FOURTEEN//ARTIC

I'm a warrior

Morning comes and brings its new horrors. The other fly warriors are groggily waking when Blackthorn himself calls for us to wake up. I wake up instantly, my nightmares fading into the back of my mind. I shake them off and lightly shake Ravenflight awake. She was up all night soothing my fears and pain.

Her eyes paint her exhaustion and I can see it affecting her as she tries to find her way out of the den. I lead her out and she smiles slightly.

“Sorry,” is all I can say.

The black she-cat shakes her head and touches her nose to mine, almost deliberately. I’m aware of Blackthorn behind her and when I meet his gaze, he just rolls his eyes and glances away.

I smirk and whisper. “It seems the general is not pleased with us.”

Ravenflight laughs shortly. “I could care less.” When I don’t move, Ravenflight jabs my playfully, “Work with me, fool.”

I can hear the other fly warriors shuffling outside. I lean down and touch my nose to Ravenflight’s. Her breathing quickens and I can feel my heartbeat accelerate. I close my eyes and savor the closeness.

Someone coughs and I jerk back from the black she-cat and spin around, sheepish. “Sorry,” I try not to laugh at Blackthorn’s stern expression, “It won’t happen again.” At Ravenflight’s nudge, I add, “Not in the next few minutes it won’t.”

Blackthorn has a look of disapproval on his face and I fight the smirk creeping onto my face and the urge to wrap my tail around Ravenflight. I glance over at her and her eyes are glowing. I smile secretly, amazed by the new emotions I felt while being with the black she-cat.

The general speaks when the entire fly warrior team is gathered. “Today is the promised skirmish between you and a group of prisoners we’ve chosen out. You’re expected to work as a team of six and defeat the Raiders. They won’t hesitate to kill any one of you so you must work as a team.”

“What’s to stop them for harming us?” I frown, “How can we ensure that all of us will be safe?”

“Nothing is stopping them from killing you,” Blackthorn’s gaze darkens, “but we will do our best to ensure that you escape this fight with your lives intact.”

Ravenflight presses against me and my expression turns sour. “General, with all due respect but how will this do us any good if we’re too battered up to go on tomorrow with whatever crazy plan you have?”

Blackthorn sweeps his burning eyes over me and I stand my ground. He stares at me for a second, contemplating his answer. “This is a challenge for you as a team to overcome,” he says finally.

Mintsplash raises a paw tentatively, “General, we’re not exactly a full team,” she shoots a glance in my direction, “not without...Aspenpelt.”

I can feel Ravenflight tense next to me and I try to keep my gaze fixed on Blackthorn. The general sighs. “Aspenpelt will be missed,” he mews carefully, “but we cannot dwell on this tragic news. We must stride forward, knowing that he would want us to defeat the Raiders in his favor. Artic here,” he waves his tail at me, “knows our ways and can easily help us in this war.”

All the fly warriors’ gazes flash to me and I glance self-consciously back at them. I see a different emotion in each one. They range from pity to some sort of hatred. Only Ravenflight’s are filled with a compassionate sort of love. She gives me a small smile and I loop my tail around hers.

“We’ll go with the regular pairs and Ravenflight and Artic will be a pair.” Blackthorn continues.

I can see Mintsplash’s hopeful expression crumble and I recall her desperate attempt to get me to understand her love for Ravenflight. I open my mouth to ask Blackthorn is we can exchange when I realize that if we want to succeed, I have to work with the one fly warrior who doesn’t look at me and act as if I’m the one who murdered Aspenpelt.

“Any questions?”

We all dutifully shake our heads and Blackthorn leads us again towards the Ring. We swerve to the left instead, however, and emerge into a fenced in clearing. Blackthorn opens a part of the bramble wire and tells us to step inside. When we’ve all entered, he closes the entrance once more. Across from us, prisoners are being restrained.

I take in the guards lined against the wall and I see that Blackthorn has climbed to the top and will be observing from there. The prisoners are calm and collected, and their eyes wash over us.

Ravenflight stands stiffly in front of me. “Just stay with your partner and keep close together. Do what we always do in rounds,” she glances at me but I just nod in understanding.

Sootflight frowns in my direction but I ignore him. We crouch and the guards let go of the prisoners.

It’s terrifying to see them rush at you, to feel the sensation of fear so great that you think you might just keel over in shock. Their eyes are wide with anger and madness combined, taking on a sort of crazed and cracked look that make them look like creatures from the pits of the earth itself - my earlier assumptions of them being calm is erased from my mind. Unlike the prisoner I fought in the Ring yesterday, these cats are strangers to me; or I can’t recognize them due to the disheveled form of their pelt.

I feel Ravenflight tense a moment before the first prisoner hits. The paw comes out so fast that I barely have enough time to grab it and twist away from the gleam of the claws. Ravenflight isn’t so lucky. She lets out a low moan of pain when the Raider’s claws scrape her flank.

“Ravenflight!” I cry out.

“I’m fine,” she waves me off, “focus on the battle!”

I can see how the others are faring and it’s not going well. Whiteflame staggers from another gaping wound in his side and the red of his scar is as bright as ever, reminding us that he didn’t escape the last fight without injury.

Mintsplash looks ragged and exhausted, barely slipping out of the Raider’s grasp to help Whiteflame. The two of them support each other but I know they won’t be able to hold off for long.

Before I can check on the last two Raiders, Ravenflight shoves me to the side just as a Raider barrels through. I land hard on my paws and spin around, slamming into the Raider rushing at me.

I kill two before I notice the state of the fly warriors. Each of them are weighed down by their exhaustion and their attempts to keep up with the Raiders’ speed. I do a quick scan of the guards lined along the inside of the area we are kept in and notice their tenseness. On Blackthorn’s command, they’ll jump in and break up the fight.

But we would fail.

With a fierce yowl, I lunge for the Raider grappling with Mintsplash and Whiteflame. The white tom is bleeding heavily once more and he is swaying on his paws. The gray she-cat is too focused on supporting her Clanmate to deal with the proper threat. I intercept is attack, barely managing to push aside his paw before it struck Mintsplash. She gives me a grateful look and I nod tersely. “Take him to the side,” I snap, “make sure he isn’t harmed. We can’t let the guards interfere, we would be a failing project.”

Mintsplash doesn’t hesitate to drag Whiteflame to the side and treat his wound. I spar with the Raider, ducking under him and knocking him into the wall. He groans but snarls, smacking into me faster than I had anticipated. I hiss but I twist so my body is right beside his and slash my claws into his flank, tearing a deep wound.

I stagger away and catch my breath, noticing that there was only one Raider left. Ravenflight rears up and slams her claws down, before toppling over him. I rush over to support her and Blackthorn lands gracefully in the middle of the bloody field.

“Congratulation,” he surveys the area, “you’ve passed the test.”

~

“A test,” Ravenflight fumes, “didn’t he say this was practice? Is this an improvised trial to see if we can actually be the turning point for IceClan?”

“He shouldn’t have risked this,” I mutter back, “this was too sudden for all of us.”

Whiteflame is in the medicine cat den and Mintsplash is hovering near Ravenflight. Her eyes are pained and I can tell there’s something she wants to tell the black she-cat. I lean in and feel the fur on my cheek crush against hers. She shivers in anticipation. “Mintsplash wants to tell you something, I’ll be over with Sootflight and Ashshadow.”

“Be careful,” is all she replies.

I slip over to the couple, who seems to be analyzing Ashshadow’s condition. “Are you sure you’re fine?” Sootflight frets, “We don’t want the kits to get hurt.”

Kits? I blink in surprise. I never knew the dark gray she-cat was expecting. I look her over once before deciding to end Sootflight’s worries. “She’s going to be fine, Sootflight,” I inform him, “though Blackthorn should really refrain her from fighting.”

Both cats snap their heads up. “How do you know?” Sootflight asks carefully.

“Enero taught Gwyn and I to analyze cats,” I tip my head, “we learned a lot about how a cat’s body works. It essentially allows Raiders to use the speed they were born with.”

To their credit, they tried not to look too impressed. “I should go tell Blackthorn,” Ashshadow stands, “he is right after all, I shouldn’t be fighting.”

Sootflight watches his mate go with worried eyes and I seat myself. “As long as she stays here, she and the kits will be perfectly fine. Your mate is in a wonderful condition after all, being trained as a fly warrior keeps you in good health.”

The light brown tabby tom glances over at me. “Is this your attempt at being friendly?” He snorts, “You have a strange way of doing it.”

I smile to myself. “I’m used to being the outside cat, so my feelings and emotions may seem detached. Gwyn says I’m as cold as ice itself.”

“Welcome to IceClan,” Sootflight jokes.

I purr and he does too. “Look,” the tom says, “I’m sorry for being so harsh before, but Aspenpelt’s death shocked us all. I’m not sure if I can even blame Gwyn. Your girlfriend was just protecting herself and her freedom, that’s all.”

I turn scarlet. “She’s not my girlfriend,” I stutter, “she’s my best friend.”

Sootflight chuckles, “I forgot, Ravenflight and you have...a thing.” My ears burn and he purrs, “Ah, look, here the princess comes.” His eyes twinkle with amusement as I struggle to remain calm, “I’ll leave you to be with her.” He nudges me, almost friendly. I watch him for a moment before Ravenflight’s scent washes over me.

“Hey,” she tips her head when I stare at her with stunned eyes. Stars, when did she become so beautiful? “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” I manage, “I-”

She leans in and closes her eyes as we savor each other’s warmth. “Can we...go to the den?” She murmurs, “I want to be alone with you for a moment.”

Excitement and nervousness courses through me but I just murmur back.

“Of course.”

I'm stronger than I've ever been

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