TWELVE//ARTIC

So ashamed, so confused

The questions go on and on. I answer each one truthfully, trying to prove to them that I didn’t tip the Raiders off about the main camp or anything. No, I don’t work with the Raiders anymore. Yes, I am a Raider by birth. No, I have no connections with the Raiders since I left. Yes, Gwyn was attacked by a cat named Enero. No, I don’t know where he is anymore, but I do know that he was at the attack. And on and on.

By the time they’ve exhausted their supply, they’ve exhausted me. Gwyn is in a separate den. I’m restrained by strong vines and brambles. My eyes droop but I force them open.

IceClan aren’t that harsh with their punishments, but I’m still mentally worn out when they move me back to the den I shared with Gwyn.

Day after day, it went on like that.

Gwyn and I don’t speak after these sessions. We let our drowsiness take over and soon, my mouth dries from speaking so much.

I’m not surprised when one day Gwyn hisses that we should try to escape.

~

I blink unfazed by her slitted eyes. “Let’s not be feckless,” I caution her, “It’ll probably blow over in a few more days. They’ll realize that we’re not traitors-slash-spies. They’re not even hurting us. If we try to escape, they’ll do more than just ask questions.”

Gwyn snarls. “Not if they don’t catch us.”

“And where do you suppose we go after we escape?” I tilt my head.

“We’ll figure out a way,” Gwyn says carefully. But I can see in her eyes that there was only one place she wanted to go to and it was the opposite of IceClan.

“I’m sorry,” I say simply, “for forcing you to come with me to IceClan. I know you never wanted to come, but I wanted to figure out where I belonged.”

The pale she-cat eyes me. “Did you find it?”

I bite my lip and look away. “We’re not escaping, Gwyn.”

My best friend narrows her eyes. “Answer me, Artic,” she lashes her tail, “Best friends need to trust each other with this stuff.”

What stuff? I consider asking, but I know it would cause her to spin around and probably attempt a futile escape without even a decent plan. “Yes,” I murmur, “I think I found it.”

“Where?”

I take a deep breath.

“IceClan.”

Gwyn doesn’t say another word and attempts to tear at her brambles. When a guard rushes in at the commotion, Gwyn snarls and attacks him, provoking him to strike back. My eyes widen in surprise when I realize the guard is Aspenpelt. He tries to catch Gwyn but his claws slash through her bindings and Gwyn twists away from him, free. Aspenpelt opens his mouth to shout a warning to the cats outside but Gwyn just reaches over and digs her claws into Aspenpelt’s pelt.

I gasp. Aspenpelt coughs up blood and his body falls forward into the dirt. Gwyn’s eyes are bright and she spits out Aspenpelt’s fur before disappearing. I can only stare in surprise as the blood, as bright as ever, flows around me.

Someone rushes in and I can hear the shouts outside but I don’t process anything. All I can focus on is the bright red stain of Aspenpelt’s blood.

“Artic,” Ravenflight’s soothing voice reaches me through the fog, “what happened?”

I look up, dazed. Her yellow eyes are wide with shock and horror. The other fly warriors are behind her, and by their eyes, they can’t believe what they see. “Gwyn,” I whisper. Ravenflight darts around the den empty of Gwyn. She stares at the brambles restricting my movements.

“Gwyn?” She repeats.

I nod mutely.

Ravenflight frowns and unties my chains. She flicks her tail. “He’s dead. There’s nothing we can do about him. Come on, you might want to explain to Blackthorn what happened.”

“They’ll kill her,” I say hoarsely, but I follow along obediently, “when they find her, they’ll kill her.”

Ravenflight only swallows. “Let’s go.”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper.

The black she-cat never looked more gorgeous with grief slashed across her face and sorrowful yellow eyes. She looks so vulnerable yet she’s still strong. “For what, Artic?”

I shudder slightly before closing my eyes.

“For everything.”

~

Blackthorn’s questions are relentless. He gives me a hard stare. “Tell me, Artic, what really happened earlier?”

I breathe in shakily, the image of Aspenpelt surrounded by his own blood blazing in my mind. “Gwyn wanted to escape and run back to the Raiders,” I tell him, “and I told her that I belonged here. It enraged her so she tried to escape. Aspenpelt came in and…”

I don’t know when Ravenflight comes back in, but when she does, she wraps her tail around me and whispers comforting words. I don’t know why Aspenpelt’s death is hitting me so hard.

Maybe it’s the reality of what Gwyn did.

That I’ll never see her again probably.

Blackthorn frowns at the sight of Ravenflight but he doesn’t object. He contemplates my answer and takes a few moments to process this. “What makes you want to side with IceClan over your own best friend and your home?”

“I have no home,” I laugh sharply, surprising myself and the cats around me. “I’m hoping that IceClan can my home instead.”

Ravenflight wraps her tail around me tighter. I lean into her, grateful for her warmth and comfort. Before I can lose the courage to bring this up, I choke out, “I’d like to train to be a fly warrior.”

Blackthorn looks over me appraisingly. “I planned to have you and Gwyn do so anyways,” he admits, “both of you trained to counter fly warrior antics, which you could then teach to the fly warriors.”

I nod eagerly. “I would love to.”

The general flicks his tail. “You will join the fly warriors, but I must warn you: your life won’t be easy from here. IceClan will hold Aspenpelt’s death against you because Gwyn isn’t here to take the blame. The discrimination will be worse than it had been. They will also blame the most recent raid on you.”

I take a few quick breaths. “If you want, you can leave right now and find some small camp to work for instead.”

I meet his gaze. There’s some layer of warmth under the hardness of his glare. “No,” I say firmly, “I can face it.”

Something that looks like pride flits into his gaze and he nods to Ravenflight. “Please, I must talk to Artic alone.” The black she-cat obediently stands and leaves the den. Blackthorn suddenly looks exhausted.

“I’m sorry about your best friend.”

I blink in surprise. “Why?” I frown, “It’s not your fault she left.”

The general just shakes his head. “It’s like losing someone you love,” he tells me, “I know that feeling all too well. I know you’ll probably not be able to find her but if you’re out there, I give you permission to try to find her.”

My breath catches in my throat. “Is that what you tried to do with my mother?”

Blackthorn looks so vulnerable and open. He nods. “Shiver told me she was going to try to bring her kit to me on that night so I went to the border looking for her. She showed up but then the Raiders pounced as IceClan cats. They took you and disappeared before I could even process what had happened.”

I find tears pricking my eyes and blink them away. “I’m not used to being a father, but I never forgot about you, Artic.”

Breathing deeply, I look up to the tom who was supposed to be my father. “It’s alright,” I murmur, “you have your duties and I have mine. Plus,” I allow myself a small smirk, “I’ve lived for seventeen moons without a father and I can live without one for several more until this war is over.”

Blackthorn nods once and sighs. “Dismissed, fly warrior.”

I smile and pad outside where Ravenflight is waiting. Her kind eyes meet mine. “Is everything alright?” she asks.

I touch my nose to hers. “Everything is fine.”

~

We pad into the fly warrior den and I tense as all of them glare at me. I bite my lip nervously but Ravenflight just pushes her way in and grabs Aspenpelt’s nest. “You can sleep here, Artic.”

“Thanks,” I manage.

Mintsplash sniffs haughtily and turns her back on me. Ashshadow and Sootflight are curled in the back and they don’t acknowledge my presence. I’m surprised to see a white tom among them. He glances at Mintsplash, and then back at me, looking quite confused. I decide to make it simple for him.

“I’m Artic,” I tell him, “My best friend and I came to IceClan seeking refuge and my best friend didn’t like it and so she ended up killing Aspenpelt.”

Ravenflight winces at my bluntness. Whiteflame’s eyes widen and he narrows his eyes at me. “I don’t know why I told you that,” I close my eyes, “I’m just sick of cats staring at me like I’m the one with his blood on my paws.”

I force away tears as I fight the urge to turn to the side and ask Gwyn what she thinks of the situation.

As I curl up in my nest, I feel reassurance with Ravenflight’s tail wrapped around me. I lean in closer to her and I can feel her breath on my cheek as I fall into a light but fitful sleep.

I'm not broken or bruised

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