Trailing Stars: Chapter Twenty
Edited by: Cindertail
illustrated by Jayfrost
I yawned and opened my eyes to slits, my gaze blurry. Sunlight was streaming through the gaps in the apprentices’ den, leaving dapples of shadow over the field of nests.
Someone prodded me in the side again.
“Go away,” I meowed sleepily, closing my eyes again and rolling over.
“No,” I grumbled, but rolled out of her nest and opened my eyes fully. A black and white tomcat looked down at me with a rather annoyed expression.
“Who’s that,” I half yawned, half groaned, my brain too asleep to register anything I saw.
“Copperclaw’s calling a Clan meeting. Get out of your nest already!”
I woke up fully. The flimsy pile of ferns and a bit of moss suddenly seemed a lot less like my bed back home and more like the futile attempt at comfort it was. “We’re cats.”
“What else is new? Hurry up!”
I rose to my paws, following the tom I now recognized as Winterpaw.
Ugh. I’m starving and tired and why in StarClan did this happen to us and why can’t we just sleep through this time as cats and just why can’t life be NORMAL for once and and and…
Winterpaw stopped to nudge a few more cats, who were just as unwilling as I was to leave their nests. Moonpaw almost clawed his muzzle off when he tried to get the sleepy she-cat out of her nest.
Outside, Copperclaw was already speaking from her perch above the other cats, who looked restless and anxious. Fuzzy sleep was fading from my head, replaced with hunger, the same hunger that panged at everyone else’s belly, making days long and tempers short, reducing us to desperately gnawing at every piece of food we could.
Why were we even turned into cats in the FIRST place? Why can’t we just be normal humans with normal lives and no magic making everything awful? I just want to curl up AT HOME in a nice, warm, COMFORTABLE bed and only have siblings to complain about. Is it too much to ask to have a NORMAL LIFE?
“The sickness has taken many of us!” Copperclaw yowled, her voice loud and confident, though not masking the weakness and hunger underneath.
What else is new? We can’t DO anything about it.
“We need herbs if we’re going to survive.”
But there are none. So we’re doomed.
“We have found a place where herbs grow,”
“But it is outside a fox den.”
Why do herbs have to grow in the stupidest places?
“I will be sending a patrol to gather herbs.”
Other cats seemed to agree with me. Frostflower stood up, glaring at Copperclaw.
“How sure are you that this is safe? If we die like this, do we die as humans?”
“We can’t let cats die!” Iceflower yowled. She looked anxious, her black and white pelt bristled.
“And if we don’t get these herbs, how many cats will die of the sickness? I’m with Copperclaw.” Sundance’s calm, sure voice rose above the nervous whispers.
Copperclaw interrupted the murmurs of the concerned cats, her confident voice ringing through the crisp air. “We will bring enough cats to defend against foxes that might come. Flowerstream will lead the patrol, accompanied by Emberdawn, Sunnystripe, Owlwater, Thistlepool, Foxpaw, Lupinepaw, Willowpaw,…”
Great. Let’s put everyone’s least favorite cat on a patrol and hope she gets devoured by foxes.
“Willowstream, and Goldenpaw.” I could tell she was trying to look strong, but she was as skinny as the rest of us.
So, we’re all turned to cats, for no reason in particular, are tortured, starve, generally suffer, and it has to be ME chosen to risk my life for stupid herbs. Why can’t someone who actually KNOWS what they’re DOING be chosen? Or someone who actually has some skill and WANTS to go on a patrol?
Cinderkit and Amberkit bounced up to me cheerfully, their tiny pawsteps interrupting my thoughts. I could hear them much better now, just like every other tiny noise in the forest. It made sleep impossible.
“Can we go?” mewed Amberkit excitedly, her golden tabby tail flicking. It was clear she thought this all was a fun game like the ones we had played as humans, all that time ago. Or was it yesterday? She acted like nothing was wrong, like we’d all be happy. I hate it. Useless cheerfulness was nothing but obnoxious.
“No,” I hissed. “Go away.” Just like before, when she bothered me. Before is never coming back.
“But we can help!” whined Cinderkit. “You’re not much bigger than us!”
You want to risk your life for the stupid herbs. Do you know how incredibly idiotic you are?
Words cannot describe how hard it was not to yowl that in their faces.
I growled and turned around, “accidentally” hitting the kits with my tail.
Amberkit whined and stomped away, her tiny paws barely making a sound.
Hobbitheart padded up to me. “Don’t be rude to the kits,” she ordered. “They’re younger and suffer just as much as you.”
“Don’t be rude to the apprentice,” I growled grumpily and padded away, careful to seem as angry and disruptive as possible.
Hobbitheart looked back at me and sighed.
I spotted Flowerstream already by the camp entrance, along with Emberdawn, Thistlepool, Sunnystripe, Owlwater, Goldenpaw and Foxpaw. Willowstream quickly padded up to them, looking nervous.
I growled and padded up to the patrol, lashing my tail. It’s not even worth living like this. We’re all going to die anyway.
“Where’s Lupinepaw?” Sunnystripe asked.
In fact, Lupinepaw was just padding up to the rest of the cats tiredly. She looked just as annoyed as me. In fact, probably more.
Flowerstream flicked her fluffed tail. “That’s everyone? Let’s go.” She set out into the forest at a brisk pace.
Lupinepaw, Foxpaw and I stuck to the center of the patrol, letting the other cats shield us, while Goldenpaw continued nervously, staying close to Flowerstream’s side. The warriors were jumpy too. Thistlepool yelped when she stepped on a twig, and Sunnystripe backed away from every shadow. Only Owlwater stayed his cheery self while we trekked through the woods, but even he was subdued.
Emberdawn glanced around, looking for attacks, while Willowstream… Where was Willowstream?
I heard a yowl from behind us.
Sunnystripe raced back, a worried expression on her face. Flowerstream quickly followed, and Emberdawn padded after her.
I looked at Foxpaw, shrugging. “Might as well go with them.”
She nodded, and we padded toward the group of cats clustered around… something.
I looked down the deep hole in front of me and spotted a cat, yowling anxiously. Willowstream. I called it. We’re all going to be picked off one by one.
The patrol looked at each other. Nobody wanted to stop, but nobody wanted to leave Willowstream there. Except maybe me.
“You go on,” Emberdawn said. “I can help her get out, we need those herbs.”
Flowerstream nodded reluctantly and beckoned for us to return to the path. We did, but Sunnystripe looked back sadly.
A yowl brought me out of my thoughts, one that I had gotten to know after the last… how long had it been? It seemed like forever. Forever of starving and helplessness and…
I looked ahead and the herb patch was right in front of me.
Which also meant the fox den was right in front of me.
Which also meant potential death for all of us was right in front of me.
I walked right into it and start picking flowers.