pine trees around the outside, and with very liberal amounts of moss around the clearing.

Birdstar flicked her tail, motioning for Renee and I to sit down, and we did just that. I pressed a little into Renee’s side, not going obviously close as to alarm Birdstar of our relationship.

The ginger-and-white she-cat’s gaze seemed to lay more to Renee’s direction. Her blue eyes flashed for a moment as she mewed in her fairly quiet voice: “Before you come into MossClan, I’d like to know your names first. The Clan is expecting you, and is excited to meet our new members.” Her gaze locked with Renee’s, as I straightened up, watching on. “What’s your name, pretty?”

Renee raised her head confidently as Birdstar spoke to her. “My name is Renee,” she mewed confidentially, her amber eyes shining. I watched on, silent, as Birdstar nodded.

“Oooh, I like that name very much…” she mewed softly, her tail flicking slowly. “We’ll make sure that I’ll give you a very nice warrior name for that, Renee.” Renee flicked her tail in response, looking pleased, before I saw Birdstar turn to me. “You look familiar from a while ago…” she whispered.

I vaguely remembered the moment that Caillou – Dappleash never told me his warrior name on that fateful day – and guessing it was that, I mewed slowly: “My father and I… you were deputy…”

This seemed to satisfy Birdstar, and I sighed in relief as she mewed loudly: “Aaah, I remember now! You were that black-and-gray cat’s son.” She nodded, satisfied. “Your name, please?” I attempted to look Birdstar in the eye, and I managed to say “Inuwa,” slowly before looking away.

There was a silence after this, where Birdstar started to rub one ginger paw across the layer of moss, before nodding. “Inuwa… Inuwa… the name suits you,” she mewed finally.

I nodded, guessing that Birdstar was going to make a comment about warrior names.

However, the leader didn’t, and just flicked her tail at us. “That’s enough time I’ve spent,” she mewed gruffly, beckoning for us to follow her. “Your acceptance is imminent. Follow me.” Birdstar then rose to her paws, and padded to the edge of the clearing at a brisk pace.

Renee and I followed her out cautiously, wondering what was going to happen next. However, I was sure that one thing had happened: finally, I felt accepted for who I was, not because I was different.

Out of all the Clans, MossClan is the most unique. And I am extremely happy for that choice alone.

Ninety-Six - Lesson

Shadows dappled around Renee as she woke up, looking at the ceiling of the den hazily. As she blinked, the vision slowly got clearer, and she let the warm moss press in around her, trying to make herself feel content in her soft nest. Her eyelids drooped, but they did not close.

For some reason, Renee felt that she wasn’t supposed to be here, and for a moment, she tried to locate why she may be thinking this way. Then, she remembered the reason why.

Wasn’t I accepted into MossClan, with Inuwa? The specked she-cat questioned herself, shaking out her brown fur softly, before looking at the side. There was no midnight-black shape in the den: it was obvious that Inuwa was not around at the moment – or wherever he was, anyway.

Rising to her paws, Renee took a deep breath before padding out of the small den.

Immediately, her breath was taken away – she had never seen this before. A barrier of pines seemed to surround the outside of what seemed to be a large clearing, with moor beyond the second layer of pines. It was silent, and Renee could swear she could hear herself think if she wanted.

Looking around this beautiful clearing, Renee realized that she was not alone. Two shapes seemed to stand in the distance – one shape seeming to be a ginger-brown colour, the other dark gray with what looked like to be some sort of pattern on his pelt. Renee’s heart suddenly leapt.

She knew who these cats were, and her heart then skipped a beat, as she started to judge even her own decision. How – is this even possible – she thought doubtfully, blinking in disbelief.

The scene in front of her did not change, and that told Renee that she wasn’t seeing things. Inhaling one deep breath, before exhaling it with a long sigh, Renee padded forward to meet the cats.

It seemed like forever that she was walking – it seemed as like it was almost surreal. It seemed like eternity as she reached the ginger-brown and dark gray shapes, before there was a pause.

“Mother,” Renee breathed softly at the ginger-brown cat, before turning to the other cat. “Father.”

The two cats nodded softly at their daughter, their dark gazes unusually bright at the exact same time. They looked at one another for a moment, before looking again at their kit.

“You’ve done us proud, despite your struggles,” the ginger-brown cat whispered. “It’s been hard for you to accept that some cats don’t exactly think the same way as you, don’t they?”

Renee nodded, her throat dry as she wondered to herself why her mother knew so much.

“You’ve done us proud that you’ve managed to overcome this,” the other cat whispered. The dark brown – almost black – flecks on his pet seemed to become largely more prominent at this on the cat’s fur. “Sometimes doubt is a good decision, Renee, I’ll give you that.”

Renee’s gaze softened at her father’s praise: she couldn’t remember the last time that her parents had spoken to her so warmly like this. “Thank you so much… I’m honoured…” she murmured.

The two cats looked happy as they gazed at their daughter, before the she-cat stepped forward to speak again: “There are many more obstacles you’ll have to overcome, Renee. That was only the first. The Clan has their own struggles too, and I know you will make us proud as a warrior.”

At this, Renee’s voice faltered. “…I thought you wanted me to be a loyal Follower to the Community, like you told me when I was young,” she mewed, confused, staring up at the two cats.

The dark gray cat broke out into a massive purr. “We never knew about the Clans,” he mewed, his voice hoarse. “If we did… oh, I wouldn’t have fancied having you and Aspie there, I don’t know if your brother would’ve coped with a forced date to leave. We all have our lessons that we need to learn, Renee, remember that, alright?” The tom’s last words were faint as he started to fade.

However, before Renee could speak, her parents were gone, but she still felt warm inside.

No regrets, that’s for sure. Don’t let this get to me. Everything that I have done has been for a reason… and I thank Inuwa for helping me to understand.

Thank you, Inuwa. You really did touch my heart.

Ninety-Seven - Enthusiasm

The first day of my time in MossClan was a day that I really enjoyed.

After being shown around the MossClan camp, we’d been introduced to a few warriors, before Birdstar had formally introduced us when all the Clan had gathered. I had felt a little doubtful at first, but the rest of MossClan seemed welcoming enough to make me feel calm.

In the Clan, there were twenty cats that had been selected – ten toms and ten she-cats – as full members. There was the leader, the deputy, the medicine cat, and in MossClan’s case there was a cat training to be a medicine cat as well. The rest were warriors – and in the case of one she-cat…

“She’s a little bit upset,” the Clan deputy, Stormwillow, had told me as Renee and I had poked our heads into the nursery to see a black she-cat with four young kits at her belly. “She knows that she has to let go of her kits when she’s older – but no, she doesn’t want to at all…”

The black she-cat had lifted her head at this sadly, her amber eyes round. “No, they’re all so precious to me, but the Clan matters to me a lot too, and I don’t want to abandon either,” she mewed quietly, as she shook her head.

I couldn’t look at the she-cat after this, and my gaze had averted elsewhere after that.

Stormwillow, if I had to say so myself, seemed nice enough as it was, and seemed fairly confident in her role, despite the fact that she didn’t look the part. I reflected that I could grow to like her.

I’m so happy that I thought of this Clan as being the best for me, I decided after this tour, where I had been shown around the whole camp. I think it really is! This is brilliant!

I shot a look at Renee, and the happy wave of her tail that I had received in reply indicated to me that Renee was probably very pleased with herself as well, to my relief.

In MossClan, it was obviously a very big deal to the warriors that there were new cats in camp. As we stood up with Birdstar on a rocky ledge covered in ivy – fittingly named Ivyledge – I could see many of the warriors looking up at us, and jostling to get a good position on the ground as they stared up.

The warriors didn’t care so much, but at this the medicine cat, a tom going by the name of Ravenpelt, got extremely annoyed at all the jostling that he started hissing at the warriors to quit their raucous behaviour. None of them stopped, until Birdstar told them to be quiet.

“This is Renee,” she’d mewed softly, as she flicked her tail at Renee, “and this is Inuwa,” as she tail then turned in my direction. “These are our new warriors, and we will organize a warrior ceremony in the next few days for them, to make sure that they will feel right at home with MossClan.

A few of the warriors cheered at this, and I puffed out my chest in pride, feeling so happy that all of these warriors were very eager to accept a new cat among their ranks – especially a cat like me, for example.

I don’t need to dwell on my slight issues now, I’d told myself. The Clan’s enthusiasm about this whole situation means a lot more to me than what I can and can’t do for myself.

But one thing that I knew from that moment on was that I was most definitely right at home.

Ninety-Eight - Game

A couple of days passed, and I slowly got used to most of the Clan’s ways of doing things around camp. It was different to the life that I had as a loner, but it had more of a set routine, which I liked.

At the beginning of the day, it was often that Stormwillow would call a couple of patrols, each consisting of about four or five warriors, to do stuff like hunting or border patrolling around the borders with MarshClan and BarkClan. The rest would stay would either stay in camp, go and help Ravenpelt and his apprentice, Sorrelbreeze – who I found out was the calico she-cat who had been accepted into MossClan at the previous Season’s End – or wander out of camp and do something.

I’d been on patrols with a variety of warriors, and a couple of times Renee had ended up on the same patrol as me, which made me feel better as I was with a cat that I knew well already.

Anyway, today had dawned warm, and greenleaf had really started to taken hold, even though it was early on in the season. A warm breeze ruffled past as I exited the warriors’ den, after Stormwillow, who seemed to be slightly irritated by the fact that it was past dawn.

Stormwillow started to shout out names for a couple of hunting patrols and dawn patrols. I listened, but my name was not called, so I sighed back in relief as three patrols headed out of camp, leaving a small group of cats hanging around the outside of camp, all lazing around.

I rose to my paws, and I wandered out of the camp. There was nothing better for me to do.

My fur lifted in the breeze, at it became distinctly ruffled as I padded through the still-unfamiliar territory of MossClan, trying vaguely to find my way around through the maze of high-branched pines. I couldn’t help but admit that my Clan’s territory was beautiful.

All these pines… I thought, as I looked up slowly. Then I sighed softly. It’s like my old home…

It was hard for me to admit, but even though I was now where I wanted to be – and that I loved every bit of it – I still missed the familiar territory of outside the Clans. I was never going to venture there again, and I wished I had appreciated my last opportunity there, so that I could…

“Oh, hello Inuwa. Guessing you weren’t picked for a patrol this morning, right?”

I spun around to see Renee herself padding towards me, my speckled friend’s amber eyes noticeably bright as she stared at me. I broke out into a purr without thinking it through properly – and much to my surprise, Renee ended up purring as well as we looked at each other, our gazes soft.

All I could hear for a while was our purrs, and it echoed in my ears. Finally, Renee spoke: “I was actually looking for you, Inuwa. I wanted to have a little talk about something… before we end up receiving our warrior names tonight.” I saw Renee shudder as she spoke the words.

We will give you your warrior names tomorrow night. The words that Birdstar had told Renee and I last night started to ring in my ears again, and I realized that this was the last day that I would ever be known as Inuwa, before I would have to let it go forever, and have the name of a warrior.

“Are you for real? What do you want to talk with me about?” I blurted out without thinking.

Renee shook her head. “You’ll see. Just follow me,” she mewed, before flicking her tail for me to follow her. I obeyed her instructions: and as she turned and padded off, I followed.

I was hoping that Renee’s idea of a talk wasn’t a game, and that it was going to be a good thing. A breath shuddered in nervously, and I closed my eyes for a minute, before I nodded.

She wouldn’t do something like that, I thought, before I felt my eyelids open once more.

Ninety-Nine - Friendship

We ended up finding ourselves in the mossy clearing that Birdstar had led us to a couple of days before, which was – to my relief – mercifully empty. I sat down on the springy moss, looking at Renee with interest as I wondered what she was going to say to me.

Eventually, after a long pause, Renee ended up sitting down next to me. She turned herself in my direction, and I stared into her eyes, slightly nervous. And this time, I did not look away once.

I saw Renee inhale sharply, her amber eyes flickering closed for a moment. Slowly, they opened again, and then she sighed. I reflected that Renee looked tense, uncomfortable.

I wonder why she hasn’t told me yet. Is she worried? I guessed, as I shuffled my paws anxiously across the moss, as it made a soft noise, breaking the now-silence that was in the clearing.

The silence continued before a while, before I heard Renee speak, breaking it:

“I must tell you something, Inuwa. Something I should have told you long ago, even before we went to the moor.” Her voice was barely a whisper as she spoke; only intended for my ears.

I felt my fur lift slowly as I heard these words, the words that Renee had hidden something from me. Judging by when she had said ‘Something I should have told you long ago, even before we went to the moor’, I knew that she had held this for a long time. I felt myself shake for a moment.

“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?” I asked Renee tersely, personally feeling very annoyed that she had not told me earlier what she was going to tell me now. I felt my tail-tip twitch, almost ready to lash in fury, after I spoke this: as a feeling of anger started to well up inside of me.

Renee’s tail then landed on my shoulders, and even though I wanted to push her tail off, I reluctantly let it stay there. She turned to me, and said: “…Honestly, Inuwa, I think you need to know this now, before you become a warrior. Otherwise… I have to wait until we have new names, and I want this to happen when we still have the names we knew, explored with before we joined MossClan.”

I still wasn’t entirely satisfied, but I grunted softly under my breath to show that I had submitted. “Fine…” I mewed, sighing. “I’ll let you say what you have to say alright?”

Renee nodded, and I heard her purr again, and the feeling that I had felt many times before when I was with Renee washed over me yet again. I saw Renee shuffle her paws across the moss nervously.

Then, I saw her take a deep breath, and the next words that came out could’ve been like a breath of the wind: they were spoken that softly. “Inuwa… I love you,” she whispered.

At once, I staggered backwards in shock, Renee’s tail flying off my shoulders as I stopped.

She loves me? I thought in disbelief. She loves me? In this moment of doubtfulness, the feeling washed over me once again: admiration, loyalty, everything that I’d experienced…

And finally, in that moment, I realized what that feeling was. And Renee had just told me what it all was… Now I understood. The feeling was love… it was love all along…

I took a deep breath in myself, and I too, breathed out four words, all of them without myself thinking them through properly before saying them aloud. “…I love you too.”

Then, we paused, before meeting ourselves together again in the centre of the clearing, and we linked our tails together as we both turned to look up at the sky, pressing against one another.

Our relationship is more than friendship, I thought to myself, purring as I pressed into Renee’s side. It is love… and I do hope for our relationship to continue growing, now that we’re together.

In spirit, and in MossClan.

One Hundred - Endings

I suppose that the one thing that I could take away from all this is to venture out further, to leap out and grab chances while they’re available. I’ve learnt that I have to go and open these locked doors myself, rather than waiting, and letting someone else to do it for me.

My name is Inuwa, and I’m soon to become a warrior of MossClan. I suppose this is somewhat a conclusion to what I’ve faced over these past three moons – there’s nothing more to say.

I feel that with Renee, my fresh start has been achieved. I have a new lease on life that I have never had before, and oh, do I feel so much happier through all of it. I have absolutely no regrets.

I’m more confident as well, and among others – despite being still a little awkward socially – I feel as if I somewhat belong. The Community showed me what was possible for me to do.

And now, MossClan is showing me how I can put everything that I’ve done into action.

The memories that I have obtained have been priceless. I suppose the ones that affected me the most were the ones of Aspie on the moor, and even though I shared some aspects of personality with the gray tabby, he – overall – was much worse off. I appreciated this for myself.

I don’t feel defined by my weaknesses any longer: I feel defined for what I am. The positives that I have reaped through having more focus on what I need to do, rather than what I can’t, has changed me for the better, if I have to say so myself. I feel better with myself now.

I’m very happy with what I have now. And with all due respect, I could not have done any of what I have done without the greatest companion that I have ever obtained, my love and best friend.

I am so happy that I found Renee, and now I have started to count how much blessings I have nowadays, because now, after all of this I have faced, I have realized that I have many.

I still know I’m not normal, and by now, I suppose that I never will be completely normal. However, that doesn’t matter to me anymore. I used to think that normal was what I really what I wanted to achieve, what I really wanted to desire. However, I realized that I was wrong.

I have realized that it’s more important to be myself, rather than to blend in.

I have also discovered not to let my struggled to hold me back, to keep me tied in. My struggles are what are behind me now: I believe that most of them are over, much to my relief.

My life, most importantly, is no longer in ruins. I really do feel that I have changed – drastically, too – and that what seemed impossible three moons ago has indeed become possible.

I am so happy, and I couldn’t ask for anything more than what I have now.

I feel that this is the end of my journey to the Clans: my journey, at long last, is finally over. The endings to my story have arrived, and I will embrace it as I move on with my life.

However, I still think there is one thing that I thought back the, which is still true in some aspects. I still – occasionally – don’t know what to say, and every time this happens, I think this, as I remember all that I have overcome to get here, and that this is much lesser than all of that:

It’s hard to find a point to start. It always has.


The End.

Author's Note

Wow. That's all I can say right now, especially since I have finished this 100 themes challenge.

I have to admit this, but this seemed insurmountable at first for me. All I had that pulled me through was to try, and try I did.

Ten weeks later, I'd done all of the 100 themes, and I couldn't be happier.

By far, this is the longest fanfiction I've written, and to add to that I know that this is - for sure - one of the biggest fanfictions on the entire wiki. c: I also think this is one of my best works I've written, so naturally I am very proud of this fanfiction. c:

I've fallen in love with a lot of my characters while writing this, and I really loved writing this, I discovered a lot about myself while I wrote this fanfiction. <3

I am pleased to announce that there will be a sequel, which eventually will be written, called Closing Out Pain. A lot of the characters in this book will be sure to return in my sequel, and I'm desperately looking forward to starting it!

Finally, I appreciate any comment that is dropped by here, and please remember to use constructive criticism - I don't want admins to be hunting you down!

Until next time,

It’s hard to find a point to start. It always has.

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