The struggling queen made her way across the border. Her breath was labored and her eyes were bright with pain.
She collapsed just outside the border, onto a bed of reeds. She glanced around dully, searching for a stick. There was a twig close by. She lunged at it and clamped her teeth down on it. It splintered but she kept it in her mouth.
Spasms shook her and she felt a nip at her underbelly. There was the first kit, lying by her tail. She ripped open the sac, licking it feverishly. She knew there was one more to come.
A few minutes later, two kits were suckling at her belly.
She smiled weakly at the two kits. Aspenkit and Moorkit, she decided, but then she frowned. She was no longer a soldierqueen. Therefore, her kits wouldn't have clan names. Okay, Aster and Mera.
She smiled again, satisfied. She was no longer Ashwhisker. She was Ara. "Ashwhisker!" Somecat yowled. Ice chilled her veins, she should have known they'd send a patrol after her. She was Icestar's favorite mate, how could they not?
She picked up Aster and Mera by the scruffs of their necks and slowly made her way out of the area, not making any sound. She scanned the clearing, and saw a small bridge by the creek. She padded over, shoving the kits underneath, and then squeezing in after them. She gazed at her kits contentedly.
A family, she thought. A family of rogues. The perfect family.
A few days before the preface...
"Is Ashwhisker here?" Icestar asked the West Nursery guard.
She nodded. "Yes, sir. All of your mates are here except for Moonglade."
"Where is Moonglade?" Icestar asked.
"Snowglade's checking up on her." The guard replied.
"Good." Icestar padded in.
Ashwhisker squinted at the figure in the half-light that entered the den as the gate was swung open, stirring the air. "Icestar?" She murmured.
The other queens currently in the nursery, Frecklefur, Roseblade, and Fawntail, glanced up at the white tom, purring, "Hello, Icestar," "Did you come to see me?" "Did you bring prey?"
Ashwhisker rolled her eyes. Suckups.
She, along with four other she-cats from her settlement, Moonglade, Frecklefur, Roseblade, and Fawntail, had been nominated to go to the main camp to be one of Icestar's mates.
They had all been thrilled, of course. Ashwhisker hadn't been.
They had all been apprentices back then, and Moonglade had given birth to Icestar's kits as an apprentice.
And, it wasn't like she was special or anything, her family had just been one of the wealthiest in the settlement.
At first, Ashwhisker had acted like she, too, was delighted to be there. But Icestar had soon seen through the act, and she had explained why she wasn't thrilled.
Icestar had proven to be kind and gentle, and Ashwhisker had fallen for him.
But of course, the Fates weren't smiling down on her.
So she became pregnant with his kits.
And then, when things seemed perfect, the next four she-cats came.
And Icestar forgot about her.
Of course, he saw her constantly, but something about him had changed.
Not only that, but he had promised her she would be the last she-cat.
"What do you need?" Ashwhisker asked.
Icestar smiled. "How are the kits?"
She reddened as the other she-cats giggled. To keep Icestar's attention was a remarkable feat, a feat she seemingly couldn't accomplish.
She should never have fallen in love with him.
"The kits," She spat, "Are unborn."
Icestar frowned. "Didn't you just have them two days ago?"
Ashwhisker closed her eyes, stopping the angry tears before they spilled over.
That was it.
That was the last straw.
She was leaving.
Seventeen moons after the preface
"Back off, Aster!" Mera growled, unsheathing her claws.
Aster rolled his eyes. "What are you going to do, Mirror?"
"It's Mera, dummy." Mera snapped.
"Yeah, yeah." Aster quipped.
Mera growled and stormed away, bristling.
Ara, before she had died, had told them they were a perfect family.
Mera laughed coldly.
They weren't even close.
She sneered at her mother's grave, a lump next to the den covered in pebbles. Ara was weak and foolish, believing in the good of cats.
That's how she had died.
Mera still remembered the blood on her claws and muzzle, Ara's limp body lying at her paws.
Mera would not make Ara's mistake.
Trust was for fools and love was for weaklings.
Yet she felt a connection to Aster.
Simple, they were blood brothers.
But if and when she killed him, she wouldn't stick around.
She remembered something Ara had said about the clans.
Shallow, spoiled, constantly warring...
That gave her an idea.
Mera was the diabolical one in the family. She was always plotting and scheming, and anyone who wronged her would usually end up dead by the next day.
Chaos and discord.
She let a slow smile curl over her face, eyes start to brighten with a cold glint.
"Aster!" She called, turning to face the black-and-white tom.
"What is it now?" He grumbled.
Mera smirked. "Want to kill some cats?"
Aster chuckled. "Classic Mera."
She raised an eyebrow, and he laughed again.
"What do you have in mind?"
A half-moon later...
"We'd like to welcome two new warriors into ThunderClan!" Harebelly, deputy of ThunderClan announced at the Gathering. "Mirrorflash-" Mera sighed. Every single cat she met thought her name was Mirror. "And Aspenshaft."
"Mirrorflash! Aspenshaft!" The other clans yowled.
Aster chuckled. "Well done, Mirrorflash."
She rolled her eyes. "Can it, Aspenshaft." She retorted snidely.
He smirked. "Announcements."
Mera glanced back up at Harebelly. The ThunderClan leader, Icestar, was sick with greencough, so Harebelly had taken her place.
Clan names were weird, and Mera, after learning how many mates Icestar had, had taken an instant dislike to him, especially when she caught him staring at her, wide-eyed.
No tom should get to pick which she-cats he liked, just to father their kits and eventually move on.
The worst part was that Icestar had nine lives, and it was common knowledge that he was only on his second.
Mera sighed. The WindClan leader Featherstar was speaking, saying that WindClan had a new apprentice, Adderpaw.
Another thing she thought was unfair: only toms could be leader. "Sexist underminers," She grumbled under her breath.
"Mirrorflash?" Someone mewed. Mera raised her head, looking around.
It was Adderpaw, the WindClan apprentice. "What do you want?" Mera hissed, hackles raised.
"N-nothing. Are- Were you a rogue?" Adderpaw whispered.
This perplexed Mera, but she nodded. "I was one, yes."
"Was it good?" Adderpaw murmured.
Mera hesitated. "Ah... Yes. It was."
Adderpaw nodded. "Thank you."
The brown tabby tom padded away, Mera staring after him. Why did he want to know? She shrugged. Clan cats were so odd.
Once the Gathering was over and ThunderClan had gone back to their camp, Mera told Aster what had happened.
"Odd. Why did he want to know?" Aster asked her in a low murmur. Mera shrugged. "He looked... wistful. Like he was considering leaving the clans."
"Believe me, if he gets out early it'll end the best for him." Aster joked.
Mera snorted. "Duh. When should we begin?"
"We should trick a cat with knowledge of herbs into telling us poisons, but we can't act suspicious." Aster suggested.
"I know poisons," Mera replied.
"That makes the medicine cat a prime suspect." Aster smiled.
"We kill someone high up, enough to send shock waves through the whole system. Harebelly, maybe?" Mera suggested.
"Can we do higher than that?" Aster asked, frowning.
"What about Icestar's favorite mate? That would be enough to get the settlements to stop sending she-cats." Mera offered.
"I like that. But who's Icestar's favorite mate?" Aster mused.
Mera thought for a moment. "I think it's Moonglade."
"Weird clan names," Aster said, grimacing.
"My thoughts exactly, but we're making do with what we have." Mera replied.
"How do we trick her into eating the berries?" Aster asked.
"She's one of the sickest. We slip the poison into her medicine, and the medicine cat takes the fall." Mera smirked. "This is almost too easy."
Aster nodded. "Right?"
Mera paused. "Should we maybe get a literal partner in crime?"
Aster chuckled. "Metaphors, eh? Sure, but they have to be loyal. I won't tolerate a snitch."
Mera furrowed her brow, then smoothed it out. "I know just the cat."
"You. Want me... to destroy ThunderClan?" Adderpaw asked, eyebrows raised.
"ThunderClan first. Then the rest of the Clans." Mera clarified.
Adderpaw flattened his ears. "I'm loyal to my clan! I can't do tha-"
"You asked me how life as a rogue was." Mera interrupted.
He sighed. "Fine. I did, and I want to be a rogue."
He paused, then added, "I'll help you."
"Good." Mera replied smoothly.
"One condition, though." Adderpaw said.
Mera hesitated. "What is it?"
"What's your real name, Mirrorflash?" Adderpaw asked.
Mera raised her eyebrows. "One condition, and this is what you want me to tell you?"
Adderpaw shrugged, a faint smile on his lips. "I like to know the truth."
Mera smirked. "I can tell. Alright. My real name is Mera."
"Mirror?" Adderpaw asked, looking confused.
"Meeerahh," Mera said, dragging out each letter.
"Well, Mera. I'll help you." Adderpaw said. "But first... why are you doing this?"
Mera paused for a moment, carefully wording her reply.
Better to sound psychotic than needy.
"Well, I like discord." Mera said, smiling.
She caught a glimpse of fear in Adderpaw's eyes.
The moonlight reflected off her white teeth, making them look more pointed than they were.
Adderpaw did something that Mera didn't expect:
Mera smirked. "Psycho, are we?'
"I've heard that once or twice," Adderpaw replied, smirking back.
She chuckled darkly. "Really?"
Adderpaw's laugh was clear, cold, and high. "Really."
Mera nodded approvingly. "We'll make good use of you."
She turned and strode back to ThunderClan camp.
"We got our partner?" Aster asked.
Mera nodded. "Yeah, we got him." She replied, smiling slightly.
"Him?" Aster inquired skeptically.
She shrugged. "Doesn't matter, does it."
"No, I guess not. I gathered some of the poisons you told me to and slipped them into her herbs, but I don't think she's eaten them yet." Aster mused.
Mera nodded approvingly. "Good job."
"What now?" Aster asked eagerly.
Mera smiled. "Eager to kill, are we? Now we wait."
She settled down in her nest, letting her plumy tail fall over her nose.
After a moment, she heard Aster's snores.
Eyelids heavy, she fell asleep.
A wail pierced the dewy morning air. Aster and Mera exchanged a small grin, padding out to see what the ruckus was about.
Moonglade was lying in front of the nursery. Her stomach had been slit open.
Mera frowned and looked at Aster, who shrugged. She noticed a small speck of blood on his claw and wiped it off with her tail inconspicuously.