Written by: Blazey
Episode 3. Here is episode two, if you want to read that first.
" Rise and shine, lovely," the squirrel says in a nasty, nasally voice. " Are you ready to be a hero?"
Now there is one important thing to acknowledge about Amanda. She has backbone. She is made of stern stuff, which is usually what happens when one is left to grow up on their own. Amanda is the one that creates the illusions, she is the trickster behind it all. So nothing scares her, really... it is all the stuff of imagination and fantasy.
But she has to draw the line somewhere. And that line, as she recently has discovered, is talking squirrels.
In conclusion, Amanda is completely unashamed of the blood-curdling shriek she lets out at the squirrel's words.
" Feisty!" the squirrel yelps, scurrying out of the way as her paw comes thudding down where it was moments before.
" Shut up!" Amanda screams back, swiping at it (and missing). " Get away from me!"
The squirrel scampers around her. " Easy, easy-"
"- die, rodent!-"
"- what in StarClan is going on?" another voice demands from behind her. Amanda whirled around to see the white female standing up, annoyance and confusion clear in her amber eyes. Amanda opens her mouth to reply when movement behind the other she-cat catches her eye. The other bodies are coming to life, grumbling, groaning, and letting out startled hisses.
" Look at what you've done!" the squirrel cries. Amanda screams again, realizing it is perched on her shoulders. " Oh, stop yelling."
" You- you-!" she splutters, trying to shake it off.
The squirrel refuses to be moved. " You've woken up all of them now. We were going to have such a nice heart-to-heart! You've created a completely unnecessary scene, and I don't just mean the kind in a temper tantrum!"
" What is going on?" the white female demands, and Amanda detects a note of hysteria in her voice.
The squirrel makes a strangled sound, clinging tight as Amanda bucks to dislodge it. " I'll explain, if you tell this hairy beast to stop trying to shake me off!"
The white she-cat likes like she's been struck across the face. " It... the thing is speaking to me."
" Evidently," a deeper voice rumbles, and Amanda starts. The other cats have gathered around them- a pretty silver cat with her lip curled, a brown tom with his ears flattens, and the speaker- a golden tom with his eyes narrowed.
He turns his gaze on Amanda, and she is struck by the scarlet intensity of his stare. " I don't know who any of you are, or where you come from...but we share one thing right now. We're trapped in a hole, and this squirrel seems to have answers. I never thought I'd say this but..." he sighed. " Let the squirrel talk."
The five cats gather around the squirrel, whom Amanda has reluctantly set down.
While he makes a great show of making sure he is alright- mainly involving frantic head movements and inspections of his tail, Amanda observes the other four.
There is a brown tom who looks skittish, constantly turning to look around him. She notes the nervous flexing of his claws, and the way his ears flattens and pricked up at alternate moments. Odd, she says. Be wary of him.
Next is the white female, but she looks more upset and annoyed than anything. Amanda has been trained to notice subtle things about others... and she has noticed a certain sense of relief about this white female.
Before she can make her next observations, the pretty she-cat speaks. Her voice is clear and sharp as she addresses the tom with the scarlet eyes. " You're the Bidder."
" And you're the bounty hunter."
Amanda gapes. " Bounty hunter? Oh, I know who you are...!" she trails off as both cats turn their stares on her. The bounty hunter curls her lip in distaste.
Amanda coughs. " Sorry."
" Now that we're all introduced," the squirrel says, "... thank you, Helios, for saving me from that brute..."
The golden tom blinks. " How do you know my name?"
" The same way I know all of yours," the squirrel says, sounding smug. " Amanda. Ibis. Frostwing. Nolan."
The four words cause visible discomfort. It is like a sharp blow dealt to Amanda's stomach. Names are powerful, names are an identifier. If cats tied together the string of robberies done by an Amanda, she would have lost everything. She would have been grounded.
The bounty hunter- Ibis?- noticeably flinches at her name. Amanda notes this with interest.
" And how exactly do you know these names?" Helios demands. The squirrel tilted his head to one side.
" My master."
" You have a master?" Amanda laughs. " A squirrel has a master?"
The squirrel, despite it's small, narrow face, manages to look affronted. " I am a very intelligent squirrel."
" Anyway," the squirrel continues. " It's time for business. My master is a manipulator. He pulls strings, he influences, yet rarely does he attempt something of this large a scale. You, throughout the course of your feline lives, have come to be of interest to him."
All five cats exchange odd glances. " Interest?" Ibis says cautiously.
" Yes, interest. He has been watching, and he has been utterly fascinated by you. Seriously, he won't shut up about it. You've come to interest him because you five are the most vile, corrupted, and utterly unheroic creatures he has ever encountered."
There is a strange silence at his words- Amanda doesn't know whether to feel flattered or offended. " That's a matter of opinion," Helios growls.
The squirrel nodded. " Quite true. And he has a particular opinion in mind."
" Care to elaborate?" Ibis presses.
" Not really," the squirrel says, " but all will be revealed... very soon. All my master wants to do is sort of, well, get to know you. I'd say please, but you don't really have a choice."
Amanda notes with growing dread that the squirrel is slowly backing away.
Frostwing cries out. " I won't do this! I won't be some sort of experiment, you idiot!"
But with a last, laughing call, the squirrel turns and begins to walk the other way. " You don't have a choice, lovely!"
Suddenly, the sky darkens, and Amanda's world is plunged into darkness. Before she can cry out, thunder sounds, lightning flashes, and the squirrel is gone.
The five cats are on alert. Their ears are pricked, tails stretched tight, and eyes roaming. Nolan whimpers once, and stops when Helios's eyes fix on him.
Amanda is observing, little details flitting through her brain. The sky is clear, so this must have been some trick of the light, perhaps some illusion done by the squirrel's (still unbelievable) master. Who is he, or she, or maybe 'it'? Another squirrel? Maybe it is a-
Lightning flashes, and the bright light sears into Amanda's vision, blinding her. She falls to one side and cries out. Light is flashing, darkness teasing at her vision, and she can see snatches of things- Ibis throwing her head back, Frostwing's snarl, and the grass stems she lies amongst. Amanda thrashes her limbs. What on earth is happening?
Abruptly, the flashing lights stop.
And Amanda is... standing?
She looks up. There is the bright blue sky, unchanged, and there are the other four cats, heads whipping around in bewilderment.
Then what is- oh.
The dirt walls that mark their prison have moved in, sandwiching the five cats between them. There are two options- forwards, or backwards. Amanda is looking up for a way to scale the wall, when a voice booms through them.
You are trapped, the voice echoes, and Amanda presses her ears to her head. It is painfully loud. You will not get out if you do not escape from here. You will starve and die of dehydration. Your body will shrivel up and fold in on itself until you become part of the earth.
Some cat in the group whimpers.
But this cat, the voice booms. This cat will get you out. She knows what to do.
As if she has been there all along, a tortoiseshell she-cat sits ahead of them, tail curled demurely around her paws.
" Tell us what you know," Frostwing demands. Amanda feels herself being shoved to the side as Frostwing pushes past her. " Come on, tell us!"
The tortoiseshell shakes her head. " No."
Amanda can see the frustration evident in the white she-cat's stance. " Tell us how to get out! We'll die!"
She's a Clan cat, Amanda observes. How far will she go?
" We don't have time for this!" Helios snarls. " Torture her."
Frostwing nods. She slams into the tortoiseshell and sends the cat tumbling to the floor. Frostwing stands atop her, pressing her face into the dirt. " Tell. Us. Now."
Frostwing shrieks with anger, bringing her claws down across the she-cat's face. The tortoiseshell flinches. " I will do it again," she growls. " In the same spot and harder each time. Now tell me the way out!"
And Frostwing did indeed bring her claws down again, on the exact wound she'd opened seconds before. This time, she let her claws sink in, dragging them with agonizing slowness through the tortoiseshell's tender flesh. The tortoiseshell howls in pain, and Frostwing's paw comes free drenched in scarlet. " You want to open up now?"
The tortoiseshell is sobbing. " Straight ahead," she cries. " You'll find your next test there."
Effective, Amanda notes, as Frostwing shoves the body aside.
The cats race ahead, leaving the body behind.
They race along the dirt walls for a while encountering no interruptions until all of a sudden, they stopped.
Amanda nearly crashes into Helios's behind. " What's going on?" she demands. Helios shifts to the side, and Amanda is able to see.
They are at a dead end. A dirt wall rises behind them, tall an unmovable. There are no exits. They are trapped, except...
Two small bundles of fur sit at the foot of the wall. Kittens, Amanda notes, and feels queasy in her stomach. She already knows where this is going to lead.
And so do they. There is no booming voice, no orders, because it is clear.
" We have to kill them," Amanda says thickly.
" That bothers you?" Helios inquires, and she thinks she hears traces of mockery in his voice. The other three cats are beginning to stir, wondering who will commit the deed.
" They are innocent," Amanda replies.
" Because they have lived less? That merely means their lives have less weight, and the deed should, too."
Amanda holds his gaze for as long as she can before dropping it. It still is not... right.
" I've has enough of this," Ibis snarls, and marches her way forwards. She grabs one of the kits, and it mewls lightly in protest as she holds her claws to its throat. " We have to do this, we've been ordered. Now, are you all cowards, or shall I do the other one?"
Have to, Amanda notes. We've been ordered.
Amanda stares at the kittens. I've killed many, she points out to herself. I stole their food, I drove their mothers out of their homes. So I suppose this isn't any different.
As Amanda is about to step forwards, someone else pushes past her. Amanda and Helios both stare in astonishment. It is the quiet, skittish tom from earlier- Nolan. He grabs the second kit and roughly shoves his claws against its throat, ignoring its frantic wriggling.
Amanda stares openly at him. She prides herself on her ability to read others, but she hasn't anticipated this. Perhaps he is braver than he appears, possesses more courage... but that isn't quite it. There is some sort of eagerness to his actions that suggests he has some other motive.
" Ready? Ibis says, and her voice is grim and emotionless. " Three, two, one."
She slits her kit's throat silently, with all the grace of a practiced killer. The young body drops, curled in a fetal position.
Nolan's kill is messy and noisy. His kit has time to cry out before falling dead, and Amanda's stomach turns.
As the second body kits the ground, the wall ahead of them vanishes. Amanda blinks, trying to clear her vision- but the wall is gone. Or it is never there, Amanda thinks appreciatively. Master illusionist work, this is.
Ibis is the first to move, turning heel and marching away. Helios follows, then Frostwing, and Nolan- though it seems Nolan has a hard time tearing his gaze away from the kit's body. As Amanda passes, she spares the body a second glance... and there, perched on the kit's flank, is the squirrel.
" You again," she growls.
The squirrel ignores her tone. " You're different," he tells her, tiny head jerking side to side. " My master thinks so. They believe what they see, but you have a second vision, a second sight. You look past what is real, you see the illusion."
" What are you trying to say?" Amanda says, casting a glance in the direction the other four have gone. None of them have noticed her disappearance, and if they have, they haven't bothered to go check for her.
" They're mislead by what they see," the squirrel says. " They only go where they are pointed... regardless of if it's wrong or right."
Amanda frowns. " So they're going the wrong way?"
" Most certainly."
" And I can go the right way?"
" Yes," the squirrel says, tipping its head towards the wall behind her. " Will you tell them?"
" No." Amanda turns around. I see the illusion.
Eyes closed, she stretches her paw out, out, and out until it will brush the cold dirt of the wall. Instead, she feels it pass free and land on rough grass instead.
Her eyes fly open. There is no wall.
The squirrel is gone when she looks behind her, so Amanda races forwards. She races free.
She turns around for a second look, and starts in shock. There is no maze behind her, no wall... she is standing in the same, unchanged hole she'd woken in.
And there, around her, are the other four... Nolan, Frostwing, pretty Ibis, and Helios with the scarlet eyes, looking as confused and bewildered as she feels.
Mind spinning and spinning, Amanda falls down her side, welcoming the warm sleep that comes to her. All an illusion... all in my head...
Above the hole, an unlikely duo peers down at the five figures below.
The first of the pair is a squirrel, and he sits on the shoulder of a cat. Neither of them appear to be trying to kill each other, and both seem oddly comfortable in each other's presence.
" You were right, Master," the squirrel speaks, but in a cat's meow. " They are an awful bunch, worse than any of the squirrels I've known. And that's saying something."
The cat shifts, silhouetted against the setting sun. " They're perfect, Riu. All I ever wanted."
" I know. But they fall prey to your illusions."
The cat moves slightly, tilting his head back to the sky. " It only means their minds are moldable."
" And that's good?"