The cold rain spattered on the pavement, splashing into a dirty stream running along the curb. The night sky flickered with lightning.

Shade had known that the storm was going to break. Yet she had lost track of the time....

Her footsteps pattered through the puddles, spraying her with muck. A rat dangled from her jaws. I'm almost there.... she began to run faster, the raindrops like needles on her face. Yet she wasn't being careful enough; she slipped on the hard, wet ground and went sprawling. The rat landed with a thunk in a puddle. 

Quickly, she scrambled up, ignoring the searing pain in her left side. She scurried forward to pick up her rat, but she halted, as she found herself staring into a pair of lime green eyes.

She gulped. It was Brick. The flashing sky illuminated his ginger pelt.

He hissed. "What do you think you're doing, wandering around late at night, in a storm, hm? One might even think that you're hiding something from Scourge." She noticed his paws flex, his awful claws elongating and contracting. It might've been a trick of the light, but she swore that she saw a few dark red marks spattered across them.

She stood there, silent, terrified, and unable to breathe for a few moments. Finally, she plucked up the courage to speak.

"H-hiding something from Scourge?" she stuttered, "I-I wouldn't do such a thing. Please--I'm doing nothing--"

Brick's eyes glimmered. Shade couldn't tell if it was with thought, or excitement at the prospect of punishing a cat. Her heart pounded. She sure hoped it wasn't the latter.

Brick's mouth finally twisted into a grin. "Creeping around on a night like this. Against the rules. For an action like this, you must pay tribute to Scourge." Quick and slippery as a snake, Brick lunged forward, and deftly hooked the rat out from between her paws. 

Shade uttered something between a cry of horror and a choke of despair. It had taken her since sunhigh to find that rat! And the little lives waiting for her would need nourishment or they would die.

"Please," she cried, "I have two kits waiting for me. They need food, or they'll starve!"

He shrugged. "You must pay Scourge for what you've been doing."

"But don't you want those kits to grow up to be strong members of BloodClan?" she pleaded.

He cackled madly. Shade let out a little whimper of horror.

"Only the strongest can become warriors of BloodClan," he said. Then he leaned forward, his face a mouse-length away from hers. His breath smelled of rancid Twoleg rubbish. "Let's see if your little kits can pull through to be ones."

Shade opened her mouth to beg, but Brick smacked her hard across the face with an outstretched paw. She toppled over into a puddle, her face throbbing from the blow. He twitched his ear in satisfaction, and picked up the rat in his jaws. Without another word, he spun away.

Thunder rumbled overhead, as if echoing Shade's despair as she lay in the murky water, sobbing. My kits will surely die of hunger now. If the cold doesn't get them first. She would've considered lying there all night, completely given up on life. But she knew that her kits still depended on her.

Slowly, she dragged herself from the puddle, her fur completely sodden. Her teeth chattered. She knew that she had to find sustenance for her kits somewhere, and soon. But how?

She rounded a corner into a dark alley, hoping to find a dumpster with some Twoleg food inside. At the moment, she would take any quick food.

She scanned the walls, and cast her gaze down they alley. She spotted a large green Twoleg bin, reeking of rubbish. Shade sniffed the air. Amongst the scent of rotting Twoleg food, there was a whiff of chicken, fairly fresh.

Shade could barely suppress her excitement, as she leaped to the edge of the bin, almost slipping inside because of the slick edge. But as she peered into the dumpster, she realized, to her dismay, that the chicken was gone. What have I done to deserve such a miserable existence?

Just then, hushed voices reached her ears, along with the occasional rowdy shout.

Shade leaped back down onto the muddy alley pavement, and pricked her ears. There were other cats in that alleyway; no denying it. Maybe, just maybe....

Shade crept forward, low to the ground. As she neared the group, she realized that there were far more cats than she had expected. One particularly mean-looking striped tom stood at the head of the group, blustering and laughing. Shade noticed two fat chicken bones, the meat half-picked off of them, lying in the center. She flattened her ears.

"Um... excuse me?" she mewed timidly, as she slowly padded forward. All heads turned to look her way. Shade's breath caught in her throat as she spotted a familiar pair of blue eyes. No. He can't be here!

Finally, the striped tom spoke. "Who's this scrawny creature?" Hoots of laughter rose up from the crowd. Shade stared defiantly ahead, hoping that they wouldn't notice how much she was quivering.

"She's a pretty one," a gray tom said, brushing against her flank.

"Get away from me," Shade spat, and jerked away.

"Fiesty too," the striped tom noted. I won't let these cats strip me of my dignity. It's the only thing I have left, other than my kits.

"My name is Shade," she said, her voice shaking.

"Look, sweetie. We don't care about your name," Stripes said, "We just want to know why you're here, and what we'll get out of it."

Shade stood there, at a loss for words, now that there was a chance to state her problem.

She glanced at the Scorch, the blue-eyed tom. Does he still care about me, even a little bit? But his eyes showed no emotion, even as his muscles rippled under his ginger fur.

She took a deep breath. "Please help me," she pleaded, "My kits are starving-and-and I have no food to give them." She took a deep breath, and blinked away her tears. Her gaze flickered to the half-eaten chicken bones.

Stripes hissed. "So you come crawling here like a maggot, to beg for food? Pathetic."

"Please! I'll give you something in return. Something--anything!"

Stripes blinked slowly, and twitched his ears. But he still didn't respond. Come on, please....

Suddenly, a bolt of lightning flashed through the sky, setting Shade's smoky gray fur alight, and making her collar sparkle.

Her collar wasn't the traditional BloodClan collar, studded with sharp, smelly dog and cat teeth, even though she was criticized for not turning it into one. Instead, her collar was adorned with shimmering rhinestones. It was the only reminder of her wonderful kittypet days....

"Oh Ji-illy!" 'her housefolk, Susan, called. She didn't stir from her downy cushion; she was much too comfortable. "Ji-illy!"

Susan plodded into the room. She appeared to be holding one of those crinkly plastic bags. Jilly stood up, excited. Those were always fun to chase around, after they had been emptied. But to her disappointment, Kendra didn't put it down for her.

Instead, she began to rummage around in it. "I have a special present for you," Susan said. With her pink, meaty paw, she pulled out a beautiful rhinestone collar.

Most cats Jilly had met always complained about their collars and how they pinched, but her collar slipped smoothly over Jilly's head, and fit around her neck comfortably and snugly.

The cobalt blue perfectly accented her smoky gray fur, and the rhinestones glittered in the light. She loved it. Susan reached down to pet her, as she rubbed against her legs. That collar would always be special to her.

Stripes focused on the collar. "Say, what a pretty little trinket you've got there." The gems continued to sparkle.

"Oh--um, no, not that," Shade choked, "That's special!" There were some snickers. "Aww... will the little kitty miss her pretty collar?" someone taunted. Shade attempted to block her ears off from them, and focus on the debate going on.

"Yeah, well what else could you give me?" he snickered. Shade hung her head.

Stripes sighed as if to say, All right, let's just take it from little Shade, because this is taking much too long.

"Okay. Your collar, for one chicken bone." 

Shade stuttered. "But--but it's worth more than both of the chicken bones!"

He laughed. "For sentimental little she-cats, it might be. But not to us. Now, that's your deal. Take it or leave it."

Shade was once again on the verge of tears. "But--but--okay. Take it."

The striped tom nodded, his green eyes glinting in the limited amount of light. He leaned forward, and fastened his teeth around the soft blue material. Shade let out a scared squeak; she didn't trust a cat like him with teeth so near her neck.

He tugged and pulled, until a sharp snap was heard. Her beloved rhinestone collar lay ripped on the wet, dirty ground. It felt as if her heart was ripped, too. Stripes picked it up, and began to pad back to the group of cats. Without a second thought, she darted forward, snatched a chicken bone, and began to scurry out of the alley before the gang could hurt her. 

It was not until she had passed the dumpster, that she realized that she was being followed. She could hear pawsteps splashking through the rain water behind her. She just squinted her pale green eyes, and began to run faster. They can't catch me, they can't catch me...

But as she neared the end of that stinking alley, a clear voice rang out. "Shade. Stop."

She spun around, ready to defend herself, but she ended up facing a familiar pair of blue eyes. It was Scorch. 

She set down the chicken bone warily, just in case the striped tom had sent him to steal it back. But Scorch made no move to take it.

"I don't want to talk to you," Shade spat.

Scorch just ignored her, and continued to speak. "You always just let cats walk all over you, Shade." The words went directly to her heart.

"Well, it's not like I have a choice," she hissed.

Scorch cocked his head to one side, his eyes gleaming. "Yes you do. If you give your kits to Scourge, they will never starve. They will be raised to be strong, and fight for BloodClan. And it will be one less thing for you to worry about." She circled around her, flicking her ear with his tail.

"Give my kits to Scourge? Never!" she spat, "Now if you excuse me, I have kits to tend to. The kits that you left me with." Without another word, she whipped around, and dashed away, the measly chicken bone in her jaws.

The storm seemed to be subsiding, although the rain continued to pelt down from the sky, and the roar of thunder was always in the distance. My poor, poor kits. They must be cold and sodden, not to mention hungry and scared.

Shade quickly ducked underneath a plastic Twoleg thing, and scampered across the sproingy grass. She slipped into a leafy, dark green bush.

Two wet little bundles lay pressed together, shivering. One of them squeaked.

Susan, the little ginger she-kit shook out her fur. "I'm hungry, Mama!" Susan wailed, revealing a pink tongue and little white teeth. Shade rushed to their side, and gave them the chicken bone. 

"Ssh. I'm here. Just eat." Jacques, a little black and white tom, sniffed the air and tumbled forward for food. Shade's belly growled, but she knew that her kits needed to eat before her.

She curled up around them, sheltering them from the world.

You will survive, kits. I promise.

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