Author: Pantherfang PM
In the depths of the forbidding mountains, a group of war-torn cats must fight and kill constantly to survive. Their life is extremely harsh, with death a constant friend. But they have no choice; there is nowhere else for them to go...Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 30 - Words: 69,000 - Reviews: 78 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 9 - Updated: 09-14-12 - Published: 12-08-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7620163
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Don't walk behind me—
I may not lead.
Don't walk ahead of me—
I may not follow.
Just walk beside me—
I will call you a brother.
Moon of Blue Snows
26th Sun (same time as previous chapter)
"Ouch! Vervloek!" Lightning Strike yelped as Broken Heart pulled a piece of shale out of his paw.
"Oh, don't be such a kit. It would have hurt a lot more if I'd left it in there. Which I should have done! Why did you try to climb the wall?"
Lightning Strike hung his head. She'd never believe the real reason. "My father and Hollow Tree are over that wall. I wanted to see them."
His guardian gave him a sharp glance. She knew when he was lying. Apparently deciding to leave the subject, she cleared her throat.
"You aren't endearing yourself to Dark Night, I see."
The ginger tabby shrugged. "If he doesn't like me, there's nothing much I can do about that."
"That's amenokti dung and you know it. You're the King of the Eastern Kingdom now and the least you can do is swallow your pride and talk to him like a real tom."
"Fine! I'll talk to him." Lightning Strike pressed a paw to his head. It was hurting again.
"Do it now." Broken Heart said, noting the action. "Why are you holding your head like that?"
"I have a headache," he muttered.
"Show me your teeth," she ordered. Lightning Strike snorted. "I mean it!" she snapped.
With a sigh, Lightning Strike opened his mouth. Broken Heart growled. "Honestly, I'd be surprised if you didn't have a headache. You've ground your teeth badly. Stop doing it. And don't say you can't help it."
"I think I do it in my sleep," the Prince/King sighed.
For some reason, that appeared to worry Broken Heart more than anything else. "You have nightmares?"
"Don't know. I never remember my dreams. You're right, though. Once we get to the forest down there I'm going to sleep with a piece of wood in my mouth. Maybe that'll help."
"Maybe. Go and see Dark Night." She strode away from him.
Lightning Strike looked around and caught sight of the Western King speaking to Moon's Light. By the Wolf's kindness, he thought grumpily. Why did they both have to be stuck with me?
For a moment he was tempted not to go. Suddenly a pressure began to build in his ears, as though his head were locked in painless jaws. He shook his head violently several times and saw a shadow flicker behind his eyes. After a few more moments, the pressure relieved itself, and Lightning Strike sighed and headed towards the two cats.
Both turned expressions of dislike upon him. Lightning Strike was in no mood for politeness.
"Look, I know you both hate me. Guess what? I really don't care. If we're going to be stuck together for the next day or week or however long it is before we rejoin our missing counterparts, could we at least drop the evil stares?"
If possible, Dark Night grew more disdainful. However, for a second in Moon's Light's eyes, Lightning Strike thought he saw…amusement? He breathed out harshly through his nose.
"You don't think much of me, Dark Night, because I didn't kill my father." That was barely scratching the surface of his rivalry with the dark tom, but he didn't want to say anything else in public. "But imagine if it was your mother in the same place. I love my father. I could never have hurt him."
"He doesn't seem to think much of you," observed Dark Night.
"Well...I don't know about that. But if going on this pilgrimage has taught me anything, it's that beasts can surprise you. There's a chance Thunder's Roar could recover. I owe him that."
To his amazement, Moon's Light nodded reluctantly. "He deserves a chance to fight, at least," she muttered.
Dark Night sat down and curled his tail around his paws. "But he's in so much pain. It's clouding his mind. Surely it would be better to send him to your Mountain Wolf? Such a faithful servant should gain entry to your Svarga."
Lightning Strike tried to consider a way to make Dark Night understand. Finally he said, "If you found a kit, wandering in the cold, alone, sick, what would you do?" The Western King hesitated, and Lightning Strike pressed his advantage. "The kit has no family and no real future. It would be kinder to kill her. Would you?"
"…No," admitted Dark Night finally.
"And why not?"
"Because she's defenceless and deserves a chance to serve the Kingdom," he said. "I think I understand now."
"What you need to understand is the definition of kindness," Moon's Light growled, but softly. "There are many meanings for the word. It can refer to someone who is compassionate, understanding, tolerant, warm-hearted, generous, and agreeable. Is murder in any of those? The Mountain Wolf—or the Snow Leopard—decides when a cat's life should end."
Dark Night eyed them both. "Very well. I apologize for trying to kill your father."
"Accepted. And…" Lightning Strike hesitated, "I'm sorry for…for not making more of an effort. You may have been a complete jerk about it, but you had a point."
"Accepted," said Dark Night calmly. "You want to go into the forest beneath us?"
"I do. None of us can really climb those cliffs, even if we were strong enough to. The best we can hope for is to go into the forest and search for a pass."
"Those were my thoughts, as well," Dark Night admitted. "Then—"
"Your Majesties!" interrupted Broken Heart, skidding to a halt from a full gallop. Her sides were heaving. "You need to see something."
"The gorge, we know," Lightning Strike reminded her.
"Not the gorge. They're…I don't know what they are. Please just come see."
Lightning Strike shrugged and followed his guardian, Dark Night following them a little way behind.
They approached a gentle slope that eased down into a little dip into the contours of the land before disappearing into a shroud of trees. Broken Heart led the two Kings through the undergrowth for a while before halting and crouching in a series of bushes on the edge of a little glade.
"Get down and be quiet," she whispered in as low a voice possible.
The two toms obeyed, falling to their shoulders and peering into the glade.
A series of scents occupied their noses. Some were pleasant, most were not, and all were strange.
One of the more delicious smells came from a bewildering black rectangular object that spat like a cat. Standing behind it, prodding it with what appeared to be a long stick, was the strangest creature Lightning Strike had ever seen.
It was tall—probably about four or five cat lengths from paws to head, and powerfully built. The creature was bizarrely standing on two of its legs, with one other hanging loosely at its side and the fourth holding—holding?—the stick. It had a very thin covering of hair and a large patch on the top of its head. Its skin was a rich shade of dark brown.
Its smell was strange, but not altogether unpleasant. To Lightning Strike, it reminded him of the scent of the wolves, and it had the same purpose in its movements. There was a slight hint of decay emanating from it, overlayed by the smell of flowers, wind and fire.
Perhaps one of the cats had made a slight movement, for the creature looked up. Its eyes were as dark as its skin, and they gleamed with intelligence and cunning.
Evidently it had poor senses, for it did not notice them crouching in the brush. It returned to the smell of cooking meat.
Lightning Strike felt strange. Like when he had first met the wolves, where he had been unable to tell if they were enemies or not. With most beasts, it was simple. Sova, amenokti, shuri tora and vaşaq were enemies. Rodents and other birds were prey. But with this creature, the King gained the sense that it was a beast not unlike himself.
Without thinking he rose to his paws and stepped boldly into the clearing, holding his head high. Both Dark Night and Broken Heart gasped and hissed his name, but the ginger tabby ignored them, and padded towards the creature.
The creature's face creased when it saw Lightning Strike. For a moment it seemed to hesitate, and strangely its scent changed slightly; it became more fire and less flowery.
Then, with a confusion seeming to mirror Lightning Strike's own, the creature turned. It crouched, and Lightning Strike pulled back slightly, wondering if it was about to pounce. Then the creature slowly put out one of its spare paws.
Lightning Strike didn't know what to do. Among cats, offering a paw was a sign of tentative affection. Was it the same for this creature? Ever so gently, the ginger cat reached forwards and touched his nose to the paw.
They remained still for a while after that, and the Eastern King noted that the creature's scent had grown sweeter. Suddenly it made a strange noise, and Lightning Strike flinched. The moment of strange connection had passed, and he began to quickly back away, pulling himself back between the bushes where Broken Heart and Dark Night still waited. The two cats scattered through the clump of trees the moment he reached them, but Lightning Strike hesitated and looked back over his shoulder.
The creature had seen him in the brush, but made no attempt to chase him. Instead, it made another strange noise, and though Lightning Strike had no comprehension of its words, he sensed it was a farewell of sorts.
Shivering, he followed his fellow cats back to their makeshift camp. He knew that no matter how old he grew and no matter what he forgot, the moment where he and the creature had made contact would never fade. For a moment, they had reached a strange understanding that can only come through silence, and he would carry it with him for the rest of his days.