AS HE STROLLED straight for the Elites gathered around the desolate ruins, Skye was starting to wonder if he had made the smart choice in leaving Arya with the crippled Mistake. He knew he shouldn’t have, but Arya would have spoiled everything if he had taken her with him.
And because he expected her to chase after him and demand why he hadn’t been taking cresimen for the past few moons. He left the Mistake to deal with that problem, though he fervently hoped that they wouldn’t shred each other apart.
The pale white she-cat didn’t seem too inclined to fight, especially with her crippled foot. She was obviously a tough she-cat, if not fierce, but Skye didn’t think even Arya would attack a crippled Mistake.
“Skye!” Finally someone spotted him strolling casually towards them. “Arya said you weren’t in camp. Where were you?”
“Hunting,” Skye said nonchalantly. “We needed prey. I also didn’t expect all of you to be out here in Mistake territory.”
“Mistakes don’t have land,” the tom snorted. “One of them sold out the Mistakes’ position. We can root out the stupid rebels and be done with it today.”
“And the Forgotten?” Skye tipped his head. He had always been known for his intelligence in the Elites and he knew he could spin this to his advantage. “Where is this rogue Mistake? Can I speak to him or her?”
“I don’t know,” the tom shrugged. “I wasn’t told where she was.”
Skye already knew this of course, but he knew it didn’t hurt to try to pry and see how much the Elites here knew of the situation. Had the overseers told them what else had happened when the she-cat had sold out her friends?
Arya certainly didn’t know, though the black and white she-cat was never the type of cat who knew where to find information. If she was more careful, she would have known the aftereffects of consuming too much cresimen. Of course, full withdrawal from cresimen would actually kill an Elite but Skye had been slowly weaning himself off.
“What’s the plan, Grayson?” Skye glanced around at the other Elites. He then scanned the grounds and found that there was absolutely nothing but ruins here. Perhaps the crippled Mistake was right and the she-cat had given them the wrong information.
“We were told this was where the hideout was so we’re trying to find the blasted entrance.” Grayson scowled at the ground. “There’s nothing here.”
“The rogue probably sold us the wrong location,” Skye grunted. “Tell the others to go back; I can scout the area out. If I find anything, Arya and I will tell you guys first before we take action.”
Grayson hesitated. Skye leveled him an easy and calm look. He knew it wasn’t in his place to place orders on the rest of the Elites but Skye’s brain was known throughout the Serpentine. If anyone was going to find the hideout, it was going to be intelligent Skye and his cunning partner, Arya.
“Okay,” Grayson relented. “I’ll tell the others.”
Skye sat down and watched—slightly in amazement—as the Elites filed away. Only Grayson gave him a dip of his head, but as soon as they left, Arya and the Mistake trotted up to them. “What did you say?” Arya asked in disbelief.
“Apparently they are very confident that my brains can figure out this puzzle faster than the others and it’ll be safer if only the two of us do this.” Skye shrugged. “I’ve told you again and again you need to play your cards right.”
Arya scowled. “Okay, Mister Brains, what do you want to do about her?” She jerked her head towards the pale she-cat.
Skye turned to her as well. “I was hoping you could tell us where your hideout was.”
Her fur fluffed up. “What?” She squawked. “Are you crazy? I’m not telling Elites anything.”
“Reese? By the stars why are there still Elites here? I thought they all left.” Another voice interrupted them and Skye whirled around, incredulous. How did they even come out without him noticing?
There were two of them. They were the russet brown tom and the dark gray she-cat who had encountered Arya this morning. The russet brown had noticed him earlier, when Skye had been watching to make sure Arya didn’t do anything stupid. It wasn’t as if he had anything to do at that time since he was already skipping cresimen daily.
The pale she-cat looked relieved and trotted forward into the russet brown tom’s grasp. He glared at Skye with his multi-colored eyes. Skye kept his gaze neutral as the dark gray she-cat stepped forward, her hard eyes running over them swiftly.
“Arya and Skye.” The pale she-cat—Reese, the tom had said—said quietly.
Skye felt a flicker of surprise at Reese’s betrayal. Then he felt foolish for thinking she wouldn’t give away their names to her friends. Skye had given her his name out of trust, and she hadn’t given him hers.
The dark gray she-cat was small, but she was well-muscled and her eyes were shooting daggers at him. “Are you two here because you helped get the Elites away, or are you just dense and think you can stay here and fight all three of us?”
“Two,” Arya sneered. “The cripple can’t fight.”
Rage lighted Reese’s eyes. She started forward, even though she was already heavily limping on her feet. “You want to bet--”
“Reese.” The word held pure command from the dark gray she-cat.
The pale she-cat paused and stood down. All three of them seemed headstrong but it was obviously they heeded to this she-cat’s orders. “So what are you here for?” She repeated. “Because you must know you won’t be leaving here alive.”
“I was helping Reese.” Skye said quietly.
Arya, curse her, snorted at that statement. The dark gray she-cat frowned slightly in her direction but turned to Reese. “Did you bring them here?”
“I brought him, but the she-cat was already with the others. He managed to convince them to leave.” Reese defended.
The dark gray she-cat scanned them from head to toe. “Come inside,” she said finally. “If Reese trusts you enough to bring you here, then I guess I can’t do anything about it. You must be wondering where we came from.”
Skye scanned the ground. He was wondering, since he couldn’t see any entrance. Perhaps they had looped around the ruins? But the russet brown tom just kicked aside some brush and slipped into what looked like a rabbit hole. Simple and very effective, Skye had to give them that.
Reese followed next, without a glance at Skye. Arya hesitated, conflicted by her ties to the Elites. “Go inside,” Skye urged her, “I promise it’ll be worth it.”
“If you’re planning on betraying us,” the dark gray she-cat said coolly, “you’ll find yourself without a tongue to do so. Or paws.”
Arya just shoved her way inside without a word and Skye followed quickly. Was this the camp for the Mistakes that Reese had lied about? Skye didn’t know how much of the she-cat had been lies and how much had been truth. Did the leg really bother her that much? Or was she wielding it as a weapon to convince enemies she was weaker than she actually was?
When they emerged from the tunnel, Skye couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that it was truly a camp. Cats milled about, some gaping outright at them, others scurrying away. Reese and the tom headed straight for the large den at the back and Skye followed. When they were all inside and seated, the dark gray she-cat entered and remained standing.
“I hope you realize that by showing you this camp, I’ve handed you some trust.” The dark gray she-cat began, “and I’m going to continue that by telling you my name. I’m Nyssa, and I am the Leader of the Mistakes. You mess with my group, you mess with me. I’ll make you regret it.”
Nyssa. It was good information to file away, even if Skye planned on making these cats his allies. They were the key to destroying the Serpentine order and perhaps restoring SwiftClan back to its normal status. Skye knew the Clan cats were still out there, especially if Reese spoke true and there was a Forgotten prisoner back at camp.
Nyssa flicked her tail at the russet brown tom. “That is Rowan. Since you’ve already met Reese and Rowan already revealed her name, I won’t really need to introduce her. The three of us lead the Mistakes and everything the two of you do will have to be reported to us.”
Skye risked a glance at Reese and realized the she-cat was staring back at him. Her eyes were unfathomable and Skye found himself looking away. “What do you want us to do?”
“First, I want to make sure the two of you won’t actually betray us.” Nyssa grounded out. “I spent moons keeping these cats safe and even then, nobody I knew from the beginning except Rowan and Reese are alive. It’s tougher than you know to live out here and I will do everything I can to ensure these cats’ safety.”
Arya snarled a little. “I don’t want anything to do with Mistakes.”
“And I don’t want anything to do with pompous fools,” Nyssa countered coolly.
Before Arya could snap back, Skye laid his tail on her shoulder. “Arya,” he murmured, “I let you stay because I wanted you to be with me. I want you to understand something: these cats will help us.”
“How?” Arya demanded, not even caring that the three Mistakes were listening. “What are you trying to accomplish by not taking cresimen?”
He saw Nyssa and Rowan perk up at those words. He suspected they all already knew he had skipped out on cresimen today because he had been on the border in the morning but they didn’t know how long he had been skipping it.
“I’m saving my own life, that’s what I’m doing.” Skye lashed his tail, “And I’m trying to save yours.”
“Cresimen feed our powers!” Arya said in disbelief, “We are stronger because of it.”
“And we will also deteriorate faster.” Skye shook his head. “I’ve seen the effects, Arya. The overseers try to hide the facts but Elites are dying rapidly from the drug. Where do you think the older Elites go?”
Arya hesitated. “Cresimen hasn’t been here for too long.” She protested. “There’s only been a select few who have died…and they always had diseases.”
“Diseases from cresimen.”
“That drug has been around for over thirty moons.” Reese said quietly. “It’s ruined not only the lives of the Elites, but the lives of the Mistakes as well. You can’t just take rogue kits and feed them something that could destroy their lives forever.”
Skye couldn’t help but zero in on Reese’s bad leg. It was a movement the russet brown tom tracked because his different colored eyes burned with intensity as he glared at Skye. But Reese met the light gray tom’s gaze calmly; this is me, she seemed to be saying, this is what cresimen did.
And now she had to live with the Serpentine’s mistake for her entire life. They weren’t Mistakes because they couldn’t handle the drug, Skye realized, they were Mistakes because they showed how flawed the drug was. And the Elites were the stupid and the blind ones for never seeing past it.
“I’d love to watch you two argue all day, but we have lives to save.” Nyssa said briskly. “Tell me: what do you know about the Forgotten prisoner?”
Arya blinked rapidly. “The what?”
Rowan narrowed his eyes ever so slightly and Skye realized both he and Reese were studying them extensively, despite already meeting them. They were spies, Skye realized, Nyssa talks to goad us while the other two assess and analyze everything. These cats were a unit, a team, and they were a lot smarter than any of the Elites Skye knew.
“We don’t know anything,” Skye admitted, “But I suspect I know where I can find him.”
Nyssa jerked her head at Reese. “Spit out the information.”
“He was taken a moon ago, near the plains you just burned today. He was alone but seemed young enough that he hadn’t been around when the Serpentine first drove SwiftClan out. He was reportedly trying to find us—allies—when he was captured but didn’t reveal his name. We haven’t seen any trace of him or any word since I overhead one of your overseers talking.” Reese ranted off the facts she knew.
Reese was an excellent spy, Skye had to admit. He remembered how easily she had almost evaded him, if it hadn’t been for her shifting for her leg, Skye would have missed her entirely.
“Rowan?” Nyssa turned to the russet brown tom.
He frowned slightly. “I’d say the Forgotten hideout isn’t anywhere near the plains, but we’ve searched everywhere. I’d also say we have to keep a lookout there now, since the Burners had already scorched the land, making it very easy for the Forgotten to be hidden there, covered by the belief that everyone there was killed.”
“The deserter was killed there today,” Skye blurted out.
“Not a deserter,” Reese said quietly. “A desperate cat who wanted to save her own life from fear and despair.”
“We’ll keep a lookout,” Skye promised. “You want info on the Forgotten cat? We’ll get it for you.”
“We will?” Arya frowned.
“Of course we will,” Skye shot her a look. “We’ll meet you on the border tomorrow?”
“In the morning,” Nyssa nodded. “When the drug is being passed out.”
“That gives you one night to figure out all you can.” Rowan smirked, “You better hope you’re good spies.”
Skye tried not to rise to the bait. He had a feeling Rowan and Reese had already collected all the information they needed from this meeting, that’s why Nyssa was letting them go. These three were close; and they were intelligent enough to be a dangerous team. It was no wonder the Mistakes had evaded the Elites for so long.
“One night is all we’ll need.” Skye confirmed.
Arya was casting him a dirty look but he ignored her. He knew this was a deal he had to make; he wanted the Elites gone. He wanted the drug gone. SwiftClan could have the land back and Skye didn’t really care where he went after this. He just wanted Arya alive and well at his side.
“Good, we can’t afford weak allies.” Nyssa jerked her head towards the entrance. “Rowan, Reese, guide them out.”
“I can do it alone.” Rowan leaped to his paws and pushed his way out. “I haven’t done anything all night.”
One swift glance between Nyssa and Rowan made the pale she-cat turn scarlet, embarrassed for her leg. But Reese had overworked herself today, and Skye recalled how heavily she had leaned on him on the way back.
“I’ll go with you,” Nyssa decided, “Reese, watch camp.”
They escorted the Elites back out where Skye turned to say a farewell to the rogues. “Thank you for putting your trust in us,” he murmured, conscious of the anger rolling off Arya in waves, “I promise you won’t regret it.”
“I believe you,” Nyssa twitched her whiskers, “but have fun convincing Arya to stay on our side.”
Skye resisted the urge to glance at the black and white she-cat. “You’d be surprised how good I am at convincing someone.”
“Especially someone who already has a weakness for you,” Rowan snorted, “You better have information tomorrow.”
“I’ll have it.” Skye promised.
He turned away with Arya, who waited until they were almost at the Serpentine border before spitting out. “Are we going to rat them out?”
“No,” Skye said evenly. He searched her gaze—she was never good at hiding her thoughts. “You can’t say a word, Arya, or else you’ll doom more than yourself. You’ll doom the fates of all of these cats. We all deserve a better life than this.”
“Why did you do it?” Arya shook her head. “You made me stay when I could have walked away and stayed oblivious to this cause. Why make me a traitor too?”
Skye stared at her. She not only couldn’t hide her thoughts, but she also could never read his. “Some cats are selfish,” he told her, “they want their unanswered dreams to come true.”
Arya cocked her head, not understanding where this was going.
“I’m one of those cats,” Skye told her, before he walked all the way back to camp, ready to scout for information.