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Talonkit's POV
Darkness of the night shrouded the woods, casting deep shadows across the thin layer of snow that coated the earth. A placid calm embraced the icy air, being broken only by the swift breeze that traveled through the treetops. The scene should have brought a sense of peace, but instead, a tension had settled in the atmosphere. The sense of foreboding hung heavy in the air.
Beneath the dried, golden fronds of a thicket of bracken, huddled two small kits, so young they could scarcely walk. The kits stared with wide eyes as tiny snowflakes began falling gently from the clouded sky, descending and settling to the ground. The smaller of the two - a tiny black tom - shivered, his teeth chattering from the chill that seeped deep into his fur. In response, his larger, gray-speckled sister climbed on top of him, doing her best to protect him from the cold with her longer coat.
Despite being so young, she understood death and knew the pain of loss. Her knowledge was recent and had been obtained harshly, a fresh wound engraved within her, a wound that had split open her heart and would never heal, one that would haunt her for the rest of her life. She worried her brother would be the next one strangled by the vicious grasp of death. Taken, ripped away from her side forever as winter mercilessly drove its bitter talons within him.
"Where's Mama?" quietly whimpered the small black kitten from beneath her. His ice-blue eyes were glazed as he stared blankly out at the falling snow. He appeared withdrawn and spacey, as if part of him was not fully present, the other half trapped in a different universe. The molly's pale green eyes remained fixated on the snow as the flakes continued to flutter down, growing faster and plumper as the moments passed.
"She's dead, Creekkit," she responded, her tone empty and flat.
The memory that had been repeating continuously over and over again in her head flashed back, taking hold of her once more.
Talonkit and Creekkit had desperately tried their best to stay still beneath the tree root they had fled to. Talonkit had pricked her ears, her whiskers sensing vibrations of a creature moving closer and closer. The shadows and darkness had obscured the sight of the beast as it towered over her cowering mother and siblings. Then, the thick clouds had parted for just a brief heartbeat, allowing the smallest bit of moonlight to filter through. Long fangs glinted in the silver light. Hoarse screeches echoed, scarlet drops glittered as they dripped to the frozen earth. A new scent was introduced to Talonkit's nose, a metallic fragrance that would forever make her chest tighten and fur stand on end.
She had never experienced anything like this in her short life, but in that moment, the brand new feelings of dread and horror rose like bile in the back of her throat. Talonkit had instinctively sensed it was too late for their family and they had to get out of there. She shoved her brother along and they hurried away as quietly as they could as their mother's fight for breath weakened to nothing. Talonkit felt powerless as she abandoned them. She would never forget the feeling of helplessness at the inability to do anything to save her family. Guilt would always weigh heavy on her shoulders and drag down her paws as if they had been coated in stone.
Talonkit and her brother moved as fast as their wobbly little legs could carry them. She could not save her family, but she could do her best to get Creekkit out of danger. They traveled for what felt like seasons to Talonkit. Their paws lost feeling from the cold and they were left shivering and exhausted. The two kittens eventually found the frozen bracken clump. It appeared warm and welcoming compared to the bare, cold forest, and they made the best out of the little shelter.
Creekkit either could not seem to accept that their mother and siblings were gone, or he was not aware of what had happened. He repetitively asked Talonkit where they were, and she would always give him the same answer, but the small kitten never seemed satisfied and would ask again a short while later.
After breathing heavily for a few moments, the shivering Creekkit eventually drifted into a shallow doze. Talonkit remained alert, still tense after the tragic events from earlier in the night. She kept a watchful eye on the dark forest, convincing herself that every shadow and any soft rustle caused by the weak breeze was the creature coming to take them. Her anxiety over her smaller brother continued to blossom as she wondered when he would join the rest of their family. Would it be the cold that he would finally succumb to? Would the terrible creature take him? Their mother was gone and they were left with no food. Perhaps he would wither away into nothing but bones.
Talonkit looked down to her frail brother beneath her pelt, fidgeting and whimpering in his light sleep. She set her jaw determinedly, and with her already drained mental energy, she fought away the storm that was brewing in her head. She would not let him be lost like her mother and siblings. Talonkit vowed she would let no harm come his way and she would be his protector. She vowed to stop death from taking him and she would protect him forever. She vowed she would not fail him.
Hours veered by and the blizzard did not let up. The snow mounted higher and higher around them and soon even Talonkit could feel claws of cold crawling through her thick coat. Her adrenaline began to die and exhaustion was taking hold of her, no matter how hard she tried to stay awake. She slipped away into a doze, nightmares of her family shrieking and gasping for breath haunting her.
Through her troubled sleep, Talonkit hazily wondered if they had drowned in their own blood. Who had taken them from her and Creekkit, and why? What had they done to deserve such an end?
She became increasingly aware of a crunching sound coming from somewhere, as if something were walking through the snow and the weight of their footsteps make a crack with each step taken. Talonkit twitched her ears and knew she needed to wake up, but found it surprisingly difficult to pull herself away from her doze. Perhaps everything that had happened had all been a terrible nightmare and she was still curled up against her mother and siblings in their warm, safe den.
She was soon proven wrong as Creekkit wiggled beneath her, finally jolting her from sleep. He stared with fearful eyes through the gap in the bracken out into the shadowy woods. "There's something outside!"
Talonkit's heart began to thunder and she became light-headed as she noted the crunching she had heard in her sleep. It was growing closer, and with it, her ears picked up the deep breathing of something much larger than her.
Horror swamped her and her chest felt as though vines were wrapping around her lungs, constricting them so she could no longer breath. The creature had found them and they were going to die. Despite her terror, Talonkit managed to move herself protectively in front of Creekkit. "Stay behind me. I'll... I'll protect you." It took all of her effort to keep her voice calm as she spoke. She had to be confident for Creekkit. She knew she was going to die, but she would do her best to keep Creekkit safe in her final moments. Perhaps it was possible for him to escape if she was distracting enough.
Voices pierced their way through the thick air and she could make out the silhouettes of cats in the shadows. Talonkit breathed in shakily, nervously swallowing as they came closer. "I swear I could smell kittens..." said the high-pitched voice of a molly. Talonkit's breath caught in her throat, for a brief heartbeat, wondering if it was her mother. She quickly realized it could not have been.
A figure grew closer until it leaned down and a head loomed in the gap of the bracken. Talonkit jerked and let out the most ferocious hiss her tiny kitten body could muster. Startled, the figure tripped backwards and green eyes met her own. It was a young tabby tom and he stared at her in disbelief, then turned and called to his companions. "You were right, there are kits over here!"
Three sets of pawsteps came scrambling over, and before Talonkit was given the chance to react, a slender head appeared in the gap and grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, pulling her away from Creekkit. Terror made Talonkit flail her limbs aimlessly and she screeched, trying to break free.
"Oh, we've got a feisty one!" boomed the muffled voice of her assailant, hurting Talonkit's ears so she had to flatten them. She began to freeze up in her terror as she realized there were four, full grown cats around her. No matter how hard she tried, she would not be a match against them, even if it was only meant to last long enough to distract them from Creekkit so he could escape.
"Easy now," meowed a deeper voice. "We're going to take you somewhere safe."
Talonkit couldn't bring herself to believe that. She watched, once again helpless, as the young tabby tom plucked Creekkit out of the bracken. She met her brother's eyes and they exchanged a look of silence full of pure terror. There was nothing she could do to stop them.
The group of cats carried the siblings away from their bracken sanctuary into the snowstorm. As time went by Talonkit's fear gave way to exhaustion and she barely had enough energy to think straight. She glanced bleakly to Creekkit, who hung limply in the older cat's jaws. She had made a vow to keep him safe and yet she had failed him.
Would these strange cats keep their word and bring them to safety or were Talonkit and Creekkit in great danger? Talonkit's glassy gaze remained on her small brother. No matter what the future brought, she would do everything in her power to keep him safe.
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