- - - - - >BladeOfHope
If time could be tamed, would you do it?
That is my dream: taming time. I want to be a Time Runner more than I want anything else in the world. What would it be like - running through the spans of time, visiting cats who have died in the past, bending the future in the favor of the cats who still live?
No one outside that elite group knows exactly what the Time Runners do. Even the TimeClan cats don't really like to talk about it. I guess they're uncomfortable with knowing that everything is going to be alright - which makes no sense at all. I would be reassured by it. My friend Shadow thinks that they're just paranoid about what would happen if a Time Runner decided to oppose the Clan.
I'm not a Clan cat; I'm a rogue. But TimeClan's leader, Rainstar, is going to start letting rogues be Time Runners instead of his Clanmates. Trying to protect them, I guess. But hey, if it means that I have a chance at becoming a Time Runner, I'm happy with it. I mean, Time Running isn't dangerous.
Collide circled the cat slowly. "I'm warning you, back off," he hissed.
The pale brown tomcat spat, "Never! I'm going to win this fight!" He charged at Collide, running full stride.
Collide darted to the side, but it was too late: the other rogue crashed into him, landing flat on top of him and smushing him to the ground. "Oomph! Get off of me, you big hairy lump!" He squirmed his way out from under the tomcat.
The brown cat sat up, his tail swishing from side to side and his whiskers twitching with amusement. "I win, Collide," he crowed triumphantly.
Collide purred. "Yeah, yeah, Ritsu. You win. For once."
"For once!" Ritsu huffed. "I beat you nearly every other time, Collide, and you know it!" He sat down, flicking the end of his tail grandly. "Don't make me collide with you again, Collide." He stifled a purr.
Collide rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Don't be stupid, Ritsu." He pushed his muzzle up against the other tomcat's side. "I'd beat you for sure, so don't even bother!"
They were purring together like long-lost littermates, oblivious to the sound of a twig snapping nearby. Suddenly a cat burst out of the undergrowth, dark fur bushed out and eyes wide. "Out, th' both of yeh! Git out, 'fer ah kill yeh!"
Collide scrambled backwards, his own fur bushing out on instinct, but Ritsu burst out laughing. "Specks, you old furball," he exclaimed. "You scared Collide out of his fur!" He nearly fell over sideways, he was purring so hard.
Collide, meanwhile, stood straight and forced his fur to lay flat. "Well, it wasn't that funny," he said, trying to muster any last shred of dignity he had left. "You startled me, is all." He went hmph at Ritsu and sat down next to him.
Specks wheezed out a purr herself. "Y'two ain't so bad. Y'smelled like rogues, though, an' ah thought ah better attack yeh 'fer you try sumthin'. Ol' sniffer doesn't work quite the same no more." She sniffed haughtily, as if to demonstrate her point.
"We are rogues," Ritsu pointed out. "That's why we're gonna become Time Runners!" He grinned at the other two cats, drooping a bit when neither of them responded. "Well, don't be so excited, now," he muttered.
"You don't even want to be a Time Runner," Collide informed him incredulously. "Haven't you always told me how dangerous it is, and how being a warrior is the better choice?"
"Like fightin's any better than travellin' time," Specks rasped. "Yeh'd be dead 'fer yeh got to yer second fight."
"I would not," Ritsu said, gasping dramatically and coughing like he'd been slashed in the throat. Gracefully lying down sideways, he coughed weakly, and then lay still, eyes closed.
"Get up." Collide poked him in the side with one paw. "No one will take you seriously if you keep doing that."
One of Ritsu's sky-blue eyes popped open. "I don't need them to take me seriously. Think the Clan will let me be their jester? Maybe they'll even add a new position in their ranks just for me!"
"Oh, suuuuure," Collide responded, accidentally drawing his words out in the slightly sarcastic manner that always annoyed Specks. Young cats these days, she'd grumble. Can't git a bit o' decent respect. "Sorry," he said quickly as the brown she-cat glared at him.
"Yer not so bad," she rumbled reluctantly. "Now then, yeh'd better git goin' 'fer someone else thinks yer an unfamiliar kitten." The dark brown she-cat dipped her head to them, then turned tail and ran back into the undergrowth, in the direction of her den.
"Well," Collide said after a pause. "We should go hunt, shouldn't we?"
Ritsu nodded. "Food comes first, that's what I always say. Food, and then sleep... and, of course, the Choosings in two days."
"Really?" Collide said, slightly alarmed. "They're so close already?"
"Yeah, you didn't notice?" Ritsu replied nonchalantly. "We have to go to the TimeClan camp in two days for the Choosings. Then you'll finally be a Time Runner!"
"Well, I don't know," Collide protested.
"Aw, c'mon." Ritsu bumped his shoulder against Collide. "You're the top pick for both positions, you know that! You're sure to get in."
"But we won't be able to see each other again." Collide suddenly felt a twinge of regret. He had wasted so much time with Ritsu, scarcely paying attention to how soon the day was that they would be separated. How selfish did a cat have to be to not notice that he was going to be separated from his best friend?
"It'll be fine. Race you back to the hollow!" A brown-and-cream blur shot past Collide, quickly disappearing into the forest's shadows.
"Hey, wait up!" Collide hared after Ritsu, his mind wandering too far for him to enjoy the chase. His mind was on repeat: Separated. Separated. Separated.
I must be so stupid! Collide nearly tripped over a stray branch as a shocking realization fell over him. He stopped cold, letting Ritsu get farther and farther ahead. No...
He started running again. No! That can't happen!
He made it back to the hollow to find Ritsu sitting there, looking at him. Ritsu tilted his head as if to say, "Did something happen?"
"No, don't worry. I'm fine." Feeling numb, Collide padded over to his nest, sinking down into the moss and steadying his breathing before Ritsu could say anything else.
Pretending to be asleep, Collide tried not to shiver as Ritsu lay down next to him, their pelts touching gently. It's over, he despaired. It's over...
Collide awoke the next morning to the chirping of birds in the nearby trees. He lifted his head sleepily, then startled awake when he realized that Ritsu was gone. Scrambling to his paws, he called, "Ritsu? Ritsu!"
As if in answer, the tomcat's creamy muzzle poked out of a bush. "Wha?" Ritsu's voice mumbled around a fat rabbit that was hanging from his jaws. "You awake?"
"Yeah." Collide breathed a sigh of relief. "Sorry. I... had a bad dream, and then I woke up and you were gone, and, well, I sort of panicked..." He shook his head, angry with himself for sounding so dumb. "I'm okay."
"Good," Ritsu said, setting the rabbit down next to their nests. "I wouldn't want my friend to back out on me before he could congratulate me on becoming a warrior!" Ritsu beamed.
Collide swallowed a twinge of regret. No. Don't let him see you're upset. He'll figure it out. "I'm not going anywhere," he said in what he hoped was a reassuring voice. "And neither are you, right?" He was asking just as much for his own reassurance as for Ritsu's.
"Right. Hey, come over here. This thing smells good."
The two tomcats tucked into the rabbit, side by side like they had always been. But that would end soon.
"Hey." Ritsu looked up, a bite of rabbit still in his mouth. "I'm going to miss you."
"Oh, Collide. I have a few friends around here that I'll be sad to see go, but I'll miss you the most. You're the best." Ritsu swallowed, wrinkling his muzzle. "But your morning breath..."
"Shut up!" Collide purred, stuffing a pawful of grass into Ritsu's mouth.
"Pfeh!" Ritsu spat it out. "Tastes like dirt!"
They crouched back down to eat the last couple bites of rabbit, burying the bones when they were done. Collide watched as Ritsu's bright eyes lit up his cheerful self. Ritsu was the cat he knew best... the cat who knew all his secrets. Well, almost all of them.
My destiny is to be a Time Runner. Warmly, Collide watched his friend mill around the little clearing. But I'll always wish I could be with you, too. Ritsu... stay safe, okay?
He sighed. One more day. One more day, and then everything I've ever known will be gone, lost in the winds of time.
One more day to spend with the one I've known forever.
The day finally came for the rogues' Choosings. Cats of all different colors flooded into TimeClan territory, hoping to become one of the legendary Time Runners. Collide and Ritsu raced forwards side by side, eager to hear Sweetstar's decisions.
On the way to the Clan's camp, the two tomcats met up with a small white she-cat. "Hello," she said shyly.
"Hey, Dream," Ritsu greeted the she-cat, peering around Collide to see her. "Long time no see! How's life in the good ol' Twolegplace?"
"Fine, thank you," she said in her quiet voice. "How have you two been?"
"Fine," Collide answered blankly. He was focusing too hard on not tripping in the thick undergrowth.
Dream frowned. "Collide, are you okay?"
Before Collide had the chance to answer, the rogues leading the charge let out a collective yowl. "We're here!" one voice called above the rest.
The other rogues pushed their way closer, babbling excitedly to each other. Brought back to reality, Collide realized just how many rogues were hoping for a chance to become a Time Runner. I haven't even seen most of these cats!
Sweetstar, lithe and pale-furred, stood on a low-hanging tree branch on the other side of the small hollow clearing ahead. As the rogues pushed their way into and around the top of the camp, the Clan cats emerged from their respective dens, curious and eager to meet some of their potential new Clanmates.
Some cats, however, Collide noticed, hung back, as though the rogues were contaminated. And maybe we are, Collide reflected bitterly. We're not their precious Clan-bloods.
"Welcome to the TimeClan camp," Sweetstar greeted them. Most of the rogues cheered. "Today is the day when you will find out whether you are to join our Clan, whether as a warrior or as a renowned Time Runner, or if you are to continue living as a rogue until next year's Choosing."
Excited murmurings broke out across the camp. Collide wondered briefly how many of them had tried before in years past. This was his and Ritsu's first try; before, they had never felt a need to join the Clan. Over the seasons, however, they had both realized how nice it was to be in the company of other cats.
"I will begin naming the cats who are to join the Clan," Sweetstar called over the murmurings. The rogues fell hushed immediately. "Tangleburr, please bring up the pile of leaves for the Choosings."
A huge dark brown tomcat jumped up beside Sweetstar with a bundle of leaves wrapped in a large piece of flexible bark in his jaws. He set the leaves down gently at Sweetstar's paws. Although the pile was a decent size, it was obvious that there were far fewer leaves than rogues.
"The first cat," Sweetstar said, picking up a leaf, "is Rabbit of the moorlands."
Some cats called out happily, flocking around a thin gray tomcat near the front of the crowd. Collide looked back up at Sweetstar, who was watching the gray cat with amusement. Even sitting a short distance away from Sweetstar's tree, Collide could see the delicate scratches that let light pass through the leaf. I wonder if every Clan cat knows what those symbols mean. Or is it just the leader and deputy?
"Rabbit," Sweetstar said, "you are to become a warrior of TimeClan. We admire your many strengths, and we have not forgotten your wish to become a Time Runner. However, we believe that your skills in hunting and fighting will be more useful in the Clan than in the winds of time. We trust that you will understand."
The gray tomcat dipped his head to the leader, accepting her decision. His friends, still milling around nearby, meowed their congratulations as Sweetstar let Rabbit's leaf drift down to where the tomcat stood.
"Next is Specks of the outer forest." Ritsu called out happily for the old she-cat. "We wish for you to join our Clan, not as a Time Runner or a warrior, but as an elder. We respect your many moons of experience, and we hope that you will share your knowledge with us."
"Yeh bet ah will," Specks declared, looking quietly pleased. "Thank yeh fer understanding mah wishes."
"You are welcome." Sweetstar dipped her head respectfully to the new elder, sending out the second leaf. "The next cat is Ritsu of the outer forest."
Next to Collide, Ritsu trembled with anticipation. "I got accepted into the Clan," he whispered joyfully. "I'll be the best jester the Clan has ever seen!"
"And the only one they've ever seen," Collide whispered back with a snort. "Now hush; I want to hear when she announces that you're a warrior!"
"Ritsu," Sweetstar addressed the pale brown tomcat. "Your spirit is admirable, as is your constant optimism and cheer. You do not have the same experience as some of the cats in your generation, but we believe that you will be a quick learner. That is why, upon careful thought and consideration, we have chosen you to become a Time Runner."
Ritsu and Collide gasped in unison, staring up at Sweetstar like she'd gone mad. "Did she just say you're a Time Runner?" Collide whispered, amazed.
"Yeah," Ritsu replied, his outgoing personality subdued for a moment. "Collide, you realize what this means? We won't have to be apart!"
"But you didn't want to be a Time Runner." Collide stretched up to catch Ritsu's leaf.
"So?" Ritsu's ear twitched. "I knew it was always a possibility. Not every cat gets their wish here, you know."
Collide was about to say something when he heard Sweetstar call his name. Jumping to rapt attention, he looked warmly at his friend, expecting the words "Time Runner" to come out of Sweetstar's mouth at any moment.
"Collide, you have shown unusually intense caution, but we have also seen a gentle side that allows you to care for those cats who are close to you, and a fierce side that lets you protect them. We believe that your loyalty, skill, and personality will be a useful addition to our Clan, and that is why we have chosen you to become a warrior."
Collide's heart plummeted. I'm - what? He couldn't think straight. He didn't notice when Sweetstar called the next cat's name, and he didn't even react when his leaf drifted to a stop on top of his head. I'm not going to be a Time Runner? Ritsu isn't going to be with me?
Some cat's angry yowl broke him out of his muddled thoughts. A brown tomcat with a white stripe down his back was trying to force his way closer to where Sweetstar stood, cursing, "I'll get you back for this! You'll regret the day you refused to let me into your Clan!"
As Clan warriors pushed through the crowd to subdue the tomcat, Collide's eyes widened. I know exactly how that cat feels, he thought, staring at the scene with sudden understanding. I know exactly how it feels to not get your greatest wish in life.
And now I know exactly how it feels to lose a piece of your heart.
After the Choosings had been finished, Dream made her way through the crowd over to where Collide and Ritsu sat huddled together, still clearly shocked. "You didn't get what you wanted, did you," she murmured.
Collide's ear twitched, and he looked at her with wide blue eyes. "I was going to be a Time Runner," he meowed hoarsely. "And Ritsu was going to be a warrior. Even though we would have been apart, we would have been happy..."
Dream sat down, curling her soft white tail around her paws. "If it makes you feel any better, I was picked to be a Time Runner, even though I wanted to be a warrior," she offered quietly.
"But... being a Time Runner suits you more than being in fights," Ritsu said, glancing nervously at Collide, like he wasn't sure if his friend would snap or not. "We were both well-suited for the positions we wanted."
"Time Runners, to me," some cat called above the crowd. Ritsu and Dream both pricked their ears.
"I'm so sorry, Collide," Dream whispered. "But I hope you'll be able to be happy someday." She raced away towards the direction of the voice, with Ritsu on her heels.
The cat who had summoned the Time Runners was a large black tomcat with small clouds of white on his chest and tailtip. His icy blue eyes scanned the crowd of new Runners. Dream shuddered as she saw the scar crossing one of the tomcat's eyes.
Standing next to him was a smaller she-cat who reminded Dream a lot of herself. The white she-cat had a gray diamond on her forehead, and darker blue eyes that looked kindly at the new arrivals. "Welcome," she said softly. "My name is Wisp. I am the Second-paw for the Time Runners, which is similar to the deputy in the Clan I look forward to meeting and training all of you." She dipped her head to the black tomcat and stepped back, leaving room for him to speak.
"My name is Scratch." His voice was much more gruff than Wisp's. "I am the Head Runner, and your new leader. I expect you all to work hard, learn quickly, and, most of all, give respect to your elder Runners."
Dream gulped. He sounded harsh, even mean. She wasn't sure she liked this cat. Next to her, Ritsu shuffled his paws, like he wasn't sure, either.
But then Scratch's tone changed. "As long as you follow the rules of the Time Runners, which are set in place to protect you, I'm sure you will all do fine. Please understand that I do not tolerate roughhousing during a Travelling, squabbling during training, or excessive anger towards another Runner at any time. Any of these things could endanger your life or the life of another cat, so please bear with me."
Dream relaxed. Maybe he'll be alright. He's only trying to protect his cats, after all.
Wisp stepped forward to speak again. "As the Second-paw, it is my responsibility to oversee your training. However, you will also be guided by the Greater Runners, the cats who have been Time Runners for a while and can safely Travel on their own. This is similar to the Clan's mentoring system, although you will be able to spend time with many different Greater Runners, rather than one mentor."
"I think this might actually be interesting," Dream whispered to Ritsu. "I can see why Collide wanted this so badly." She felt a pang of regret for the silvery blue tomcat, who sat on the outskirts of the clump of new warriors, whom Sweetstar was addressing across the camp.
"Yep," Ritsu whispered back. "I mean, I know he really wanted to be a Time Runner, but... Sweetstar thinks he'll be better as a warrior, so I'm sure he'll be alright."
Scratch spoke again before Dream could reply. "We will take you now to the Time Runners' camp, which is hidden in a place that no rogue has ever stumbled upon before. It is a long distance away, but if we run, we should be able to reach it before the end of the day. Follow me." He charged away into the undergrowth. Wisp followed him, and the former rogues followed her.
Dream ran next to Ritsu, focusing only on her breathing and the rhythmic fall of her paws on the ground. They covered so much ground, she barely even knew how far they had come. They passed through the forest until they reached TimeClan's scent-marked borders; beyond that, they ran through more forest, over the moorland, and even alongside a river, all keeping a good pace and all without stopping.
Glancing surreptitiously at the Time Runners, some of whom had merged into the group of rogues to run alongside their new companions, Dream saw that many of the Time Runners were fairly muscular yet sleek, and well-fed yet thin. She had to admire their balance between all the good qualities of a strong cat.
Finally, after they had followed a small trickling stream for some time, Scratch brought the group to a halt. "Rest, and get some water and hunt, if you want," he commanded. "We have made good time so far, but we still have quite some distance to go."
His words sparked something in Dream's mind. "If they can travel through time, why can't they bring us forwards to the time when we arrive in their camp?" She whispered this to Ritsu, but a dark tabby she-cat, one of the Time Runners, still managed to overhear.
"It's too dangerous for inexperienced cats to travel through time," she informed them, dipping her head to drink. When she swallowed the water and looked back up at them, she said, "I've been a Time Runner since last Choosing, and I'm still not allowed to time run by myself. Even with some of the most experienced runners here, it would take a massive effort to keep so many novices safe over such a long journey."
Ritsu nodded, and Dream found herself agreeing, too. There was a logic to the she-cat's words, and while she gave off some air of superiority to the rogues, she also maintained an image of a newer cat herself.
"My name is Shadow," the she-cat continued. "I'm still not very experienced, but you can ask me questions, if you'd like, and I'll do my best to answer them." Before she could say anything more, Scratch's voice rang out, calling them all together again so that they could continue running.
"I'm Dream, and this is Ritsu," the white she-cat said, dipping her head shyly to the other Time Runner. "It's very nice to meet you."
"I have a question," Ritsu announced, craning his head around Dream to see Shadow. "What do Time Runners eat?"
Shadow purred. "We eat mice and voles and such, just like you're used to," she assured him. "Don't worry; for the most part, our lifestyle is very similar to any rogue's."
Ritsu pretended to be upset. "Aw, I was totally hoping you would eat foxes and kill badgers to train," he pouted. Brightening up, he lengthened his stride and charged ahead. "Catch me if you can!" he yowled.
Shadow yelped in surprise and sped up as well. "Wait for me!" she cried. Dream, however, continued running at her slow but steady pace. They'd get there eventually, and that was soon enough for her.
That stupid she-cat wouldn't stop staring at him.
Collide glared at her until she averted her greenish gaze. He let out a sigh, trying not to cry. He had worked so hard to build himself up to the Time Runners' standards, and yet he had still been turned away in the end.
The world is so unfair...
After the crowd had thinned out, a young blue-furred apprentice pushed her way up to Collide's side. "Hey, Tangleburr?" she called. "Doesn't this cat look familiar?"
A huge, dark brown tom sidled up next to the young cat and leaned down to peer into Collide's face. "Yeah," the tom sniffed. "You're right, Bluepaw. He does look familiar."
Collide took a step back, uneasy. "I'm sure we've never met," he assured the huge cat. "I live far away from here, so you've probably never even seen me before." He flinched as Tangleburr snorted at him.
"I'm sure I've seen you somewhere before, and I aim to prove it!" And with that, the apprentice and mentor stalked off as a pair, surely plotting to reveal some made-up secret about him.
Collide exhaled slowly, relieved that they were gone. No one knew... or, at least, no one knew yet.
Out of nowhere, two nearly identical gray tabby toms came up beside Collide, one on either side of him, and started jabbering at him. "You're a new recruit, right?" one of them exclaimed eagerly. "Welcome-"
"-to TimeClan!" the other finished, his green eyes gleaming. "I'm Starlingfeather, and this is-"
"-Jaywing," the first tom continued. "It's so cool-"
"-to have new cats!"
The two toms beamed, waiting expectantly for Collide to say something, but he could only stand and stare, every inch of his body tense with shock. Wh-what the-? Are all Clan cats this crazy...? He looked back and forth between the strangers until he could barely tell the difference between them anymore. His legs felt weak, and he had to stagger a little to keep himself upright.
"Um... I'm not...," Collide began, trying to force out a coherent statement and move away to a more remote area of the camp at the same time. Fortunately, the tabby twins caught on quickly and moved to catch him, supporting him on either side.
"Let's get you-"
"-to the medicine den," they said, steering him in the right direction. Weakly, he complied without a word.
As they were walking,