Slowly, slowly. That almost always did the trick. Most hunters moved too fast, alerting their prey, allowing it to escape into the safety of its shelter. It was near-impossible to reach from there. Especially if it had allies, friends, comrades, even more so if it was in a Clan.
The black and white tom that I was tracking was a member of FireClan, according to my source. He had killed someone's mate, and that someone wanted vengeance. That someone would also pay dearly in herbs and pretty stones. I disliked killing Clan cats simply because that forced me to move on to another cluster of Clans, somewhere else, until the mysterious death was all but forgotten. I was used to travelling from one group of Clans to another, from one mountain with two Tribes to another with five, from the ancestral territory of the Lynx Dynasty to that of the Wolf Dynasty. But it was tiresome, that was certain. And the more I travelled, the less I got to stay in my recluse, a small cave next to a stream on the White Mountain, decorated with stones and shards of something the Flat-faces called glass.
The tom stopped. I stopped too. Was he sniffing the air? Did he sense my presence? I checked the direction of the wind and reassured myself that I was downwind of him. He would not know I was here until it was too late.
He shrugged, and turned his back to me, continuing down the path. The leaves cast shadows on his fur. My tail twitched, just once.
I leaped, and he didn't resist. All the could manage was a startled yowl before my yew-stained claws were pressed to his neck.
Blood spilled onto fur, darkened by shadows of leaves on the trees of the forest of FireClan territory. I gazed coldly, emotionlessly, on the nameless tom who was dying before my very eyes.
"Who - who are you?" he managed to gasp out as his life blood trickled onto the ground.
I tilted my head, considering. Was he asking for a name, or for my occupation? Maybe he thought I was another Clan cat?
After a few moments of silence, I eventually settled for "Your killer."
"What's y-your name?" His eyes looked directly into mine: they were neither confused, nor angry, nor scared. He wasn't even accusing me. All he wanted to know was my name.
"Because," he panted, "I want to know who t-to look for when I - I join MoonClan."
I actually laughed out loud at that one. "MoonClan? Ha! You actually believe in those kit stories? MoonClan don't exist, mousebrain, because if it did, then StarClan, and the Tribe of Endless Hunting, and the Tribe of Shining Skies, and all those ancestors would exist too, and I know for a fact that they don't!"
He wisely didn't argue. "What's your n-name?" he repeated instead.
"I have no name," I answered shortly, my laughter dying in my throat.
"Make one up." His breathing was short, and raspy. He would die very, very soon. I stepped back, delicately avoiding touching the pool of blood.
"Fine." I decided I'd humor him, because why not. What should my name be? It was a good question. A cat like me, who killed for fun and for payment, deserved an appropriately sinister name. But I didn't want to take something hideously overused, like Night, or Moon, or Shadow. I needed something original.
I closed my eyes to aid my concentration, and thought of how I hunted. Perhaps Hunter? No, too plain. But then what could it be? I could choose something nice and bright, like Sunny or Flower or Willow, as a paradox to my personality, but the idea seemed stupid. It was overused, too, anyways. I'd heard of more cat-killers around with names like that. I distinctly remembered one named Holly.
So... something else, then. Not anything to do with the night, nor a plant. Maybe an animal? But what kind of animal did I represent? Eagle and Hawk immediately came to mind... but I wasn't fierce and proud. I was more sneaky and silent, carefully slithering around, striking down my enemies...
A snake! Yes, that seemed to fit. I nodded to myself, comparing my personality with that of an adder. It was perfect. But should I just name myself Snake, or after some particular snake? No... what other names were there for snakes? Snake. Adder. Cobra. Serpent.
"Serpent." That was... lovely, I was surprised to realise. The name felt cool and familiar, hissing gently as it left my tongue.
"Serpent," I meowed again, and my eyes flew open. "My name is Serpent."
But the tom was already dead.
I returned to the brown tabby tom on whose orders I'd killed the black and white tom. He gave me a pretty pink stone, shaped like a lilypad, and a nice fat hare. I thanked him and left, never letting my eyes stray from him as I left his den. I wouldn't put it past him to attack me, to cover up loose ends in case anyone investigated who'd killed the FireClan tom, or maybe just because he enjoyed killing as much as I did.
Well... I didn't really enjoy killing, not in the way some cats enjoyed hunting with their mates or eating tasty thrushes. I merely found it to be an exercise that was much more interesting and challenging that simply hunting stupid mice and voles, which were always so much easier to catch. Cats were smart, and they posed a threat. Therefore, I killed cats.
On my way back to White Mountain, which would take a few sunrises to get to, I stopped at a stream and washed the yew juice off my claws. It wouldn't do to eat prey that had poison in it.
Before I had a name, that was how I was identified. I knew that I was secretly feared in every Clan or Tribe or Dynasty that knew of me, that I was a terror that mothers told their kits stories about, when the more level-headed warriors that didn't believe in Yew Claw had their backs turned. To many cats, I was just a story, the Yew Claw, who stalked dreams and turned them into nightmares. Some of them just wrote my kills off as snakes or foxes. Some thought that different cats did it each time. Paranoid ones, like elders or queens, believed that I was a Dark Forest cat come back to haunt the territories.
Only a few, according to the many cats that asked me to make a kill, really suspected who I was, just a normal cat who was exceptionally gifted at stalking.
But now, things had changed. It was an almost imperceptible change, but it was a change, all the same. I had a name, now, and I wanted to use it. I wanted to spread fear, and knowledge of my existence. I didn't want to be just a story about a nameless cat with poisoned claws. I wanted to be a real threat, and I wanted to be known. After all, that would make the kills even more challenging. And fun.
I successfully completed my journey back to White Mountain, and placed the pink pebble next to another pink pebble, and between two black ones. There; that completed the cat's nose. Only the whiskers left, now.
The next day, a loner came to find me. He was a small black tom, but had deadly white claws to match mine. They were very hooked and very, very sharp. I decided to never take my eyes off them if I could help it. He looked like he was fast.
"Salutations," I mewed politely. "How can I help you?"
"I need you to kill someone," he answered.
I remained silent.
"Why aren't you saying anything?"
"I'm waiting for you to greet me, ask me properly, tell me whose life you 'need' me to end, and name your price," I informed him.
His head tilted to his left. "What if I'm here to kill you?"
"What does that have to do with your last statement?"
"Fair point," he conceded. "Very well. Greetings, I am -"
"No!" I interrupted, my fur starting to bristle. "You never give your name, otherwise if they capture me and torture me, it may slip out, and they will find you!"
"I have faith in you," the tom answered coolly. "Besides, how do you know I'm giving you my real name?"
I had to acknowledge his thinking.
"Exactly. Now. Greetings, I am Spider, I'd like you to please kill a cat in FireClan, and my price is a piece of my territory," he meowed confidently.
"I have no need of territory. I take what I want, regardless of who lives here," I replied dismissively. "But, if you don't mind, I'd like thirty small, pure white pebbles."
"But - why?"
I gestured with my tail to the mosaic resting, uncompleted, on the ground behind me. "I'm making a picture, if you will. It really doesn't concern you, but I need thirty pebbles to complete the whiskers."
The tom shrugged. "Fine. I can give them to you, easy. So are you willing to take the job?"
"Well..." The fact that my new kill would also be in FireClan could be a bit problematic. They would be alert to the presence of a murderer. But that would make the kill more interesting... "I'll do it."
"Excellent. Do you require any yew berries?"
The question caught me off guard. "What? Why?"
"You are the Yew Claw," he mowed with amusement.
"My name is Serpent." Ah, it was so pleasant to say the name I never had... "For I kill like a snake."
He nodded slowly, surprise evident on his face, and by his twitching tail. "Serpent. It... suits you, I suppose."
"It does," I agreed, standing up. "Well, let's go, then."
"To FireClan territory, of course! Don't you need to point the cat out to me?"
"Oh, right." The black tom gestured with his paw for me to step forward. "Ladies first."
My eyes narrowed with suspicion. "No, thank you. I am the host."
"After you. I insist."
Should I go past? Seasons of killing had taught me to never turn my back on another cat, as that was the most efficient way to fulfill a death wish... but this tom seemed trustworthy, didn't he? He didn't smell strange, he seemed to be outgoing and easy to be around, and he certainly wasn't the type to kill, or else he wouldn't have come to me.
With some reluctance, I walked past him, keeping him in sight from the corner of my eye. He made no movement, and I relaxed slightly, turning my focus to keeping my balance on the uneven rocks that were partially blocking the entrance.
There was the rustle of fur on stone. Too late, I turned around, in time to have a claw pressed to my throat. The tom's glittering amber eyes were barely a whisker-length from my nose.
"Foolish she-cat," he hissed softly. "Serpent of FireClan was my brother."