SEVERAL THINGS happened at once. First, Rowan finally stopped looking like he couldn’t breathe and the russet brown tom gasped for breath desperately. Next, Arya dropped down to the ground and looked for all the world like she was dead. Then, Skye let out a cry and dropped to the floor next to Arya and for a second, Nyssa thought Skye was dead too.
Nyssa turned in time to see that Skye had eased Arya into a comfortable position on the ground and was examining her carefully. “What is it?”
“Cresimen,” Skye said darkly. “Arya hasn’t taken it for two days.”
“Two days and she dies from not taking the drug?” Nyssa frowned. “I thought you told her to stop taking cresimen. You’re not dead from the withdrawal either.”
“I slowly weaned myself off the drug,” Skye explained, “I didn’t know Arya would react so violently against pulling out entirely. I need—I need to get her some cresimen right now.”
“So go back to camp and get it.” Nyssa said simply.
“They only feed cresimen once a day,” Rowan wheezed from where he pulled himself off the ground, “By the time Skye gets back to the camp, the overseers will have taken the drug away. We won’t be able to get Arya any until tomorrow.”
Skye’s face almost looked crestfallen but Nyssa snorted. “Nonsense. Who says we can’t get it sooner?” Both toms turned to look at her. “We’re criminals, Rowan, and we’re good at our job. Who says we can’t locate the overseer camp and steal their supply of cresimen?”
Rowan straightened. “And who would go in without getting caught? Not all of us are skilled at being silent.”
Nyssa opened her mouth to reply but at that time, Reese said from behind her. “I’ll go of course.”
Rowan’s multi-colored eyes flickered. They darted to Nyssa in almost a pleading way. She wasn’t stupid—she knew Reese and Rowan had a spat about Reese’s abilities before they came today and Rowan must have pulled the overprotective card on Reese to make the pale she-cat so angry. He didn’t want to cross her again.
But Nyssa wasn’t going to do it for him; she needed Reese on this mission and if she had to ask her friend to risk her life, she would. They’ve done so for more than ten moons now, what was one more day?
Rowan stared at her beseechingly but Nyssa just nodded to Reese. “Talk to Skye about the layout before you set out.” Before Rowan could bite her tail off, Nyssa added. “Take Rowan with you.”
“I work better alone.” Reese said dismissively.
“This wasn’t a suggestion.” Nyssa countered.
Reese leveled an even stare at the dark gray she-cat. “Fine. But I want you to come instead. You can actually keep quiet and keep your mouth shut.”
A funny thing to say since Nyssa was always the one running her mouth to her enemies to let Reese get a feel of someone. But Nyssa knew it was a jab at Rowan. Reese was punishing him because he had doubted her ability on her legs and Nyssa never once since they’ve met said a word about whether or not Reese could handle it.
Rowan looked a bit like Reese had just shattered his heart. “We’ll all go,” Nyssa said decisively, “Rowan can stand guard while we steal the cresimen.”
“If you take all of it, many Elites will die.” Skye said quietly.
Nyssa glanced back at the light gray tom. “The overseers will know where to get more,” Nyssa dismissed. Like she cared what happened to a bunch of pompous fools.
“And how long before they can restock their supply? What if you find where they are breeding the cresimen and you destroy it all?” Skye stood up from where he was crouching next to Arya. “All the Elites would die.”
Nyssa fluffed out her fur, feeling familiar anger stir in her belly. “I don’t care what happens to the Elites,” she said coldly, “they’ve hunted down my cats for too long. If we find that stock, I will destroy it.”
Skye stared down at her, standing at his full height. Nyssa just glared right back, ignoring the height difference. “I won’t let you kill those innocent cats.”
“Your kind has done it to my cats for many moons,” Nyssa laughed a bitter laugh. “I’ll gladly return the favor.”
“You won’t make it through the overseer camp without my insight.” Skye warned, “You’ll get caught, tortured, and killed before the week’s end.”
But Nyssa was already stalking up the hill. “Reese can get the information twice as fast as you can. I don’t need what you’ve gathered; you already told us enough about where to find the camp.”
“I know where your camp is.”
Nyssa halted. Slowly, she turned back to Skye, her amber eyes smoldering with newfound hate. “Are you threatening to raze my camp and kill all the innocent cats there?”
Skye’s gaze was unflinching. “It’s only fair if you plan to do the same with the Elites.”
“You’re a fool if you think you’re picking the right fight,” Rowan snorted. “We won’t let you do any harm to our cats. They’re your Mistakes.”
Skye flattened his ears. “I can get you in and out of the overseer camp but I only want enough to save Arya’s life and wean her off the cresimen. If you promise me that, I won’t give away your camp’s location.”
“You swore that when you joined made this alliance.” Nyssa snarled, “You don’t get to blackmail us and use this to your advantage. If I want to destroy the cache of cresimen after we get enough for Arya I will.”
“No,” Reese said softly, “you won’t.”
Nyssa whirled around and stared at the pale she-cat. “Excuse me?”
“I won’t let you destroy the supply of cresimen.” Reese stood her ground. “Skye is right; those are innocents who have done nothing wrong. Just a day ago, Arya thought she was fighting for a just cause before we changed her minds. We can do the same with all of them, Nyssa. There is no sense in punishing cats who are just blindly following a cause. Because if I’m going to be perfectly honest, we’re doing the same with you, Nyssa.”
Those last words stung. “What do you mean?” Nyssa almost took a step back before restraining herself. She knew that would look like a weakness.
“I mean, that we don’t know what we’re really fighting for, Nyssa. Yes, we want the Serpentine to stop force-feeding cresimen to rogue kits because it ruins lives, but there is more to this fight, isn’t there, Nyssa?” Reese’s blue-green eyes were sharp with intelligence. Nyssa hadn’t realized that her own spy had been gathering information on her.
“I just want the Serpentine gone,” Nyssa said flatly, repeating an answer she always gave them. “That’s all.”
Reese merely scanned her once before turning away without a question. Nyssa knew she did this because now Rowan was looking her over, trying to find the clues that Reese had found.
Skye eyed them warily. “So?”
“So lead us to the overseer den,” Nyssa waved her tail, impatient. “If you can get us in and out safely, I won’t destroy the cresimen cache.”
“What will we do about Arya?” Rowan asked.
Nyssa hesitated. “Rowan, watch her.”
“I thought I was going to keep watch.” Rowan’s eyes flashed. He obviously didn’t like the idea of being away from Reese when danger was so near. But Nyssa wasn’t in the mood to argue anymore.
“We don’t need you to take watch; I just gave you that job because you would have bitten off my tail for letting Reese do all the dangerous parts of this job.”
She didn’t feel that sorry for spitting that in Rowan’s face. The russet brown tom had to learn his place. “Bring Arya back to our camp and we’ll be back before nightfall.”
“You’ll need me to scan the surroundings,” Rowan pushed, “You need both of us in every single mission. The only one not needed today is you, Nyssa.”
“Drop it,” Reese snapped, shoving the tom towards the black and white she-cat. “You can have it out at home. Right now, we’re wasting precious time that could mean Arya’s life.”
Rowan and Nyssa stared at each other, the tension practically tangible. Nyssa itched to have it out here, to yell at Rowan for daring to speak to her like that. She wanted to make him pay for every cruel word he said, to throw his love for Reese at him like a brick and make a fool out of him in front of the pale she-cat.
But she heeded to Reese’s words and turned away first. She didn’t bother saying another word to Rowan as she led the way into Serpentine territory, Skye and Reese flanking her.
With Skye leading the way, the three of them got to the overseer camp by sunhigh. “Debrief me,” Nyssa ordered Skye as they kept their distance from the hidden camp. Skye had pointed out that it was just behind the bramble wall that looked as if it was pressed against a stone cliff.
“The brambles hide the hole that is the entrance to the overseer camp. As far as I can tell, there is only one entrance and that should be heavily guarded. The cresimen patch should either be in the overseer’s den or around.”
“Inside,” Nyssa decided, “no way they’d let that drug be out in the open.”
“We’re just here for the cresimen,” Reese said quietly.
“Of course,” Nyssa shot Reese a confused glance. “What else would we be doing today? We don’t make a habit of sneaking into enemy bases often.”
“If you get any information on the Forgotten prisoner, promise me you won’t do anything.” Reese pleaded. “I know you, Nyssa, you would fight tooth and claw if you found out where he was being held.”
Nyssa felt uncomfortable. She hadn’t really thought about the Forgotten prisoner but that was why they had wanted to find the overseer camp. Reese knew she was onto something, because she had a cautious look in her eyes—it was one she wore when she didn’t want to press Nyssa too much.
This was a personal battle, Nyssa reflected, the Forgotten prisoner didn’t matter to anyone but her. And Reese was right—she would do everything she could to free him because she needed him desperately.
“Promise.” Nyssa said, making her tone sound genuine even though she knew she didn’t mean it.
Reese nodded and scanned the camp again. “Rowan was right,” she muttered softly, almost too softly for Nyssa to hear. “We need him here to assess the situation. I wonder if he could scan and see how many guards are there.”
“Don’t be silly,” Nyssa said sharply. “Rowan can’t see through walls.”
“Rowan would find another way into the camp,” Reese tipped her head thoughtfully. “There’s two ways into every place, Nyssa, no matter how well concealed it is.”
“There’s only one entrance and exit to our camp.”
“Unless you can fly.”
“We could try that,” Skye interjected.
“Fly?” Nyssa repeated incredulously.
“Going from the top,” he pointed his tail at the overseer camp. “The entrance will be too heavily guarded for us to slip through.”
“The camp is underground.” Reese shook her head.
Nyssa stared and stared at the cliff, trying to figure out what they saw that she couldn’t. And she felt ridiculous when she realized that although Reese trained to read cats, she could easily read situations and scan surroundings to find what she needed, albeit slower than Rowan. And Skye was used to assessing situations because he was an Elite, trained to hunt down the Forgotten and the Mistakes.
Nyssa was, well, Nyssa. She was the headstrong leader of the Mistakes who ran her mouth off to let Reese and Rowan do their jobs. She had no special talent except pissing cats off.
She was useless on this mission and she should have let Rowan take her spot. The thought didn’t sit well with her.
“Maybe there’s a back to it,” Reese mused, “Or…”
Skye was watching the entrance intently. “Some of them are going around,” he murmured. “Not all of them are going behind the bramble.”
Reese perked up and leapt to her paws. “That’s it then! There’s a secret entrance to the cresimen because that way it’s easier to harvest it and bring it to the Elites!” She grinned at Skye, a carefree and brilliant smile that she got whenever she solved a problem. “You’re a genius.”
“That, I am.” Skye purred.
Nyssa tried not to sulk as they headed down, skirting wide around the camp to avoid being seen. They were right in the middle of the two camps and Nyssa knew to look behind her in case there were surprises coming from the Elite camp.
She could see how the two of them had come to this conclusion after they discussed it, but Nyssa’s brain couldn’t process how they connected all the dots together. But it made her wonder: if there was a secret entrance to the cresimen, was there one to the prisons?
She didn’t bother mentioning this to the others. None of them would help her—not today at least.
“Why don’t the overseers take cresimen?” Nyssa suddenly whispered to Skye as they crouched behind a bush to watch the overseers and note where they were going.
Skye frowned. “I’ve never thought about that. But they probably wanted to see what the drug would do and after finding out that it kills cats faster than normal, they wouldn’t want to digest it themselves.”
“Especially when Mistakes start showing up,” Reese said quietly.
Nyssa was silent after that. She let Reese and Skye do the scouting and just focused on creeping in quietly after them. She wasn’t the best at masking her footsteps, but she was still decent.
“There,” Reese whispered. Indeed, there was a small hole in the cliff side that a cat disappeared into.
“Are you sure that’s the cresimen hole?” Nyssa pressed.
“What else would it be?” Reese shrugged and she plunged down the slopes, a pale blur. Skye hurtled after her and Nyssa had no choice but to follow them. They wove their way down, keeping out of sight and waited for the overseer to come back out.
“Only one went in,” Skye mumbled, “Once he comes out we can go in and get what we need.”
“All three of us will need to carry some,” Reese agreed, “Then we high-tail out of there and make sure nobody saw us or follows us.”
They waited a long time—so long that Reese had to stretch her leg from crouching for so long—before the overseer padded back out. His paws were muddy and Nyssa swore there were dots of blood coating them.
“Let’s go,” Reese shot into the den without waiting for Nyssa’s orders.
The tunnels were dark but easy to navigate with their whiskers. Nyssa’s eyes soon adjusted to the gloom and she could make out Reese’s pale shape in front of her and feel Skye’s bulk behind her.
“Found it!” Reese crowed.
But Nyssa wasn’t paying attention to Reese and the cresimen that Skye was gleefully harvesting. She could spot blood on the floor, blood that had split off into another tunnel right next to the cresimen.
She already knew what that tunnel would lead: the prisons.
Nyssa shot a quick glance at her companions and saw that they were too busy digging up the cresimen they needed to notice her standing back. She turned but hesitated for a brief moment. Reese had made her promise.
But who is Leader? Nyssa’s inner voice snarled, You make the last shots.
She plunged into the tunnel without another thought.