I need to take back the light inside you stole
When I emerge from the dens, shaking out loose moss from my pelt, I groan in relief and hurry to a nearby stream that runs through the edge of camp to wash out my fur and paws. Those demerits took awhile to finish off.
Ashshadow and Sootflight are already waiting for me. “What took you so long?” Ashshadow teases, her eyes light and relieved. I give her a small smile in return, Blackthorn’s ominous words still echoing in my head. “General Blackthorn says we can go do a quick round before tomorrow.”
I finish washing off the disgusting reek of old bedding and shake out my pelt. “What kind of round?” I frown, “Just a quick test of our skills or an actual round?”
The dark gray she-cat gives me a knowing glance. “You know what he means,” she sighs, “After all, we’re not ready.”
I purse my lips but follow them anyways. Mintsplash, Whiteflame, and Aspenpelt are already at the Pit entrance, talking in quiet voices as they wait for us. All three of them turn in unison when we come in and we give each other terse nods. “Who wants to lead today?” Whiteflame asks, his white tail flicking.
All of them glance at me. I blink in surprise. Usually the more responsible ones take turns leading, since I’d probably lead them into a Raiders’ patrol. “Me?” My eyes widen with shock. “Why would you ever choose me?”
“General Blackthorn says that tomorrow someone will be appointed the leader of our team. We need to get used to listening to someone’s orders.” Mintsplash explains in her quiet but assertive voice. Her soft amber eyes glow in the dimming light.
“But why me?” I ask, dumbfounded, “I’m the worst leader ever.”
“Nice to know that you agree,” Aspenpelt rolls his eyes in a teasing way. I shoot him a glare and he just smirks. “But General Blackthorn will obviously appoint a leader who knows what she’s doing. Who excels at being a fly warrior.”
Blackthorn’s words come back to me. He told me that I was ready, but the rest of my team was not. My team.
I lock gazes with each and every one of them. There’s a grudging sort of trust forming in their gazes. They trust me. There’s not regret or even resentment in their gazes and I can tell that they’ve all chosen me.
Blackthorn will choose me too.
I take a deep breath and pad to the front, bunching my muscles. “Let’s go do a round then,” I say tensely.
With that, I leap onto the first rock and lead the way.
Our rounds consist of going to a campsite and clear all the obstacles. It’s to test our speed and footwork as we weave our way past debris at a frightening speed. We’re still slower than the Raiders’ but we’re starting to be able to match their skill. Sometimes, to make things harder, we’d also pair up and have teams. Four of us would be the “Raiders” and two of us would just be fly warriors fighting them. We’re always anticipating more Raiders because there’s only six of us anyways.
Aspenpelt is my pair today. He’s my usual pair, since when the project first started, Blackthorn saw our odd detachment to the others and placed us together. We’re terrible at being true friends but we do trust each other.
For this round, we’re the fly warriors. I duck, just as Mintsplash sails over head and Aspenpelt shouts. “One to your left!” I whirl around, my paw flashing and I deflect Sootflight’s blow and kick him to the side. I crouch low and listen as I try to get my bearings. Scuffling sounds to my right and light, almost inaudible footsteps creep up behind me.
I tense ever so slightly and try to hide that I know someone is behind me. Aspenpelt must be grappling with someone on the right to be unable to help me. At the last moment, I hear the scratch of claws against dirt and I leap high into the air, barely clearing Ashshadow’s lunge. She barely avoids smacking into a rock and I drop down and pretend to slash her throat. She rolls her eyes and plays dead.
“RAVENFLIGHT!” Aspenpelt suddenly yowls and I whirl around, my paws coming up too slow to block Whiteflame’s blow. He lightly taps me on the side of my head with one paw and uses another to pretend to tear out my stomach. I sigh in defeat and lay down next to Ashshadow.
Aspenpelt immediately pretends to flee the area. When he successfully “clears” the border, he pads over to me and sighs.
“And here I thought you were the best,” he teases, nudging me.
“I am,” I say haughtily, “but even the best makes mistakes. Plus if you had warned me earlier, Whiteflame wouldn’t have gotten me.” But we both know that I should have been more alert because in a battle against the Raiders, there’s no way we can match their speed. You’re on your own in those fights.
Ashshadow stands herself and shakes off the dust on her pelt. “That was a good round,” she admits, “Should we try again or switch positions?”
The others gather around us and after a moment, I realize they want me to decide. “I think we should give Mintsplash and Whiteflame a chance. It’s been awhile since they’ve done a round where they get to be the fly warriors. They’re also fast on their paws so it’ll be a good challenge for us to increase our speed.”
The five of them nod and Whiteflame and Mintsplash bound outside of the training site to sneak in. The rest of us prowl through the area, pretending to have conquered the site. I prick my ears ever so slightly, listening for the sound of the other two fly warriors. I know from experience that they would probably want to pick me out first, since I have faster reflexes than the other three. I keep a relaxed form, and make sure that each of my legs are loose and ready to leap in any direction at will. A tense form will make it difficult to execute a quick move when needed in a life or death situation.
The hairs on my pelt flare up in warning and I throw myself to the ground and roll to the side. My paws fly up and I smack Mintsplash away just in time as Whiteflame thuds right next to me.
Aspenpelt is suddenly there, diving between Whiteflame and me to block the next blow and spar with the white tom. I flip to my paws and narrow my eyes at Mintsplash, making sure to keep Whiteflame in sight. She focuses solely on me and I notice that she doesn’t see Ashshadow creeping up on her while Sootflight helps distract Whiteflame.
She lunges for me and I dance to the side, making sure I stay in front of her. I flick my tail in a quick sweep in the air, trying to pretend I’m just excited to have a match. Mintsplash’s eyes follow my tail however and she spins around, catching Ashshadow quickly and pretending to “kill” her. But she doesn’t realize that at the same time, I’ve lunged forward and bowled the light gray she-cat over.
She sighs and flops down. Whiteflame is still focused on Aspenpelt’s speed and antics. Sootflight is trying to get a hold on the white tom while the brown tom stays in front, catching most of his attention.
I leap onto the rock formations and balance so I’m above Whiteflame. When he’s not noticing, I drop down on him, knocking him to the ground. “Not fair,” he grumbles, “Raiders don’t know how to climb.”
“They might learn,” I point out, “since it’ll be our best weapon. Plus, you didn’t notice that your partner was in huge trouble.” I use my tail to indicate where Mintsplash is pretending to lie dead.
Whiteflame groans and I step off of him. “This,” he smiles slightly, “is why you’re leader.”
I just blush in response and call for another match.
The sun rises in a slow fashion and I scarf down a mouse before heading for the Pit. Ashshadow and Sootflight are in front of me with Whiteflame, Mintsplash, and Aspenpelt following behind me. We reach the Pit with a few minutes to spare just as General Blackthorn sweeps in.
“Excellent,” he says, “you’re all here.” He smiles faintly in my direction, and I glance down at the ground. I’m never early, and this is just a reminder that this is a lot more serious than I had first anticipated.
“As most of you know,” Blackthorn continues, “Today is your first day of real training. You’re all familiar with rounds and have done an excellent job at mimicking what a real battle against the Raiders would look like. But you’ve never really experienced with their speed - or at least most of you have not.” Another discreet glance. I ignore him this time and stare down at the ground. “You also know that you are a team. A team needs a leader. I will appoint that leader and you will follow his or her orders.”
This time I glance up and see that all of my peers are smiling at me. Blackthorn has amber eyes on me too. “Ravenflight, please step forward.”
I swallow and do as he instructed. “I don’t think I need to tell you what this position will mean and the requirements for this position.”
“No, sir,” I reply, “you don’t.”
“I didn’t think so.”
Blackthorn lifts his gaze and releases me from the intensity of his eyes and glances at the other fly warriors. “I can already tell all of you have trusted Ravenflight from the moment you met her. She’s a natural leader, and I expect you all to listen to her and of course, help her when she needs it.”
They nod. I step back into my place, uncomfortable with the privileges that Blackthorn is allowing me to have.
“What is our first task, General?” I ask quietly, shuffling my paws, “How can we anticipate the Raiders’ speeds if we cannot match them ourselves?”
“I think you know,” Blackthorn mews, his eyes hard but understanding, “You yourself have been trying to do so in your old stunts.”
A real round? He has to be kidding me.
“We’re going to fight against a Raider patrol.” Aspenpelt echoes my disbelief, “Something that you have indicated over and over that we wouldn’t do so until the fly warriors passed the test.”
“You’re all ready,” Blackthorn flicks his tail, “I expect you to do fine.”
And that’s when I realize that we’re not preparing for another moon for the assessment. This moon itself, with its “training schedule” is our assessment itself. After the moon is over, Blackthorn will mentally assess how we do and decide whether or not we will continue the project.
Blackthorn just nods to me. I nod back. “I will await your success.” He mews, “Dismissed.”
I swallow and turn to the Pit walls and mew. “Well, team, this is it.”
I only hear their shallow breaths as I launch myself up and climb the Pit’s walls at a speed no one else would dare do so. The others follow behind me, trying to match my speed. Even as I disappear into the forest, I can still feel Blackthorn’s silent but encouraging stare, telling me to lead the fly warrior team to success.
We arrive to the border in no time. To my surprise, a Raider patrol is actually camped on the border, their eyes sweeping across, trying to spot an IceClan cat. I wave my cats to a stop and relay what I’ve seen to them.
“I’ll scout with Aspenpelt,” I tell them, “and then we can decide on our next moves.”
They give me their agreement and the brown tom and I slip out. I climb a tree and swiftly leap from tree to tree silently. Aspenpelt follows with ease. We crouch in the closest tree that I dare draw near. The cats below us are seated but I can tell that all of them are tense. Each of them keep a close watch in all directions but up.
There are only five of them, which surprises me. I expected more of the for a patrol then this. That means they are confident with their numbers.
The leanness of their bodies root my paws to the tree. Obviously they had the speed to outmaneuver us without a doubt. We couldn’t win this battle unless we are well coordinated.
After our latest round, I’m not even sure if we stand a chance against these Raiders.
I stare down again, surveying the group once more. My pelt prickles with unease and slight terror.
It takes me a long moment to realize with increasing fear that one of the Raiders is staring right back at me.
You're a criminal
And you steal like you're a pro