By Darkstripe

Mercy lacking
Terror awake
Tremble, roar, and watch them shake!
Induce fear
Welcome blood
Watch it slinking through the mud!
Kill the righteous!
Do not cease
To murder, die, and shatter peace!
The clans will fall,
In blood and scar!
Brokenstar! Brokenstar! Brokenstar!

Death. Devastation. Eternity.

The bloody trinity of which Brokenstar kindled and festered in the troubled heart of ShadowClan ignited a hungry fire where venomous warriors were born. Trained- no, forced- to fight even before their eyes could see and still nursed upon their mother’s rich milk, kit’s fur was ripped away until blood fell scarlet upon the marshland. I can still hear their piteous screams as claws sunk into their soft skin… and I should remember the most, for I was one of them. I was one of the kits whom some other clans mocked as “Brokenstar’s Little Slaves”, which was so terribly true.

But Brokenstar was not the only hardship I faced in my tortured life. Oh, no; there were foxes, badgers, less courteous rogues, and that blasted tortoiseshell tom that controlled my friends with fear just as Brokenstar tormented me.

I am lost to the other horrific events in our lengthy history, as is my name, Volepaw. No one knows that I survived the reign of Brokenstar. No one knows I was once part of a clan. They thought I was dead.

They were wrong.

So, make yourselves comfortable, my curious listeners. Prepare to hear my magnificent tale of danger and flight! But don’t say I didn’t warn you if ghostly shadows haunt your dreams tonight.

Chapter One: The Miniature Army

“Slash! Slash! Twist! Roll! Flip! Bite! Slash! Again!”

I flattened my ears, trying to block out the grating sound of Brokenstar’s maniacal mew. Even if I managed to keep the sound from my ears, it perpetually rang in my head, therefore offering not the slightest relief.

Brokenstar spouted one command after another, which I and the other undersized apprentices scrambled to obey.

“Puny fools!” Brokenstar snarled irritably. “Have you never fought in your life? Start again, you stupid kits! And with more passion, or you’ll have nothing but rotting scraps for a moon!”

The skittering of tiny claws was heard as we raced anxiously back into our starting battle formation, for we knew Brokenstar would keep his word about the scraps. When my sister, Dawnpaw, failed to return to her place in the time Brokenstar thought fashionable, he forced her to eat crow-food that was dirtied black from the foul Thunderpath. It took an inexcusably long time for Yellowfang to nurse her back to health, and until then, the winds of looming death seemed to chill her very marrow.

I loathed him for what he did to my sister, and despised him for all the pain he inflicted upon my trembling soul. If I could be a little bigger... a little stronger... great StarClan, I swear you'd hear him scream from where you sit and watch the sufferings of my clan in cold blood! I hated Brokenstar. And I hated StarClan for ignoring how he crushed ShadowClan in his villainous paws.

I always wondered how such a cruel cat became leader. Knowing Brokenstar, I suspected the answer wasn’t pretty.

"You," He hissed, staring at me in disgust, "Volepaw, were a disgrace. Oh, none of your performances were particularly memorable by any means, but Volepaw's was unquestionably the worst out of all you imbeciles."

For one heated moment, my eyes met with Brokenstar's in wrath no words would dare describe. My blood boiled as I stared into the depths of his cursed amber eyes, which seemed to gleam a vengeful, twisted grin. I hate you. I thought bitterly. It's strange, really- but ranking even above my distaste for his smug, subduing attitude, the fiery eyes were what I feared and detested the most.

He looked away, releasing me from his crushing glare. "Again!" He ordered mercilessly.

Too afraid or meek to admit our exhaustion in lagging, we started all over and inflamed another war.

“Volepaw!” Brokenstar chided with a growl, noticing my claws were sheathed and harmless. “Great StarClan, one would think I have a mouse for an apprentice! Claws out, right now. Attack like you mean it!”

Gritting my teeth, I felt my abhorrence for the StarClan-forsaken worm well up in my eyes as tears of unspeakable anger. My claws slipped out and I slashed at the face of my attacker, a shy and mousey she-cat named Tansypaw. I felt so regretful as I saw her blood dripping thickly from my claws, and her face of horror. I’m so sorry, I apologized silently, hoping in vain she could see my remorse. It's not my fault! It's Brokenstar's, the fox-heart we call our leader!

Brokenstar licked one of his massive paws, interestedly gazing at Tansypaw as the cut on her face continued to drip a painful red. "Well, Tansypaw," He said patiently, coaxing glowing in his hateful eyes, "What do you do?"

Tansypaw's ultramarine eyes narrowed into furious slits, fluorescing the vengeful blue aura which seemed to mirror Brokenstar's in an odd way. The same fire and ice which snatched you from reality, like a scalding grip of cold and hot... all her weakness seemed to melt away, felled to the infernal blaze of rage. Always rage! It was as though Brokenstar's sneer had surfaced a demon beast from the abyss of Tansypaw's heart.

With an unearthly roar, the she-cat rammed into my shoulder and I felt an agonizing pain pulsing in my neck.

Horrified and stiff with fear, I realized with dread it was the sensation of Tansypaw's fangs.

"No!" I shrieked, the ground beneath my paws soaked with blood. Whether it flowed from my neck, from Tansypaw's wound, or from some other frantic apprentice's slashed vein, I couldn't tell.

Suddenly, without thinking in my desperation for air, I struck the tiny cat clinging to my throat upon her head, just as forcefully as need be so she would cease her bite and allow me to breathe. The seemingly possessed glow of her blue eyes faded away as she released her grasp and fell.

My muscles tensed, expecting Tansypaw to spring to life again with that same uncontrollable madness. But she did not move.

Nonplussed, I gently nudged her still, silent body, apprehension pounding in my troubled heart. "Tansypaw?" I gasped, her name hardly more than a whisper on my tongue with the sickening tension clogging my throat. In reply came deadly silence.

"No! Tansypaw!" In a dark blur of silver, I suddenly felt an awful pang in my side as I was pushed violently away by another apprentice. At first I was so stunned as I fell, I wasn't sure who shoved me aside, but when my mind had cleared of haze there was no mistaking.

It was Stormpaw. "You killed my sister!" He howled, his malice incredible.

"No." was the only answer I could manage through my surprise. How can it be? I hardly touched her!

Brokenstar stepped forward, feigned grimness on his sneering muzzle. "This was, indeed, a terrible accident." He murmured, one of his great and filthy paws draped over the motionless Tansypaw. To the other apprentices, whose battle faded away and now gawked at the gorey scene before them, Brokenstar snarled, "Get this body to camp before it rots."

The apprentices rushed to obey, but Stormpaw snapped, "I'll carry her myself!" And took his sister's scruff in his mouth to carry her away, with the apprentices following close behind, each whispering their sympathy toward their grieving clanmate.

When the clearing was empty of the miniature army, Brokenstar leaned close to me. His foul breath, stinking of decaying teeth and rotting crow-food, caused me to flinch. "You have done well." He purred demonically in my ear. "Perhaps there is some hope for you after all, my apprentice." With a triumphant smile, he stalked away.

Chapter Two: Yonder

The eerie vigil for Tansypaw was kept in misery. But none were more miserable and melancholy than I, the killer.

The entire time I lay amidst still and silent darkness, my eyes could not be riveted from Tansypaw's elegant body, which was still surprisingly lovely as the intense moonlight licked at her fur like a cold flame. How my aching heart yearned to beat against her tortoiseshell fur, press my pelt against hers and pour pure life into her corpse. But reanimation, lovely and wishful a hope as it was, was nothing more than a foolish dream to try and soothe the painful emptiness I felt.

I didn't mean to kill the innocent she-cat, nor give her brother such a good reason to hate me. I wanted to apologize to Stormpaw... beg for forgiveness at his paws... but based on the expression of true bloodlust he wore every time I met his bleary eye, I sadly assumed no mere "Sorry" would cleanse the venom bleeding into the river, and that any sense of companionship we may have felt for each other had died with Tansypaw.

And who says that I am dead, Volepaw?

Fur bristling, I turned around, and saw the silhouette of a cat approach me.

"Tansypaw!" I gasped, feeling all the air escape from my lungs as though my chest had suffered a heavy strike. No longer a broken pile of torn fur and ragged flesh, Tansypaw stood erect with confidence she once had before the gorgonizing eyes of Brokenstar brought corruption to her mortal heart. But as her spirit slipped from her body, untangled was she from the leader's cowing glare.

Hello, Volepaw. Tansypaw's spirit replied softly. She stepped closer, and her translucent paws did not disturb a single blade of grass.

Suddenly inquisitorial at her unexpected appearance, I growled, "Why have you come to see me? To punish me for taking your life?" My mew hardened bitterly. "I destroyed you."

One of Tansypaw's ears twitched grimly, thoughtfully. Did you really? Or did you save me?

"What do you mean?" I asked, my throat tightening in anticipation. Anticipation of something bloodcurdling soon to rear its ugly head.

Tansypaw, her eyes filled with sympathy and pain, tenderly placed her head on my shoulder, breathing stars in my ear. It was comforting, soft... and yet, underlying the relief was still the lingering distrust of perfectness. The moment couldn't have been more shadowed.

I died lucky, Volepaw. Tansypaw murmured reassuringly. My leaving was quick, painless, unlike the mutilation ShadowClan's kits will soon endure.

"Do you mean... Brightflower's kits? They're due soon." I meowed hoarsely, visions of tiny bodies littering the ground at every bloody pawstep flashing before my eyes. Would Brokenstar really go as far as to bring death among the very thing which kept ShadowClan alive?

Tansypaw didn't answer, though I could see a painful "Yes" had barely kept from slipping past her tongue. She went urgently on. That isn't important! Volepaw, you need to escape, before Brokenstar breaks your neck. He has no use for you; he will find a reason to kill! You must leave ShadowClan. You must be the survivor.

I gasped indignantly, and curled my lip in stubbornness. "No! I won't leave ShadowClan at their darkest hour. I'm a cat, not a coward!"

Tansypaw lifted her head and the endless seas of her eyes melded with my own. StarClan admires your loyalty, Volepaw. She said, her voice becoming faint and wispy as she slowly melted into the trees. But it is not your destiny to walk in darkness. Go Yonder, and Yonder still. You will know when you are free.

I closed my eyes. "Tansypaw..." I whispered dreamily, "...what is Yonder?"

But when my eyes reopened, the tiny spirit was gone.

Chapter Three: Aubade

Impending skies

Shadows deep

Words of life and ever-sleep!

Yonder sings

And draws you in

Its voice is muffled in the din

Like a tragic love song, it yearns to fly!

Now run, young apprentice, here comes the sky!

Lone hunting patrols were my method of escaping the daily struggles of Brokenstar's abusive treatment, so for just a moment I could forget and be free.

Being his apprentice had always been difficult; he was a barbaric monster of a bully who stunk of rot, and every thought which graced his cold-blooded mind was assumedly a fell one. It seemed to be his personal goal to traumatize every young cat beyond rejuvenation, and spread misery like a demon from the place of no stars. Hunting took the edge off it all, at least for a fleeting moment.

I padded with surreptitious enthusiasm to the edge of ShadowClan's territory, staring out across the border and into the hazy outermost, which was still vague in the early morning fog. But I knew that the sun's warming glow would soon creep over the horizon, lifting the mist and allowing me to see the wonders beyond.

I hardly cared that I had seen them before- the lands. In fact, I frequently traveled along this border just to glimpse their beauty. But it didn't matter how many mornings I would spend simply gazing at what lay in the distance; to me, the first time experiencing such felicity never quite passes by.

When the sun did rise high enough to banish the dimness, I felt my eyes light up with admiration. I fear that I could never fully describe the sight, for I feel even magical would be too weak a word. At the very least, I can say that it was something unforgettable. The earth, for but a few ephemeral seconds, was ablaze with orange light, almost blinding in its intensity but not nearly bright enough to force my eyes away. The illumination was like honey on my pelt, and it's pleasurable shine warmed me so sweetly. Pleasantries of this kind were rare... especially in my dark and depressed world, where rarely anything was worth living for.

Tansypaw would have loved this, my own mind murmured wickedly in my ear. It's a shame you murdered her.

I hated thinking.

As I sat there, watching the remains of the alpenglow dissolve, I noticed a strange yet familiar pricking feeling in my back. Now, at first I didn't think much of it, figuring that the odd sensation was the result of exhaustion. After all, I hadn't slept much for the past few days, so it was an easy assumption to make.

But no. This was not caused by mere tiredness, and I should have known that from the start. If I had been as tired as I perceived myself to be, a dull ache would be the more likely consequence. No, such a feeling of suspicion and dread could only mean one thing...

I wasn't alone.

With a ferocious snarl even Brokenstar would have been proud of, I spun around and flung myself at my stalker, claws unsheathed and prepared for combat. No one spies on a ShadowClan cat!

In the shadows, I saw the bright blue eyes of my target flash fearfully. "No! Wait! Stop!"

The high-pitched feminine yowl took me completely by surprise, and in my confusion I felt one of my back paws smack against a rock, sending me flying diagonally in an awkward flip. Flailing ungracefully, I attempted to end the wild spinning, but by the time my paws touched the ground, I so dazed that I accidentally hurled myself headfirst into the trunk of an oak.

My vision went black.

I awoke after what must have been only a few dark minutes, when it really felt like an eternity. My vision was still a little bit blurry after my heated argument with that ridiculous oak, but it only took a few short blinks to focus on the tawny-colored she-cat standing over me.

An embarrassing squeak escaped my throat as she stared down at me, her happy-go-lucky blue eyes encompassing both playfulness and cheery concern. Not dissimilar to a startled woodland rodent, I sprung slightly back in my uncomfortable position, barely moving enough to stand but succeeding in stirring up an immense amount of dust.

"W...what are you doing in ShadowClan territory?" I sputtered weakly, demanding an assertive tone from my meow that simply could not be found.

The she-kit's face looked blank with mystification for mere seconds as she processed my unconvincing ferocity, before lighting up into a hilarious grin. "Mrow-mrow-mrow!" She laughed, completely immersed in her own amusement. "You're really funny!"

"I..." I simply stood there. It was as if my paws had become roots, buried firmly inside the earth. I'd never gotten such a reaction from anyone before, especially not from a random stranger who appeared out of thin air. The concepts of joy and eagerness made up the warming fire that Brokenstar quenched with his hate... seeing all of it together now made me uneasy. It looked almost unnatural- how could someone be so alive?

The tawny she-cat leapt off of me gracefully, her eyes still ablaze with kit-like enthusiasm. "Anyways, I'm called Sasha around these parts! What's your name, buddy?" She asked pleasantly.

"Uh..." The words and noises coming out of my mouth were weak, faint. Maybe even a touch shy. But Sasha wanted to know my name! What was I supposed to say? "Um... Vole. I'm Vole."

Sasha's whiskers twitched. "Vole. Hmm. Vole. Hmmmmmm..." She meowed contemplatively, as though she was testing the word for flavor. After a short silence, the tawny she-cat leapt up from her sitting position and began hopping around me like a mad cricket, cheering. "I've got a new friend! I've got a new friend!"

I shrunk back. "I never said we were friends." I mewed begrudgingly. But the she-cat was too absorbed in her own world to care.

After the crazy she-cat had finished her mad parade around me, she ceased all actions with odd suddenness and her eyes widened to an impossible size. Her pupils constricted like pebbles in those deep blue seas, and her ears had gone flat against her tiny skull. If my paws had been roots before, they were now boulders, chaining me to the ground even further as I felt an unbearable haze of fear wash over my hardened features... Sasha wasn't looking at me. She was looking past me... at someone else...

In two seconds flat I felt a mass of stinking fur fly at my rigid body, knocking it flat and forcing a shocked mewl from my mouth. Fear was pulsing in my blood as needle-like claws embedded themselves into me, slipping in and out and stabbing fresh skin with every slide. My vision was blurry with tears at this point, the surprise melting into sadness and the sadness building up as painful liquid, worse than blood. Despite being crushed against the ground in such a way by the familiar mass, I lifted my head only slightly, about to tell Sasha to run as far away from us as possible.

I realized quickly that Sasha had already done just that, leaving just her sickly-sweet kittypet scent behind.

One of the paws of my assailant crept down my neck and onto my head, forcing my nose back into the dirt with a bloody push. I fought to breathe, struggling against the cat in a horrified panic. The cat above merely chuckled at my futile protests, pressing down harder and harder on me.

"Just what do you think you were doing out here, Volepaw?" The silky-smooth purr of my attacker was laced with honey and decorated with bones. A combination of the voice's evil sweetness and my own terrible choking nearly caused me to retch out bile into the worm-infested dirt, utterly defeated and disgusted.

"Blackfoot, please... I can explain..."

Chapter Four: Wounds of the Heart

One black paw

Injustice deals

It never talks and hardly feels

It's time to run

You've had your fun

Eyes straight ahead; what's done is done.

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