Instantly, excited and frightened mutters rose from the crowd, and turned into a deafening roar.
"Who is that cat?"
"Tigerstar. He just said, you idiot!"
"ShadowClan? Are those forest cats?"
Lily fought her way to the edge of the crowd, panting. "Scratch!" she called out.
"Right here," he said, as he took his place by her side.
"Maybe Tigerstar is plotting to overthrow Scourge!" Nervous cries rang out, although Lily could hear some ecstatic whispers. The only reason why we've stuck with Scourge so long is that he gives us food and protects us, in his own twisted way.
"Over my dead body," a black and white tom growled.
"Snake!" Ice mewed. He bounded to Snake's side. They must be brothers. Only then did Lily notice their collars with smelly dog teeth.
Almost every cat milled around until nighttime, the moonshine on their pelts and dog teeth. Except for the queens, who obviously had starving kits to feed. Lily's heart twinged in sympathy. She wondered how many young lives wouldn't last the night. After all, she and Scratch barely survived themselves. As soon as the claw-moon started sinking in the sky, Lily finally convinced Scratch to go home.
"Come on. It's getting late, and I doubt Scourge will make an appearance until at least tomorrow."
"But we could be missing something important!" Scratch argued.
"If something important was going to happen, it would've occurred already."
"Ugh. Fine. But we have to find another cat to tell us what happened tomorrow."
"Yeah, yeah. Now let's go," Lily concluded.
She thought she wouldn't be able to sleep. But as soon as she lay down on the rags of her nest, she went out like the sun.
Unfortunately, Lily woke up the next morning feeling sleep--deprived and hating the world. Scratch was already awake, pacing the den. Glimmering, his yellow eyes blinked.
"Finally you're up!" he exclaimed.
All she could do was glare, and run her paw over her ear.
Scratch returned the look, and began speaking again. "Let's go hunt. I'm starving. And maybe we can come across some news of Tigerstar and Boulder."
Lily saw no way to stall any longer, so she followed Scratch outside.
The sun was still soft and warm, shining on her ginger pelt, and seeping into her bones. She let out a sigh of pleasure, and waved her tail.
"Where should we hunt?" Scratch inquired.
"I don't know."
"Maybe by the shack?"
"Ugh no," Lily replied, "The only thing that can be found there is worms and the occasional gopher."
"It's that or garbage," Scratch mewed grimly.
Seeing no other choice, Lily padded behind him to the park.
To Lily's annoyance, it was packed with Twolegs, running about the grass, and lying down on colored pelts. They must be trying to soak up the last of the sun before autumn.
The familiar outline of the rotting shack rose up, visible behind the last cropping of maple trees.
Just as Lily predicted, they had no luck. She snuffled around in the grass. No scent, not even a trace of shrew or a hollow burrow.
"Nothing?" Scratch questioned.
"Not a mouse tail," Lily said back.
"Ugh. Rotting Twoleg food it is then."
She found herself padding back under the shade of the maples. It reflected an intricate leaf pattern on her ginger fur. I am pretty, I guess.
Scratch marched to the shortcut around the Twolegs. Lily snapped out of her reverie, and followed close behind.
Tentatively, she shot a glance at the clumpings of Twolegs. Two of their kits tossed a ball. The full grown one held a dog on a leash, barking.
This gave her an idea.
A wonderful idea, but also a horrible one, because they could get in big trouble.
But it could work.
"Hey, Scratch," Lily whispered.
"What is it?"
"I have an idea."
"We won't be eating trash today! Cause I have a plan."
Scratch gave her a look, as if to say, "A plan? But I'm the one with the plans that holds us together."
Not this time, Scratch.
"Are you insane?" Scratch hissed, as they strolled along the rows of Twoleg nests, with perfect gardens and white fences. The trees in each were abnormally short and bright.
Lily gave the classic response. "Maybe."
Despite his complaints, Scratch gave her plan a silent approval. Soon, they reached their destination.
"Here we are."
"This house?" Scratch mewed dubiously.
She had to admit, it was the most outstanding house on the street. The paint had began to chip, and the garden wasn't very well cared for. The buttercups were already wilted.
"You go first?" he mewed.
"Sure. Whatever," Lily mewed, trying to sound fearless, when her legs were shaking and her heart was literally on the verge of pounding out of her own chest.
Cautiously, she approached the little cat flap in the door. It was still an unthreatening, yet unviting, like she wasn't welcome.
Which she wasn't, so it didn't make much of a difference.
"Scratch, will you come with me? It would actually be better if we went together, I think," she mewed, hating herself for it. I always have to ask him for help. Always.
"Okay," he muttered nervously.
She waited for him to get close behind her, then without looking back, she pushed through the cat flap. The cold, slippery plastic brushed and pressed uncomfortably at her fur, as she fought her way in. Soon enough, she was through, and Scratch was sliding in after her.
"Wow," he breathed.
Then Lily decided to look up. There were big couches, their cushions feathery and new, unlike the dirty and torn one that she and Scratch once had to sleep on. Small little suns glowed from inside weird Twoleg contraptions, shining on the fuzzy earth.
Curiously, she put her nose into the air, trying to find an aroma of food. There was something that smelled slightly of meat, wafting from another room, but it didn't seem very fresh. But food was food, still better than Twoleg trash anyways.
"Follow me," she whispered.
Creeping into the kitchen like sly snakes, the pair soon arrived at two small bowls next to each other on the hard stone floor. The scent was definitely coming from one of them, that was filled with little brown pellets.
"It looks like rabbit droppings," Scratch complained.
Swallowing down her disgust, she replied. "Well, we haven't tasted it yet!"
And in her attempt to remain optimistic, and get something good to eat, she took a bite. The kittypet food wasn't nearly as bad as she expected, but it still tasted a bit stale and bland. The pellets crunched hard between her teeth, and she swallowed.
"Not too bad," she mewed, "Go on."
Looking less apprehensive, Scratch bent over to take a bite. She watched him chew the tough mixture, and push it down his throat. Her stomach rumbled again. Before she knew it, they were hungrily eating the food, as it filled up their bellies. They hadn't eaten so well in a moon.
Lily didn't smell the unfamiliar scent at first, because her nose was full of kittypet food. But even she was able to sense another presence in the room.
Slowly, she turned around, to see a kittypet growling at them.
She didn't know whether or not to be scared or laughing. Kittypets were most often fat and lazy, unable to lift a claw to save their lives. Yet the anger in that one's eyes scared her.
"Um... Scratch?" she mewed nervously.
He looked up. "What?" He jumped at the sight of the kittypet.
"Oh. It's just a kittypet," he realized.
The kittypet growled, muscles rippling under his cream fur. "This is my territory, and my food."
And he attempted to leap at them. The kittypet was obviously an especially ferocious one, but his weight slowed him down before he pounced. Lily was able to sidestep, and deliver a sharp blow on his side.
"Let's get out of here!" Scratch hissed.
"No!" Lily responded, "This is the most food we've seen in a long time! We can't just give it up now!"
"It's not ours, Lily!"
"Well obviously this overfed kittypet doesn't need any more of it though!" she retorted, instantly regretting it. The kittypet raked her side. It stung horribly, but she ducked underneath him and gave him a little scratch on his dangling stomach.
"But we've eaten our share! Now let's go, before there's more trouble!"
She saw no other way to get out of doing what he said, so she just stepped away from the raging kittypet.
"That's right! Out of my house!"
"We'll be glad to get out of your stinking house!" Scratch shouted back. They were nearly at the cat flap, when Lily felt a sharp blow on her tail. She whipped around, hissing, to see a Twoleg holding a broom.
They didn't wait to see what happened next.
She panted, as they ran along the street, the sun now beating down since it was sunhigh.
"Let's go rest," Scratch suggested.
"Good idea," she agreed.
Their little bush against the chain link fence was in sight, when a small group of cats appeared over the rise. Lily groaned inwardly. I've had enough of BloodClan cats to last a lifetime.
Ice seemed to be at the head, his black and white fur in sharp contrast.
"Scourge has called a mandatory meeting. It will take place beneath his dumpster. It starts now."
Dejectedly, she strolled alongside Scratch, dreading what was to come.
Like this day couldn't get any worse.
Whenever Scourge called a mandatory meeting, it was always bad news. Either some cat was being executed, or being interrogated then executed. Lily's first one was when she was just a puny kit. She didn't remember much of anything other than the sobs, and a lone scream, and the blood. She had nightmares for a quarter moon, causing her to sleep pressed against Scratch (Jacques then) and her mother for comfort.
So this couldn't be good.
"I wonder what's happening," Scratch whispered to her.
"An execution," Lily mewed coldly. Deep down, she knew that she was feeling terror, simply because she had to watch other cats in pain most likely for something they didn't do.
"Or maybe it could have something to do with Tigerstar and Boulder...." Scratch thought out loud.
"That must be it," Lily concluded, "They've come to challenge Scourge, and they're going to be executed." But even she had her nagging doubts. Tigerstar looked much to powerful to just oblige to Scourge like that.
Once they were there, amongst all of the underfed and vicious BloodClan cats, she took her seat beside Snake and Scratch to wait for it to start. Dread pulsed through her. She was nearly comfortable, as soon as a commanding presence washed over the flea--bitten crowds.
Yeah, and there was the tiny black shape of Scourge, his dog tooth collar glinting. For the first time, Lily noticed little bits of string dangling from the blueish material, nearly wedged behind an elongated tooth. They looked like the thread used by Twolegs to tie bells on kittypet collars. This was a startling revelation... she had never considered that Scourge was once a kittypet. Ever since the first time she saw him, she always thought that he was born rogue, and had a tough kithood (tougher than most), and ended up as the dictator of the horrible Twolegplace BloodClan, and all of its so--called 'cats'.
"Greetings, cats of BloodClan," he yowled shrilly.
"Greetings, Scourge," Everyone mewed back like little drones, except for the proud parts of Scourge's guard, sitting with their chests puffed out at the foot of the meeting dumpster.
"I have important news to share with you today." She could literally feel the surge of excitement through the crowd. Scourge giving "important news" couldn't be good, either, but it was better than an execution. And what is he going to say?
"Tigerstar and Boulder have recently left. With them, they brought a chance for BloodClan to rise to power!" he yowled.
"Power! Power!" Bone chanted. A few joined in, but fell silent as Scourge continued.
"Tigerstar belongs to a Clan named ShadowClan. He claims that he has plans to rule over the forest, and if we help him drive out all the other Clans, he will give us a share of the forest!"
This was much better than Lily was expecting. Her heart was light and buoyant, and her paws itched for the beautiful, shady trees and the gurgle of streams. And plentiful prey. Yes, lots and lots of prey. Her stomach growled.
"This is too good to be true!"
"When do we fight?"
"How many cats are there to fight?"
"Silence, all of you!" Scourge hissed, striking fear into their hearts once again, "Most likely, all we will have to do is make an appearance, and these pathetice, bloodless Clans will be running with their tails between their legs. Unfortunately, probably no fighting, Tigerstar says."
"Who cares what Tigerstar thinks?" Scratch yowled up at him. This was the first time she had ever seen him contribute to BloodClan in that manner; it came as quite a surprise.
His blue eyes flashed as if it were a veiled insult. "Tigerstar does not command BloodClan," he growled, "That would be me. We are merely taking his help, and part of the forest."
"So when do we attack?"
"Not until Tigerstar gives us a warning."
Scourge jumped down, his claws making a clattering sound on the earth. In hushed whispers, he spoke to Bone. There's nothing I would like to do more than rip Bone's thick throat out. He thinks he's so tough and special, so he goes around terrorizing cats to impress the great Scourge. Pah.
"We are going to need all of the cats possible to intimidate the Clans when the time comes, and maybe fight, if we are lucky to have the blood of our enemies flow."
Where is he going with this?
"Bring them out!"
Awkwardly, Slash and Snake conversed. Eventually, they pushed out a steady line of cats from a den of discarded boards. They all seemed... starving. More starving than the average cat. Their fur hang in tatters, and their eyes had a frightened glow. Not to mention the cuts scarring their flank.
"Who are those cats?" she muttered to Scratch.
"I'm not sure. Let's find out."
Then Lily saw something that literally made her heart stop, her breathing come in deep, long gasps. Shock coursed through her veins.
Never had she been so surprised in her life, along with so many more conflicting emotions she could not name.
It was Shade.
Their mother, who was supposedly dead.
Her pelt was scarred as well, her eyes dull, ribs showing perfectly.
"Mom!" Lily cried. Her head peered around to look at her, and her eyes filled with joy.
Without thinking twice, she ran up to her, not even caring about what would happen to her or what Scourge and Bone would think.
"How are you still alive? I need to get you food! I'm just so happy you're back! Please answer me, mother! We've missed you!" Lily mewed all at once. She got no response, even when she brushed up on her mother's beautiful gray flank. But she also touched a few of her scars. Some were still bleeding even. She must be in so much pain... where was she?
Her green eyes met blue ones. Scratch padded up beside her, in complete shock.
Still no response.
"Can you talk?" Lily whispered.
Shade's blue eyes glimmered sadly, expressing all of the words and emotions that she could ever say with words.
Oh no. What did they do to you?
Susan held Jilly in a firm grip on her lap, as she watched her TV. Jilly had never gotten her fascination with that thing, anyways.
The cat flap was firmly locked with a weird contraption that only housefolk could function, and so was the one in the back. Rarely did she leave the windows open. As a result of all this, she felt stuffy, and she missed Scorch more than ever.
She could understand her housefolk's worry that she would eventually run away and never come back, so all of this overprotection and sealing the house was just because she loved her.
But she couldn't stand it.
She feared that she wouldn't be able to get out, and would miss a lot of her and Scorch's nightly meetings, then he would think that she hated him now and didn't want to see him, even though that was the only thing she wanted to do in the whole world.
After their first several meetings, they began to grow closer, until they were best friends. They were together all the time, laughing, having fun, sharing secrets that only they knew. And finally he let her give some of her pellets, and the chicken that she managed to nick from the table.
The moon's pale glow soon rose in the sky, along with the harsh yellow light of the street lamps. Susan's breathing became slower, and she was asleep. Her grip slackened. She was asleep.
Ignoring the blaring TV, Jilly saw her chance. Slowly, she crept upstairs. The only window open was the one in her housefolk's bedroom. Heart thumping, she clambered onto the edge. It wasn't that far of a fall if she slipped, but there was always some danger. Before she could think about it any more, she was scrabbling down the smooth house wall, then tumbling through the air, to land safely on the sproingy grass.
Like the sly raccoons that dug through Susan's trash, she crept silently across the prickly lawn, and came to a halt beneath the fence. Tensing her muscles, she leaped, and landed at the very top. Moonlight washed over her gray fur, making it seem more silver than that boring color it really was.
Around moonhigh, she was ready to give up hope. But then she saw a pair of blue eyes shining from the shadow of her fence.
"Scorch! You came!"
"Yeah," he mewed from the ground, "Listen. I realize that it's kind of a bad time for you. It is for me too; my younger siblings are in danger. They're about to outgrow living with their mother and they have to live by themselves. Which means that they are even more subjected to hunger, cold, and ferocious BloodClan cats! They're not allowed to live together, either." As usual, all of his troubles spilled out. They always made Jilly feel guilty about her comfortable, easy life.
"Okay. I'll help in any way I can. Meet me tomorrow afternoon, okay?"
Before she could think any more about the words, they slipped out. "I love you."
She heard a quiet gasp from Scorch. Then he spoke. "I love you too, Jilly."
Her eyes began to close with sleepiness, and when she regained her focus, he was no longer there.
Despite the cold night, she felt all warm inside.
Once again, she heard pawsteps pattering along, but this time, on a fence. She whipped around to her left to see who it was.
It was Berry, the she-cat who lived in the house next to her. She seemed nice enough, from the few times that Jilly had talked to her.
But this time she was shaking her head in disapproval.
"Oh, Jilly, girl," she mewed sympathetically, "You're in for nothing but trouble."
Jilly just scoffed, and leaped off the fence, back into the house. Why would she listen to Berry, anyways?