a one-shot sequel to king
(it is heavily advised that you read King and Luna first to better understand Stranger)
There were three of us to start. We were the ones to run.
I don't know what happened to Angelus. Luna had whispered that we were going places - places where it'd be just us, just her and I, just a paradise where we could be alone and live in peace. No more rules. No more anything.
There is blood on my paws, though. If I wasn't there, maybe this wouldn't have happened. Maybe Luna and Angelus would've fallen for each other, and they'd actually have kits together or something.
It's been some time since we last saw Angelus. Luna's thought that we lost him days ago - I feel worried, she's not looking great.
"Stay here," I murmur to her. "I'll go catch you something. And then we can talk, because I need to."
I slip off. It's not my intent to leave her to go hungry - she hasn't mentioned it, but I know she'd go hungry if it meant having the others fed. I should catch her a hare, for us to share.
To her, I am Stranger. To Angelus, I am Arcturus.
To nobody, I am Reina.
It's my birth name - Stranger was just a nickname, and Arcturus was some sort of legend. Some called him a guardian. Others called him some piece of mythology, where large, predatory animals called bears exist. I've never seen one, but I don't doubt they exist.
Reina was what my mother named me, the little calico who'd go on to cause havoc. The little calico who could. And by "could," I mean one that could do anything.
Anything bad, that is.
I've got to focus and not dwell on the past. I don't want Luna going hungry.
I can't catch a whiff of hare, so I keep walking. I wonder how Ash - that one in the fliers - is doing. I wonder how they're all doing.
The area around me is foggy. I can smell the scent of Luna and I, as we ran through here. I can smell those who were here before, but mainly... Luna.
The area also looks... surprisingly familiar. We must be closer to them than we thought.
Suddenly, in front of me - the bush shakes. Someone bursts through it and -
Ow. The she-cat moans as she shakes her head. "Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to run into you!" My senses are returning... is that mewling I hear? "Sorry again, it's been really chaotic in those two..." She stares at me for a moment, and it makes me nervous. "I've seen you... you're Stranger, aren't you?"
"Stranger's just a nickname," I mutter. "I'd much prefer to be referred to with my true name now that I've committed such an awful crime under Stranger." She opens her mouth, and I know what she's going to ask. "I killed someone. I loved someone. And I took your Luna and Angelus away, and it's probably making everything fall apart there, isn't it?"
"You must've killed someone other than Pax." How does she know who Pax is? "Pax didn't deserve to die, but I wouldn't believe Angelus when he said you killed him." Her appearance is similar to Angelus. She's got chocolate brown fur, and white paws and there's another flare of white on her chest. "But yes, everything is falling apart."
Shoot. I knew that I'd cause something awful. "So, what's happening?"
"Well..." She sighs. "My group doesn't have a leader. Ash doesn't know what to do, and nor does anyone else. As for the flightless, I think someone assassinated Moonstone recently. I don't really know - rumors aren't to be trusted. Nobody knows where you, Angelus, and Luna went. Those two were set to become the next leaders." My ears burn at the mention of Angelus and Luna.
She cocks her head. "Who did you... love, anyway?"
Luna. Someone you don't need to know about. "Someone who loves me just as much." I flick my ears back. Luna must be starving by now. Oh no. "Can I see what's happening?"
She shrugs. "Maybe. But mine won't be too keen on seeing you - Angelus said you were the one to kill Pax." She stands and turns. "You can peek, probably - maybe Ash will sneak out."
I nod, and she leads me to the edge of their camp. "Wait here." She slips in, and I wait for a few moments.
It's probably the most nerve wracking moments of my life. Luna... I know you're waiting for me, I'm sorry I'm taking forever. She comes to my mind, gently, slowly, and she's a warm thought for me to bask in.
The flier comes back in a moment. "I won't be letting you come in. But I brought Ash."
The white queen stares at me with a hard glint in her eyes. "You know where Angelus is. And according to him, you killed Pax."
"I've heard a lot about Pax." I let Luna slip away from my mind and it comes back to me. The way he acted when he saw me. The way his eyes were in fear as I bit into his ear. The way he looked when his eyes hardened and the blood spilled everywhere. "I didn't kill him, no matter what Angelus says."
She flicks her tail and scoffs. "Like I'll believe that. Angelus left with you and Luna, didn't he? You're involved with him in some way." She sighs. "It doesn't matter. The kingdoms are falling. We have no leader; nor do the flightless. Sometime soon we may all attack each other and not stop until we die." She blinks slowly for a moment. "What a blissful ending to the kingdoms."
Doesn't sound too blissful to me. I shrug the thought away. "Angelus was the father of your kits, wasn't he? It's got to be hard, raising them alone."
"Oh, not entirely." She glances over at the other flier - the brown one. "Do you mind, Farren? I'm not sure if it matters that you know things that Stranger-"
"Reina," I snap, and she shakes her head.
"...Reina should know?" Ash's voice falters near the end.
Farren's ears perk. "Oh, no, I don't mind. I knew about Fratz's death long before Angelus told anyone, so I think I can hold another secret."
Ash nods her thanks. "Angelus was supposed to be their adoptive father, actually. He wasn't their real father, and they don't know he wasn't. Their real father was Pax." She chokes on his name, and on instinct, my tail flattens against the ground. "One even looks like him. And another looks like Angelus, in a way. Respectively, they're named Jasper and Shale."
"They sound like great kits." It's not a statement that has any meaning backing it - if those were my own, I'd probably care more. I only just met Ash, I don't know how to feel around her. "I've got somewhere to go, actually." Luna's back in my mind. She's hungry.
Ash narrows her eyes. "Is it that she-cat Luna?" She rolls her eyes. "According to what I saw and what I gather from Angelus, you two were uncomfortably close."
What's wrong with loving Luna? Or any she-cat or tom? "What's wrong with being close?"
"Nothing," she mutters quickly. "It just seems weird to me that someone could be that close. And Luna wasn't ordinary to anyone at all." She flattens her ears. "You two aren't... significant others, right?"
Weird. This was what she was telling me about. "I'm very close to her. It's not a matter of if we're significant others, it's about accepting us for being significant others." I expect she's not too fond of me liking she-cats and toms.
"Two she-cats together just seems weirdly awful," Ash sighs. "Same with two toms." She shrugs. "You have places to go. Go to them."
The awkward ending haunts me as I exit.
It's sunrise the next morning when I return.
Farren - from the day before - greets me as I step into the territory. "I'll lead you to the border. That's all I can do, without getting myself killed." The healer shrugs. "They'll kill me on site if they see me with you in their territory."
"Ohokay," I mutter nervously, hoping that I won't see another cat die in front of me. She's not going to die. Stop worrying, Reina.
We walk towards the flightless. I'm silent, jolted by the previous day's events, and... Luna. My poor girl... I hope you're doing okay.
We come to the border. Farren blinks and sighs, soundless. "Here you go. Cross over and you'll be there."
The bushes twitch. I can hear someone.
A ginger tabby head pokes out. "Oh, look, it's Stranger, the little killer. You killed Luna, didn't you?" This is one of Luna's 'siblings'... Stellarus.
"No. She isn't dead." I'm tempted to tell her the other news but... I cease not to. Luna's other news stays between her and I.
"Then where is she? She's not with you, obviously." The ginger tabby rolls her eyes. "Leave Farren and fight me like a real cat. Despite everything she did, Luna doesn't deserve to die under your claws."
"I didn't do anything to Luna." She stole my heart, and I stole hers, that's what happened. "She and I separated. I don't know where she is."
"You liar!" Farren's gone when Stellarus leaps. "You know where she is, your eyes are such giveaways!" She bites my ear and her claws dig into my flank. "She might have done awful things with you - not to mention destroy our entire society - but she was our second in line." Memories of Pax come to my mind... he died because of me, I ruined Ash's life because of my actions. Ash's kits don't have a father because of me! "Second in lines are the most important members, besides our leaders. And now both leaders and second in commands are dead! We're all going to die because of something you caused."
"It wasn't my fault! Luna didn't leave because of me. Luna left because you were so mean to her!" I manage to throw her off. "Luna and I were so close because she had nobody left. She told me that. She didn't have anyone to make her feel better." I flatten my ears. "Take me to your camp. The healer's gone, so just take me there. Or I'll go all out and kill you like I killed Pax."
"So it was you."
I roll my eyes. "Not like literally everyone else knew."
She shrugs. "I always thought it was you. I'll take you anyway, there's no use in trying to stop what's coming."
We go silent as she takes me down there. She pauses at the entrance. "I wonder how they'll see you."
We step in. I can smell the scent that Luna had - kit-scent. "Someone's expecting?"
"My biological sister. She had an affair with some tom and ended up pregnant." She rolls her eyes. "She actually figured it out a while ago, but didn't tell anyone. She doesn't want attention drawn to her." For a moment, her eyes soften. "You hung out with Luna so much. I don't know if she even paid attention to Selene's pregnancy. And now that Moonstone's dead... nothing good will come out of it."
The queen steps out. "Oh, Stellarus! And Strange-"
"Reina. It's Reina."
"Oh... Oh." Selene almost flattens her ears. "What's wrong with Stranger?"
"Bad memories." I seriously hope she doesn't ask any more about it - I can't tell them about Pax, about Luna, about... anything I did. "Lots of awful things happened."
"Oh... okay." She blinks once. "Stellarus. You don't think..." She settles on the ground. From the looks of it, she's heavily pregnant. She has to be due within a few days. "You don't think they'll actually kill us, right?" Her sister opens her mouth. "Not a queen."
"They wouldn't kill you." Stellarus blinks back. "Not like this." For a moment, I think she's actually getting sappy. "They wouldn't - couldn't - kill you." Her voice cracks. My heart shoves itself and punches itself in its own gut. Luna... "I don't want my sister to die."
The queen looks utterly startled, but manages to stand and comes next to her. "I know that we're not going to do well. And I know that I'll probably kit before they come. And I also know that I'm probably going to die." She pauses and thinks. "No, wait, I will die. So will most, if not all of them." The two sisters press together, despite the obvious heaviness in Selene. "But, if one lives... I want them to learn."
"Learn?! How so?" Stellarus' eyes are wide.
Selene gives her a gentle smile. "I want them to learn how to love, like Reina and Luna." I gasp, and she shakes her head. "I know what you and Luna had, Reina. You both were so close, it was pretty obvious that you two loved each other." Her sister shivers at every use of the word, and she scoffs. "Don't be scared of it. I want whoever lives - if any - to learn how to love. So they can be better than us, isolated, hardened."
After this, we all sit in silence until Selene moans. "Oh, Reina, I'm sorry. If one lives, take them to Luna. You both know how to love." She screams shortly afterwards.
It's a long birth, but by the end of it, Selene looks absolutely exhausted. The poor queen looked like she had felt like just bursting there - which makes perfect sense now, seeing as she has six kits by her stomach and a stillborn. "They're beautiful."
A small, dark red tabby she-kit catches my eye. Okay, if I have any control, I want her to come. "Selene." She looks up from her tired position. "Let's get you inside, so that they can get settled and ready for you."
A few weeks later...
I wish there could be two of me - one to be with Luna, and another...
...to be here.
A few of Selene's kits have died from illness. The tabby I spotted a few weeks ago is still alive - she still doesn't have a name. I sort of want to name her Manabu.
Manabu. "Hey, tabby chick." She looks up. "Yes, you." She approaches me slowly. "Your name is Manabu."
She perks her ears. "Ohh. It sounds like it's hard to pronounce."
"It is, and it might be for others as well." I try to keep her interested. "You may get used to it. It's pronounced man-a-bu, with a quick a, like in at." I'm no teacher, but I don't want her name to be mispronounced. "Cats will have trouble with it. Your name means learn in some other mythic language that I learned parts of from my rogue days."
"Cool." She returns a cool and collected gaze. She's good. Calm temper, not one you'd expect out of a she-cat her age. "Why are you here, stranger?"
Stranger. "My name's Reina, young one. 'Stranger'... they are someone else." I won't tell her anything about my past identity. "I am here... because you need to get out of here."
"Get out of here?" She cocks her head. "Why? And why just me?"
"Because..." I don't immediately want to tell her about the fliers and the flightless. "Your mother and aunt are involved in a war. I want to save you from that - come with me and my mate and grow up with our kits."
Her eyes immediately widen. "You're pregnant?"
I scoff. I guess I should've expected this. "No. Never have, probably never wil. I'm not interested in carrying kits." Manabu nods. "Anyway. There's also a big battle coming."
"Will anyone die? Are you some sort of prophecy-cat or something?" That sounds like a young kit.
"Some will probably die. And no, I am no prophecy." She relaxes. "I am a real cat, as real as you and all of your siblings."
"As real as my sibling?" I know who she's referring to - the stillborn.
"As real as your sibling." She prods me, and then nods her satisfaction. "Anyway, do you want to come?"
She sits in silence for a moment. "Sure."
She said yes. "Alright. We leave in a bit - say goodbye to your siblings. I'll wait for you."
She nods and trots off, pausing for a minute and glancing over her shoulder. "What should I say to them?"
"Tell them that I'm taking you hunting." I don't want her to say that she's leaving.
"Okay." She turns back around and resumes her trot towards her siblings. I watch her from a distance, and I feel bad - we'll be watching them die. She and I will be watching her siblings die. Her mother, dead. Everything she cares about now is gone.
Manabu. I'm so sorry. Manabu, I'm just trying to save you.
She walks up. "I've said my goodbyes, Reina." She glances behind her. My heart cracks at her look. "I feel bad about this."
"So do I. But this - this saves your life. My life was ruined long ago; I can make up for that by saving lives." I place my tail on her shoulder. "But my mate - she'll be able to help you. She and I can raise you." She still looks sad. "We can save you. We're saving your life." She doesn't look like she feels much better. "I'm so sorry, Manabu. We're trying to save you."
She shakes her head. "I know. I'll be okay."
She and I are silent for several minutes before I hear screaming.
This is it.
The remaining cats are battling.
"Bushes. Now." Manabu looks surprised at first, but then she follows me into the bushes.
"What's going on?!"
"They're fighting." I can see the she-cat - Nami? - that was with Angelus when they spied on us. "They're fighting."
She watches the scene in shock. Nami's organizing a patrol.
"We send all of our bravest warriors to the flightless. Our goal: kill them. They'll never suspect a thing." She pauses and hesitates. I think she's thinking about Serene - she must've heard about it. She doesn't know that one of Serene's kits is with me.
She doesn't know about Manabu. "And if you run into Serene... kill her, if she's given birth, and any kits there. If she hasn't, don't. If she kits on our territory, her kits will be forced to join us."
The cats nod, although I can see a somber look in a few pairs of eyes. They don't want to kill kits.
The flightless have to be plotting the same thing.
Nami nods in response. "Then let's go."
They march off. Manabu's shivering. "I'm sorry."
"It's been waiting to happen for weeks," I sigh. "When we find Luna - my mate - we'll explain."
She goes silent and looks away. "Okay."
She and I keep walking. I walk to where I know Luna is.
I push through the bushes. Luna glances up. She's on her side, and that's because she's expecting her own kits - she's due within a few days. I want to duplicate myself to be with her. "Luna. I brought someone."
She catches my eye. "Oh. This is Serene's kit, isn't it?"
"She is, yes." I feel bad - she hasn't even given birth yet. "And they're killing each other. Exactly as I thought they would."
She flattens her ears. "They don't function without Angelus and I - but it wouldn't be helpful if I was still there." She doesn't look at Manabu. "They would've found out that Angelus and I were that close. They would've found out that Angelus is the father."
Manabu looks nervous. "She's weaned, right?"
"Absolutely." I place my tail on Manabu's back. "She will be raised accordingly."
Luna nods. "Her name?"
"Manabu." The kit dips her head in respect.
"Well, Manabu." She sighs and her tail wraps around her stomach, her tailtip tapping it gently. "I'll kit within a day or two - maybe even within a few hours - and then Reina and I will raise you with my three." She says the words and shivers. "Hours - yeah."
Manabu bows her head again. "Where should I go until then?"
Luna gives me a look. It looks a little pained. "Uh, how about I take you out, Manabu?" She mouths a gentle 'thank you' and closes her eyes. "By the time we get back, Luna'll have had her kits, and you can meet them."
I tap Manabu. "Let's go."
We leave. Manabu glances at me and says, "So tell me what happened."
"Well..." I don't exactly know how to phrase it. Four moons ago, Luna and I didn't know each other. "It started about three moons ago. I discovered the flightless and the fliers on accident. Luna found me and I had to explain everything." The moments come back - when I told her I liked she-cats and toms. When I told her why I liked Stranger. "Then Luna and I got close - and I killed someone. On accident." I think of Pax. "And Luna had her own issues - she met and fell for a tom, who later was the leader of the fliers."
"Luna loved a leader?" She gasps. "Isn't that-"
"Let me finish." I take a breath. "Her lover became a leader and encouraged them to attack her and her group. That was about four weeks ago - Luna was expecting kits, his kits, and we didn't know." I sigh. "Long story short - we all ran away. The groups fell apart. Everything we once knew fell apart. We lost everything we cared about."
"Oh." Manabu looks shocked. "Sounds like an awful thing to experience."
I want to say that it was an awful experience. "Don't feel sorry for Luna and I. We became extremely close and we care about each other, a lot."
Manabu stares at the ground. "I... I think I'm gonna take a walk alone for a bit. I know where to find you." I nod, and she turns to leave.
She's been gone for several minutes when I return to Luna, who's moaning. "Luna?!"
"Hours - hahah. They're coming, Reina." I sit away from her. "Wish me luck, lover."
"Liar. I'll wish you more than luck." I can't help the flirt - it's what she needs.
She needs me. And Manabu will need her.
No dying, Luna. We need to teach her how to love. We need to teach them how to love. We have business to finish.
Manabu and whoever else is coming... we'll teach you.
We'll teach you how to love...