Lily was jolted out of her restless slumber, when the door of her cage began to rattle and creak open. One of the caretakers was opening the door, and gently pulling her out. She let out an irritated hiss.
There stood a tall male Twoleg, with a shaggy black fur patch. He looked intimidating. Lily couldn't help feeling slightly creeped out by his presence. What's going on? she wondered vaguely, and tried to struggle out of the Twoleg's arms. Before she could stop it, she was dumped in the other Twoleg's arms. He didn't do anything to hurt her, but there was something about his grip that was cold and uncaring.
Before Lily could say "trapped", the bubbly Twoleg caretaker yanked out another cat cage from a stack of shelves next to the cages. With a sounding yowl, Lily was shoved inside.
It was considerably more comfortable than the cage she was in previously, but it was still dark and cramped. Apprehension stood out prominently from all of her other emotions.
Then it dawned on her. She was being adopted.
Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Lily pondered, as she bumped along the road in a car. The whole experience was scary, true, but it could be either. It was good that she was being adopted before she was killed by the Twolegs in the pound.
But she just had a bad feeling about the Twoleg that picked her up. He didn't seem like the nice type. Well, if there was a nice type of Twoleg.
As soon as the rumbling of the Twoleg monster stopped, she could hear the slam of the door as the Twoleg climbed out. How he functioned the monster, Lily didn't know. Twolegs. Just plain weird.
Gruffly, he grasped the handle of the carrier. Tensing, she waited for him to pop open the spring that would let her out. Her ginger bushy tail waved, erect, her eyes gleaming with intensity.
But he didn't open it.
She hissed with frustration, and slapped the side of the cage with her paw. In return, she felt it rattle with the slap he returned. So that's how it is.
It was hard to see through the webbed wires of the carrier, but just through the cracks, she could see a seedy looking Twoleg nest. It looked somewhat like a barn, if Lily could remember Shade's stories correctly.
With a pale paw, the Twoleg shoved the door open. Inside, it reeked of old hay and rats.
Is this my new home?
As the cage door finally clicked open, and Lily shot out, she figured that she might be being a bit fussy. Squeaks of small rodents echoed around the barn. Her stomach growled.
Leaving the Twoleg behind (she had seen enough of him), she crouched into her trademark hunting position. There was just so much opportunity, that she didn't know where to start.
Understandably, she targeted a dumb-looking mouse, nibbling a bit of seed by a corner of a hay bale.
Before the mouse even had time to react, she had it pinned to the ground. It squealed in its last attempt to escape, and fell limp.
She licked her lips, and dove right in. Beneath her pleasure was guilt that she was eating well, when the rest of BloodClan was still starving. Like... she couldn't care less if it were Snake or Bone that was starving. Which they wouldn't be because of their greed and theft. An image of her brother popped into her mind. His ribs pressed against his pelt. The image was blurred and gone, as she got to her feet.
Snagging another mouse, she ate once again. Sinking to the earth, she never felt so good in ages.
Her bleary green gaze flickered open, to the last rays of sunlight than shone from the beginning of dusk. Ugh... She hadn't meant to fall asleep right then in there, but honestly, why did it matter?
She was her own cat now.
The realization was exhilirating. No other cat to control her and restrict her, but more importantly, no other BloodClan cat that would make her life miserable. It was like her own warm cube, full of prey and safety. No worries. No wondering when her next meal was going to be, no fear that a BloodClan cat would catch her living with her family and execute them.
It was complete bliss.
But a guilty thought rose up in her, budding and unfurling like a dandelion. The burning yellow gaze of Scratch, and the soft pale green ones of Shade were forever etched in her memory. How could she just leave them like that? Picking around in dumpsters for their next meal, while she was full fed? But it's not like she had a choice... that bad Twoleg might do something to her if she tried to leave...
A faint squeaking reached her ears. Sounds like dinner. Lily licked her lips, and sharpened her claws nonchalantly. She bunched up into her hunting stance, tasting the air. Creeping forward, she spotted her victim. She curled back in disgust as she realized that it was a filthy rat, not a fat, scrumptious mouse.
Great. Now she was going soft, after all that time. On the streets, a rat was perfectly welcome. So she leaped, hooked it with her claws, and drove her teeth into its soft flesh. It was slightly wiry, but not too bad. No worse than the food served in the pound. Perhaps even better.
More squeaking aroused her. No more food, or you'll overeat. Like a dumb kittypet, she told herself.
Surprisingly there another rat, instead of mouse. Ignoring that, she sunk into another stupor. She missed feeling useful. But most of all, she missed Shade and Jacques and Spike.
Spike. She swallowed her bile.
More rats gathered around the hay bales, writhing and squeaking. And to think that was what lived in the very alleys she gathered food from.
More rats slipped out from the hay, joining the mass before her. Now this was just getting obnoxious.
Lily attempted to push her way through them, when she felt sharp teeth sink into her leg. A gasp of pain slipped out of her jaws as she freed herself. Another rat squealed and bit her paw, its claws also digging into her. With a pained hiss, she swiped at it.
More rats came at her, clambering up her legs, their claws sharp and prickly. She began to bleed. What kind of rodent was dangerous enough to injure her?
Viciously, she fought back. her claws sliced through flesh and beady black eyes, but they seemed to keep coming. She felt her knees start to buckle. Once again, she embraced the familiar terror that bubbled up into her like many other times. But this time, she felt trapped.
Nowhere to run.
Stinging bite marks covered her body, aching, hurting like she barely have ever felt before.
Just as she felt like giving up, as the rats were overwhelming, she heard a large thunk on the earth next to her. Able to break away from the biting, scratching mass, there was a square window in the barn wall. She cursed herself silently for not noticing it before.
A huge, burly tom was slicing his way through the rats. Lily gasped, and began to help as best she could, even though her body was on the verge of collapse.
"Get out of here," he mewed gruffly, and leaped onto the window of the barn door, his black and white patches illuminated with the light. It was not Scratch.
Bone grinned his twisted grin, and beckoned for her to come.
And unlikely savior.
Lily had no choice but to claw her way up the wall, and drag herself onto the wall. If she toppled over from exhaustion, she wouldn't be surprised.
"Come on," he grunted. With a hard nudge, she shoved her down into a jump. To her surprise, she landed on the ground on all fours, stable.
Lily didn't risk speaking. She was in trouble, that was all she knew. Bone led her down back to a dirt road, his expression grim.
Yeah, she didn't really think Bone was in the mood for talking.
As soon as they approached the main streets, Lily was about to collapse with pain and exhaustion. But something caught her eye. There was a splatter of red across the pavement on their path, little smear were a cat could've stepped. Or even been dragged.
The mingled scent of BloodClan reached her nostrils. More blood scuffs appeared on the sidewalk.
"Um..." She muttered to Bone.
He flashed her a look. "Shut up, and keep walking. We have some important business with you."
Lily's stomach dropped. It could be Scratch, Shade. She resisted tears.
But you can't know for sure, she reminded herself. There was no way to tell the scents from each other.
But why else would they say they had important business with me?
As they entered Scourge's back alley, stinking with grime, she saw the worried then relieved eyes of Scratch. Shade appeared to be there too. Sympathy cracked her heart as she saw her wobbling legs and still-healing scars. At least they were safe.
Once she looked up at Scourge, she was greeted with a sight that surely couldn't mean good news.
Little blood tracks were smeared up the edge of his dumpster.
His sleek black fur was now stained with dark red blood, sticky, coated all the way to the top of his legs. It also stained his mouth, dripped from it.
A hard blow hit her shoulder, as Bone shoved her back into line. Obviously she had been gawking.
His first words sounded more like a death sentence than a promise.
"Welcome to the new age of BloodClan."
Lily's eyes remained locked with his figure, refusing to shrink down, even when she felt her stomach lurch. She swore that Scourge's eyes met hers a few times. They were displeased.
"I have annihilated our competitor for the power," he explained in a calculative, cold way. Muffled cheers flowed from the crowd. Until you were amongst all of BloodClan, you never realized how many cats were out there. How many cats were struggling, how many cats were competing for survival.
"In three sunrises, we will march to meet the enemy."
"The enemy?" Lily muttered under her breath.
The tom next to her gave her a look. "The Clans," he murmured.
"The Clans? We're supposed to fight them?"
"Yes, just like before. Except when we win, we won't have Tigerstar to constrict our power." His claws flexed.
Won't have Tigerstar to constrict our power. The shining blood on Scourge's legs gleamed with the weak beams of sunlight. She swallowed.
"We will be undefeatable, they can't stop us. We will crush them beneath our feet, then the forest will be ours!" Excited screeches ripped through the tense atmosphere, cats swiped their paws excitedly through the air. A muscular she-cat's claw snagged on Lily's ear. Stepping away, she tried to comprehend all of it.
The battle was finally coming.
The one determining her future, her brother's, and every other cat in BloodClan.
"But, of course, the cowardly Clans have a chance to flee before we arrive. However unlikely it is, it could happen, considering that they are inferior to us."
Every cat in BloodClan remained silent as sparse clouds blowing overhead.
One brave, lonely voice sounded. "Scourge has just been lying to us. We won't have any blood or glory in battle. We'll just go there, and win cowardly as the Clans surrender."
From her position towards the back of the cats, she could see Scourge's claws sink into the material of the dumpster.
"What's the point of all of this, if we don't get a battle? We're no better than mice then!" he spat the last words out.
Lily couldn't tell if he was talking to the crowd of cats, or to the cat next to him, but either way he was in trouble.
Scourge remained painfully and ominously still, and Bone just surveyed with superiority as Snake pushed through the crowd to the certain tom.
He was wearing a collar, but obviously wasn't one of the highest-ranked BloodClan cats, because the dog teeth didn't stud the entire thing. He seemed proud and brave, by BloodClan terms, his gray pelt in sharp contrast with his aqua blue eyes.
Flexing his shoulder muscles, he opened his mouth to speak once again.
And faster than a hummingbird, Snake lashed his paw out.
Smoothly, he retracted it, and ran his tongue across the dripping blood.
A long, oblique gash was stretched across the gray tom's throat, bubbling with blood. It ended on his lower chest. Lily saw him part his jaws wide, no doubt to spit some famous last words, but he just coughed up clots of blood and spit. Unable to hold himself up any longer, his legs buckled, and he lay there to die on the filthy alley floor.
"This meeting is over," Scourge declared.
Some cats lingered, some shot out of the alley like it was going to be them killed next. Who knew, it could be.
Lily had no idea what to do with herself. Should she flee, should she stay here and wait?
But when she saw a flash of lemon yellow through the crowd of seedy-looking cats, and a glimmer of a smoky gray pelt, she realized. At full speed, she dashed to Scratch and Shade's side, brushing against them.
"You're back! What happened?" Scratch mewed excitedly, "Tell us!" Shade just quietly swished her tail, and gave her a lick on the shoulder.
Shade still couldn't speak. A reminder of how much she hated Scourge.
Lily prepared herself to speak, when something caught her eye. Beneath the smooth angles of Scratch's black-and-white face, was a blue collar. Not a kittypet one, one adorned with sharp, long teeth of all sizes. Dog and cat.
"--Scratch?" she choked.
He twitched his whiskers. "What?"
"Your collar. How could you?"
Sparingly, he glanced down. "Lily, Scourge may not have a pure heart of gold, but he is still leading us to freedom and a good place to live so we will never starve."
Logically, Lily replied. "It'll just be the same old oppressive rules just applied to the place we're living!"
"You don't know that for sure. And besides, as long as we have enough to eat and drink... why does it matter?"
Maybe Scourge wasn't so bad after all.
Shade showed no sign of agreeing or disagreeing with Scratch, but still didn't speak, still ran her tongue over her scars.
Long shadows were cast over the ground. The fuzzy clouds had all blown away, leaving a silver moon to shine down on them. Lily's emerald eyes glimmered with the glow.
Shade's whiskers twitched, shining silver. Her nose wobbled as she sniffed. With a gentle shove, she pushed them behind a soggy cardboard box that had been left there. Shade followed nervously. A group of three high-ranked BloodClan cats marched by, their language dirtier than the alley ground.
Despite Scratch's protests, she led her family to the place where the gray tom lay there, dead.
She slunk to his side, and bowed my head.
"Why would you do this?" Scratch murmured, "There's no point."
Lily turned to face him. "How would you feel if you were slaughtered by a BloodClan cat, and left here in a puddle of blood to die without anyone caring?"
He didn't respond.
Reluctantly, Shade padded over, looking timid. Ever since they found her again, she seemed scared. Lily hadn't really seen it in depth until now.
Struggling, she attempted to find some words to say about the gray tom in her head. He seemed very pro BloodClan, but obviously didn't like some of Scourge's decisions.
You were very brave, she finally thought. If only the rest of us found the courage to stand up for what we think is right.
Being squeamish was not something that Lily was proud of, although she could toughen up if need be.
This is what she did as she slowly sopped up some of the sticky blood with Twoleg rubbish, clearing it away from the circle were the tom lay.
She awoke to a sharp nudge to the flank.
"Ugh..." she groaned. Her head was slumped against her chest, and her legs buckled and squashed underneath her.
The gray tom was still there, sprawled across the ground.
"Let's go," Scratch muttered to her. Slowly, she got to her paws, and dragged herself behind Scratch. Shade followed her close behind. Lily felt slightly guilty that they left the gray tom so unceremoniously, but they had to do it.
Walking by a majority of the BloodClan territory, it gave her time to reflect on how much it had changed. Instead of cats scrounging and squabbling for a bite to eat, there was full on training sessions. The cats were practicing fighting on each other. Eliciting blood, even.
Lily cringed at the sight of a muscular tabby tom mercilessly throwing a little brown kit to the earth. It wasn’t right. The kit was much too young to be fighting.
“I win!” the tabby shouted.
She copied Scratch, and just walked by without seeming to care. Shade on the other paw was shaking.
“It’s all right,” Lily murmured to Shade, resting a comforting tail tip on her shoulder. “This is just practice. Once we defeat the Clans, we’ll all be safe and warm and happy. You know that, right?”
Shade looked into straight at her, eyes telling her all that she needed to say. Then she just shook her head.
Lily stepped away. The battle couldn’t be worth it.
But it could be… only if they won.
Jilly was now unsure of her decision. She was curled up in the hollow center of a bush, rain dripping through the flimsy leaves and soaking through her fur. Chilled to the bone, she pressed up against Scorch. He gave no sign that he noticed, other than a gentle twitch of his ear.
She was in the mood for a conversation, but didn’t want to disturb Scorch, so she just slipped out of the bush by herself. And instantly regretted it. The showers of rain were like sharp pine needles, pricking at her fur, subsiding, then pouring again.
Shivering and wet, she leaped over a rock, leaving a muddy trail.
Lightning flickered far in the distance, giving just enough light to see a dark outline of a tree. Its trunk was thick and strong, its leaves spread out wide. Feeling like a daredevil, she pattered to the foot of the tree, and sunk her claws into the bark. In quick strides, she managed to haul herself up to the first branch of the mighty tree. The rain pounded against her face, fiercer than ever. But now, she was beyond caring. Of course she missed Susan, but... this was real freedom. Do whatever you want when you want.
Even Scourge and his cats couldn't crush that.
Jilly awoke to a surprisingly sunny day. The clouds had all cleared away to the east, promising some nice weather to come. Instead of blowing violently like the night before, the leaves were rustling gently. Strangely, Jilly always found beauty in the way one side of a leaf was a bright green, the other a dark forest color.
I had better go wake Scorch up, she reminded herself. Daintily, she scooted backwards down the trunk of the tree, not feeling nearly as epic as before.
But when she peered into the bush, she realized that Scorch was gone.
It felt like a stone dropped in her belly. He probably just went to find some food or something, she frantically told herself. But no matter how much she reassured herself, she felt so alone, and so scared. There was no cat there to protect her, and teach her how to behave on the streets. But he would be back soon, right?
Several minutes passed, as Jilly nervously paced outside of their bush.
Just when she was about to break down, a series of angry hisses and snarls rang out. Instinctively, she darted forward, wanting to see what was going on.
At first, her head told her that it was just one of the normal BloodClan squabbles, nothing she should become a part of.
She changed her choice once she saw Scorch, waving his claws at two scary toms and a wiry she-cat.
Flee was her first instinct, but she realized that it was completely dishonorable. So she went with the only other option.
At full speed, she streaked across the prickly green grass, zipping around gopher holes and trees.
"Scorch!" she panted, "I'm here!" Then she promptly tripped into a gopher hole.
"Jilly, what are you doing here?" Scorch hissed under breath.
"Helping you," she spat back, it coming out tougher than she had intended.
"But you've never fought a battle in your life!" Scorch replied, "How can I be expected to fight and help you at the same time?"
Before Jilly could reply, the leader of the pack swaggered forward. "Well, looky what we have here."
She narrowed her eyes, and tried to be as intimidating as possible. "Shut up," she growled. Scorch moaned with embarrassment.
He just laughed, and so did the other tom. But the she-cat seemed to take it more personally.
"What did you say?" she challenged.
"I just told your friend to shut up. Is it that hard to understand?" she snapped back.
With a furious screech, the she-cat lunged forward, her silver fur blowing, claws outstretched.
Jilly couldn't think, couldn't breathe. All she wanted to do in that moment was protect herself and fight back.
Considering the circumstances, Jilly met the attack bravely. Even though she sidestepped, she was able to bounce forward and land a blow to the she-cat's shoulder.
Silver fur bristling, she leaped in surprise, as if she didn't believe such a weakling she-cat could actually fight. Jilly never had, but maybe it was just something that flowed through her veins.
After that, the she-cat came at her harder, her movements faster, powered by anger. Jilly did her best to block them, although she got one ear snagged and a scratch across her nose. But she managed to bite the silver she-cat's tail, and her shoulder blow had to sting.
"We did it!" Scorch yowled, "We beat them!" Jilly purred in return, happiness welling up inside of her as they began to return home.
"Did you see me?" she was babbling, "She wasn't being very careful, and she whipped her tail around. Fast as a rattlesnake, I sank my teeth into it!"
Scorch purred in return. "I thought that my fake-out move was rather good. But anyways, it was your first fight. How did you cope, over all?"
"Great," she said, "I thought it was kind of fun."
"That's good," Scorch responded, "But no matter what, fights are never good news."
"Yeah, I suppose you're right," she mewed distantly, as the sun slowly rose above the lush green fields of the park.