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SRFV78

-credit to Brighty for the pic

seeing red

by kes

warning: somewhat descriptive scenes with gore/blood

(download the font cloud to see the coding;; please have all comments be constructive and at least four sentences in length)


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Another cat, dead at my paws. It's dead quiet here, and, like always, I see blood that isn't really there. But this is different. This blood is real.

One

My name is Duskpaw. I'm an apprentice of ThunderClan, under Bramblestar's rule. My father is Bumblestripe. My mother, a senior warrior named Dovewing. Bumblestripe left Dovewing, and passed away moons ago, in what was supposed to be a mere border skirmish with RiverClan. Dovewing is still devastated, even though they weren't mates at the time.

My siblings are Ripplepaw, who looks like my mother, and Shadepaw, who looks like my father.

I'm mostly normal, like my siblings. But not completely.

As a kit, I could see things. I could see spirits.


"Mama?" I mewed.

"Yes, Duskkit?" Dovewing replied, her eyes gentle as she turned to look at me.

"Who's that?" I asked, looking back at the soft-furred grey she-cat who was staring back at me, her fluffy tail curled over her small, delicate-looking paws. She reminded me of a cat, but I couldn't place my paw on who it was...

Dovewing's gaze followed mine, but she seemed confused. "There's no one there, Duskkit." she meowed, twitching her ears.

"Yes there is!" I insist. "She looks like you, Mama, except more grey." Wait, is that who it reminded me of? I held up my paw anyway, to point out the smoky-grey she-cat that sat and stared, her blue eyes twinkling in amusement. She stood, her tail waving, and padded out of the den, but Dovewing was still staring to where my paw pointed.

Ripplekit laughed. "Dusky's being weird again, Dusky's being weird again!" she sang, gently giving me a shove with her tiny, delicate paws. "C'mon, Duskkit. No one's here but us, Mama, and Cinderheart."

Cinderheart. That's who the fluffy cat reminded me of.

Speaking of Cinderheart, she lifted her head, her eyes gentle. "Now, Ripplekit, don't be mean to your sister." she mewed, but I could tell she was concerned. Her eyes always glinted when she was concerned. Like, last moon her mate, Lionblaze, looked wounded, but he insisted it was only a small cut. Her eyes had glinted like that back then.

"Mama! There was someone there!" I insisted, rising to my paws. "She looked just like Cinderheart!" I was holding back tears then, but now, if someone doubted me, I would only shrug it off. A facade, a mask.

Cinderheart and Dovewing looked at each other, frowning. Dovewing turned to look at me, her eyes soft. "Duskkit, sweetie, you need to rest."

B-but Mama... there was...


But I'm an apprentice now. Duskpaw. The name is simple to remember, with an edge to it. I'm stronger, braver. Smarter. I know that the spirit looked like Cinderheart. I know it did. But no one else could see her. Not Ripplepaw. Not Shadepaw. Not Dovewing, Cinderheart, Snowpaw, not even my closest friend Adderpaw. No one but me. I used to see spirits.

But now. Now I see spirits. Spirits and blood. Blood everywhere. Ever since the day I was apprenticed, I see blood. Spirits. Sometimes even spirits covered in blood. Like on the first day of my apprenticeship.

It's horrifying, yes, but I can't forget it. No matter how hard I try, I can't rid myself of the terror I felt as I saw it.


"Duskpaw! Ripplepaw! Shadepaw!" they chanted, their tails waving high in the air as their calls rang through the clearing.

Pride swelled inside of me, and I lifted my head toward the sky. Bramblestar looked down at me, his amber eyes warm. I then looked back at my Clanmates, sweeping my blue gaze over the ThunderClan cats. Dovewing looked proud, her cheering especially loud. Adderkit looked happy, yet jealous, still a kit while I became an apprentice. Lilyheart's gentle smile was trained on us. Jayfeather sat beside Briarlight just outside his den, his blind gaze piercing through me. Briarlight's eyes were bright, and she was chanting our names almost as loudly at Dovewing.

Then my vision flickered, and I gasped.

Now everyone was covered in blood, their faces twisted into looks of sheer agony. Their cheers were now distorted screams. Cherryfall's smile was now a gaping screech of pain. Lilyheart's beautiful fur could barely be seen through all the blood on it. The limp bodies of Jayfeather, Briarlight, Brackenfur, and Ivypool were thrown to the side, blood pooled around them. Other cats were scattered around them, some stumbling around blindly and crying out in fear, and others lifeless and covered in bright red blood.

I looked up at Bramblestar and see a huge dark tabby tom and a lighter tabby tom standing on either side of him, their differently-colored gazes each cutting through me. Bramblestar had one long slash along his forehead, and his amber eyes were wide, as if he couldn't believe what was happening.

The lighter tabby tom grinned, his icy-blue eyes scathing. He said something to Bramblestar, but the leader doesn't reply. He rolled his eyes and said something else.

The larger, darker tom glared at him and snapped at him, and the other tom flinched away.

Something prodded my side, and I shook my head and looked over to see Ripplepaw, completely normal. Then again, everyone seemed normal now, breaking off into smaller groups. Bramblestar had leapt down from the Rockpile and was now speaking with his mate and deputy Squirrelflight.

"Duskpaw, you looked a bit... off." Shadepaw mewed with a frown as he came up to stand beside Ripplepaw. "What's wrong?"

"Er... nothing." I lied. Such a lie.


It scared me half to death. The blood, the spirits. The amber-eyed tabby spirit looked so much like Bramblestar, just larger and with darker fur. The lighter one looked younger than both of them, but somewhat similar to Bramblestar. Then the blood. It was all too scary, especially since I was only six moons old at the time.

I'm still afraid. Afraid that I'll see something like that again.

...Well, this is me. A freak that can see bloody spirits.

Two

"Dusky!" Ripplepaw's voice sounds from the den's entrance. I lift my head as she calls, "Brightheart and Lionblaze are waiting!" Her shadow disappeared, leaving only undisturbed sunlight filtering into the den.

I yawn, then get to my paws and stretch. I pad out into the camp, ignoring the thorns that brushed against my shoulders and back as I passed through the exit. I can only hope that I don't walk into a clearing of dead, scattered bodies covered in blood.

StarClan must have felt sorry for me, because everything's normal. I let out a silent sigh of relief. From where she sits with a couple of other cats, Lilyheart looks over at me and smiles slightly. Molewhisker looks around her head and waves his paw. Brackenfur only blinks.

I nod at them and make my way over to the two warriors and Ripplepaw, who is jumping from paw to paw in excitement.

Brightheart stands. Even now, it's hard to look at her face without cringing. She's beautiful now, but she might have been even more beautiful before that happened.

The white and ginger she-cat meows, "Everyone ready?" When we nod, she purrs, "Let's go, then." She leads us out of camp. Being the eldest warrior out of all of us, it's only natural she leads the patrol. Something I notice, however, is that she walks with a slight limp, and we have to stop every few minutes so she can rest. Even Lionblaze looks worried.

One our third stop, Lionblaze frowns and asks, "Brightheart, do you want to go back to camp?" His amber eyes have this worried shine to them. His family must not be good at hiding their emotions; all can be told from their eyes.

Brightheart looks up at him, her one eye soft. "I'm alright, Lionblaze." She heaves herself to a standing position, and I notice her front leg buckle. She lets out a soft whine, but she stands straight and pads calmly into the trees. I stare over to Ripplepaw, and she shrugs.

When we come to a clearing in the trees, Brightheart stops and meows, "Alright. We'll split up from here to hunt. Duskpaw, you come with me." She nods to me, and I tense up. She doesn't see it, thank StarClan. "Lionblaze, you and Ripplepaw go to the area near the WindClan border."

Lionblaze flicks his ears up. "Er, Brightheart? Haven't you—"

She ignores him and turns. "Let's go, Duskpaw." Without waiting for an answer from either of us, she pads deeper into the trees.

She didn't tell us where we were going. It looks like she's heading for the ShadowClan border.

Throwing a nervous glance at Lionblaze, I follow Brightheart, making sure not to lose sight of her bright white-and-ginger pelt. "Br-Brightheart?" I stammer, trying not to startle her. But then, my vision darkens, flickers, and it starts.

Her voice is muffled, like it's underwater. "...?" Then she looks back at me, and the damaged side of her face is splashed with blood, and blood drips from her sliced ear. Her one eye is wide, and her blood trails from the corner of her mouth. A deep gash is present in her throat, and her claws are unsheathed.

I let out a horrified gasp and step back. I can't speak; my throat is dry. I look down to try to avoid seeing my wounded Clanmate, and widen my eyes. There's blood on my claws - I don't know whose it is, but I think it's... Brightheart's.

"Why!?" I screech in terror.

She was getting old anyway.

That voice. I hadn't heard that voice before. It was deep, like a tom's, and didn't sound harsh. I feel like I recognize it, but at the same time I don't.

She would've died later on. She would've become worthless to ThunderClan as an elder. Don't get too worked up over i—

"Duskpaw!"

I shake my head, clearing my vision. Brightheart looks completely normal now, save for the permanently-scarred face, which looks worried. "Duskpaw!" she says again, louder this time.

"Y-yes?" I manage to choke out.

"You looked distant, and then you suddenly screeched. What was it?" She tips her head slightly.

"Oh, uh... nothing. Nothing at all." I lie. "Let's just continue hunting."

She blinks once, then slowly turns and continues through the forest, and I follow her. I feel horrible lying to her.

The voice sounds again, much clearer this time.

What a lie.

Three

I see the fur before I hear the yowl.

"Attack!"

A red-brown tom - Rowanstar, ShadowClan's leader - leaps out at Brightheart, and a creamy-brown she-cat - I think her name's Dawnpelt - lashes her claws out at me. I draw back just in time, and her clawtips skim over my nose and Dawnpelt snarls in anger as she loses balance and falls forward.

What are you standing there for? the voice snaps. Get her!

Without thinking, I obey the voice's command and pounce on Dawnpelt. As I rake my claws through her fur, hearing pained screeches from her, I see more pelts emerge, some lighter than others, and some darker, and ShadowClan scent is all I smell, and their hisses are all I hear.

From the corner of my eye, I see Brightheart pinned to the ground by Rowanstar, and a couple more warriors standing by, their dark pelts bristling and their long, thorn-sharp claws unsheathed and ready to swipe. Blood trails down Brightheart's face - the wounded side, the one with the missing eye - and she looks tense, as if she's recalling the experience that almost killed her.

I spit at Dawnpelt, drive my claws into her shoulder, and slice downward toward her foreleg. Ignoring her pained cry, I leap away and sprint toward Rowanstar. I prepare to lunge at him and drive my claws into his throat, but instead pain pierces my shoulder blades and I whip around.

A dark brown tabby tom faces me, his ears pinned flat to his head and his white teeth bared at me. He looks familiar. I've seen him before.

Tigerheart.

He stole your mother from Bumblestripe, Duskpaw. the voice says coolly. You aren't going to let him get away with that... are you? It sounds a bit impatient, but I don't acknowledge this. "No." I whisper to it. "I won't."

That's a good apprentice.

In some uncontrollable fury, I leap straight at Tigerheart. He's obviously unprepared for the attack, and he falls back. A few ShadowClan cats step forward to help, but others stop them, saying something along the lines of "If he wants to be deputy, he'll have to prove himself." Even Rowanstar, who was still pinning Brightheart, looked up in curiosity without letting his grip on my Clanmate loosen.

Tigerheart's claws lash out at my throat, but I lean back before he reaches me. He lets out a distressed cry as I run my claws over his face. He stares into my eyes for a heartbeat, pausing in his onslaught of attacks. "You're... Dovewing's kit." he growls quietly, before continuing his kicking at my sides. He's sheathed his claws - he doesn't want to hurt me.

Yes. Kill the traitor.

Blinded by a storm of emotions, half of which I can't name, I ignore his paws batting at my flanks and sink my teeth into his throat. He struggles, and my flanks begin to ache from his swipes. Suddenly he drops, as if he had just given up. Tigerheart lets out a fading cry, and his already weak resistance grew weaker and weaker before he just...

...stops. And...

And I realize what I've done.

I step away, my eyes wide with horror. I glance around at the ShadowClan cats, and they're all either startled or horrified. I see Dawnpelt, and she looks both infuriated and extremely upset, like she's about to break down.

Then a shriek breaks the silence. It's from Dawnpelt, whose wide eyes were still trained on the body of her dead brother. "ThunderClan murderer! J-just like your medicine cat!"

Jayfeather? ...Jayfeather had killed someone? I regret my sudden thought: Probably with his sarcasm. I can't help but smirk, but it quickly fades as I hear Lionblaze's screech of "ShadowClan! Leave!"

Lionblaze's golden tabby pelt emerges from the underbrush, flanked by more of my Clanmates: Brackenfur, Leafpool, Snowpaw, Ripplepaw, Cloudtail, Foxleap, Dovewing, and Icecloud, all of them wearing bristling pelts and angry faces. Ripplepaw looks scared and excited. This is her first confrontation with another Clan, and she seems to have mixed emotions about it.

Dovewing freezes and stares at Tigerheart's dead body, and I feel a pang of guilt in my chest. I know she loved him. That's why Bumblestripe left her. Because she still had feelings for this other cat, despite being in different Clans. She then turns her sorrowful green gaze on me, and I stiffen. But she only turns away and slips over to Cloudtail's side. You're not sorry, are you? the voice asks, sounding annoyed.

"No. No I'm not." I growl at it. "So shut up."

Snowpaw swiftly pads over to me, his soft blue eyes looking concerned. "Are you okay?" he asks, his tone worried.

I want to say "No, I'm not, and I'll never be." But I can't. Instead, I sigh, "Yeah, just a few scratches." Mental and physical. I add silently.

Lionblaze snarls at Rowanstar. "Get back to your territory, fox-heart!" he says challengingly, lashing his long tail. He looks angrier than he's been in moons.

Rowanstar looks as if he's about to laugh. "How about you mouse-brains—" He gestures to the ThunderClan cats with his tail. "—keep off ShadowClan territory? You've stolen prey and tried to expand your border. Hmm, seems like Tigerstar's son really will become a leader like him." Before Lionblaze could protest, Rowanstar sliced his claws through Brightheart's throat, earning a strained screech from her and a distressed cry from Cloudtail, among other horrified gasps and cries, some from ShadowClan.

Without another word, Rowanstar darted away, followed by some of his warriors. Some glanced back, their eyes despairing, before following him.

Cloudtail stares in horror at Brightheart's limp figure, and the ThunderClan cats are all silent. Snowpaw then lets out an agonized screech, and I remember that Brightheart is his mother. They were close, and now they're just torn apart. Just like a blade of grass torn apart by thorns, claws. Blood-stained claws.

I stare blankly at Brightheart's heaving chest, and her eye rolled back. Blood poured from the wound on her throat, and her white coat is stained red. She breathes, "Cloudtail, d-don't..."

Her mate wails, "Brightheart, no! We've got Leafpool here with us. She'll save you, I swear...!" Snowpaw leans against his father, burying his face into the older tom's shoulder fur.

He just killed your friend's mother, Duskpaw! the voice yowls. Its voice echoes in my ears, and makes my head throb. And you're just going to let that slide? Like it didn't happen? My head hurts now, and I squeeze my eyes shut as the voice continues. I can't believe you! What a terrible friend.

"Shut... up..." I growl, trying to drive the voice away.

"Duskpaw?"

I snap my gaze up to Foxleap's concerned eyes, and look back away. "Are you alright?" the reddish tabby asks, his tone full of worry.

"Yes. Thanks for asking, Foxleap." I answer, rising to my paws and turning away.

Liar. But that's not the voice talking. No, that's my own thought.

Four - 

"Brightheart lived an honorable life." Bramblestar rasped from atop the Highbranch, his striped tail sweeping from side to side. "She was one of the best warriors this Clan ever had, and she raised excellent cats as well." His amber eyes flick over to Whitewing and her apprentice siblings, Snowpaw, Amberpaw, and Dewpaw.

Cloudtail sits with them, his normally bright eyes dull with pain and grief. Whitewing is pressed against his left flank, Snowpaw at his right. Amberpaw is murmuring something I can't hear, and Dewpaw is silent. He wasn't particularly close to Brightheart, but he still loved her like any son to their mother.

Bramblestar clears his throat. "And now, to honor her. Amberpaw, Dewpaw, Snowpaw." he addressed the three apprentices, making them all look up in surprise. "Step forward, if you will."

They look confused as they obey his command, glancing at each other with concerned eyes. Snowpaw looks reluctant to leave his grieving father's side, but Whitewing mews, "Go on." and he nods slightly. He turns away and joins his siblings, standing in the middle. He's the tallest, I notice, while Dewpaw is the shortest.

"In honor of Brightheart's life of loyalty," Bramblestar announced, "her sons and daughter will become warriors. Amberpaw," he meows, looking down at the pale ginger she-cat, "you will be Ambercloud. The Clan will hold your loyalty to their hearts for as long as they live.

"Snowpaw, you will be Snow..."

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a ginger and white she-cat with sparkling green eyes. Bramblestar's words drift away, and all I'm focused on is the cat, the spirit. "Brightheart...?" I breathe, holding her soft green gaze with my own azure one.

She nods without a word. Her gaze drifts and I glance to the side to see a young black-and-white tom. He looks like an apprentice, but he pads confidently over to Brightheart with his tail kinked over his back, striding as proudly as if he were a warrior. "Brightheart." he mews, meeting her green gaze with his amber one.

"Swiftpaw," Brightheart whispers, "I've missed you so much."

"So you haven't forgotten me?" Swiftpaw looks up, his pale eyes hopeful.

"You saved me from the dogs, Swiftpaw. How could I forget about you?" Brightheart purrs, smiling.

"It's been moons. How could I have known you hadn't forgotten about me?" Swiftpaw mumbles, glancing to the side at me.

Brightheart presses her nose to Swiftpaw's forehead. "I know that you wanted to become a warrior beside me. If only that could have happened." she murmured to him. "Even if you weren't there, I was happy with a mate and kits. You don't hold a grudge against Cloudtail, do you?" She looks upset.

Swiftpaw shakes his head. "He made you happy, didn't he? That's all I could've wished for."

Seemingly disregarding my prescence, the black-and-white tom sighs. "Can we leave already? I don't like this place. Not after that..." He seems like he's searching for the word. "Invasion." he finishes lamely.

Brightheart looks to me, nods slightly, and I stare after them as they leave, their pelts shining like Silverpelt above and their paw prints composed completely of dozens of tiny stars.

~*~*~

"Congratulations, Snowpaw." I meow as Snowsomething pads up to me.

He tips his head. "Who's Snowpaw?" he asked as if he'd never known or been a Snowpaw. "I'm Snowheart now." Then his blue eyes turn serious and he mews, "You were there during the ceremony. Duskpaw, is everything okay?"

"Yes, Snowh-heart." I mumble, averting my eyes to my paws. "Everything's alright. I was just... half-asleep." Lying feels terrible, especially if the one I'm lying to happens to be my best friend.

Ha, nice lie you made up. Simple and terribly executed. the voice yawns. Honestly, a KIT could do better than that! The jeer repeats, and I shake my head to clear it.

"Duskpaw, don't li—" Snowheart begins, but a call of his name turns his attention away from me. I take this chance to slip away silently. I hid behind the elders' den, and when he looked back at where I'd been standing, he let out an irritated sigh when he saw that I'd gone.

A voice behind me rasps, "Duskpaw? What're you doing?"

I whirl around to see Thornclaw, whose one ear is twitching curiously. The golden-brown elder teases, "You aren't getting into any trouble, are you?"

"Of course not, Thornclaw." I reply. "I was just... about to ask whether your bedding needed to be changed." I say quickly.

He looks surprised. "That's nice of you. When I was an apprentice, I never wanted to deal with the elders."

Then I flick my ears up. "Hey, sorry, but I just heard my name called. I gotta go, sorry." Before he could reply, I rushed off. Seedfur looks up and calls out a greeting, but I don't stop my pace. The brown-flecked warrior must be confused.

I just need some alone time, that's it.

...Correction. Alone with that voice.

Five -

You're getting pretty good at lying, you know that, Duskpaw? the voice purrs as I come to a halt at the abandoned Twoleg nest. "Says the one who claimed a kit could lie better." I mumble.

It seems like the voice is ignoring me. It goes on, Too bad you weren't around when I was. You would have made a good serv— warrior. Follower. Yes, that's the word.

"What were you about to say?" I demand, my claws scraping into the grass.

Nnn? What do you mean?

"What do you mean by that?" I snap, lashing my tail. "You were about to say, 'You would've made a good serv—.' You cut something off. What. Was it."

A husky laugh made my head throb. Ha, merely a slip of the tongue, dear Duskpaw.

I narrow my eyes. I didn't believe this voice, whoever it belonged to. It thought I was just gullible little Duskkit, didn't it? It's wrong.

My voice quiet, I growl, "I won't be fooled so easily. I don't know who you are and why you're talking to me, but leave me alone."

Another laugh. Me? Leave you alone? I don't give up that easily, Duskpaw...

Suddenly my vision darkened and I stumbled as an intense pain stabbed the back of my head, spreading to my eyes. I squeezed my eyes shut, silently willing the pain to go away, and when the pain had dulled a bit I was scared to open them.

When I did, I saw a tall grey tom, a small white kit with grey and black spots, and a sleek grey she-cat. I didn't recognize any of these cats.

The tom steps forward, his blue eyes solemn. He rumbles darkly, "You are in grave danger, Duskpaw."

The kit scrambles to stand beside him. "Brother," she squeaks, "do you have to get straight to the bad part?" Her differently-colored eyes shimmer.

"Mosskit," the tom begins, then he sighs heavily. Turning his attention back to me, he quietly meows, "I'm sorry to be the cat that has to say this, but that voice in your head will soon become personified again."

The grey she-cat pads up to stand beside him, dipping her head. She curls her tail around the kit - Mosskit - and admitted, "I wish I hadn't had to accompany Stonefur—" she nods at the grey tom "—to deliver the message. But I didn't want him to go alone."

Before I could wonder what she meant, my vision darkened and I stumbled again.

I saw a kit freezing in the snow. A blue-furred she-cat, snow clotting her fur, was wrapped around the kit, desperately trying to warm the tiny bundle of fur. Huddled together a couple of tail-lengths away were two kits, shivering with their pelts pressed together.

Then it transitioned to an elderly she-cat, lying face-up on the ground a few fox-lengths below. With a jolt, I realized that a pointed rock had penetrated her throat. Blood sprayed from the wound, caking the grey fur scarlet. A dark tabby had turned away and was striding away calmly. I wanted to retch at the sight, but the scene had once again changed.

Now a skinny, ragged grey tom was battling a black tabby. The grey cat looked badly beaten up, with blood rushing from clawmarks all over his already-scarred pelt. A huge white tom joined the fray, and soon the grey cat was laying, his life bleeding out onto the dust while two smaller, equally thin cats, silver and grey, pressed together fearfully. Atop a large hill of... bones stood the dark tabby, his claws scraping the gleaming skull under his paw.

The dark tabby.

I've seen it before.

The dark tabby...

I realized my vision had returned to the three cats. I squint at the three cats, and suddenly gasp, "You're...!"

The grey she-cat nods sadly. "The cats in the flashbacks. My name is Greypool. I was killed by Tigerstar  - he was only a warrior then."

The tom rasps, "I am Stonefur. Tigerstar also killed me, indirectly. He used two followers, Darkstripe and Blackfoot — Blackstar." He wrinkles his nose as if the names were crowfood in his mouth. "And my sister, Mosskit—"

"I can introduce myself!" Mosskit squeals, batting at Stonefur's flank with her tiny paws. Turning back to me she mews, "I'm Mosskit, Stonefur's sister. I died from the cold, when my mom was trying to take me to my father."

...? What?

Greypool steps toward me, smiling slightly. "Their father was Oakheart, a RiverClan warrior. Their mother was Bluefu— Bluestar, a ThunderClan warrior back then. I fostered the two surviving kits. Mistykit is the only one alive now..." she murmurs, a distant look in her eyes. Then she snaps back to reality, her face serious.

Stonefur continues, "That voice you are hearing is one of a deceased cat's, one who died long ago. One who dwells in the Place of No Stars."

"Don't obey him, Duskpaw." Mosskit whispers in a monotone, nothing like the kitlike squeal she had been speaking in before. "He'll bring destruction among your home, and the homes of many others. Please, Duskpaw. Don't give in."

Greypool dips her head. "Don't give in."

"Obey only what you believe is right. What that voice says will not be right." Stonefur finishes, and the three erupt into a flurry of tiny stars.

And I'm back at the abandoned nest.

Six

The stars have just started appearing when I get back to camp.

"Duskpaw? Are you okay?"

Brackenfur's concerned voice was the first thing I heard when I stepped into camp. The golden-brown tom hurries over to me, his eyes wide. "You just disappeared after the ceremony, and I thought..." He trails off, and maybe it's better that he did.

I shake my head. "No, I'm okay." I mew lightly in an attempt to reassure the deputy. Liiiiiaaaar! the voice jeers. This time I choose to ignore it; if Brackenfur saw me talking to myself, he'd probably force Jayfeather to give me herbs or something.

"...Alright." he says, nodding. He looks skeptical, but doesn't question me any further. "Go get something to eat if you're hungry." 

I nod and stalk past him, grateful that he isn't demanding answers about where I was. As I root through the fresh-kill pile for a thrush, I hear four sets of voices speaking amongst themselves. I try to ignore them, but I can't help listening to the conversation. I briefly glance up to see the four cats - Ivypool, Leafpool, Bramblestar, and Jayfeather. They're sitting near the medicine cat's den.

I drag a bird out of the prey pile and settle a few tail-lengths away.

"...still walk in cats' dreams?" Bramblestar is looking at Jayfeather as he says this.

The grey tabby shakes his head. "No. We lost our powers, remember? Lionblaze almost cries like a kit when he gets wounded, and Dovewing acts as if she's deaf." He snorts. 

"You can't blame them..." Leafpool begins, but Bramblestar silences her with a wave of his tail.

"They should've gotten used to it by now." Ivypool grumbles. At first I wonder why she's so bitter about the thing with powers, then I remember that Dovewing had powers while she didn't. I can't see Ivypool being jealous, but I heard that she hated how much attention her sister got compared to her.

Bramblestar glances at her as he says, "We'll have to watch her from now on."

Are they talking about me...?

"Duskpaw!"

I stifle a cry of surprise as I leap to my paws. Shadepaw stares at me, a confused look on her face. "You okay? I mean, I know you usually zone out or whatever, but--" Her gaze drops to the bird at my paws. While staring at it, she slowly says, "Don't you hate blackbirds?"

"Oh, um... it's not for me. I was taking it to Greystripe." I reply, silently cursing myself at how fast I'd said it.

Shadepaw looks unconvinced, but she nods. "'Kay then. Have fun, I guess?" I watch as she trots away to talk to Ambercloud and Dewnose.

I hate lying. I hate it.

How could you hate your only talent? the voice says smoothly. I wish I could cut its tongue so it couldn't speak anymore. I've heard of a distant group that does that to traitors.

I grab the blackbird's wing and drag it back to the fresh-kill pile. I drop the limp bird onto the pile of prey with a hiss of disgust. How could anyone eat that?

I whip around and stalk away. As I cross the clearing, I can feel eyes trained on me. They practically burn into my pelt, judging and suspicious. Without looking up to see who was looking at me, I almost trip over my own paws escaping into the apprentices' den.

I throw myself into my nest with a heavy sigh of defeat. I'm exhausted, but I can't fall asleep. I drift in and out of sleep throughout the night. My dreams, though faint and almost forgettable, were filled with images of dead cats with blood staining their pelts, their eyes wide in horror as they scrabbled at the ground with their claws before they finally went still.

When dawn finally arrived, I was still tired.

Outside, I heard shouting. Not like the happy cries of kits playfighting. Actual, angry shouting, like the kind you'd hear in a heated argument.

I force myself to stand up and trudge outside, cringing at the sunlight that stung my eyes.

My Clanmates sit near the edge of the clearing, wide-eyed and staring at the cats in the middle of the clearing. Ferncloud is peering out of the nursery, preventing the kits from looking outside. Briarlight is sitting outside the medicine den, a solemn look on her face. Shadepaw is pressed against her mentor, Sorreltail, with a frightened look on her face.

I slip outside and hurry over to Cherryfall. "What's going on?" I hiss to her.

The cream-colored warrior turns to look at me, her eyes wide. "It's Dustpelt." she breathed. That wasn't much of an answer. I turn my attention to the cats in the center of the clearing.

Berrynose, Foxleap, and Ripplepaw all wear bristling pelts and enraged expressions. I've never seen Ripplepaw so angry - something bad must have happened if she's acting like this.

"You did it!" Berrynose hisses, lashing his short tail. "You hated Dustpelt so much that you must've snapped and hurt him!"

"I'd never hurt an elder! Or any of my Clanmates!" Ripplepaw snaps back, baring her teeth at the cream-point tom.

"Liar!" Berrynose snarls.

Foxleap steps between them, his red tabby fur fluffed out. "Berrynose, there's no way Ripplepaw would--" he began.

I spring toward the quarreling cats and stand at Ripplepaw's flank. She looks a bit startled, but also relieved that I'm here. "Shut up, Berrynose!" I hiss, lashing my tail. "At least she didn't get her own tail cut off as a kit!" That was probably the worst thing I could've said in that moment, but it was the only thing that came to mind.

Berrynose opens his jaws to say something, but snaps them shut after a heartbeat and narrows his eyes at me. Then he turns and storms away, slipping out of camp.

The surrounding cats are silent, but they soon disperse and quiet chatter rises from the edges of camp. Foxleap, finding no purpose to remain here, stalks off to join Sorreltail, Greystripe, and Brackenfur.

Shadepaw looks over at me, a grin on her face. "Thanks, Duskpaw! I owe you one." she purrs, nudging my shoulder with hers. Then she cats a disdainful glare in the direction Berrynose went. "Geez, what a jerk! He thinks I stabbed Dustpelt's flank with a thorn. Geeez, how stupid can he be?" she spits. "He doesn't even like Dustpelt!"

"Calm down. It's over now, so leave it alone." I sigh, flicking my ears. "It's not like you have to see Berrynose every day."

She lashes her ringed tail in response. "But still, he's my Clanmate. I hate him, and I have to look at his stupid face every time I walk out of the apprentices' den." she huffs, still annoyed. "Still," she says, brightening up, "thanks for driving him off for me!" She nuzzles me again before skipping off to a group consisting of Ambercloud, Briarlight, and Blossomfall.

I watch her go, then start toward the camp exit to get some time alone.

With that voice.

How do you keep forgetting about me, dear Duskpaw? the voice chimes in. It sounds as if it's hurt by my forgetfulness, but it's obvious that it's only pretending.

Interlude - Thought 1

I should give the thing a name. Calling it "the voice" gets repetitive after a while.

Hm, what if I called it "Annoying Voice in My Head That Never Goes Away"?

Nah... too long.

It doesn't deserve a warrior name, though...

...Why is it so hard to think of one name!? Did Dovewing has this much trouble naming me and my siblings?

Maybe I'll name it after some historical villain. I've heard this story from Greystripe, and it's about a big battle with a rogue group named BloodClan. It was led by Scourge, who was killed by Firestar.

I could call it Scourge. I'm not saying this weird voice belongs to that dead cat, but it's all I can think of right now.

So it's settled, then? Its name will be Scourge. At least until I can think of a better one, or it reveals its actual name. 

If it has one.

I mean, what voice has a name?

Seven

Before I can take two steps outside, I hear a shrill squeal of my name. Alarmed, I turn to see a little black she-kit bounding toward me, followed by a smaller silver tom. I let out a low hiss, but quickly wipe the annoyed look off my face as the kits skid to a halt in front of me.

Hollykit and Bluekit, Cinderheart's kits. Probably the most annoying cats you'll ever meet. I know they're just kits, but... they're still so irritating!

I fake a small smile as Hollykit, shifting from paw to paw, excitedly asks, "Dusky! Where're you going? Can me and Bluekit come? Please, please?"

Bluekit looks hopefully up at me, his blue eyes wide.

"Kits can't go out of camp." I tell them, trying to keep the edge out of my tone.

-tbc

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