NINE//ARTIC

I've got shame, I've got scars

Gwyn is silent next to me. Her eyes stay downcast while I grit my teeth. I tighten my shoulders, close my eyes and shudder. The whip comes down once more and I try not to wince. Enero hits me five more times before growling.

“You had her in your paws and then you left her go?” The white tom jerks my head up and stares into my eyes. I lower them immediately and Enero lets go, snorting in disgust. “You’re the most useless Raider I’ve ever trained. I should just send you off to the Baron. He’ll drill you into submission.”

I try not to wince. I keep my gaze down and Enero spins away in obvious disappointment. “You’re the most disappointing kit I’ve never trained,” he growls, “You were spying on me weren’t you?”

I don’t know how to reply. Enero grabs Gwyn and pins her down. She lets out a gasp and my head shoots up angrily.

“Don’t touch her,” I hiss, my fur bushing up.

Enero bares his teeth. “Answer my question, Artic.”

“Yes.”

Enero lets go of Gwyn slightly but keep her in his reach. “You wanted to know about your past so badly that you tried to listen in from the trees,” he laughs sharply, “I can’t believe this is what you’ve become.”

When I don’t reply, he spits out. “Alright, you want to know your past so badly.”

His eyes gleam and he snarls. “Your father is an IceClan cat. Who? I could care less. I hope he was one of the many cats I’ve killed. Your mother tried to escape with you to IceClan.” The white tom’s teeth shines in the dim light of the rising sun. “So we killed her.”

I suck in my breath and instantly regret it as my back explodes with pain. I grit my teeth and wait for the pain to subside before launching myself at Enero.

The white tom easily rolls away and he snatches up Gwyn. The pale she-cat’s eyes bulge as he swiftly slices her flank open to bleed.

I stare in shock as he drops Gwyn and gives me a dark, malevolent look. “You’re not good enough to be a Raider. Go on,” he goads, “join IceClan. I can’t wait to meet you on the battlefield so I can defeat you and show you how useless you really are.”

“Why don’t you do it now?” I ask quietly, my eyes glued on Gwyn. Her breathing had quickened and her eyes were starting to glaze.

“Because I want to see the look on her face when you die,” Enero smiles in a sickening way, “and because I want to see you try to escape me.”

With that thought, the white tom turns and disappears. I stare after him before grabbing Gwyn’s scruff and hauling her onto my aching and bleeding back. No time to waste; if I hesitated, Gwyn would die.

I head towards the IceClan border, my mind set on saving someone I knew I cared about.

I don’t hesitate to plunge across the border, barreling through the territory until I collide with a random patrol.

I come face to face with Ravenflight herself. She blinks in surprise and her fly warrior friends surround me quickly. “Hey,” I say meekly, “I need help.”

The black she-cat furrows her brow, certainly unsure what to say. “What for-?” she begins until she sees Gwyn slung across my back. “Come back with us to camp,” she sighs, “Blackthorn will decide what to do with you.”

I follow her gratefully while the others glare at me. I swallow nervously and I realize that Ravenflight must have told them who I was.

I try to ignore them as we pass through the territory. I stumble over a root and Gwyn flies on my back, exposing my carved back. Ravenflight looks up and her eyes widen in surprise when she sees my back. She doesn’t say anything but carries Gwyn herself and continues on. I trip over my own paws trying to follow her but we manage to make it back to the main camp before I feel black spots dance before my eyes.

“Let’s get you settled,” she murmurs, but she stops short when someone towers over us.

I don’t really process who it is before I feel myself slip away.

~

When I wake up, my head is throbbing and everything is on fire. I blink blearily and realizing I’m in a stone-cold den. Someone is standing guard outside and it takes me awhile to realize I must be a prisoner of IceClan.

Makes sense since I was a Raider who had betrayed Ravenflight and nearly got her killed.

“Good, you’re awake,” a gruff voice sounds in my ear and I lift my pounding head to find cold amber eyes staring back at me. I don’t understand how such a warm color could be so ice-cold.

Ravenflight hovers behind him. “General,” she says, “I-”

“You’re dismissed, fly warrior,” he snaps.

The black she-cat scowls but she turns and stalks away without another word. I’m still feeling faint but the general surprises me by sitting himself. “You’re Artic, correct?” he gives me a solid glare and I can’t look away.

I just nod.

Blackthorn doesn’t look surprised. “Ravenflight told me that you saved her.”

Another tiny nod.

“After you betrayed her?” Blackthorn looks genuinely confused but I don’t let my guard down. When I don’t reply, the general sighs. “Listen, Artic, I’m not here to dig out all your answers. You’re in a separate part of the camp than the actual prisoners of war. I’d place you there but I suspect you could help us win the war instead. You came here willingly and before that, you saved my fly warrior’s life once - almost twice.”

“There were other cats around,” I say quietly, “I couldn’t let her go without them suspecting that I was...in a sense, developing something for her.”

“Let’s talk about Gwyn.”

I lean forward eagerly, “Is she alive?”

Blackthorn’s gaze darkens and I feel myself deflate. “I don’t know,” the general replies evenly, “Pineshadow says her condition should be stable but she lost a lot of blood. Whoever attacked her knew what he was doing.”

“Raiders are trained to kill,” I admit, “the youngest cats are pitted against prisoners to understand how IceClan cats fight and counter them. Our troops are anti-IceClan cats. Not only do we - I mean they - have the speed to defeat you in the first place, they have troops trained to defeat a specific type of warrior specifically.”

“Even fly warriors,” Blackthorn furrows his brow.

“In a sense, yes,” I sigh, “Gwyn and I were the top recruits for that field. When we were younger, they sent us into IceClan territory to investigate the fly warriors. We researched them and found out all we could about the fly warriors. That’s how I got to know Ravenflight.”

“Are there others trained in this field?”

I think back to my training sessions. It usually consisted of trying to mimic the fly warriors’ fluent moves and speed. They matched the Raiders’ ability to be fast on the ground, but had developed speed in trees (which I am still terrible at).

“I don’t know,” I lower my head ever so slightly. My wounds are starting to throb, but the pain is less than it had been yesterday (or earlier). “Gwyn and I trained alone. We were best friends and she was practically the only other young cat I knew.”

“Who’s side are you on?” Blackthorn stood, his eyes as cold as they had been when I first saw him. “IceClan or the Raiders?”

I don’t hesitate to answer.

“IceClan.”

That I will never show

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