The Curtain Rises is the first episode of Warrior's Murmur. Enjoy!
The Curtain Rises
The curtain rises. Several cats are gathered around a dead body. One in particular looks lost.
I hang my head in shame. Skyflower lies dead before me. Could I have saved her? Unlikely. But all this feels like it really is my fault.
My sister looks beautiful, even in death. Her eyes are shut, to feign sleep, and her pelt has been neatly groomed. Rosemary and thyme are scattered over her body, to ward off the scent of death.
But it fools nobody. I know she’s dead, even though she looks asleep. Frogskip says it will be okay. He’s wrong. So what if he’s our Medicine Cat? He knows nothing about me.
I sit in the darkness, still feeling the pain. Skyflower should be alive. She should be purring, and sitting with me.
Or at the very least, I should be dead instead of her.
On this night, the vigil lasts. I cannot comprehend what is going to happen now. But I don’t believe that Skyflower bashed her head, after tripping. She was always good on her paws.
However, this would mean… that Skyflower was murdered. And that is something I could never forgive.
Ashstar starts to speak, and I focus on him, “Cats of HazelClan! Today, we have lost ourselves a brave and loyal warrior.”
The surrounding cats murmur, and nod their heads respectfully.
Ashstar continues, “But not all is lost, as HazelClan will continue to live on, no matter what happens! This night is a tribute to Skyflower!
Even though her name is cheered, it is hollow. The same speech occurs every time a cat dies. It’s nothing new to anyone, and nobody pretends it is.
My sister is just another buried body now. She’s just one more star in the sky. In a few moons, she’ll be lucky if anyone still remembers her name.
But I know she’ll be watching. That just the thing she’d do. Skyflower was not a cat to take for granted.
In the morning, I help the elders lower her into her grave. Mistflower says a few words, and then I aid Swallowpaw and Mosspaw in burying Skyflower.
Then, we return to camp, and HazelClan continues on like normal.
Now, I must grieve in silence. There will no longer be sympathy, as Skyflower never existed.
It’s a shameful way of dealing with death, but HazelClan’s done it for generations. We can’t change it now, even if we wanted to.
Swallowpaw’s words snap me back to reality, “What?”
The brown apprentice glares at me, “I wasn’t talking to you, but whatever. They shouldn’t forget the dead cats. They did this when my mother died. I can’t forget her!”
“Your mother… You mean Shalecloud?” I mew.
Swallowpaw nods, “Yes, pay attention. If we forget the dead, then we might as well not believe in StarClan! I hate this!”
Apprentices tend to be rebellious, but Swallowpaw takes this to an extreme. She questions all traditions, and she almost never follows the rules.
I can’t say I wasn’t rebellious myself, at her age, but this it starting to get ridiculous. Still, I also can’t blame her for hating this tradition. I hate it myself.
“Dead warriors have paved the way to our life now.” I say softly, “Forgetting them… It isn’t right. But we can’t change that.”
Swallowpaw snorts, “You give up too easily! Of course we can change this! All you have to do is prove her death wasn’t an accident.”
I sigh, “It’s not that easy. Her death was an accident!”
“Great StarClan Moonshade! You’re supposed to be smart!” Swallowpaw says angrily, “Do you really believe she just tripped over a tree root, and stumbled off a cliff?”
“It’s only logical…” I say to myself, but I know she’s right. Skyflower isn’t the type to screw that up.
Swallowpaw looks at me, “Do you really want Skyflower to be forgotten? It’s too late for Shalecloud, but it’s not too late for her. We’ll dig up her body, and find the truth!”
That is the stupidest, just most brilliant idea ever.
The two of us head back to her grave, and start digging up the freshly turned earth. Then, with some difficulty, we heave my sister up from the ashes.
I suppose if we have to examine her, we’ll do it right.
“Okay…” Swallowpaw mews, “Her head was bashed in for sure. Looks like the rock his her hard.”
“But you think it was murder?’ I mew in surprise.
She nods, “You can hit others with rocks!”
I decide to not ask how she knows that. Instead, I take a look at the bruises formed along her back.
There’s nothing odd there. In fact, it seems like we’re just proving what we already know.
Then, Swallowpaw yells out, “Moonshade! Come over here!”
“What?” I mew and walk over to where she’s standing. There’s a swift claw mark across her belly.
“Well, we found your proof. Cause of death was loss of blood, not bashed in head. In fact, I think that happened after she died.” Swallowpaw mews.
I shake my head, “Bruises don’t form after death. She must have been barely alive when it happened, though.”
Swallowpaw takes another look at the wound, “How could Frogskip have missed this? It’s proof she was murdered!”
I mew, “So now what? We found proof, what do we do?”
The apprentice shoots me a ‘duh’ look, “What else? We find a suspect, and accuse them.”
“We don’t have any evidence!” I cry out. “You really are stupid, aren’t you?” Swallowpaw groans, “Honestly, I wanted to solve this mystery, not drag an idiot along.”
I’m not stupid! But we can’t make a baseless accusation. It would ruin our credibility.
Swallowpaw mews, “Let’s just look at the crime scene. There will be proof there, I know it.”
It feels like I’m the apprentice in this scenario, but there’s no point in fighting. Swallowpaw is technically right, even if she’s a little rude about it.
So, I follow her, and together, we walk through the forest, until we find the cliff.
Swallowpaw sniffs the air, “The scents around here are stale. There’s a trace of Skyflower, but that’s it.”
Ha! I can finally be better than her.
“What about the other scents? From the patrol that found her?” I mew.
Swallowpaw rolls her eyes, “I didn’t think I’d have to bring it up, but fine. Violetpaw, Rainblaze, and Nettleclaw have scent traces too.”
I mutter, and stalk away from her, looking for any clues. I can easily find where she stumbled, and fell off the cliff.
There’s a bit of her fur in the bracken, but not much else. Everything is as it should be.
“Well, this was a nice waste of time.” I mew, “We’ve found nothing.”
Swallowpaw glares at me, “You’re just not looking hard enough! Ugh, I was stupid to get help from you. You know nothing!”
She tears off, and I sigh, sitting alone in the dust.
Well, there has to be something.
I sniff around, but the scents are all faded. I can’t find a trace of a suspicious scent, nor any clues.
The scattered paw prints are useless, and I shake my head. There’s no proof. In fact, she could have gotten that cut when she fell.
All I’ve done is waste time. Good job Moonshade, you’re really on the ball today.
Suddenly, there’s a crashing noise, and Swallowpaw appears, “Come here! I found something!”
“What are you talking about?” I mew, getting a little annoyed, “There’s no clues here.”
“I was on a scent trail!” She hisses, “Come here, you idiot!”
She runs off again, and it appears that I have no choice but to follow the unruly apprentice.
When I catch up to her, she’s standing by a dead tree, “Look.” She says, pride in her voice, “Look what you missed.”
There appears to be nothing of note, but I can tell she’ll mock me for any mistakes I make. So, I take a second glance.
If I just passed this tree, I wouldn’t notice, but in a knot on the trunk, there’s a tuft of black fur.
“What in the name of StarClan is this doing here?” I mew, and claw it out, “It’s a rather random thing to be here.”
Swallowpaw nods, “Now sniff the fur.”
I do so, and reply, “It belongs to Nightwhisker. So? He was hunting here recently.”
“Are you a complete moron?” Swallowpaw mews, “Sniff the air!”
I groan, but take a moment. Nightwhisker’s scent is here… and so is my sister’s.
“Skyflower…” I murmur.
Swallowpaw grins creepily, “Exactly. See, this is what you find, when you pay attention.”
“You can quit lecturing me.” I mew, “Anyway, does this mean that Nightwhisker is our killer?”
Swallowpaw shrugs, “Most likely. I mean, who else comes out here all the time. I can’t smell anyone else.”
I hate to say it… but she’s right.
“Well then, what do we do? And don’t say accuse Nightwhisker.” I add, as she opens her mouth.
She thinks for a moment, and then says, “Report our findings to Ashstar. I mean, we can’t exactly investigate without his permission.”
Swallowpaw tears off, and all I can do is shake my head, and blindly follow her.
“Are you serious?”
Ashstar has the biggest look of disbelief on his face, “You think Skyflower was murdered?”
I nod, “I know this sounds ridiculous, but we have a suspect!”
Ashstar thinks, “Can you thoroughly back up this accusation? I won’t let this go through, if you can’t give proof.”
“Of course we have proof!” Swallowpaw shouts out, “Do you really think we’d be stupid enough to not bring back proof?”
“Calm down!” I hiss to her, “We have proof.”
Ashstar sighs, “I never thought I’d see the day… Fine then, I’ll call a meeting.”
Swallowpaw grins as we exit the den, “This is great! Now, we can get to the bottom of this.”
I shake my head, “It’s never that easy. I really don’t think it was him…”
“Moonshade, that is impossible.” She mews, her eyes dark.
“I need to know the truth.” I say softly. I can’t make a wrong accusation. But I don’t want to let my chance get away from me.
Swallowpaw sighs, “Only StarClan knows what happened.”
She’s right, but I still protest, “Well, I’m going to find out.”
“Be my guest.” Swallowpaw replies, “It has to be Nightwhisker. If we’re wrong… then we can go hunting for the truth.”
Please StarClan… Guide us through this…
“Let all cats old enough to hunt alone, gather beneath Meeting Rock for an announcement!”
Swallowpaw and I sit on the base of the rock, as Ashstar calls out to the Clan. The cats gather around the rock, whispering to each other. None of them know what’s really going on.
Ashstar mews, “Yesterday, Skyflower left us. But today, I have been given reason to open up her case again.”
Chatter breaks out, with cats muttering to each other. I can’t quite hear them, but it doesn’t sound good.
Ashstar clears his throat, “Moonshade and Swallowpaw have presenting me with evidence, that Skyflower’s death was not an accident. It was murder.”
There is a gasp, and then everyone falls silent. Swallowpaw nudges me, but it feels cold, not good.
“They even have a suspect, and I call it upon them, to name their supposed culprit.
I hold my breath, and Swallowpaw steps forward.
“The two of us accuse… Nightwhisker.”
There is a beat, and then the crowd opens up, directing us to a black tom.
Well. This is going to be interesting.