It seemed like everything was falling apart.
No matter what measures were taken, nothing could be pieced back together.
Smoke-filled lungs, the yowls of fear, the embers singing anything they could reach as everything the clan ever knew went up in flames. All the happy memories, all the beautiful secrets of the forest..
They were all gone.
The clan trekked, in denial and shock, as far as they could before looking behind them at the ruins of their beloved forest. The smog rising in the air, clouding the once-beautiful afternoon sky, was sickening. There was no time to cry about the cats who were lost. There was time to begin moving.
The crunch of the rainbow assortment of autumn leaves turned into the quiet steps of the tall grass. The elders hadn't been able to make it out of camp in time, so only the able-bodied warriors and apprentices remained. Everyone seemed to be able to keep up.
Everyone except for one.
A small queen, staggering along, was having difficulty staying with the rest of the clan. Nobody bothered to help her, she was an embarrassment anyways. Every waking moment was spent ashamed. Ashamed of herself and afraid of what everyone thought of her.
The she-cat tentatively raised her head and locked eyes with Thornpaw. She allowed herself to smile a him, as shy as she always was. "Hi there, Thornpaw." She looked at the ground. "I was told to tell you that we'd probably be stopping tonight." He dipped his head, before looking over the horizon at the now-distance smoke, breaking the eye-contact. "I'll see you later." He smiled, whiskers twitching, before darting off at his name being called. "Coming!"
And she was alone all over again.
With a defeated sigh, Dovepaw began to walk again. She knew that she would be kitting soon, and she wanted to be with Thornpaw to spend their time together. But it seemed like he was as ashamed of her as the rest of the clan was.
Eventually, the sun began to sink below the horizon, turning the sky into a picturesque painting of color. But nobody was in the right mindset to appreciate it. The grey feline could no longer hear the voice of her clanmates, no matter how hard she strained her ears. She needed to catch up. She felt like she was going to start kitting. Or was she overreacting? Maybe this just means it'll be soon, not now. She needed Thornpaw..
It was probably nothing to worry about, right? Her mother always said her hearing wasn't that great. They were probably just above the hill.
Clambering up the steep slope, she took a breath of fresh air into her burning lungs. Gazing around the landscape, her heart seemed to momentarily freeze inside her chest.
Her clan was nowhere to be seen.
"Thornpaw?" She called. "Hello?"
She sat there, fear dead-set in her mind.
All the walking seemed to come to her at once, the exhaustion setting in. She lay down. "Honeypetal?! THORNPAW!" She no longer had the power to keep her forelegs straight, and she now lay low to the ground, panic in her eyes, paranoia as the sounds of the whispering grass came to her ears.
What if something came and got her?
Would her mother ever be able to know what happened to her?
A spasm shook her. Oh StarClan, not now.
Her kits. "No!" She yowled. "No, no no no-"
She tried to get up. This couldn't be happening. Once again, she collapsed onto the chilly grass, crying out in pain.
It was all a blur to her.
Three kits lay by her side. Dovepaw studied them. She sniffed at them, gently nosing each. One of the kits was still, it had been born dead. She felt little emptiness, but she was still upset. Upset less over the fact that the kit was dead, but more over the fact that her clan abandoned her. All over these tiny, squirming fuzz balls. She snarled to herself, putting the kit aside, she'd bury it later.
One was white, with grey flecks. The other was more like Dovepaw, although a bit darker with more silvery speckles. You are.. Sleetkit. She thought to herself, nosing the first kit. And you. Brindlekit. Her vision blurred, and she rested her head on the ground, the soft mewls of her kits filling her ears.
She thought she wouldn't be able to sleep through the night. She was resentful. She was afraid.
But she eventually did.
Smokey gave her paw a swift lick, dislodging several scraps of dirt and grit from her fur and paw-pad. Her eyes were alight in the morning's glow. She stretched out comfortably, the small stalks of golden hay underneath her soft, though somewhat prickly as they dug into her pads. She licked her jaws contentedly. No one was around the barn much, which was fine with her - she really wasn't a social feline. Aside from the old farmer and his adult offspring, no one visited her barn, and as long as she caught the mice, the farmer left her alone.
Smokey was a distant she-cat, usually putting up a wall between her and other cats, though on occasion some people broke through. She sighed unhappily and flicked her ears. Sometimes being alone was lonesome - to be expected, of course, but still. Smokey glanced around the barn. Mice usually hid around or under the haystacks, but it was tedious to catch them and she usually just scared them out of hiding, to excercise and chase them around a bit.
"Excuse me?" Someone asked, interrupting her dramatic inner monologue. Smokey whipped her head around in alarm to see a young she-cat standing in the entrance to the barn. Smokey raised one feline eyebrow, and her whiskers bristled as she sniffed the air. The she-cat was young, much younger than Smokey. She looked about twelve to thirteen moons old, and she was carrying two kits by their scruffs. The she-cat placed the kits at her paws. "Do you mind if I stay the night here? It's cold, and the kits might get sick." She said flatly, which intrigued Smokey - were these kits hers, and if so, didn't she care about them?
"Of - Of course." Smokey finally said. Her voice was raw, hoarse - she had never had to use it much before, and even then it had been a good seven moons without a single visitor. "Come in." Smokey dipped her head. The she-cat gripped the kits in her jaws once again and padded in. The barn was dimly lit, solid except for a few cracks in the rafters and corners. "Find a haystack and settle down," Smokey said dubiously, eyeing the she-cat. She was so young! And what was she doing with those kits? She revised her earlier thoughts. They couldn't be hers, she was simply too young to be a mother, too young for it to be socially acceptable, though by the looks of her, she'd endured several moons of humiliation. The kits were thin, scrappy, and Smokey doubted that the she-cat could provide milk for the two kits, they didn't seem old enough to eat mice yet.
"Thank you." The she-cat mewed, matching Smokey's polite tone. She glanced around, chose one near the back that she deemed appropriate, and with a few graceful bounds was clambering up the haystack, digging her claws into the golden tufts. Smokey watched her with admiration. Her days of youth were long past, and she could feel herself aging as the days inched by, the gray furs on her muzzle slowly turning white with the moons. She wasn't what she'd used to be, that was for sure.
"What's your name?" Smokey asked, climbing up her own haystack. Years of sleeping on the same one had left an indentation on the top, and she had littered it with some soft moss, fuzz, mouse-pelts and feathers from expeditions around the farm. The farmer had a large dog that enjoyed chasing her, the horrible mutt's cheeks sagged off his face, nearing his shoulders, with a thick white-and-brown pelt and teeth that were once ferocious but now full from eating pellets that the farmer gave it. This newcomer reminded Smokey of the dog - curious, wary, adventurous, and cold. The dog could speak small phrases of cat, and when it wasn't chasing her it was teasing her. It had been a few days since the dog had chased her last, but the farmer kept it tied up with a soft "rope", as the dog called it, and he could only glare and slobber from afar.
"I'm Dovepaw." The she-cat replied, after a moment's calculating hesitation. "And you?" Smokey shifted in her nest, a stalk of hay was continually poking her thigh. Carefully, she pulled it out with her teeth, delicately, slowly, as to not upset the balance of the haystack. Moons ago, at least fifty or fifty-one, she had pulled one out roughly, and the whole stack had toppled over. The injuries she sustained in the heavy fall took moons to heal - Smokey still walked with a limp. Smokey settled back down, more confortable now. She continued grooming herself, something the arrival of the new cat - Dovepaw, she called herself, what a ridiculous name - had interrupted. "I'm Smokey."
Dovepaw's head rose and fell in a curt nod. She glanced down at the two kits in front of her, surely a friend's, or siblings from another litter. Smokey observed this using pheripheral vision, not wanting to look like she was prying, and continued to groom. It seemed Dovepaw didn't like the kits at all. A small gust of chilly wind rattled the sides of the barn, something Smokey had grown accustomed to. Dovepaw's eyes flitted upwards nervously, and Smokey saw her whiskers bristle. "Is it dangerous?" Dovepaw asked, after the cold air had passed. Smokey's ears flicked upwards at the uncertainty in her tone - Dovepaw hadn't seemed to be scared of anything, though they'd known each other for only the better part of two minutes.
"No," Smokey replied, resuming with her much-interrupted grooming. "In the Chill-season, this happens often. The barn's never given in, though." She added, not looking up. There was a shuffling noise, then a long period of silence. Curiosity itched at her pelt, and it took an incredible amount of restraint not to ask - at one point, she had to bite her tongue. Blood slowly joined the saliva in her mouth, and she didn't let go, did not remove the pressure. Maybe she wanted to taste the blood, maybe she wanted to make sure she was still feline, still alive, still breathing, she thought to herself defensively. Maybe.
"Can you hunt?" She asked, something that nagged at her but wasn't the most pressing question on her mind. Dovepaw didn't reply, until Smokey realized the young feline was nodding. Smokey finished her front paws and moved onto her hindquarters, at the same time scratching an itch on her ruff. Smokey's pelt prickled as she felt Dovepaw's curious gaze on her throat. "What?" She snapped, looking up at Dovepaw accusingly.
Her eyes widened. "N - Nothing, I just wondered if... If you were a kittypet. I've never seen a non-kittypet wear one of those before," Dovepaw explained, nodding towards the dusty, faded red cloth that Smokey hung around her neck. Smokey narrowed her eyes in confusion. "A what?" "A kittypet!" Dovepaw said defensively. "Y'know, cats who live with twolegs and get fed dry gunk and let them pat them... and stuff," She finished lamely. Smokey stared at her, and began to laugh. "What's a twoleg? And from your description, I am not a kittypet." She added testily.
Dovepaw laughed drily. "A twoleg - you seriously don't know? Those weird creatures who speak in another tongue and walk on two paws, hence the name, two-leg? The ones who only have fur on their heads." Dovepaw added flatly, at Smokey's look of utter befuddlement. A laugh rumbled in Smokey's throat for the second time in almost twenty moons. "You mean the humans? The mutt and I call them 'stub-tails'."
Dovepaw's hackles flared in alarm. "Mutt? There are dogs here?" She snapped urgently. Smokey stared at her for a moment, then nodded. "Uh, yeah. But he can't hurt us, the only stub-tail who lives around these parts ties him to a tree and feeds him water and hunks of meat." She explained. Dovepaw settled back down, clearly, hearing about canines in the area had put her on edge - and for good reason, too. That ugly, disgusting mutt was dangerous when he wanted to be, Smokey had seen it take down the farmer, though it had promptly been punished and sent away for seven moons. The hideous beast never tried a stunt like that with the farmer again.