All the pain and the truth
I can’t move. His electric blue eyes have pinned me to my spot. Aspenpelt doesn’t notice my tenseness and my gaze remains locked with the tom below me. I back away ever so slightly and almost lose my footing. I scrabble for a hold and for a moment, I think I’m going to fall. Aspenpelt’s teeth dig into my scruff and he hauls me up. I let out a soft sigh of relief when my paws touch on solid ground once more.
Aspenpelt looks stricken. I glance down and I swallow hard when five pairs of eyes stare back at me.
My breath quickens and I shake. I don’t know what to do. “We have to attack,” Aspenpelt hisses, just as the Raiders begin to fan out, probably searching for our other comrades. “I’d say that they don’t know about the fly warriors but they certainly know we’re not ground warriors.”
I just nod and let out a fearsome screech as I throw myself down. Aspenpelt follows with a howl of his own. I don’t have to worry because the rest of the fly warriors tumble into the clearing and it’s a full-fledged battle. Aspenpelt and I work closely together, using our familiar techniques to dodge and push back the Raiders.
Suddenly a weight tumbles into me and I find the blue-eyed Raider on top of me. His white pelt is practically blinding. Aspenpelt is busy with another one and I can’t see my other fly warriors. “What do you want?” I snarl, trying to push him off of me before he slits my throat.
He just smirks. “You’re the leader of them, aren’t you?” He asks simply, “I can tell the way you took control earlier.”
I finally best him and dance away from his teasing strikes. “So?” I bare my teeth, “Why do you care enough to take me to the side?”
“Oh nothing,” his eyes capture the dim light that leaks through the thick trees. “It’s just interesting to know that you guys don’t have a clue of who we are.”
“Do you know who I am?” I ask haughtily, lifting my chin.
“Ravenflight, right?” His smirk widens at my astonished glance, “You’re the best fly warrior they’ve got.”
It’s as if he stole the breath right of my chest. I can’t breathe. “H-how-?”
Before he can reply, one of the she-cats hollers. “ARTIC, GET YOUR SORRY TAIL OVER HERE RIGHT NOW.”
“Artic,” I say under my breath.
He only flashes me a grin before disappearing to the fight scene again. I swallow and dive after him, barrelling into the she-cat that Aspenpelt is tussling with. “Dodge left,” I say to him, “Use the rocks and get high.”
Aspenpelt understands immediately. He ducks and I take his place, using my own speed to match the she-cat’s blows. Her snarl deepens but I keep her attention, dancing back and forth in front of her. Aspenpelt darts up the rocks and leaps down, an attempt to crush the she-cat.
But she tenses and rolls to the side. My eyes widen and I lunge forward, taking the brunt of Aspenpelt’s fall. We both groan and I can almost swear that Artic’s scent washes over me and he whispers. “Harsh, isn’t it?”
Aspenpelt clambers off of me and shakes out his pelt. I hear a scream and then Ashshadow’s frantic cry. “WHITEFLAME!” I whip around and my paws are moving but before I can get anywhere near the white tom, a pale she-cat’s claws find his stomach.
The spray of blood is all I see and suddenly the Raiders are gone.
I skid to a halt and stare in shock as Whiteflame’s blood seep into the ground.
“He should be alright,” the medicine cat tells us, “the cut is deep but the blow didn’t get any of his internal organs. Hopefully he’ll be able to recover from this and in a moon or so he’ll be up and running once more.”
“A moon,” I mutter, “We don’t have a moon to spare.” I echo Blackthorn’s words.
The General had already sent for me since we’ve returned but I have yet to answer his call. I don’t want to think about how I’ve already failed him. The medicine cat asks for space and only Mintsplash stays behind. The four of us shuffle outside and I swore under my breath. “Great StarClan we’re going to all die.”
“Ravenflight,” a stern voice growls and I freeze, “Walk with me.”
Aspenpelt shoots me a look that I can’t decipher while Ashshadow looks pained but sympathetic. I can’t see Sootflight. I force my paws to move and I pad alongside Blackthorn as we head for his den.
“Yes, General?” I dip my head when we enter his den and he indicates for me to sit, “What did you want to speak with me about?”
“Ravenflight...What happened today is not your fault.”
“But it is!” I blurt out, forgetting my place, “If I had been a little more focused, Whiteflame wouldn’t have gotten hurt. I got distracted by-” I cut myself off. Blackthorn’s amber eyes narrow and I stumble over my next words. “-by the sheer power of the Raiders, that’s all. It won’t happen again.”
I swallow, not sure if he is convinced. I’ve faced the Raiders many times and despite the fact that each time I’ve fled, I knew about their power and how fast they could be. Today’s failure had nothing to do with that factor. It had something to do with the way Artic said my name, and how he recognized me immediately. Blackthorn would want to know about this.
“There was...a Raider today who knew my name.” I say hesitantly.
Blackthorn’s eyes sharpen with interest. “He knew you?” He repeats, “That’s impossible.”
“He recognized me and even knew about the fly warrior projects.”
The General stands, his pelt bristling with what I could tell is fear. “Ravenflight,” he says my name slowly and I shiver, “are you saying that this Raider tom knew exactly who you are and what you are training to be?” I could sense worry in his gaze. I nod tensely and he curses under his breath. “Great StarClan, we’re doomed.”
I stand nervously. “General, what will we do now?”
“You will continue your training,” he sighs, “but we cannot try that disastrous attempt of a round again. You will have to continue your normal training ways until Whiteflame recovers.” He sounds resigned, as if I had completely failed him.
In a way, I had.
“To make things easier,” Blackthorn adds, “We’ll add in someone to take in for Whiteflame’s position until he recovers. He lives in a different camp, however, requests that he stays in his camp rather than join you five here in the main camp. Since he’s not fully part of the fly warrior team, it’s best that you don’t interact with him too much either. He’s not permanent.”
Before I can ask any more questions, Blackthorn waves his tail. “Get some rest, Ravenflight. Tomorrow you’ll take your team out to meet the substitute and you’ll train like always.”
“Will we have enough time?” I ask quietly.
The General glances at me with dark eyes. I know he understands what I mean. “I don’t know, Ravenflight, I really don’t.”
There’s a dark gray she-cat standing outside our den. Hollysplash, my mother, looks concerned. She’s talking desperately with the she-cat, gesturing with her tail and her paws. The furrowed expression her face makes me shiver as I hide in the back of our tiny den. We don’t live near any of the camps set up around our territory to give shelter to the cats who need it. We live on our own too close to the Raider border.
Hollysplash finally nods and pads to where I’m waiting. “Come on, Ravenkit,” she murmurs, “We need to go somewhere.” When I mew in complaint she nudges me to my paws and guides me to the entrance of our den.
The she-cat smiles sadly down at me and she glances at my slim figure. “This is a good chance for your daughter, Hollysplash. Please understand what the General - no, the Leader- is asking of her.”
My mother only sniffles and nods. “Ravenkit, follow Stormspirit and promise me you’ll behave.”
I stare at her, confused. “Mother-?”
“Promise me, my little raven,” she whispers, “Just promise me this.”
I don’t understand but I nod and shiver as the she-cat lays her tail across my skinny back and leads me away. “Mother-” I whimper, wanting the warmth of Hollysplash, “Why isn’t Mother coming with us? Where are we going?” I cry out.
Before the she-cat can reply, I glance back and see my mother’s last heartbreaking glance before I hear her whisper. “You were always destined for greatness, Ravenkit.” And before I can mewl for her to come with us, she disappears from view. I fight to go back but Stormspirit picks me up and I scream for my mother.
“Ravenkit, right?” she mumbles around me when I finally settle down. She sets me down and glances down at me seriously, “You’re appropriately named for this task. Listen, I know you miss Hollysplash but there’s a good possibility you won’t see her for a long time. You’re about to be trained for the position of a fly warrior. It’s a privilege only six kits are getting. You are one of them. I know this will be hard but when we end the war with the Raiders, it’ll be alright.”
I nod again, tears prickling at the edge of my vision. I stare quietly where I had last seen my mother and I sob slightly. The she-cat waits for me to hold back my tears and get ahold of myself before she leads me into a huge main camp.
“Time to fly, little kit, it’s time for you to shine.”
There’s a voice telling me to get up. I push myself to my paws, my legs trembling from the effort to complete the obstacle course. “Ravenkit, you can do it,” the General encourages me, “Don’t stop here.”
I take a shaky breath and I take a few more steps before I take another hard fall. Tears spring into my eyes but I remember Hollysplash’s quiet last words to me and I struggle to get back up again. The General is padding next to me and I know if I give up, he’ll pick me up and drag me back to the start line to start again. I had seen him do so with the other kits, who are also struggling along the course. I haul myself over a root and take a few more steps. My legs burn and the tears are falling in a stream now. Still, I refuse to give up.
The General doesn’t make a move to help me as I scrape myself over and over trying to get through. Finally, I drag myself across the line that marks the end and the General helps me up. “Good job, Ravenkit,” he tells me, his amber eyes burning into my green ones, “I know you’ll be soaring in no time.”
Pride swells in my chest and I can only smile weakly before collapsing to the ground, my head falling from exhaustion. I could hear the General’s purrs as he picks me up and takes me to my den where he sets me gently down on the moss before I fall asleep.
I wake up in the middle of the night, my legs stiff and cramped. I stretch and sit up, licking at my pelt to calm myself. Memories of my past floods over me and I try to clamp them down and store them away. Now’s not the time to be remembering my past.
But I can’t help think about my mother. I was born into a poverty part of the territory where there weren’t any shelters. I never knew my father. My mother tried to take care of me but I ended up taking care of myself - minus the hunting - before I was even two moons old. When I was three moons old, Stormspirit had shown up to take me here, where I began my fly warrior training.
I never saw my mother again and when I was eight moons old, Blackthorn had told me that she had died from greencough.
I hadn’t felt terribly remorseful, but I did promise myself that I had to get better. I had to be the best of the fly warriors - maybe even the best of all the warriors and help others out there get better lives. The Raiders were one of the only reasons why so many cats had no food or shelter.
Aspenpelt’s golden eyes glow in the darkness. “You okay, Ravenflight?” he whispers, his voice quiet but assertive, “You should get some sleep before tomorrow.”
“I know,” I murmur, “I was dreaming about...well...my first days here.”
Aspenpelt is quiet. I know he’s had plenty of flashbacks to when he had been saved by the General himself. Aspenpelt had no family at all. He was a three moon old kit wandering around, trying to survive on meager meals and stolen prey.
“We’ll get through it,” he closes his eyes again, concealing the beautiful glow his eyes had in the dark. I know he’s saying this because he knows where my determination comes from. He knows when I dream of my past, I fear that I’ll fail.
“We’ll be okay.”
I could only believe him.
We head out in solemn silence through the tunnels. None of us have the energy or heart to leap up the Pit walls. It was too much of a reminder of Whiteflame’s injury.
Mintsplash is still a mess. Her fur is matted and unkempt and her eyes are unfocused. Hopefully she’ll be alright. I take the lead and start a light bound through the tunnels until we emerge in the sunlight. I head towards the camp Snowbound, where Blackthorn informed me I would find our substitute.
“You think she’ll be alright?” Aspenpelt asks quietly, his voice tight.
“I don’t know,” I admit, “Losing her partner must have been hard.”
“At least he’s alive,” Aspenpelt reminds me. I’m acutely aware of the seemingly forewarning in his words but I just nod stiffly before pulling away from the brown tom. His bright green eyes only reminded me of the vivid sharpness in Artic’s eyes.
I feel a bit uncomfortable and I’m almost relieved when we reach the camp. A white tom is waiting for us outside and his lean muscles look all too familiar. I frown and when I draw closer, he turns his electric blue gaze on me.
My gasp comes out louder than I expected and I take a step back, crashing into Aspenpelt. He steadies me and watches me with concerned eyes. “What’s wrong?” Sootflight whispers.
“Nothing,” I grit my teeth, my eyes locked with the other tom’s.
“Are you the fly warrior team?” He asks coolly, even though I know he knows all of us.
I find myself staring into the eyes of Artic himself.
I wear like a battle wound