“YOU SAVED HER LIFE.”
Nyssa shot Rowan a dark glare. “I know that, how many times are you going to say that? And so what if I did? Maybe I’m actually a compassionate, caring cat.”
Reese let out a noise that was half-way between a cough and a snort. Nyssa gave her friend an exasperated look. “You?” Rowan laughed. “You’re the least compassionate cat I know.”
“And you should be glad of it too because you wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t been there to cream those foxes.” Nyssa smirked.
“You’re the reason we were there to be ambushed by foxes.” Rowan pointed out. “You insisted that all the Elites would be back at camp for cresimen and then what do you know? We get ambushed by some Elite who decided to skip taking the drug for a day.”
Nyssa rolled her eyes as they continued to walk through the burned undergrowth towards their camp. “I’m sorry,” she simpered, “I’m not perfect, okay?”
“You can say that again,” Rowan muttered.
Nyssa tried not to feel too offended by his words but she knew she wasn’t perfect. She was the leader of the Mistakes and her life has fallen apart around her since she was a kit. Nyssa didn’t believe in miracles. Or good cats.
“I just don’t get it though,” Rowan continued, “Why would you save her life? If she had died, you could have killed the fox anyway and we’d have one less Elite to deal with.”
Nyssa shrugged. “Who cares? It’s done now anyway.”
“I care! What if she turns us in?”
“She can’t,” Reese cut in, “we’re not really there for her to turn us in. She didn’t even follow us.”
Rowan just shook his head, his different colored eyes filled with frustration. To be frank, Nyssa didn’t even know why she saved the Elite’s life. The she-cat was really asking for death anyway, with her sneer and her beliefs that she was better than them. Nyssa could have easily beaten her in a fight—especially since she was weak from the lack of cresimen in her body.
“Look, she owes us a life debt now. Any cat would know that’s not something you can overlook. It’ll be useful knowing that we can hold that over the Elite’s head when we’re in trouble.” Nyssa tried to sound comforting, but it wasn’t a strong trait of hers.
The russet brown tom didn’t look comforted at all. Nyssa didn’t bother trying again though as she stalked through the soot and ash. “Did you guys get the information I wanted?” She changed the topic. She had more important things to worry about than the Elite she had saved.
“Yeah, don’t worry,” Reese flicked one dark brown ear. “Rowan might have been too busy ogling the she-cat but I picked up a few clues.”
Rowan opened and closed his mouth, obviously intending to give Reese a piece of his mind but Nyssa flicked her tail into his mouth. “Good; report.”
Reese began to rattle off details. “She’s a freezer. She’s defensive of her lifestyle and she was desperate to prove herself. There’s a tom scent on her—a partner?—and she was angry about something before we came along. Her senses are dull, probably because of the lack of cresimen, but she doesn’t seem too integrated into Elite society yet.”
Nyssa nodded slowly and filed away all the information. With Reese around, Nyssa could get information on any cat she pleased, as long as she let her smart mouth do the talking and aggravate the other cat.
“Rowan?” Nyssa pulled her tail out of his mouth. “Report.” She knew he wasn’t actually eyeing the Elite. Her friends knew when to mess around and when to work. Plus, she knew Rowan and Reese were close.
“Normally the border is very vacant; the Elites don’t think much about guarding it. They flaunt their abilities around and think they’ve wiped us all out. She doesn’t know a thing about the Forgotten prisoner we’re investigating. She’s more caught up on trivial things but she didn’t even notice we were there until we were almost past her. The tom was actually hiding back, watching us talk and watching us fight. I don’t think he’s a problem though because there’s no trace of the cresimen in the way he acted. He was purposely letting the Elite she-cat get the brunt of all of it to prove a point I think.”
A tom? Nyssa didn’t know they were being watched; she assumed the Elite she-cat was alone but it made sense that someone was out with her. After all, Reese did say she had a tom scent on her. The two probably had a little spat before the she-cat made it to the border to rage.
“Do you want my opinion on this?” Rowan interrupted her thoughts.
Nyssa was tempted to bark that nobody wanted his opinion, but this was more important than their petty fights. “Shoot.”
“We need to confront the tom.”
The dark gray she-cat raised an eyebrow at that one. “Oh? What makes you say that?” She was already wrapping her head around how she’d do that. Whenever Rowan or Reese pitched into her plans, she knew it was important. They usually let her do all the scheming. There was a reason why Nyssa was the Leader while they were just her Second and Third.
“He doesn’t have any cresimen. He must have disagreed with the Serpentine’s way of things if he was out on the border too. He didn’t aid the she-cat or attack us even though he knew we were there. He might know something about the Forgotten warrior.” Rowan listed the facts again but the last part snagged Nyssa’s interest.
“You think?” She twisted slightly to stare into his multi-colored eyes. The right one was a strange, murky yellow that had faded from the sharp green color his other eye is. His Mistake mark.
Nyssa’s own marks were strange. The scars were a strange, purple-ish color—though it was faded and looked gray. They marred her back and flank like three large claw marks. From afar, they looked like battle scars but Nyssa was too good to let someone land blows like that.
Reese was the only one affected daily by her Mistake mark. Her left hindleg never grew properly after her body rejected the cresimen and Reese is constantly dismissed as a cripple by others because of her leg. But Nyssa knew that Reese could fight and run better than any other cat; she just had to take more rests to recover. But Nyssa never doubted her ability to be a spy.
Rowan pondered over his next answer. “I bet he was using the she-cat to check us out too. He wants to know our motives just as much as we want to know his. If he’s turned rogue on the Elites, he’ll want to investigate a case as big as this one.”
“And he’ll want to see what he can get out of allying with us.” Reese added.
Nyssa already made up her mind. “Okay, Reese will go in tomorrow at the same time and scout the tom out.” She glanced at her spy. “Do you want us to be there with you to feel him out?”
“I can go in tonight.” Reese reassured, “I’ll see how he interacts with some of the others.”
Rowan turned on the pale she-cat. “You can’t go tonight!” He fluffed out his fur in alarm. “Night is the most dangerous for us to be venturing into Serpentine territory.”
“Good thing I’m good at staying hidden.” Reese didn’t sound concerned. Nyssa wasn’t very concerned about her friend either; she knew Reese could do it.
“I’ll go with you.” Rowan decided.
“No,” Nyssa snapped first, not wanting Reese to land to blow on the tom. She was used to playing the devil and Reese shot her a grateful look. “You’re terrible at staying hidden. Reese will do better on her own and I don’t need you to spy on the situation. I need her to get me details on the tom.”
Rowan glowered at Nyssa but the dark gray she-cat stood her ground. She was smaller than both Rowan and Reese but she was the toughest of all of them. She lifted her chin and glared back at him.
Finally, he relented. “Fine,” he grumbled, “but I’ll wait at the border for you, Reese.”
“What are you, a protective boyfriend?” Nyssa snorted. “Reese can take care of herself. You and I have a meeting to attend, remember? We have to see what our other comrades have gathered about the Forgotten and why one of them was out of hiding long enough to get captured.”
“It’s weird,” Reese mused, “We’re rogues too, but we care more about this Forgotten prisoner than the Clan does. Isn’t he supposed to be their Clanmate?”
“They’re cowards,” Nyssa sniffed. “The Serpentine thinks that they are the rebel forces because Mistakes are too ‘weak’ but what they don’t know is that we’re the ones fighting back.”
“Why are we finding this prisoner again?” Rowan clarified. “What’s so important about a Clan cat?”
“He’ll owe us a life debt for saving his life and he’ll show us how to get to the Forgotten.” Nyssa explained.
Reese shook out her bad leg as they continued to trek through the ruined ground. “And why do we need to find the Forgotten?” Rowan pressed. “We’re doing fine on our own; who cares about a Clan of cowards?”
“This is their land,” Nyssa shrugged. “They should fight for it themselves. Plus, if they have a hidden base that can take some of our weaker cats, it’d be a perfect refuge. We’re too vulnerable.”
“The Elites can’t even find us.” Reese pointed out. “We’re pretty hidden ourselves.”
Nyssa shook her head. She didn’t expect her friends to understand her own motives for wanting to find the Forgotten. Nyssa was tired of fighting SwiftClan’s battle for them. The land that the Serpentine occupied wasn’t even theirs; Nyssa only wanted the Elites gone because they force-fed cresimen to poor rogue kits and hunted down her cats—the Mistakes.
Rowan and Reese had both told her that they had been found by the Serpentine and never knew their parents. Presumably, they died from the harshness of the conditions that living in the barren lands outside of SwiftClan’s old territory produced. All the Mistakes were orphans to rogues who didn’t make it or were Mistakes themselves and were killed by the Serpentine.
But Nyssa remembered the gentle touch of her mother and the strength of her father’s muscles. She couldn’t make out their faces clearly but she knew her parents had been ripped from her. They hadn’t been killed; no, Nyssa remembered her mother’s screams as her father dragged her away, leaving Nyssa to be scooped up by the Elites.
She wanted to know who they were. Mostly so she could scream at them for allowing the Elites to pick her up. They should have fought harder, Nyssa thought grimly.
“Nyssa?” Rowan nudged her, “You okay there?”
“Fine,” she growled, shaking her pelt out. She was embarrassed that her friends had caught her unawares. “We’re back.” She spotted the small tunnel that was their entrance to their hideout.
The tunnel was well hidden by the brush and from a distance, it just looked like a rabbit hole. Behind the hole was rubble and ruin—an impenetrable wall. But Nyssa squeezed through and led the way until they emerged into sunlight again. The tunnel allowed them to get right past the rubble and into their camp.
“Get some prey,” she ordered her friends, “and then Reese, you’ll set out right after dark falls.”
The pale she-cat dipped her head in a nod and left to go get some prey. Rowan lingered by Nyssa’s side. “You zoned out back there; you don’t usually lose focus whenever we’re outside.” He said quietly.
Nyssa’s eyes hardened at the concern in his voice. She didn’t need her friends watching her every move and waiting to pick her up when she fell. She could do that herself; she did it when her parents had lost her to the Serpentine.
“I’m fine,” she shoved past him. “Meet me in our den in five minutes. Bring me some prey and get Carter and Primrose.”
She could feel Rowan’s eyes pinned to her back as she stalked away but Nyssa refused to acknowledge it. She knew her two best friends were close to one another and were possibly more than just friends, but Nyssa always kept her distance. She knew that if she let herself get attached, it would just mean more heartbreak for her later on when they died.
Nobody lasted long out here; it was a miracle in itself that Nyssa, Rowan, and Reese hadn’t been killed already. They weren’t exactly the most careful cats in the world. Everyone Nyssa knew from when she first gathered the Mistakes were already dead; none of them lasted more than five moons.
Only Rowan and Reese were constants. The three of them had been a tight-knit group and they did everything to ensure their safety. Nyssa told herself that when fate caught up to them and she lost either of her friends, she wouldn’t shed any tears.
There wasn’t time for tears in this cruel world.
“Nyssa?” Rowan poked his head into their den. “I’ve got Carter and Primrose.”
“Good.” She said briskly. “Did you get prey?”
Rowan tossed a rabbit at her. She ate it quickly as a dark brown tom and a pretty cream-colored she-cat entered the den after the russet brown tom. Rowan sat to her right as Nyssa cleaned her whiskers and pushed aside the bones.
She cleared her throat, swiping her tongue around her mouth as she tried to look present for the meeting. Usually she would eat before or after a meeting with her cats but Nyssa was too hungry to care. And this information was too important to wait.
“What did you guys find today?” They were the two cats on patrol today. Nyssa let them rotate because none of them were as good as Reese and Nyssa didn’t want only one pair taking risks every day. Switching them out gave them a chance to try their hand at hunting for more food and it also increased their chance of living.
“Nothing still,” Primrose shook her head. “The Forgotten aren’t anywhere.”
The she-cat exchanged a glance with Carter who shrugged. “Are you sure they exist, Nyssa? I mean…they could be a fable.”
“Yes, because the Serpentine are afraid of imaginary cats,” Nyssa snapped. “Don’t tell me you gave up because you didn’t think they existed.”
“There were Elite cats swarming the area you told us to search!” Carter defended. “We don’t have Reese’s skill.”
He was right and Nyssa resented the fact that he was right. If only the other Mistakes could be as good as Reese. She couldn’t spare her friend to investigate the Forgotten because there was always pressing issues with the Elites.
Rowan shot her glance as if to say what did you expect? Nyssa didn’t really know why she was getting riled up about this; none of the Mistakes ever found anything.
“Dismissed,” she growled, “tell Myra and Kendra that they’re on patrol tomorrow.”
When the two leave, Rowan licked a paw. Nyssa eyed her Second and knew immediately something was off. “Spit it out, Rowan.”
“Marisse is dead.”
Nyssa’s eyebrows shot up. “Dead?” She echoed. “How?”
“Elites. Carter and Primrose weren’t lying about the excessive amount of Elites in the northern section. They must have found her hunting and killed her right away.” Rowan shook his head.
“Claws?” Nyssa pried. “Or were there other signs?”
“Burner.” Rowan curled his lip in disgust. “The plains were just starting to grow back too. It’ll smell like charred dirt for awhile up there. Though they’ll think they’ve cleared that area…Reese can go through there next time she’s hunting for information.”
“There’s not going to be food there though,” Nyssa growled. “That was our best hunting spot.”
“The others will grow plentiful again, as long as our cats are careful.” Rowan reassured her.
Before either of them could continue their discussion, Carter pelted back in. “Hurry, Nyssa, Rowan! Myra says she can spot cats just outside of the ruins!”
“Elites?” Nyssa asked grimly.
Carter just nodded once.