NYSSA HAD LIED.
As they walked towards the Elite camp, Skye and Reese argued over the elements of Nyssa’s plan, pulling it apart and nitpicking every single word. Nyssa only allowed them to do so because she hadn’t given them the whole truth, and because this time too many lives were on the line. Nyssa wanted to make sure her plan didn’t fall apart again.
But she hadn’t been completely truthful when Reese and Skye drilled her for every detail of her plan. There was one piece of it that she hadn’t revealed.
She wasn’t sure why she was keeping this a secret, but it felt too personal to share right now. They would find out soon enough anyway if her plan fell into place. She just had to stall long enough for her surprise to reach the camp.
“Ready?” She murmured to the other two as the Elite camp came into view. Like always, there wasn’t a single cat guarding the border. This time, it seemed all the Elites and overseers were in the camp, waiting for them.
“Shouldn’t we have waited a few days to plan this out?” Skye murmured. “It hasn’t even been a day and we’re waiting right into their paws.”
“It’ll throw them off,” Nyssa reassured him, “plus, Arya needs the cresimen as soon as possible. And I want to get someone to look at Rowan’s wounds. We don’t know if it could be fatal.”
She didn’t know what she would do if Rowan died. Reese would be murderous if the russet brown tom were to die and she might honestly tear Nyssa apart for setting him in danger with her own recklessness. But Nyssa had always set herself apart from the others, believing that it would protect her in the end when they died.
Now that death was dawning on all of them, Nyssa wasn’t sure if she was ready to watch one of her best friends die.
She shook the thoughts out of her head. She wasn’t going to fail Rowan again; she would save all of her cats and get all of them out alive. They had cheated death so many times—now was not the time to fall down.
“Remember,” she told them. “The two of you will try to get the others out while I distract them.”
“I still don’t get the distracting part,” Skye muttered. “What can you do?”
“She can be herself,” Reese snorted. “Her mouth will do the job.”
Nyssa ignored the jab and took a deep breath. Stepping into the Elite camp felt so much like when Nyssa had done her first job with Rowan and Reese to steal some extra prey and herbs for the Mistakes.
“One more time, there’s a ring of dens around the outside and the prey and herbs should be in the den right across from us.” Rowan muttered, “We’ll go straight through the first safe den we find and sneak around to get the prey and herbs. Reese, you’ll be in charge of making sure we get across without being seen. Nyssa—”
“We know the plan,” Nyssa snarled quietly, “Shut up so we can do it.”
“This is very important,” Rowan argued, “We need to get this right.”
“We can get it right a thousand times in words and even the most incompetent cats won’t be able to get it right in action,” Nyssa rolled her eyes. “If you don’t shut up about it we’ll just walk in bickering so everyone can hear us.”
“They can probably already hear you,” Reese muttered.
Rowan grumbled. “I’m just trying to make sure we stay alive.”
“Death has been chasing us since we were born,” Nyssa straightened her shoulders. “But he hasn’t caught us yet.”
“And he won’t for a long time.” Reese vowed.
“Even so,” Rowan argued, “we need to be careful.”
“We’re careful,” Nyssa dismissed, even though she knew they weren’t. A snort from the russet brown tom confirmed that he didn’t think so either. “Oh come on, don’t be such a mother hen.” She rolled her eyes. “What could are we doing here?”
“We argue all the time at home,” Reese added, “can we just keep the tradition and do it back there? I’d really rather not fail this mission because you two were bickering outside.”
Rowan glanced briefly at her and Reese looked away. Nyssa felt her heart tug a bit and she felt slightly guilty for knowing that she was the reason the two never got back together. “If you didn’t want to hear us argue, you could have gone ahead yourself. You’re the one getting the prey and herbs anyway. Nyssa and I are the guards on watch and the distracters if things go wrong.”
“Friends don’t leave one another,” Reese shrugged, though it meant the world to Nyssa that Reese called her a friend. But Nyssa knew they were all best friends—she just had difficult showing how much she cared about them. “Plus, I get the feeling if I’m not here you two will just start shouting.”
Nyssa bumped Rowan’s shoulder and said a little affectionately. “She has a point there.”
Rowan just snorted again and stared at the ground. Perhaps he was mulling over Reese’s words, wondering if her love had fully disappeared by now. Nyssa felt the twinge of guilt again.
“Let’s go,” Nyssa jerked her head towards the den they were going to enter, not wanting to drag out the silence longer. Better to get this mission done now before they really did fight.
But as they entered the camp for the first time, Nyssa couldn’t help but feel a bit sad that she was always arguing with her friends. She wondered if they really cared for her at all.
She wondered if they knew she loved them too.
Nyssa felt a little nostalgic thinking about the first time they had entered the Elite camp. She looked around her and realized in the hush of the silence that had fell over the camp, everything looked exactly the same. Of course, she already knew that from Skye’s debriefing of the camp, but it felt different seeing it with her own eyes.
She stood there in the entrance, alone. The overseer, Reese described him to her already (a pure black tom with icy blue eyes), was sitting in the middle of the camp, smiling at her, as if knowing she would come today.
He probably had scouts, Nyssa thought grimly.
“Hello, torturer.” Nyssa replied.
The overseer’s smirk was nothing short of evil. “You came alone it seems. Where did your two companions go? Did I make the mistake of letting them go?”
“Why did you?” Nyssa challenged. She had to keep him talking long enough so that her surprise would come, and so Reese and Skye could get the others out. She knew what she was waiting for—it was too obvious after she found the prisons completely empty.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” the overseer admitted, “but it seems you were smart and left your companions out of this to save them.”
“I won’t let you kill all of them.” Nyssa shrugged. “I know how to play my cards right.”
“If you did, you wouldn’t be here.”
Nyssa just allowed a small smile to escape her tight lips before it flitted away again. “I’m not prone to making smart decisions. But I think the smartest decision I’m making is being here. I won’t let you kill my friends.”
“Maybe you won’t have a choice.” The overseer narrowed those cold, yet beautiful blue eyes. “I wonder, Mistake, what really brought you here? Was it the compassion for your Mistakes? I know you don’t care about Arya—she’s not important to you at all.”
“No,” Nyssa admitted, “I could care less what happened to her but the rest are my friends.” Perhaps she was giving the overseer too much leverage but she didn’t know how else to keep the conversation running. She excelled at pissing other cats off, but right now, she just needed him talking. Making him mad would just accelerate the killing process and Nyssa needed time.
The overseer stood and stretched before slowly circling the dark gray she-cat. She let him, even though it stripped her bare to have his eyes skim and dash over her like a prize. She had once snapped at Rowan for doing so with Reese, letting the pale she-cat think Rowan was just addled by her pretty looks. Nyssa felt sick just thinking about that, especially with the russet brown tom in such a critical condition. What if the two of them never confessed their love?
From the murderous look Reese was giving Nyssa earlier, the dark gray she-cat knew it was partially her fault that Rowan was injured and in danger. She should have been the one behind defending the camp. Sure, it wouldn’t have made much difference, but Nyssa had long since been the reason why the two lovers had stayed so separate.
“What if I brought one of your friends out here now to torture?” The overseer finally spoke. “I’ve never tried adding a second dose of cresimen to a Mistake. What if your body couldn’t handle one dose, but could handle more? What if that made you more powerful than any Elite to live?”
Nyssa shuddered at the thought. She couldn’t help but let her fear show at that moment. Cresimen, she knew, would likely kill her if she took another dose. She got off lucky with her scars as her only Mistake mark.
“Bring me some cresimen.” The overseer smirked. “I want to see what the cresimen does to this Mistake.”
Fear crowded Nyssa’s brain. She couldn’t take another dose—it would kill her. Perhaps not physically if it could really give her overwhelming powers, but it would break her mentally. It would shatter any defense she’s ever put up against the Serpentine and their cruel insistence on overusing the drug.
She saw the red tints of the leaves and felt tears build up behind her eyes. She let out an involuntary whimper and sobs began to rack her body. Nonononono—
She tried to back away but found the entrance to the camp now blocked. She was trapped—utterly alone.
“No,” she whispered, “no.”
The overseer only smiled and brought the leaves closer. Nyssa was shaking now, her body trembling with pure terror as she glanced wildly around her. She needed an escape. She needed to go and run and leave. Forget the others; Nyssa wanted to save herself.
I want to see my parents again. The thought caused a pit of immense sadness to yawn open in her chest and Nyssa began to cry and couldn’t stop.
But no matter how hard Nyssa fought, Elites trapped her where she was, with their powers or with their paws, and the overseer slowly stuffed the leaves down her throat.
She choked, the air getting cut off as she tried to hack the leaves back up and stop the horrid poison in her mouth. She wanted to get it all out but with her mouth clamped shut, Nyssa had no choice but to swallow.
The dark gray she-cat opened her mouth and screamed. It was mostly a scream of fear, but suddenly fire began to build in her stomach, burning and burning as it got hotter and hotter. There was so much pain and Nyssa kept crying, convulsing on the ground as she threw up.
She wanted to get the leaves out but there were gone, somewhere in her system, poisoning her and killing her.
Mother, she cried out silently, Father!
She tried to visualize them to summon them but she couldn’t remember what either of them looked like. All she had of them were the touch of her mother as she was torn away and the cry of her father.
And she knew distinctively what the Elite cat had snarled. Stay away, SwiftClan.
Nyssa had played a stupid gamble today, knowing that her parents were SwiftClan. She thought that if she showed up here, SwiftClan would finally come back and attack and she would be free of her obligation to fight their battle for them. She could take the Mistakes far away and stow them away to keep them safe.
And she could see her parents one last time before she left.
The Forgotten prisoner had just been the first step of finding SwiftClan, but once Reese had explained what the overseer had wanted, Nyssa knew why she was here. He wanted to use her to draw out SwiftClan too, but Nyssa was happy to oblige his wishes. She didn’t know that he just wanted to use her for an example to all Mistakes. She was a fool.
But then there was a howl of pain that wasn’t coming from her, but somewhere near the entrance of the camp. She heard cats fighting and then suddenly someone was picking her up. Nyssa fell awkwardly, still in too much pain and the cat snarled before nudging her to her paws.
Nyssa lifted her dark amber orange eyes and found herself staring into unfamiliar, stormy gray eyes.
She knew who this was: the Forgotten prisoner.