Arya lunged for the other cat, her moves quick and brutal. She unsheathed her claws in a flash and tore through her opponent’s skin. Blood sprayed but Arya didn’t mind as she snarled and headbutted the other cat. He went sprawling to the other side.
She shook out her muscles and waited for his next move. Training was always brutal, and Arya had to keep loose if she wanted to stay at the top.
The tom barreled towards her again but Arya just dodged, before spinning around and channeling her power. The tom froze in midair as Arya froze the air around him and she lunged again, her claws slicing through his flank again.
He howled, angry and fire burst from him, exploding so harshly Arya barely had time to throw herself to the ground to avoid getting singed.
“Enough!” A voice called out, ending their session. “I told you not to lose control. If you can’t spar with your abilities, then next time I’m forbidding you from using them at all.” The overseer shook his head. “Get your wounds treated, both of you.”
Arya bristled at the dismissal in his voice but she stalked to the side of the ring where her best friend was waiting.
“Sulking because you lost?” Skye teased.
“I didn’t lose.” Arya glowered at him.
“I’m kidding.” Skye’s whiskers twitched. “Come on, it’s not like you lost control over your power. Why are you so mad?” His sky-blue eyes were bright with amusement as he licked one gray paw.
“Like you’d understand.” Arya muttered.
Skye pricked his ears. He couldn’t back down from a challenge and Arya knew it. “Oh? Try me.” He stopped grooming his fur and stared her down. Arya studied his dark gray pelt before shaking her head and sighing.
“If I won that match—truly won it—the overseer might have moved me up. You know I’ve been trying to reach the top of our training class. I’m certainly good enough to be the top.” Arya shot a glance at her best friend and noticed he was reigning in a laugh. “What?” She flattened her ears.
Skye burst out laughing. “You know you can’t beat me in a fight,” he smirked. It was infuriating enough that Arya almost challenged him to a match in the ring. But she also knew that he was faster and stronger than her. “Though lucky for you we’re partners so it doesn’t matter who can beat who in a fight.”
Like always, Skye was right. Arya sometimes hated how intelligent he was, but she knew she was just jealous that Skye flaunted around his prowess so arrogantly.
Before she could snap back a reply, Skye nudged her. “Come on, let’s go hunting. You need to relax.”
She wanted to argue that being an Elite was no big manner. They were chosen because their bodies could withstand the stimulate drug cresimen that helped them be strong and fast. It also spurred and fed their abilities.
“We’ll miss the cresimen if we go hunting now,” Arya tugged back against Skye, wanting to stay.
“So?” Skye shrugged. “We’ll get it tomorrow.”
He always went hunting around this time, Arya suddenly realized. Most of the times, she had been too tired to go with him, but today…she shook her head. She didn’t want to question Skye in front of all the other Elites and Serpentines.
“We shouldn’t miss any days.” Arya peered at him, studying him for any signs of weakness. The overseers always said that if the Elites stopped taking cresimen for one day, it could weaken them severely. “We could die from withdrawal.”
“Do you hear how stupid that sounds?” Skye scoffed, dragging Arya with him outside. Privacy, she knew, was the best for this sort of conversation. “It’s a drug, Arya, not a stimulate herb that will help us be stronger. We could die from the withdrawal, Arya, which means it’s not even safe for us in the first place.”
“We need the cresimen because of our abilities!” Arya insisted. “It’s the reason our bodies can accept the drug.”
Skye was looking at her like she was truly stupid. Arya lashed her tail and tried to yank herself out of his grip but he held on tight. “Listen to yourself, Arya. They’ve brainwashed you.”
Arya stared at her best friend. “You haven’t been taking cresimen anymore.”
“Of course not,” Skye shook his head. “And you shouldn’t take it either. You won’t die from the withdrawal, Arya, I prove that. But you can die from taking that every day.”
“No,” Arya whispered, “you got off lucky. You’re going to lose your ability, your strength…”
“I want to lose my ability,” Skye snarled, his eyes suddenly fierce and livid. Arya flinched away from the fierceness of his gaze. “Because these abilities aren’t natural, Arya, we weren’t born with them. Why are only rogues getting these powers? The Clan cats that used to live here were normal.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being special,” Arya said defensively, “We are the Elites. We’re meant to rule.”
Skye snorted. “You’re delusional, Arya, I can’t believe I didn’t realize this earlier. You’re too dedicated to the cause; it’s too late for you. When you start dying from taking cresimen every day, don’t come crying to me.”
He turned and disappeared into the territory. Arya stared after him, turning over his every word, wondering how she could have missed her best friend’s betrayal.
Arya didn’t end up going back to camp because Skye’s words haunted her every step she took. She stalked to the border, trying to hunt but she couldn’t get her mind off what Skye had said. Was he right? Was Arya being idiotic and was slowly killing herself by ingesting those drugs?
She hated not knowing things. Skye was the genius, but he never hid things from her. He knew that Arya liked to be ahead and knowledge was one of the best ways to stay ahead of competition.
This was big. Something in Arya’s blood itched to go back to camp and receive the daily dosage of cresimen that the Serpentine offered. She shook it off vigorously. Maybe Skye was right; she was addicted to the power it gave her.
She paced up and down along the border that marked the end of the fertile hunting lands. Outside was a wasteland, a mess of decimated ground that was scarce with prey and resources. Mistakes were thrown out there, Arya knew, and she wondered if one day Skye would be sentenced to live out there for his disobedience.
Or maybe the Serpentines will just kill him instead.
Arya cursed her morbid mind for writing off her best friend as dead and she continued to pace. The Forgotten were out there too. Some of the Elites didn’t believe that SwiftClan was still out there but there were rumors of rebel forces rising. Arya didn’t know if the rebels were from the Forgotten or if they were from the Mistakes.
Personally, she didn’t think anyone could survive out there, but there was evidence that cats existed outside the borders of the Serpentine regime.
Arya suddenly paused in her pacing.
She had been so focused on her own thoughts that she hadn’t realized that the wind carried a different scent. Usually on the border, there was always a hint of ash from the burner Elites who swept through and flushed out any rebels. There was also a pine-scent to the air from the fertile soil behind Arya and the two often mixed together.
There was a cat’s scent in the wind.
It was faint, but Arya could detect it. She suspected that the cresimen gave the Elites enhanced senses as well. She sniffed the air again, unable to locate the cat’s position. She mentally cursed Skye for planting seeds of doubt into her mind and not letting her take today’s dosage of cresimen.
Though if she was at camp wolfing down the herbs, she wouldn’t have scented the cats here.
Slowly, Arya started to move again, going along the border in a less frenzied matter. She made a big show of dismissing the scent but kept her eyes open for any movement. No one would be foolish enough to attack her; the Elites were better trained and certainly more fit. No rebel would attack her, even if they outnumbered her.
With sharper hearing, Arya was able to detect that there were cats moving again. Still, these cats were good. Arya finally pinpointed their location and snarled a little, lunging for the border.
Three cats sprang apart and Arya barely nicked the dark gray she-cat. Baleful amber eyes glared back at her and Arya bared her teeth.
“Took you long enough to find us,” the dark gray she-cat snorted, delicately licking away the blood from the cut.
Arya narrowed her eyes. “Why are you here?” She growled. “It’s a death sentence for Mistakes to be here.” She could tell they were Mistakes. Scars—strange markings, not the usual battle scars—littered the dark gray she-cat’s fur. Only her white paws and white-tipped tail, stark against the rest of her dark fur, were unmarred. Her left eye was a shade lighter as well. Aftereffects of cresimen when her body had rejected the drug, no doubt.
The other two were the same. The tom, russet brown like a fox, had different colored eyes, with his right eye being a strange shade of murky yellow that didn’t fit the vibrant color of his green left eye. The pale she-cat with dark brown haunches and tail had a crippled foot—back left hindleg—that marred her pretty looks.
All of them had scars from the cresimen that marked them as Mistakes.
“You should be ashamed you couldn’t catch us faster,” the dark gray she-cat said, instead of answering Arya’s question, “I mean, honestly, we’re only Mistakes after all.” She spat out the word like it was a curse. “Though…you didn’t take cresimen today, did you?”
Arya bristled. This she-cat was mocking her, as if questioning Arya’s skill. Yet…she had known about cresimen and the feeding time. “I took it earlier.” Arya snapped.
The dark gray she-cat smirked. The other two didn’t talk at all but Arya was too focused on the ringleader to care what they were doing. They seemed to be scouting, but Arya dismissed the thought.
“The Serpentine don’t give the drug at any other time of the day except now. In fact, aren’t you not supposed to be here? I hear the Elites die from lack of cresimen in their system. Maybe it’ll mar your pretty pelt and make you like us. I suppose dying from embarrassment and shame is still a death worth mentioning.”
Arya drove her claws into the dirt to restrain herself from lunging for the Mistake. She knew if she did, the other two wouldn’t hesitate to attack. Arya was good, but without the daily dose of cresimen in her blood, she didn’t know if she could take on three cats. She didn’t even know how good they were.
“Leave and I’ll let you go,” Arya hissed. “Consider yourself lucky I’m not in the mood for bloodshed today.”
Though, she mused, capturing them would prove useful for leaping through the ranks. But Arya didn’t want to risk losing to these three Mistakes. She still had to go find Skye and shake some sense into that tom first.
The pale she-cat spoke instead. “We’d leave, but there’s only a slight problem.” Her eyes were a delicate sea-green, a perfect mix of turquoise and jade. “There are foxes here.”
Arya puffed up her pelt and sniffed the air. How had she missed it? She was usually never caught off-guard.
Before she could turn tail and leave the Mistakes to suffer, a grown male fox leaped out of the undergrowth and tackled Arya. She let out a yelp before casting out her power, freezing the foxes.
The Mistakes took no time to admire her display of ability. They each took on a fox—even the cripple—and made quick work of dispatching them. Arya met the last fox blow for blow, using her faster and stronger build to smash her paw into the fox’s jaw.
The animal yipped in pain and bit her back and Arya tried not to shriek in pain. She kicked out, sending the fox sprawling but he just came back for more, lunging for her. She barely managed to send it spinning away.
Just one day without cresimen and Arya felt sluggish. She looked up and realized the fox was already lunging for her again and she struggled to raise her paws to stop the blow.
A lithe dark gray shape slammed into the fox, sending it sprawling away. Arya blinked in surprise. It wasn’t as if there was an Elite here who could manipulate the wind. But as she hauled herself up, Arya realized it was the Mistake who was grappling with the last fox.
When the fox was dead, Arya gaped as the dark she-cat just brushed herself off, not minding the blood. “Well, I didn’t expect that to happen.” The she-cat scoffed, shaking out her fur. “That fox really put up a fight.”
“You saved my life.” Arya didn’t know what to make of it.
The she-cat glanced over disdainfully. “Yeah, I don’t know why I did it. It’s not as if you’d safe our lives.”
She was right though; if the Mistakes had been in danger, Arya would have hightailed out of there and left them to die.
Before Arya could even think of anything to say, the Mistakes turned and disappeared back into the ravaged lands. Arya just stared after them for a long time before shaking her head and turning her paws for her own camp.
She wasn’t going to report them. One, it would give away that she didn’t show up for the cresimen, and two, the she-cat had saved her life.
Arya now owed her enemy a life debt.