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Blood! Rusty AU: Into the Jungle [DISCONTINUED]

Chapter Text

 

BloodClan:

Leader: Scourge- Tiny, short haired, black tom with bright blue eyes, heavily scarred ears, white socks and a white tail tip. 

 

Second: Bone- Huge, sleek furred mostly white tom with black splotches, deep green eyes, a square face and a chewed tail

 

“Warriors”

Jasmine- Muscular, pale grey molly with piercing yellow eyes, tuxedo markings and a large scar running down her flank

 

Brick- Thin ginger tom with a long tail, greying muzzle, pale green eyes, a white chest spot, and a light underbelly

TR: Ash

 

William- Plump, grey and ginger calico tom with a round face, orange eyes and a thick scar across his left eye

 

Hermes- Powerful, golden mackerel tabby molly with large ears, thin features and golden-brown eyes

TR: Strawberry

 

Minty- Short legged, fluffy, solid grey molly with yellow eyes, white markings, and a snaggletooth

 

Juniper- Massive, tall, thick furred brown mackerel tabby molly with black stripes, white paws/ markings, yellow eyes, ear tufts and a huge bushy tail

TR: Orchid

 

Tess- Sleek furred, blue grey molly with a long, narrow face, large ears, and narrow amber eyes

 

Ice- Broad shouldered white molly with a black tail, black ears, pale blue eyes, and several scars across her back

 

Blue- Pretty blue grey molly with a narrow face, large hazel eyes, and a deep scar along her belly

 

Maverick- Massive, orange and white tom with round features, polydactyl paws and deep yellow eyes

 

Dawn- Scrawny, patchy furred, cream mackerel tabby molly with piercing orange eyes and tattered ears

 

Domino- Medium haired, white tom with black splotches, a square face and soft, yellow eyes

 

Sandy- Boney, light cream, almost white, molly with faint mackerel tabby markings, and green eyes

 

Boulder- Pale grey tom with faint, ticked tabby markings, a round face and pale hazel eyes

 

Ruth- Scraggly longhaired molly with light grey, patchy, matted fur, deep amber eyes, a chewed tail and many scars across her body and face

TR: Rusty

 

Samuel- Short, muscular light brown, ticked tabby tom with round, friendly features, a light underbelly and bright green eyes

TR: Primrose

 

Jumper- Strong, white tom with thick, ragged, unkempt fur, a bright pink nose, orange eyes, tattered ears and black splotches

TR: Flair

 

Hoot- Tuxedo tom with thick fluffy fur, round, amber eyes, a bit of an underbite, and a deep scar across his front forepaw

 

Raven- Tall, mysterious molly with fine, silky black fur, green eyes, a wide muzzle, and a notched ear

TR: Spirit

 

Vesper- Medium haired, solid cinnamon molly with yellow eyes, heavily scarred face, ears and flank. Blind in one eye, deaf in one ear

 

Blackberry- Fluffy, mottled tortoiseshell tom with amber eyes, fine, long fur and a scar across his nose

 

Bright- Slim, dilute tortoiseshell molly with a white chest spot, white paws and yellow eyes

TR: Fawn

 

Cocoa- Stocky dusky white molly with black colorpoint markings, a narrow muzzle, a cropped tail and blue eyes

 

Fizz- Mostly red tortoiseshell molly with mackerel tabby markings, pale green eyes and a wide scar on her back leg

 

Lilian- Extremely fluffy, longhaired dusty cream molly with chocolate colorpoint markings , a broad, flat face, and blue eyes

 

Ghost- Young, pure white tom with plush, short fur, a notched ear, and striking, deep green eyes

 

Trainees (Not BloodClan born cats, who are learning to hunt and fight):

Strawberry- Lanky, cream and grey tortoiseshell molly with faint ticked tabby markings, long, fine fur and hazel eyes

 

Orchid- Small, white molly with a few grey and ginger splotches, a pink nose and bright, yellow eyes

 

Ash- Strong bodied, silver tom with spotted black tabby markings and dull hazel eyes

 

Spirit- Slim, longhaired dark ginger tom with ticked tabby markings, a feathery tail and large yellow eyes

 

Flair- Wirey, mottled red and black tortoiseshell molly with soft yellow eyes, a white tail tip and white socks

 

Primrose- Pretty, longhaired, pale silver molly with green eyes and faint black markings on her head, paws and tail

 

Fawn- Large, glossy furred, chocolate and white bicolor molly with round features and bright yellow eyes

 

Rusty- Short, thick furred, bright ginger tom with faint tabby markings, a light underbelly and green eyes

 

Queens:

Maple- Short haired mottled red and black tortoiseshell molly with deep orange eyes, notable red paws and a few white flecks across her chest

Mother of Frost, Dusk, and Otter

 

Oreo- Strong, heavily scarred white tom with several black patches, green eyes, and polydactyl paws. Blind in one eye. 

Father of Riley and Jet

 

Leaf- Slim, white molly with ginger tabby patches, blue eyes and a scar across her chest

Mother of Sweet, Louise, Lacey, Abby and Bella

 

Snowfall- Powerful, white molly with long, feathery fur, a tufted, matted tail and odd eye colors. Deaf in one ear.

Mother of Hail, Cygnet and Willow

 

Harley- Bulky, solid black molly with a white chest spot, deep orange eyes, and a several scars across her face.

Mother of Pepper and Blossom

 

Litters (Pureblooded Bloodclan cats who will become full members at a year old):

Frost- Pure white molly with orange eyes

Dusk- Dilute tortoiseshell molly with orange eyes and faint tabby markings on her tail and face.

Otter- Black tom with yellow eyes and a white chest spot.

 

Riley- Thick furred, mostly white molly with black van markings and yellow eyes.

Jet- Calico molly with hazel eyes tabby markings.

 

Sweet- Pale ginger molly with white markings and green eyes

Louise- Longhaired deep ginger tom with white markings and blue eyes

Lacey- Longhaired pale ginger molly with lots of white markings and green eyes

Abby- Small, shorthaired ginger molly with a white underbelly and yellow eyes

Bella- Mostly white molly with ginger splotches and hazel eyes

 

Hail- Plump, grey tabby molly with a white chest spot, white paws and green eyes

Cygnet- Fluffy, longhaired white tom with green eyes

Willow- Short, pure white tom with hazel eyes

 

Pepper- Black tom with hazel eyes

Blossom- Tortoiseshell molly with orange eyes.

 

 

ThunderClan:

Leader: Bluestar - blue- grey molly with green eyes and a silver tinged muzzle

 

Deputy: Redtail - small tortoiseshell tom with a distinctive ginger tail

app: Dustpaw

 

Healer:  Spottedleaf- Pretty dark tortoiseshell molly with a dappled pelt and yellow eyes

 

Warriors:

Lionheart- Golden tabby tom with thick fur, like a lion’s mane

 

Thistleclaw- Grey and white tom with spikey fur and yellow eyes

 

Thrushpelt- Pale ginger tom with a white chest spot and green eyes.

app: Ravenpaw

 

Tigerclaw- Broad shouldered, dark brown tabby tom with amber eyes and long front claws

 

Whitestorm- Tall, white tom with yellow eyes

app: Sandpaw

 

Rosetail- Mostly grey tortoiseshell tabby molly with a striking, red tail and green eyes.

 

Mosswhisker- Thin, grey and white molly with blue eyes

App: Greypaw

 

Darkstripe- Sleek, black tabby tom with narrow yellow eyes

 

Longtail- Pale brown tabby tom with dark stripes and green eyes

 

Runningwind- Swift, brown tabby tom with yellow eyes

 

Willowpelt- Pale grey molly with piercing blue eyes

 

Mousefur- Small, dusky brown molly with green eyes and a light underbelly

 

Apprentices:

Dustpaw- Dark brown tabby tom with yellow eyes

 

Sandpaw- Pale ginger molly with green eyes and faint stripes

 

Greypaw- Longhaired solid grey tom with bright amber eyes

 

Ravenpaw- Skinny black tom with deep blue eyes, a white chest spot and a white tail tip

 

Queens:

Frostfur- Pure white molly with blue eyes

 

Brindleface- Cream and grey tortoiseshell tabby molly with amber eyes

 

Goldenflower- Huge, golden tabby molly with yellow eyes

 

Speckletail- Pale brown tabby molly with green eyes

 

Elders:

Halftail- Big brown tabby tom with a stumped tail and orange eyes

 

Smallear- Grey tom with small, tattered ears, green eyes and a round face

 

Patchpelt - Small black and white tom with yellow eyes

 

One-eye- Blind, grey molly with green eyes

 

Dappletail- Dusky tortoiseshell molly with a dappled coat

 

ShadowClan:

Leader: Brokenstar - ragged, long haired dark brown tabby tom with a flattened muzzle and yellow eyes

 

Deputy: Blackfoot- Large white tom with colorpoint markings and yellow eyes

 

Healer: Runningnose- small grey and white tom with green eyes.

 

Warriors:

Stumpytail- Brown tabby tom with a cropped tail and yellow eyes

 

Cinderfur- Dark grey tabby tom with bright yellow eyes and white markings

 

Clawedface- Plain dark brown tom with green eyes, ragged long hair and a scarred far.

 

Littlecloud- Tiny light brown tabby tom with a pale underside, faint tabby stripes, and green eyes

 

Whitethroat- Mostly black tom with a white throat stripe and amber eyes

 

Frogtail- A dark blue-grey tom with yellow eyes

 

Tangleburr- Cream and grey tortoiseshell molly with green eyes

 

Brightflower- Ginger molly with a flat nose, white patches and orange eyes

 

Apprentices:

Oakpaw- Dark brown tabby tom with green eyes

 

Brownpaw- Brown tabby tom with green eyes and a light underside

Rainpaw- Dark grey tom with spotted tabby markings and yellow eyes

 

Queens:

Dawncloud- Small, pale ginger molly with green eyes

 

Darkflower- Black tabby molly with pale green eyes

 

Tallpoppy- Long legged, dark red molly with yellow eyes

 

Elders:

Ashfur- Long bodied, mottled grey tabby tom with yellow eyes

 

Nightpelt- Plain black tom with a long tail, boney frame and gold eyes

 

Palecloud- Light grey molly with white paws and green eyes

 

WindClan:

 

Leader: Tallstar- Tall, black tom with tuxedo markings, yellow eyes and a long tail

 

Deputy: Deadfoot- Black tom with a twisted left front paw and yellow eyes

 

Healer: Barkface- Brown tom with faint tabby markings, a short tail and green eyes

 

Warriors:

Mudclaw- Dark brown, mottled tabby tom with yellow eyes

 

Tornear- Plain grey tom with extremely tattered ears and green eyes

 

Onewhisker- Brown tabby tom with a light underside, white markings and yellow eyes

 

Ashfoot- Grey and white molly with yellow eyes

 

Weaselfur- Ginger tom with white paws, a white underbelly and amber eyes

 

Owlwhisker- Light brown tabby tom with amber eyes

 

Rushtail- Light grey tom with faint tabby markings and orange eyes

 

Gorsetail- Light brown tom with yellow eyes

 

Antpelt- Small, red tom with splotched tabby markings and yellow eyes

 

Cinderfoot- Mottled grey molly with amber eyes

 

Apprentices:

Webpaw- Blue-grey tom with green eyes

 

Whitepaw- Small, pale ginger molly with white markings and a distinctive white tail and yellow eyes

 

Sunpaw- Mostly red tortosieshell molly with white markings and yellow eyes

 

Queens:

Dewspots- Grey spotted tabby molly with a white chest and bright amber eyes

 

Elders:

Crowfur- Black tom with white paws, a greying muzzle and green eyes

 

RiverClan:

 

Leader: Crookedstar- Huge, fawn tabby tom with a twisted jaw, a light underbelly and green eyes

 

Deputy: Oakheart- Dark brown tom with distinctive tabby stripes and yellow eyes

 

Healer: Mudfur- Longhaired, dark brown tom with white markings and yellow eyes

 

Warriors:

Leopardfur- Spotted golden molly with a white chest and green eyes

 

Blackclaw- Black smoke tom with a few white markings and orange eyes

 

Stonefur- Plain grey tom with a heavily scarred pelt and green eyes

 

Mistyfoot- Pale silver molly with green eyes

 

Voletooth- Small, dark tabby tom with white markings and yellow eyes

 

Loudbelly- Dark brown tabby tom with orange eyes and a light underside

 

Petalstream- Tortoiseshell and white molly with orange eyes

 

Silverstream- Pretty silver tabby with blue eyes

 

Apprentices:

 

Grasspaw- Small, brown tabby molly with green eyes

 

Vixenpaw- Thick furred black molly with orange eyes

 

Elders:

Graypool- Thin grey molly with patchy fur, a scarred muzzle and blue eyes

Chapter Text

A dull summer heat beat down upon the outskirts of the city. Far as it was, from the winding rancid streets, filled with garbage, filth and unnaturally straight stone buildings, the barren wasteland did not escape it’s stench. How it’s acidic tang filled the humid, scalding air. There was little here to protect one from the sun’s touch, and the burn one felt from placing a paw on a Thunderpath in such weather, was comparable to the sun itself. For these reasons, few cats dared to exit their shady, cool homes on days like this, and those who did were considered quite insane. Most cats spent their time indoors, or in the shade, waiting and resting until night’s cool relief spread across the land.

 

No matter the weather, there were skirmishes in the city. When a cat’s eyes gleamed and they hissed over a scrap of prey, one would usually back down and slither off. The stronger would always win and proudly take their find back to where they’d come from, to eat and live another day.

 

Tonight was different.

Tonight was an all out war.

 

Rain beat down upon the pavement, cooling the singed paw pads of those who had ventured out earlier that day. It slicked their pelts to their sides, and battered their backs with a never ending torrent of freezing droplets. Their ears flicked as the rain hit them, pounding against their pelts like gunfire. None of them cared though, no matter how bad the rain got.

 

The cats stood in two rows, only a few tail lengths between them. One at the back of the alley and the other, in the front. At first, one would guess the group at the back was cornered. But although every cat there stood with their backs arched, and ears laid back, none took a step towards one another. They paced about. Waiting

 

The first group, a mismatched small group of pudgy, collared cats, with round features and dull claws. They stood uneasily about, their hackles raised, not out of hatred but of uncertainty and fear. Many shifted uncomfortably on their paws, while others screeched warnings and threats at the others. The second, a larger, mass of wiry, cats with strength and hatred within their thin limbs. They paced back and forth, awaiting their leaders signal, claws scraping against the pavement, battle hungry eyes gleaming against the coat of darkness. Growls rumbled in every cat’s throat as they paced.

 

At once, there was a signal, unknown to the naked eye. The night came alive with shrieks and yowls, as two groups surged at each other, falling together in a whirling sea of claws and teeth. Their wet, rain slicked bodies appeared as a writhing mass of soaking pelts and snarling jaws. After seeing their opponents, many from the kittypet’s group shrieked and raced off, into the night and city beyond. Several cats took up chase after them, racing against the pouring rain and wind to catch them, like rabbits hunted down by dogs on the moors.  

 

The battle’s only source of light came from the nearby city lights and the cars, which threw up waves of rain water as they rushed by, their headlights illuminating the dark pelts of the cats  in the alley and those trotting up the sidewalk to see the commotion. It wasn’t often a battle like this occured, and many wanted to see the outcome.

 

Amidst the group, arose a tall, muscular black and white tom. He grappled with a skinny, large eared colorpoint cat, whose thin paws hardly put up a challenge against the much stronger cat’s teeth. The black and white tom kicked the colorpoint aside, his pale, blood stained white coat falling a couple feet. Still he stood, and arched his scrawny back in a hiss. A slender dark paw darted out, but never landed, as the black and white tom stepped easily to the side. He then swatted at the colorpoint tom, tearing through the cat’s bat like ear. The colorpoint let out a small hiss of pain before attacking again. The black and white tom rolled over and raked his back claws along the attacker’s belly. He then rose and before the colorpoint cat could react, the tom slashed his long muzzle. He fell sideways with the impact.

As the tom advanced once again, he scrambled up and lept onto a nearby dumpster, his paws slipping on the wet plastic. He ran hard though, finally clearing the fence at the back of the alley, racing back to his nest in the suburbs beyond.

 

The black and white tom let out a final hiss as he perched on top of the fence and watched the kittypet race along the tops of the fences, finally disappearing into a hedge, far in the distance. Turning back to the battle, his green eyed gaze flicked from cat to cat. Satisfaction warmed his pelt, as he surveyed the battle. Each of his warriors had at least one opponent. For some, there were two teaming up on one kittypet. Many were running, their soft pelts torn and bloodied. Some of their collars had broken, and lay scattered about the clearing; a grim reminder for how the battle had gone for them. Despite their ambition and pride, they were being ruined.

 

As the kittypets began to run, the ones who were left behind continued to hold their ground, despite their battered state..

 

He sprung down off the fence, back into the heat of the battle. Around him, several groups of his warriors were finishing off the remaining several kittypets. Their ranks had been strong to start, but now only a few of them remained. As he thought, they had all run back home once the actual fighting started up. The remaining kittypets were being ganged up on, fully surrounded by the black and white tom’s warriors.

 

Finally, the tom encountered his target. A small black tom, who pinned down the kittypet’s leader. Though he was as plump and glossy, the kittypet was a bit less so than his companions. Muscles rippled beneath his russet pelt, and yellow eyes glared up at his attacker.  Although he struggled hard, he was no match for the black tom. The two were nose to nose, though the kittypet was at a serious disadvantage, his yellow eyes wide with fear. His fear scent was almost as overpowering as the reek of the alley.

 

“Scourge!” The black and white tom called as he approached. The smaller tom’s head whipped up. He’d been seconds away from delivering a killing bite.

 

“What is it, Bone?” He snapped, though his glare softened as he laid eyes on the other tom.

 

Bone trotted up the final few steps, reaching the tom and his victim.

 

“This battle is over.” Bone meowed, “We don’t need to waste our breath with these kittypets. They are finished. We’ve won, you can let him go.”

 

Scourge paused, uncertainty flashing in his eyes. After a moment, he stepped off the tom, and waited next to Bone as the kittypet began to run off, limping slightly from a long, deep gash across his back leg. He only made it a few steps, before he turned to sneer at Scourge.

 

“You’re just as cowardly as the rest of them!” The russet tom spat. Scourge’s ears flattened and he bolted forward. The kittypet’s eyes widened and he began to hobble away. However he didn’t make it very far, and the black tom bowled him over. There was a short flurry of claws, before the kittypet lay still, blood pooling around his head. Bone turned his attention elsewhere.

 

The black tom brushed past Bone, and leapt up to the top of the dumpster. He glared down at the remaining kittypets, whose pelts were battered and bleeding heavily. Many of the tom’s warriors stood together in packs, antagonizing one kittypet at a time. His eyes gleamed as he watched them. Very few had acquired injuries, save for a few scratches and nicks. Bone leaped up next to Scourge, watching and waiting as the kittypets began to realize what was going on.

 

“Oskar is dead!” One of the kittypets yelped. Those who were fighting began to back down, looking amongst one another bewildered. The black tom’s warriors advanced, looming over the kittypets.

 

“Retreat!!” A hoarse voice rang out. One by one the kittypets broke away from their respective battles, and raced off, their claws scratching on the pavement, as if they couldn’t get away fast enough.

 

The others began to cry and scrambled off into the night, their collars jinging and clanging as they scampered down the sidewalks. This time few of the warriors pursued. Instead they watched the tattered kittypets race down the streets, as fast as their injuries would let them. Everyone knew the battle was won. They turned from their fights and padded up to the black tom, their eyes gleaming in the dark as they awaited their leader’s next move.

 

--

 

Many miles away, a pretty tortoiseshell molly sat upon a stump in the middle of a forest clearing. All around her, the sounds of a summer night filled the air. Crickets chirped and in the shadows at the edge of the deserted clearing, she could hear the breathing and stirring of sleeping cats.  A strong wind shook the trees, and ruffled her dappled fur, threatening a coming storm. Many dark clouds covered bits of the night sky, but through the gap in the trees, the tortoiseshell could see them the stars still, watching over her from afar.

 

She tilted her muzzle up and watched intently, waiting for a sign. Something pertaining to the night’s events. Didn’t her ancestors have anything to say? Did they not care about the night’s events. There had to be something, right?

 

She became so focused on every speck and detail in the sky, she missed the pawsteps of her Clanmate strolling up behind her.

 

“Good evening, Spottedleaf.” The cat meowed. Spottedleaf jumped, her fur bristling with surprise. She turned and laid eyes on an old grey molly with sparkling blue eyes.

 

“Hello, Bluestar.” Spottedleaf replied, rasping her tongue across her chest with embarrassment. Her dappled fur lay flat as Bluestar leaping up onto the stump beside her.

 

“The battle tonight was vicious. I’m worried about our Clan’s future.” Bluestar admitted once she had settled herself beside Spottedleaf.

 

“I am too.” The tortoiseshell replied, “It’s been ages since we’ve lost a fight, especially one with RiverClan. They were extremely brutal this time.”

 

“How are our warriors?”

 

Spottedleaf dipped her head, “They are strong. I can assure you they will recover quickly.”

 

“And what of Mousefur?”

 

“Although her wounds are deep, she is young. She will recover as well, even if she’ll need more time to rest.”  Spottedleaf assured her, brushing her tail across Bluestar’s flank.

 

The grey molly sighed, “We are lucky not to have lost any warriors this time. You’re a gifted medicine cat, Spottedleaf. Featherwhisker would’ve been proud of you tonight.”

 

Spottedleaf stiffened at the mention of her mentor’s name. She opened her jaws to reply but the grey molly cut her off.

 

“I am still greatly troubled by tonight’s defeat. We haven’t been beaten on our own territory since I was a kitten.” Her gaze shifted to the ground in front of her. “These are difficult times for our Clan. Spring is late. There are fewer kits being born. We will need more warriors if we are to survive.”

 

“But the season is just beginning.” Spottedleaf replied. “There will be more kits as Spring continues.”

 

The grey molly twitched her tail, “Perhaps. But training warriors takes time. If ThunderClan is to defend it’s territory, it will need new warriors as soon as possible.”

 

The two mollies sat in a moment of silence, both fixated on the stars above. Spottedleaf  studied them closely, following the constellations of the Lion, which was rising at the edge of the horizon. The Lion was the bringer of peace, and as it usually appeared in Spring, when tensions were low, and the Clans were generally at peace. This year though, Spottedleaf doubted there would be peace this spring at all.

 

Finally, Bluestar spoke. She followed the medicine cat’s gaze to the stars, scattered across the night sky like pebbles on the river’s shore. “Are you asking StarClan for answers?”

 

“We need the guidance of our warrior ancestors more than ever. But I’m afraid they haven’t spoken to me in many moons.” Spottedleaf replied softly. Her face twisted into a frown. “But now, all I can do is watch the stars and pray they show me something- anything at all.”

 

Bluestar nodded, understanding the young healer’s troubles.

 

Suddenly, a shooting star blazed through the gap in the treetops. Both cats found they were transfixed and could not take their eyes off it. Spottedleaf’s fur bristled and her tail tip twitched as she saw a vision before eyes and a voice ringing in her head.  They have finally spoken to me!

 

Fire alone will save our Clan. It meowed, it’s voice deep and resonating. The roar of a forest fire sounded deep within her ears and she saw before her a brilliant red cat, with eyes as green as the trees around her, and the grass at her paws. It stood, flames licking the edges of it’s paws. She could not look away from it.

 

Spottedleaf lowered her head after a few moments, finding the clearing as quiet as it had been moments ago. Bluestar had sat up and was gazing at her curiously.

 

“Did they speak to you just now?” The grey molly asked.

 

The dappled molly nodded swiftly. “Yes it was a message from StarClan. Fire alone will save our Clan.”

 

“Fire?” Bluestar echoed. “But fire is feared by all cats, of all Clans? How could it save us?”

 

Spottedleaf shrugged, “I don’t know. This is what StarClan has chosen to share with us. We must take their message to heart.”

 

Bluestar rose to her paws and tilted her head towards the stars. Her next words were bitter, and directed at her ancestors themselves, almost mocking both them and the young tortoiseshell. “You have never been wrong before, Spottedleaf. But something tells me the events of the coming seasons will be far beyond StarClan’s control. But so be it. Fire alone will save our Clan.”

 

She gave Spottedleaf a friendly nod before she jumped to the ground and padded back to the edge of the clearing, disappearing in the night’s shadows.

 

Once Bluestar had vanished, Spottedleaf turned back to the stars. She decided to scrutinize this sign a bit longer, as it was the strangest, most vague one she had received yet.

 

Fire alone will save our Clan.

 

Fire. The shooting star looked like fire, didn’t it?

 

She scrunched her eyes as she followed the star’s path in the sky. There. It had disappeared over the horizon. To the East. What was over there?

As a Healer, Spottedleaf only left camp to collect herbs, and look for signs, she had hardly gone to the Eastern part of their territory. But in her short training as a warrior, she had gone there.

Twolegplace.

 

Did StarClan mean the “Fire”- whatever that may be- would come from Twolegplace?

 

“Alright, StarClan, you have spoken. I have listened.” She meowed to the stars. “The time of Fire has come.”

Chapter Text

The darkness cloaked Rusty’s back like a thick early morning fog. Something was near.

He couldn’t see what lay beyond him, but he could sense it. From the rustling of ferns, to the soft moss beneath his paws, even the distant sound of a bubbling creek. A light breeze ruffled the branches overhead. A light breeze that would never have penetrated the walls of his Human’s Nest. Where was he? The place was unfamiliar, yet something about it called to Rusty. The need to meet this call pulled him onward, deeper into the unknown.

 

Musty forest odors filled his nose, as he scented for his prey.

Staying close to the ground, Rusty crept forward. His ears pricked, as he heard the rustling of tiny pawsteps in the underbrush, it’s heartbeat resonating deep within his ear fur. A moment later the tantalizing smell of the creature met his nose.

 

Mouse!

 

He parted his jaws to smell it better. Striped tail lashing, he heard it again, gnawing on something amongst the leaf litter, just a few feet away. It was hidden there, but not from Rusty’s senses.  He swallowed hard, stifling his stomach’s hungry snarls. Soon he would have his meal.

 

Creeping forward a few more steps, Rusty crouched down, careful to keep his belly fur from brushing the leaves. Even the slightest of noises would alert the mouse to his position. The tom paused and listened one last time, double checking the mouse’s position. It still stood, oblivious.

With one final sniff, Rusty pushed back on his haunches and sprang.

 

Seeing him, the mouse dove for cover, aiming for it’s hole in the base of a tree just a few inches away, but Rusty was already  on top of it. He scooped it up with a paw, and tossed it the air. It landed again, it’s pale grey body stunned from the impact. Shaking off it’s daze, it tired to run but Rusty caught it once more. He tossed it a second time, slamming it down against a tree root a bit further away. It rose and tried to scramble away, but Rusty pounced on it. This time he held it, trapped beneath his claws. Pleased with his catch, the tom prepared to give it a killing blow.

 

Suddenly a sound roared nearby. Confused, Rusty glanced about. That sound did not belong in the forest.

Letting his guard down, Rusty tried to pinpoint this new noise, and as he did so, the mouse managed to pull free from his claws and disappear in the underbrush.

 

He hissed as it’s tiny, naked tail vanished into a clump of brambles. There was no way he’d get to it now.

Angry, Rusty gave up the hunt. He spun about, attempting to track the noise that ruined his evening of hunting. The sound rattled on, never ceasing. It was familiar. What was it?


Rusty blinked his eyes open. The forest had disappeared. Now, he lay curled on his plush bed, in the hot airless kitchen. Moonlight filtered through the window, leaves splashes on light on the dark, hard floor. He turned his head, to find the noise once again. There it was! The sound of hard, dried pellets as they were dumped into his dish. Disappointed, Rusty laid his head back on his paws. He had been dreaming again.

 

With a sigh, Rusty rolled over in his bed, feeling his collar rub uncomfortably against his neck. It’s bell rattled slightly as he stood and shook his pelt, dispelling the scent of mouse and forest for good. Trotting across, the hard, freezing tile, the tom sniffed his food dish and scarfed down a few mouthfuls of dry pellets. He wrinkled his nose at their foul taste. It was nothing like a mouse.

 

After lapping up some water, Rusty slipped through the small flap, connecting the cramped kitchen to the backyard garden.

 

The moon shone brightly, illuminating the colorful, sweet smelling flowers and herbs on the garden. It was raining lightly, but Rusty paid it no mind as he stalked down the cold, rough brick pathway to the fence at the back of the yard. He hopped up and settled on top of the fence. It was a very good watch spot, high above the ground, where he could see the neighboring gardens and houses, and then the dense forest which stretched far beyond the rows of unnaturally straight rows of houses. Unlike the moonlit lawns in the gardens, the woods there were full of shadow; it made his fur bristle, out of a mix of fear and curiosity. Beyond the fences there could be anything out there. The ginger tom stretched his neck forward and sniffed the damp air. He could smell nothing but the rain, which was beginning to cease.

 

“Rusty!” Came the call of his human owners. They called to him every night, and he would usually go back to them. Their nest was warm, filled with food and their comforting touches and pets. He could go back to them, and curl up at the foot of their bed, amongst the warmth of the sheets and blankets, safe from whatever may lurk outside at night.

 

This time though, Rusty stayed on the fence, his back to the nest. They got the hint and let the door slam shut. With each second he sat, the fresh smell of the woods grew more appealing, more so than the promise of warmth and comfort indoors.

Suddenly, Rusty’s fur bristled. Something was watching him. He focused attentively on the overgrown brush. Was there something out there? A badger? Or a bear? He scented the air, and smelled nothing but the rain scent and the freshness of the outdoors.

Still bristling, Rusty leaped down onto the overgrown grass on the other side of his fense. A thrill of fear rushed through his body. This was unknown territory now,

 

The tom kept his neck outstretched and continuing scenting the air as he timidly took a few pawsteps away from his fence. When nothing jumped out at him, he confidently began to trot to the edge of the woods.

 

“Heya, Rusty!”

 

The meow almost made him jump out of his skin. Rusty let his fur lay flat as he realized it was just a young tuxedo tom, balancing very uneasily on top of the fence.

 

“Hello, Smudge.” He greeted the tom with a purr.

 

“You aren’t thinking of going in the woods are you?!” Smudge asked, his amber eyes widening.

 

Rusty shifted under the tom’s gaze, “Just for a look around.”

 

“You wouldn’t catch me in there. Its dangerous!” Smudge’s claws dug into the wooden fence with fear. “Henry went into the woods once.”

 

“That fat tabby’s never gone into the woods.” Rusty scoffed.

 

“He did! He even caught a robin!” Smudge insisted.

 

“Well if he did, it was a very long time ago.”

 

“Well,” Smudge continued, ignoring Rusty’s comment. “Henry told us all about all the dangerous animals out there. There's coyotes, and foxes, and badgers, and huge feral cats who eat live rabbits for dinner and sharpen their claws on their enemy’s bones!”

 

“Henry was feeding you kit stories.” Rusty dismissed his friend’s concerns with a wave of his tail. “Besides, I’m just going for a look around. I won’t stay long enough for any coyotes or wild cats to catch me.”

 

Smudge huffed, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you! But please, stay safe. ”

 

The tuxedo cat turned and ungracefully leapt off the fence, back into his own garden. Rusty sat on the grass, watching his friend disappear behind the wooden fence. He nervously licked at his chest and wondered how much of Smudge’s warning was true. Were there actually savage feral cats out there? Was it really worth it to go look around in there? It would only take a few seconds for something to go wrong.

 

With a shake of his head, Rusty decided it would be better to at least check it out. He could defend himself if something when wrong.

 

The tom padded across the coarse grass, and hesitantly sniffed the brambles at the forest’s edge. There was a fresh scent he recognized.

 

“Mouse!” He whispered under his breath. Staying low to the ground, Rusty picked his way through the brambles and into the forest. The air around him lay still. It was almost as dark as his dream. Almost everything around him smelled like the forest in his dream as well. The musty smell of leaf litter, the free, clear air, and the faint prey scents. There were mice here. He paused and pricked his ears, listening for the skittering of tiny paws and the rodent’s hasty heartbeat.

 

A flash of grey darted across Rusty’s vision. He angled his ears towards it.

 

There!

 

It sat upon a tree root, deeper into the forest than Rusty would’ve liked. The tom dropped into a crouch,  and slunk forward, his paws light and tail tip twitching. Silently, he drew closer and closer to the rodent. For a moment he hesitated. Instinct and ego edged him on though, as he wriggled his haunches and prepared to pounce. This was better than his dreams! Excitement coursed through his veins as he sprung into the air, flying directly at the mouse.

 

Rusty’s paws never touched the ground.

 

The impact hit Rusty like a truck, as he was brutally slammed to the ground by his attacker.  Grey fur clouded his vision and his senses were overrun with the smell of cat- Wild cat! Rusty twisted and snarled, trying to throw his attacker off. The cat was at least twice his size, and had him pinned the to the ground, on his side. Sharp claws dug into the tom’s back, and needle like teeth bit down on his shoulder. He shook and screeched in pain, thrashing his claws to this to get a hold of the wildcat, or to free himself. All his efforts came up fruitless. This is how I’m going to die! Rusty thought, dread flooding his belly. And for a second he froze, feeling helpless. Then, the weight lifted, ever so slightly but it was just what Rusty needed.

Thinking fast, the tom flipped fully onto his back and kicked as hard as he could. It didn’t send his attacker flying as he had hoped but it dislodged the wildcat’s sharp claws from his pelt. He scrambled free and raced away to a decent distance before turning to face the wildcat.

 

Rusty bushed up his tail and pelt, in a ploy to make himself appear as big as possible. The wildcat seemed unphased. As soon as Rusty laid eyes on it, he was filled with terror from head to tail.

The cat smelled like a tom, and stood at least a head higher than Rusty. It beared down on him, hissed through foul smelling breath. It’s long, sharp claws dug at the ground, and it’s bushy tabby tail lashed angrily. Amber eyes bore into Rusty’s skin but he didn’t move. Partially, because he felt he couldn’t.

 

Rusty prepared to bolt as he saw the wildcat bunch it’s muscles for another attack. But then it stopped, and sat back on it’s haunches, letting it’s fur lay flat.

 

“Hi there, kittypet! Wow, you put up quite a fight for a tame tabby, I almost thought you were gonna win there for a minute.” The wildcat mewed. Rusty relaxed. Even though it was twice as burly as him, he realized this cat was barely any older than him. He still stood on tiptoe though, as he thought of a response.

 

“I’ll fight you again if I have to.” Rusty hissed. It came out considerably less intimidating than it had in his head.

 

The wildcat sat up, ignoring Rusty’s threat “Wow okay. My name’s Greypaw. What’s yours?”

 

“Rusty…?” He replied warily, as he sat on the leaf litter. The threat had most definitely passed.

 

Greypaw grinned, his grey tail flopping back and forth,“Hi, Rusty! What’s a kittypet like you doing out here tonight?”

 

“I was just hunting for a bit. What about you?” Rusty meowed, still cautious of the overly enthusiastic tom.

 

“I’m training to be a ThunderClan warrior!” The strange tom replied confidently.

 

“A what?” Rusty asked, not comprehending a single part of that phrase.

 

The grey tom’s eyes widened, “ThunderClan? You know, the greatest of the four forest Clans? Surely you’ve heard of them.”

 

Rusty slowly shook his head, completely lost and bewildered. What was this kitten meowing about?

 

“Well, I’m from ThunderClan- we’re the most noble of them all. Any of the others would’ve ripped an intruder like you to shreds, no questions asked. The others just attack us and steal prey. Especially ShadowClan! They’re a pack of mangepelts.” He paused to spit angrily. Rusty still did not follow but nodded quickly, as if he was.

 

“But its the job of ThunderClan warriors to keep our Clanmates safe from the other Clans. Once I’m fully trained, I’ll be so dangerous, all the other Clans will be shaking in their pelts!” He laughed confidently.

 

Rusty narrowed his eyes. This was most definitely one of the wildcats Smudge warned him about! The life he described sounded dangerous, but very fulfilling, free, maybe even noble, as Greypaw had said. For a moment, Rusty pondered the things that could go on, living out here in the wild. What were the other Clans really like? How many cats actually lived out here in the woods?

 

“What do you do to train?” Rusty inquired, trying to make small talk. These Clans sounded interesting, but he didn’t want to come off too strong.

 

Greypaw wrapped his tail around his paws, “My mentor teaches me to hunt and fight.”

 

“Don’t all cats fight and hunt without training?”

 

“Oh yes!” The grey tabby scoffed, “But not nearly as well as we do. We have to train extra hard so we can defend ourselves.”

 

Just as Rusty was about to open his mouth to ask another of his questions, Greypaw stiffened, and his pelt began to bristle

 

“You have to go,” He hissed, “My Clanmates are coming. They won’t be happy if they see us talking.”

 

The grey tom padded up and gave him a hard shove towards a bramble thicket. Rusty almost fell over into the brambles but shook his pelt. “If they’re as dangerous as you, I think I can handle them.”

 

Greypaw’s eyes were wide. What was he so afraid of? “Go!” He hissed urgently.

 

“Greypaw?” A deep meow sounded from further in the forest. The grey tom grew stiff as three more, much larger cats emerged from the undergrowth.

 

The tallest, was a large brown tabby tom. His bushy tail lashed as he laid eyes on Greypaw and Rusty. A deep hatred lingered in his amber eyes. It made Rusty’s fur stand on end.

Beside him was a wirey, dark tabby tom with a weasel like face. He stood about as tall as Greypaw, but Rusty couldn’t tell if it was because he was hunched over or if that was his actual height. Either way, he looked considerably scrawnier than the other two he was with. Lastly, was a younger looking, grey and white molly with sleek fur and bright blue eyes. She looked to be the most cheerful of the group, though Rusty knew she wasn’t happy to see him.

 

“Hello, Greypaw. You know you shouldn't be so close to Twolegplace.” The tall brown tabby meowed calmly, though malice tinted his every word.

 

Greypaw ducked his head, “Yes, Tigerclaw. I know. I just wanted to catch some extra prey.”

 

Tigerclaw’s eyes then flicked to Rusty. The young tom shrunk under the larger cat’s gaze. “And it appears you’ve caught a kittypet instead.”

 

“And I’m sure Greypaw was about to escort him off.” The bicolor molly said sternly, sweeping her tail across the skinnier cat’s path. He glared up at her.

 

“I-I was.” Greypaw stammered. His fear scent washed over Rusty like a wave. If these were his Clanmates why was he so afraid of them?

 

“Escort me where?” Rusty asked boldly.

 

The smaller tom shot him a glare, “Off our territory.”

 

“Why?” Rusty mewed, “Greypaw was telling me all about your way of life. It seems interesting. I just wanted to stay and hear about it.”

 

The grey tom’s ears flattened and it was obvious he forced his fur to remain flat.

 

“Telling stories to kittypets, Greypaw?” The skinny tom sneered.

 

“He’s the one who asked!” Greypaw meowed defensively.

 

Tigerclaw, the largest tabby strode forward, “And I suppose, maybe you’d invite him to the Clan next.”

 

“N-No…”

 

“Then get him off our territory. You’ve wasted enough time already.” Tigerclaw snapped.

 

“Why can’t I just leave on my own?” Rusty glared definitely at the wildcat. “I’ve only come to hunt for a bit, then I’ll go. I’m sure there’s enough to go around.”

 

The tom’s eyes widened and his ears flattened, “There’s never enough to go around! If you kittypets didn’t live such a soft overfed life, you would know that! You stroll around our territory, hunting whenever you please, stealing our precious prey. We die while you go home to a soft bed and eat twoleg slop. You have no right to our way of life, and no right to our prey!”

 

He began to stammer an apology, but all three wildcats unsheathed her claws and began to stalk forward. The warriors loomed over him, looking much larger and menacing than they had seconds before.

Rusty flattened his ears and backed up, unable to respond to such anger. His gaze darted to the ground and back to Tigerclaw, the other warrior. His eyes held the same malice as the molly’s. Even Geypaw stepped back, his eyes fixated on his paws.  These were not the soft kittypets he was used to. They were not his friends, or allies. These cats were mean and hungry- and they most definitely weren’t going to let Rusty hang out any longer.

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“Well, Greypaw?” Tigerclaw snarled, “Escort him off.”

 

He scored his claws across the ground, his eyes gleaming, “Or would you like me to instead.”

 

The bicolor molly stepped forward, “Stop it Tigerclaw! He’s hardly the size of an apprentice.”

 

“An intruder is an intruder. And all intruders are a threat to our Clan.” Tigerclaw snarled at her. Rusty felt the urge to run while he was distracted, but his paws were frozen to the spot.

 

“I’m not a threat to your Clan.” Rusty stuttered. Maybe they would let him leave in peace.

 

“You are, you prey stealing twoleg pet!” The tabby spat. The grey and white molly flattened her ears and took a step forward, towards her clanmate.

 

Rusty let out a less than intimidating hiss and unsheathed his claws. “I’ll just go then. You don’t need to force me.”

 

“You kittypets don’t get it.” Tigerclaw growled. “I know you’ll just come crawling back here, hunting or looking around to convince us to join you, or even worse- have kittens with you!”

 

Fear turned to confusion in Rusty’s mind. There was no way Tigerclaw was still talking about him and his intentions. Is he projecteing some deep rooted issue onto me? Rusty faltered for a moment, studying the great tom’s expression.

 

“No, I think we should teach you a lesson. One you won’t forget in a hurry.” He meowed darkly.  The weasel faced tabby nodded eagerly and dug his claws into the ground.

 

Greypaw had retreated to the molly’s side, his amber eyes wide. His jaws were agape as if he wanted to protest but the words escaped him. The molly looked furious at her Clanmate but she made no effort to stop him yet.

 

“Stop, Tigerclaw! Can’t you see he’s just a kitten!” She said urgently.

 

Her words fell on deaf ears as the brown tabby leaped into the air, right towards Rusty.

 

Time seemed to slow for Rusty. His heart almost stopped, and he froze. Do I have to fight this tom? !

The young tom didn’t have time to think, and he instinctively darted sideways, attempting to make a break for his garden. He’d hardly made it three pawsteps before Tigerclaw swung a massive unsheathed paw at Rusty, which knocked the tom clean off his paws.

 

Rusty’s head spun as he landed hard on the ground, a few mouse lengths away. His flank stung from the blow, where Tigerclaw’s claws had broken the skin in several, deep cuts. Still he struggled up, now on shaky paws and faced his attacker.  

 

“So. He stands and fights.” Tigerclaw rumbled. His eyes narrowed as he stalked over to Rusty, tail lashing eagerly.

 

Rusty lashed out an unsheathed claw, which successfully landed, and parted the fur on Tigerclaw’s cheek.

A thrill of pride rushed through Rusty’s veins as blood began to well up on the cut. However, that pride was short lived as the wildcat merely grunted and lashed his tail.

 

Did he not even feel that? Rusty thought. Desperation began to fill his chest as the wildcat hissed. I have to keep trying! Maybe if I win, they’ll let me go.

 

Feeling a bit confident from his last attack, Rusty leaped at the larger tom, aiming to land on his back and get him from there. Tigerclaw was much quicker though, and slammed Rusty out of the air, throwing him to the ground a few fox lengths away. His claws had dug into the tom’s shoulder, and their marks burned like fire. Rusty tried to ignore the pain though, as he rose to his paws once more.

 

He’d hadn’t been up a moment, before Tigerclaw attacked again, swinging at Rusty’s cheek. Rusty evaded the wildcat’s strike as best he could and scrambled a few feet away, closer to the direction he thought his garden was.  The tabby saw right through his plan, and slashed his claws across Rusty’s back. Rusty’s body burned as he hit the ground once more. His head spun again from the impact. His breath escape his lungs and he panted heavily for a moment.

 

Now, the only thought on his mind was escape. There was no way he could win against a cat this size.

 

His paws threw up leaf litter as he tried to get away. Tigerclaw pursued and scored his claws over Rusty’s face. Luckily he didn’t hit his eye, but he felt the sting of claws shredding his ear. The tom let out a cry of alarm as he fell again.

 

This time he could not find it in himself to stand.

 

This is how I’m going to die. Rusty stared hopelessly in the direction of the houses as he lay limp on the forest floor. And all because I didn’t listen to Smudge.

 

A shadow fell over Rusty as Tigerclaw loomed over him, pure malice burning in his amber eyes. He lay an unsheathed paw on Rusty’s neck, his claws pricking the young tom’s skin.

Rusty’s breathed heavily as he closed his eyes and waited for the final, killing blow.

 

Suddenly the weight of his attacker was lifted off his back. The grey and white molly had bowled Tigerclaw over and was pummeling him with her back paws only a few tail lengths away.  Greypaw and the dark tabby stood further away, unsure of what to do.

The tom fought back furiously, but she had his head trapped between her forepaws, and although she appeared weaker than him, she was able to hold him off long enough for Rusty to get back on his feet.

 

“Go!” She shouted. Rusty didn’t need to be told twice.

 

His body wailed in agony as he got to his feet and began to race through the woods, back home. Brambles and thorns tore through his ginger pelt as he bolted through them. His heart pounded in his ears and his lungs screeched, but he couldn’t let his paws slow down. The wounds he’d received burned more so now, as the undergrowth whipped across them.

Rusty prayed he was going the right way, but at the moment, any direction that would get him away from the wildcats would be the right way.

 

Heavy pawsteps thrummed behind him, like a horrible, nightmare-ish heartbeat. Rusty stole a glance over his shoulder, to see Tigerclaw and the dark tabby, chasing after him. He pushed faster, as he caught the dark tabby’s eye. Although the wildcats were fast, they remained several fox lengths behind him. I might be weaker than them, but I’m definitely faster.  

The faint scent of the mouse he’d been tracking early suddenly filled his nose. I must be getting close! Adrenaline coursed through his veins and the speed of heartbeat was comparable to a mouse’s, as he began to draw closer to the forest’s edge. Rusty darted under a patch of briars and forced his paws to move faster as the pawsteps began to gain on him.

 

Rusty barely noticed when he burst free of the bramble thicket. The smell of his own fear overpowered his senses. He sprinted across the short grass and sprung clear over the nearest fence.

 

When he realized he was safe, only then did he stop to breath. He sat back on his haunches, gasping for air, his chest heaving painfully. His mind was spinning, and he didn’t even realize where he’d ended up.

 

“Oh my goodness!” Smudge’s voice broke through Rusty’s panicked trance. “Rusty! Are you okay? What happened?”

 

The tuxedo tom had been lounging on his back patio chair when his friend had launched himself into the garden. His eyes grew wide, as he realized it was Rusty. A beaten, terrified Rusty. Smudge rushed over to him, pressing his pelt to the young tom’s hoping to calm him.

 

“I-I…” Rusty panted. Even he couldn’t find the words to describe what happened.

 

“It’s okay. Take your time.” He soothed. Smudge brushed his tail across Rusty’s fur. The gesture comforted him greatly as he let his heart slow. Rusty glanced over his shoulder at the wooden fence behind him. He half expected to see Tigerclaw and his friend perched on top of it, glaring down at him. The fence was empty though. Rusty exhaled. It was okay now. The danger was gone.

 

After a moment, Smudge ushered him up to the House. Rusty let his fur lay flat as he staggered after his friend. “Here. My housefolk keep a water dish here, drink some. It’ll help, I promise.”

 

The cement patio was cold and rough on Rusty’s paws but this time he welcomed it. It was better than the soft forest leaf litter.

Rusty murmured a thank you and crouched to lap at the water. It tasted sour and old, but it was better than nothing. Smudge sat next to him, watching intently to make sure his friend didn’t pass out or something. He drank until the bowl was mostly gone. The cool water, as foul tasting as it was, soothed his burning throat. Finally, Rusty sat up,  feeling much better than when he’d first arrived.

With the comfort of his best friend, the battle which had only happened minutes ago, seemed like a distant, far off dream.

 

“Thank you, Smudge.” Rusty meowed, “You’re such a good friend.”

 

“Are you feeling better?” Smudge asked.

 

Rusty nodded, “Yeah.”

He turned to inspect the wounds he’d gotten. The blood from the deeper ones matted his ginger fur, and he could tell they were still bleeding underneath. He frowned. They needed to be washed.

 

“What happened to you? I thought you were just going to the woods for a moment.” The tuxedo tom’s eyes were wide.

 

“I was. And… I ran into some wildcats.” He admitted. Smudge’s eyes grew wider.

 

“I told you! They’re dangerous! Were they the ones who hurt you like this?”

 

Rusty nodded, “The first one I met was alright. He was around our age. We talked for a bit but then his companions showed up. And this massive tom attacked me.”

 

An image of Tigerclaw flashed in his mind. He shut his eyes in an attempt to block it out.

 

“How come you’re not dead?” Smudge asked. “You must be a real good fighter, if you fought them off.”

 

“I didn’t. He… he was about to kill me, but another wild cat attacked him and gave me a chance to escape. I wish I’d gotten a chance to thank her.” Rusty told him. He hadn’t even gotten the molly’s name. She saved my life.

 

“I told you they’re savages.” Smudge sighed, “But I’m glad you made it out mostly okay.”

 

“Me too.” Rusty replied. He twisted himself to rasp his tongue across the wound on his back. The matted fur and blood tasted disgusting and metallic on his tongue, but he didn’t mind. Rusty knew little about how to heal a cut, but he did know they had to be kept clean.

 

“Wow, now you’ll be the one telling Henry stories about the forest cats.” Smudge laughed trying to make light of the situation. Rusty purred.

 

“I guess so.” He didn’t really want to recount the night’s incident. But it would make a good story to tell- especially because he had the marks to prove it now.

 

“Come on, let’s get you home. Your Humans can take better care of you than I can.” The tuxedo tom finally said. He rose to his paws and began to pad towards the other garden.

 

Rusty remained on the patio. He couldn’t just go back to his home. They’d take him to the Cutter. Maybe the Cutter would fix his wounds, but they’d also fix other parts of him. He’d managed to avoid them so far, but this time he knew he’d have to go. Cats went there and never returned the same.

And what would his housefolk do if they saw him like this? Would they ever let him outside again? A rush of anxiety washed over Rusty as he imagined what it would be like to be trapped in a House for the rest of his life. I’ll become lazy, and soft! I won’t be able to have kittens or go outside and hunt mice ever again!

The thought horrified him.

 

Smudge turned back to him. Concern spread across his chubby features “Rusty, what’s wrong?”

 

“I-I can’t.” Rusty told him.

 

“Can’t what?” Smudge padded back over to his friend.

 

“I can’t go back home.” Rusty meowed. He stared down at his paws. Smudge was only looking out for him, but he knew the plump tom would never understand. He’s a true kittypet. He doesn’t know what it's’ like, this need for freedom.

 

“You have to! They’ll take care of you. Besides, where else would you go?” He replied.

 

Rusty shrugged, “I don’t know where I’ll go. But I can’t go back to them. At least not right now.”

 

“Why?” Smudge asked, his voice clouded with a mixture of curiosity, and sympathy.

 

“They’ll take me to the Cutter!” He exclaimed. “And then my housefolk will never let me outside again!”

 

“Rusty, I’m sure they won’t lock you away. The cutter isn’t that bad anyway. All they do is make you sleep and you eat some pellets and feel better. That’s it.” Smudge said softly.

 

“Yea, and then you come out and you’re lazy and soft and can’t have kittens.” Rusty scoffed. His tail lashed with anxiety.

 

“Well, not having kittens is better than dying because you fought a wild cat and couldn’t take care of yourself.” Smudge retorted. “You seriously don’t look good. You’re scared and not thinking straight. You need to go home.”

 

Rusty sighed. There was no convincing his friend.

 

“Okay. You’re right, I’m not thinking straight. I’ll give it a few days, and then if I feel differently, I’ll go home. ” He meowed, hoping to compromise with the tom. Part of that sentence was a lie though; he knew he wouldn’t think differently in a few days. It would make Smudge feel better though. Those moments of freedom in the forest… they were all I’ve ever wanted.  

 

“You’re so stubborn. But alright.” The tuxedo tom meowed. “Where will you stay in the meantime?”

 

“Is there a place for me here?” Rusty asked cautiously.

 

Smudge frowned for a moment then padded off the patio and around to the side of the house. He began sniffing at the base of it. The tom then scrabbled his claws against the side, and shoved his head against a loose board, which came free after a moment. Rusty followed him as he drug it off to the side, and lay it against the fence.

Before his was a dark, foreboding hole, between the House and the ground. It smelled of mold, and Rusty wrinkled up his nose at the faint scent of skunk and raccoon.

 

“Here. My housefolk never come down here. I don’t think they can fit. Nothing else gets under there though, so I doubt anyone will bother you.” Smudge told him. “I can maybe catch you some birds out of Henry’s bird feeder, and you can use that water bowl whenever you like.”

 

Rusty rubbed his muzzle against Smudge’s cheek. “I can’t thank you enough, Smudge.” He purred before crouching down and squeezing under the House.

 

The space opened up quite a lot, even though it was still incredibly cramped. As Rusty settled himself on the dirst, the hole’s ceiling brushed his neck fur. The cold dirt, and stale, still air were considerably less comfortable than his usual bed, but anything was better than a trip to the Cutter, or being trapped in a house forever.

From the entrance, he could see Smudge peering down at him, looking like a worried, fretting queen.

“You’re sure you’ll be okay?” Smudge asked.

 

“Yes I’m sure.” Rusty purred.

 

Smudge turned, “I’ll come see you in the morning, okay Rusty?”

 

“Alright. Goodnight, Smudge.”

 

“Goodnight, Rusty.”

 

The tuxedo tom disappeared, leaving Rusty alone in the still, dark air. Above him he could hear the pawsteps of Smudge’s housefolk, as they began to arise and start their days.  

 

The ginger tom curled up, laying his nose on his paws. He shut his eyes and forced his breathing to slow. An image of Tigerclaw flashed in his mind, his long, dagger like claws, ripping through Rusty’s pelt. He let out a small whimper, and for the first time in a while, longed to feel the companionship of another cat with him while he slept. He kept one eye on the entrance, as he expected the brown tabby’s gleaming eyes to shine through the darkness at any moment. Rusty dug his claws into the dirt. What if he comes back for me? Or Smudge?

Exhaustion finally won over though, as Rusty’s eyes finally shut and his fur lay flat. The sting of his wounds had faded to a dull aching pain, which hardly bothered him as he drifted off into a deep sleep.

Chapter Text

Several dawns passed before Rusty felt well enough to even leave the makeshift den beneath Smudge’s house. Every day, at dawn and at dusk, Smudge would arrive with a bit of prey or some extra pellets from his own dinner. They’d sit together while Rusty ate and Smudge would ask if Rusty felt any better. In truth, he wasn’t feeling much better, but Smudge was beginning to get increasingly worried, so he had to at least pretend.

 

Rusty jerked awake, his hair on end and tail bristling. The sun’s rays began to stream down through the entrance of the den, warming his pelt as they fell across him. It was incredibly early. Why was he awake anyway? He hadn’t gotten up before Sunhigh in days. And ever since his incident, he spent most of his time sleeping, and whenever he was awake, he’d spend his time eating and drinking.

 

“Rusty!” Came a cry from outside. “Rusty!”

 

He sat up, and shook his unkempt pelt, as Smudge’s large head appeared in the entrance to the den. His amber eyes looked as big as the moon, as he frantically called again, despite his friend being right in front of his nose.

 

“What?” Rusty asked, slightly annoyed.

 

Smudge then seemed to notice he was exactly where he left him. “Oh, thank goodness you’re awake.”

 

“Well, I’m awake now. What’s going on? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Rusty purred.

 

“It’s your housefolk.” Smudge explained rapidly, “Here, I’ll just go in  there to you.”

 

Rusty was about to respond, but  Smudge determinedly began to squeeze through the hole in the house. After a few moments of scrabbling his claws against the grass outside, he managed to wriggled through and plopped on the floor in front of Rusty.

 

“What about them? Are they looking for me?” Rusty asked urgently, his tail tip flicking. Guilt knotted in his stomach, like a bunch of angry wasps. He hadn’t even thought about them. They must be worried sick!

 

Smudge’s ears flicked back, “Yeah. I guess? Well, okay, they came over here yesterday- I’d assume because they noticed we hang around each other alot. They spoke to my housefolk, and I assume they asked if my housefolk had seen you. Now I don’t know much Human Talk, but they talked about searching for you. And then I heard something about a new cat.”

 

“A new cat?” Rusty echoed. “They’re replacing me already?”

 

“I guess so.” Smudge sighed, “I’m really sorry, Rusty. But I’m sure you’ll get along with him great when you go home.”

 

Desperation filled Rusty’s chest. The forest was filled with horrible cats and creatures who now hated him and he was being replaced in his own home. He knew he couldn’t stay in Smudge’s makeshift den forever… Was there anywhere else Rusty could go? Was there anywhere he could belong?

 

“I’m not going home.” Rusty finally replied after an uncomfortable silence.

 

“You’re not going home?!” A deep meow sounded from the entrance. Both toms jumped, hitting their heads on the top of the den. They turned to face the new speaker.

A large fawn tabby tom stood at the den’s entrance, gazing at them with sleepy yellow eyes. His muzzle was greying and his whiskers were scraggly and crooked. But despite his age, his pale pelt was shiny and a diamond studded collar jangled around his neck.

 

“Henry!” Smudge exclaimed fondly. Rusty sighed.

 

“What are you two kits meowing about now?” Henry asked. Although his words were filled with annoyance, Rusty knew he was genuinely curious, maybe even a bit worried for the young toms.

 

“Rusty’s talking about leaving home.” Smudge answered quickly.  

 

“He can’t do that!” Henry gasped, then turned to Rusty. “You’re not actually considering leaving, are you?’

 

Rusty sighed, “I am. There isn’t place for me here anymore.”

 

He then stood and arched his back in a stretch, before padding past Smudge and springing out through the hole in the house. Smudge followed after him. It took him a few more moments to get out, which gave Rusty time to rasp his tongue over his stinging shoulder cut. It felt hot and the roughness of his tongue made it burn like fire, Rusty winced. Henry noticed.

 

“Whoah, what happened to you?” The older tom asked. Concern edged his meow.

 

“I fought some forest cats!” Rusty meowed proudly, raising his muzzle. He was less than proud of the outcome but Henry didn’t need to know that.

 

“And he got himself all beat up and hurt.” Smudge added, as he sat next to the two fellow toms.

 

“I guess so.” Henry said, “Is that why you’re leaving?”

 

Rusty shrugged, “Partially-”

 

“I wouldn’t leave if I were you. We have everything we need right here. Plenty of food, water, friends…. Comfy beds…” Henry carried on, “So what if there’s a few mean wild cats out in the forest. You don’t need to talk to them, or even see them. Just stay in your own house and you’ll be fine.”

 

“It’s more complicated than that.” Rusty knew the old tom was just trying to be helpful.

 

“How so?” He asked. Smudge looked somewhat curious too.

 

“I’ve always had these dreams where I’m out there, in the forest, without a collar. I’m free and I can eat mice, and sleep wherever I want, do wherever I want. I’ve always wanted to be free. I’m not happy here, being a kittypet, like you guys are.” He explained, “I tried to go to the forest, because that's where my dreams always took place, and that’s where I’ve always been drawn to. But then I went there and…” Rusty trailed off. Smudge and Henry both listened intently, with wild eyes and pricked ears.

 

“And?!” Smudge begged him to continue.

 

“The wildcats drove me off. But since then, I haven’t had a single dream of the forest.” Rusty sighed sadly and rest his nose on his paws. His dreams had evolved into something much different, something he couldn’t quite make sense of. Hoards of cats, all fighting, accompanied by a cacophony of shrieks and unidentifiable sounds. Everything about his dreams was dark, and reminded him of a cramped, airless room with one too many cats in it. He hadn’t paid them much mind. What was the point in constantly thinking over something when you could hardly understand it anyway?

 

Henry replied in a matter of fact tone, “Sounds to me, like you aren’t meant to live in the forest then.”

 

“But where else can I go?” The ginger tom lamented. “I still feel like I can’t spend my days cooped up with my housefolk, but the forest is now off limits-”

 

Suddenly a thought hit Rusty. It was so obvious. Why hadn’t he considered it before?

 

“What is it?” Smudge questioned, cocking his head to one side, as if to think as well.

 

“The city!” The ginger tom exclaimed, hopping to his paws. “I’ll go into the city!”

 

Henry grumbled, “That’s not exactly what I’d call free…”

 

“No no no! You can’t!” Smudge yelped fearfully, as if someone just stepped on his tail. 

 

“Why not?” Rusty asked, almost challenging his friends.

Henry responded for the younger tom, “The city’s almost worse than the forest. There’s hardly any food, barely any water and the cats there will kill for any bit of anything they can get.”

 

“There’s so many Cars and Humans too!” Smudge added.

 

Rusty had already made up his mind though. He sat back and began to groom his paw. “I thought you liked humans, Smudge?”

 

“Well, I do but the ones out there can be mean. I’ve heard they chase cats away with brooms.” The tuxedo cat replied, rather sheepishly.

 

“That they do.” Henry said, giving Smudge a nod of approval, “There’s cats out there who are so hungry they’d eat another cat. And others wear teeth around their necks, and-”

 

“Oh stop it,” Rusty rolled his eyes. Henry shut up, and sniffed indignantly.

 

The toms sat in silence for a moment. Rusty’s tail flicked. I’m not stupid, I can look out for myself. He wasn’t angry, just agitated with his friend’s believing in tall tales like that. They just wanted him to stay and be their friend, and while he loved their company, he reminded himself why he couldn’t   Cats don’t eat other cats, and there’s no way they’d wear teeth around their necks anyway.

 

“Why couldn’t you be a barn cat?” Henry suggested suddenly.

 

“A what?” Smudge and Rusty replied in unison.

 

“Y’know, a cat who lives in a barn.”

 

“What does that mean.” Rusty replied flatly.

 

“You live in a barn, eat mice. It’s comfortable and you still get the freedom you want.” The fawn tabby replied.

 

Rusty tilted his head, “Yeah, where would I find a barn?”

 

“There’s one out west, past the forest and moorland.” Henry told him. “There’s already a cat there, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind some company.”

 

“Thanks, Henry but I’m going to have to turn you down.” Rusty responded, his tail flicked eagerly. “I’m going to go try the city. If it doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll come back here, or I’ll go find that barn.”

 

“Why can’t you ever do things the easy way, Rusty?” Smudge complained.

 

Rusty shrugged. A new energy had begun to fill his limbs. The very thought of a new environment thrilled him to the core. New cats, new surroundings and views! Yes, maybe the city was where he was meant to be.

 

“Well, I’d still recommend the barn-.” Henry finally gave in. His fawn tail flicked back and forth and he sat back to scratch his ear.

 

“I’m not going to the barn!” Rusty snapped, at the older tom. “Or at least not right away.”

 

“Well then, when the city cats eat you alive, don’t blame me. See ya around, Rusty.” Henry bid him farewell, as he hopped up onto the fence. It was obvious he didn’t actually expect Rusty to leave. With a wave of his tail, he disappeared into the garden on the other side.

My garden… Or what used to be my garden. Rusty thought somewhat bitterly.

 

The two toms remained on the grass. Smudge’s pelt bristled slightly, “When do you plan on leaving?”

 

“Now I guess. I’m feeling much better.” The ginger tabby smiled. “All thanks to you, Smudge. I probably would’ve died if you hadn’t been there to help me.”

 

It was a bit extreme but it would make Smudge feel alot better about his departure.

 

“Really? It was nothing. I just wanted you to be okay.” Smudge licked his chest, obviously somewhat overwhelmed already.

“I’ll be okay.” Rusty padded up to him and gave him a lick on his head. “The city can’t be any worse than the forest anyway. And if anything goes wrong, I’ll just come back here.”

 

“Or go to the barn.” Smudge reminded him anxiously.

 

“Yes, or the barn.” Rusty said, “And either way, I’m not going to get hurt.”

 

“Will you come back and visit us someday?” The tuxedo tom asked, his voice cracking.

 

Rusty purred, “Of course! You’re my best friend, I’d never forget you or leave you behind. Once I’m settled somewhere, I’ll come back and find you.”

 

“Alright. Just stay safe, and take care of yourself.” the tom replied. Worry still clouded his amber gaze, but he looked alot more relaxed, knowing Rusty would visit him.

 

With that, Rusty purred and rubbed his muzzle to Smudge’s cheek. Together they walked along to the fence, bordering the Road, which separated their line of Houses from the others, on the other side. He hopped up on the fence, easily balancing his nimble paws on the wooden slats.

“Well, Goodbye Smudge. I’ll see you soon.” Rusty meowed.

 

“Goodbye, Rusty.” Smudge replied softly, watching sadly as his friend gracefully leapt down onto the concrete below. The young tom looked right then left, before trotting quickly across the street. He ducked under the cover of some unnaturally shaped bushes as a Car sped by. Inside is sat his Housefolk. Rusty froze, and watched curiously as the Car stopped in their front yard. His old front yard.

First, one human got out and then another. They walked along to the back and pulled something that looked a little too familiar.

 

A cage. Rusty thought sadly. They really had replaced him, hadn’t they?

 

The yowls coming from inside, confirmed his suspicions. It had to be another kitten, hardly any older than himself. They cried out to be freed from the cage.

 

Fine. I don’t need them anyway. I will be fine without them. I can hunt, I can take care of myself . They’ll get along with the new cat, and so will Henry and Smudge.  The tom reminded himself bitterly. With a sweep of his tail, he turned his back on his Housefolk and Smudge. He began to pad along the concrete road at a quick pace, eager to get away from his own home and out into the city.

 

Rusty felt a thrill of fear at once more stepping outside his garden. He fervently made his way down the street, padding along the concrete with his tail held high. Birds began to chirp in the trees in the front yards of the houses as the sun rose higher above the endless houses. Within what seemed like heartbeats, both Smudge and his old house were far, far out of sight. It was all unfamiliar territory from here.

This is a good decision, He reassured himself. With each pawstep, his shoulder cut stung a bit more, but he cared little, for he was finally escaping the confines of his kittypet life. A hurting shoulder was a small price to pay for freedom.

Chapter Text

Only one moon had passed before Rusty realized his mistake.

 

Each night, he gazed up at the stars from the confines of what could be considered his territory. Rusty didn’t have much to show for a moon away from home. All he had was himself, and a small soggy, cardboard box. Rusty was by no means a large cat, but this box was small, incredibly so, even for him. When he first came across it, it had been dry but the rains increased to a steady downpour, almost every day and every night. The cardboard did little to protect him from it, once it had really gotten soaked. Occasionally he would try to get under a dumpster for some shelter, but another cat would drive him away.

 

Rusty lay, his nose on his paws. The night brought with it horizontal rains, which would sting the poor tom’s face unless his box was facing them, as well as even more dangerous cats, dogs, and freezing temperatures. For early spring, it was still incredibly horrid weather. They could only pray it would no snow. Most cats still preferred the rain over the scalding heat they’d gotten at the beginning of the season. Rusty was not one of those cats.

 

The rain would at least keep the worst of the evil indoors: Dogs didn’t like it. Rusty found if he wanted to avoid dogs, he’d have to brave the rain. The bad cats in the city didn’t care too much if it was snowing, hailing or raining. They would be out there. Almost every night, the screeches and yowls of fighting cats would fill the air, even louder than the rain. On occasion, he’d ventured into an alley and come across several dead bodies, their blood staining the concrete. He shuddered thinking about them. But many of the meanest cats in the city were kittypets. Everyone knew that. Bands of kittypets scourged the city, and starved the city cats of necessary food and water. Rusty unstood the city cat’s distaste for kittypets now.

 

His stomach growled loudly. He flattened his ears and forced his eyes shut. Night was not the time to go looking for food. He could only hope to get some sleep before dawn.

The rain battered the sides of his box, but thankfully his pelt was still dry. Dry but definitely not dull in color. Many cats in the area had started calling him “Fire Kit.” He knew it was because of the bright color of his pelt. No matter how much he insisted on being called Rusty, the local cats stuck to Fire Kit. That was his name to them, he guessed. Now, he didn’t care much what cats called him. He just wanted to stay alive until he could find his way back home.

When he first arrived in the city, Rusty found a free dumpster, which he had turned his pampered, kittypet nose up at. Now he greatly regretted not claiming it at the time. There were a great many things he regretted. Not appreciating Smudge was definitely one of them. Maybe coming out here was another.

 

The ginger tom, tucked his tail over his nose. His back began to burn, as the roof of his box sagged down onto it, brushing against the tender cut across it. He sat up and drug his tongue across it again. It should have healed by now, shouldn’t it? Instead it seemed to be getting worse. In fact, all his wounds from the forest cat fight were getting considerably more painful. The one on his flank, had become extremely hot and swollen, and where the fur parted, he could see red streaks going out from it. He couldn’t see the ones on his shoulder and back as well, but he assumed they were the same. Luckily none had started bleeding again. When he’d first arrived, they broke open and began to bleed again. It was not a pretty sight.  

 

With injuries like these, hunting became difficult, as did defending whatever food he could find. Very few cats shared. Everyone here starved. Henry was right about it after all.

 

Although he waited for dawn, it wouldn’t be much better than now. He’d still be hungry. He’d still be cold. He’d still be alone, lost in unfamiliar territory.

 

When the moon began to dip below the city’s glow, Rusty rose from his box and shook his pelt. He heaved himself fully to his paws, weak as he felt. His head throbbed and no matter what he did, he couldn’t quite get warm. This is miserable He thought, inspecting his sore, stinging paw pads.  There was little he could do. It wasn’t like he knew the way home anyway.

 

Many a time, Rusty climbed up to the top of a house or building, and stared out across the city. He knew he just had to travel to the forest, and his home would be around there somewhere. But the city just stretched on forever in every direction. Each building looked the same as the next, and the rain washed away any scent the minute it started.

 

The ginger tom padded across the alley and stretched his paws before heading out. Today was not the day he felt like hopping over fences and climbing, so he’d have to settle for whatever was available on the sidewalk, and in the other alleyways. It might cost him more fights, but it would be better than missing a landing on a building or fence and breaking something important.

 

Cars bustled down the Road, their humans seated comfortably within them. For a moment, he sat watching them, while he tasted the air for anything remotely edible. The cool concrete soothed his stinging paws, and he didn’t quite want to move. Hunger motivated him to. The damp breeze brought with it a smell he hadn’t found in a long time.

 

Fish! Rusty set off towards it as quickly as his weak legs could carry him. Fish was a delicacy within the city, and if no one else noticed it already, he knew he could get first pick. Or all of it to myself

 

The scent lead him around the corner, back into another alley. Near the base of a pile of pallets lay an abandoned, open can of fish. Near it lay a scrawny, dark russet tom. His muzzle was greying and his deep green eyes bulged out of his thin face. Once, his coat had been long, plush and vibrant but now it was patchy and matted with age.

Although he lay right next to the can, his claws dug into the wood and tail lashing, he didn't seem to be eating it. Rusty kept his tail low as he padded towards him and the can. His eyes locked with the unfamiliar cat's as he approached.

 

“Hey! What's your name?” The cat asked as Rusty hesitantly sniffed the edge of the can.

 

“Rusty.” He meowed quickly, stepping back. He unsheathed his claws, preparing for the older cat to attack. But he remained on his wooden pallet.

 

The cat rested his head on his paws, “Alright, Rusty. Go ahead and have it. You need it more than me.”

 

Surprised, Rusty stood still for a moment before his hunger overcame his better judgement and began to lap up the contents of the can. His ears stayed pricked and he watched the tom intently.   This had to be a trap, or something.

 

“What's a kittypet like you doing all the way out here?” The russet tom asked, his tail tip twitching as he rested his head on his paws.

 

“I didn’t want to be a kittypet. So I left.” Rusty replied quickly. There was no reason to tell the tom everything about why he’d left. What mattered was, he was here now.

 

“Huh, ‘been a while since I’ve heard that one. What made you leave?”

 

Rusty finished his meal and licked his jaws. The ginger tom remained cautious with his short reply, “Just didn’t belong.”

 

“Alright. I understand that.” The tom meowed, “Y’know it’s very dangerous out here, why don’t you go home to your humans? You’d be much safer.”

 

“Maybe I want some danger in my life.” Rusty shrugged.

 

The tom snorted, “Yeah… that’s what they all say. Then they get slaughtered by those rogues.”

 

Rogues? His ginger fur stood on end. Some cats here muttered about fights between kittypets and rogues. Bands of rogues. Deadly bands of rogues. Were they who was killing the kittypets in the alleys?

 

“Well, I haven’t done anything to anger any rogues.” Rusty assured him.

 

“Yeah, okay.” He replied dismissively “You don’t need to anger cats who kill for fun. They still hate kittypets. Just watch your back, kid.”

 

With that, the tom rose from his pallet and padded to the back of the alley. He easily sprung up the side of the chain link and teetered on top. Over his shoulder he called, “If you want more of that, there’s a sushi place on the next street over. They throw out the extra at the end of the day.”

 

“Thanks.” The young tom meowed. He then waved his tail at the tom before padding back out of the alleyway. The clouds mostly cleared, by now, and the concrete wasn’t quite as damp as earlier. Rusty scented, hoping to not smell anymore rain. He did not smell a single drop. Today was going to be a good day, he thought with a purr.

 

That thought quickly shifted, as his world began to blur. Rusty shook his head and sat down, resting against the brick wall of a building. His paws trembled as if they were going to give out on him at any second. The sidewalk and passing cars began to spin, and all he could hear was the pounding in his head. What was wrong with him? He’d just eaten, surely this wasn’t from hunger. Was he dehydrated? He didn’t feel particularly thirsty, but maybe that was the case. Rusty couldn’t think of anything else that would be wrong with him. Despite his sleeping conditions, he was getting enough rest.

 

Once his vision steadied once more, Rusty started off along the sidewalk again. With how much it was raining there was sure to be water around here somewhere. Perhaps some water on his cuts would help them heal faster as well.

 

The ginger tom pricked his ears at the sound of voices. He rounded the corner into an alley, where several scrawny, underfed cats sat around a puddle, lapping up the filthy water. A queen crouched behind them, waiting for her chance to get into the group. None of them looked too happy, with their lashing tails and flattened ears. But Rusty thought it wouldn’t hurt to at least try to squeeze in.

 

They’re not letting a queen drink, so I’m not sure how much luck I’ll get…

 

The tom cautious padded up and stretched out his neck to sniff the nearest cat to him, a grey and white tom. He was barely any taller than the young kittypet, but he turned and hissed with the ferocity of a badger. The ginger tom flattened his ears and stepped back, lashing his tail and hissing. The tom’s claws hit him across the nose. Rusty began to feel light headed once more, but made an attempt to be somewhat diplomatic.

 

“Can’t I just get a drink?” He snapped.

 

“No, not if you can’t earn your place here.” The tom growled and waved a paw towards him in another attack.

 

“It’s just water, there will be more soon-” Rusty protested. His words were cut short as the tom lunged at him. The ginger tabby’s eyes grew wide and he raced back out of the alley, the way he’d come, with the tom hot on his heels.

The queen, who crouched behind the group, shot into the tom’s spot by the puddle, as soon as it was available. Rusty’s opponent cared little, as he was much more concerned with chasing him off.

The ginger tom darted around the corner and scrambled further down the sidewalk, racing between the feet of the few Humans who casually made their way down the street.

 

Seeing the oncoming humans, the grey tom stopped short and turned tail back into the alley he’d come from. Not before spitting a, “Don’t come back, kittypet!” at the retreating tabby.

 

Even though the tom went back to his puddle, Rusty quickly continued on his way. He didn’t want to wait around to see if the grey tom would could back. Every few steps he would check behind himself to be sure he wasn’t followed. Gradually, his pace slowed, once he realized there would be no further conflict with the strange cat. Though his feet became weak and his head began to spin once again, he didn’t stop until the alley with the puddle was far, far out to sight.

 

I still need to find some water   Rusty thought. Surely there was an unclaimed puddle somewhere. It’d just rained and the city cats couldn’t all be hoarding them. He continued along the path he’d started on, accepting he now had no clue where he was. Rusty said a silent goodbye to his handy cardboard box.

 

But no matter how many alleys he looked into, there was not a single unguarded puddle of clean water. There wasn’t a single puddle at all. As the sun rose higher in the sky and the concrete became warmer, Rusty’s hopes fell further.

 

Eventually, he gave up. Stopping in an unfamiliar area, Rusty sat against a brick wall and began to wash his paw as he surveyed his surroundings. He hadn’t been in the city long, certainly not long enough to memorize the streets and buildings. But the territory there was at least somewhat familiar, in the sense that everything looked and sounded similar the rest of the parts he’d passed through on his way. Here, there was practically nothing. Not a single Human, no cars racing down the road. It was dead silent. Eerily so.

 

Then perhaps it’s safe to cross here? Rusty contemplated. Maybe he’d have more luck finding water on the other side of the street. He wanted nothing more than to get home right now. Or at least to find some more food or water. This road, he sat in front of, stretched further past the deserted buildings, off into the distance, while part of it turned sharply back, deeper into the city. Maybe it reached the edge of the city, and if he crossed he could find his way back home. It was certainly a gamble but the reward was greater than the risk.

 

Cautiously, he stepped out towards the road, keeping his paws tucked close to him as he sniffed it. The ground did not rattle or rumble, like it did when a car was approaching. He scented, trying to pick out the fresh, harsh stench of the cars There was none.

 

Rusty outstretched a paw, and placed it on the rough, rocky surface of the road. It’s tiny pebbles dug into his paw. Hopefully the grass is greener on the other side. He thought, somewhat bitterly, before starting off.

The ginger tom kept low to the ground as he slunk across the road. The fear of getting crushed kept his paws stiff and movements calculated.

 

He crossed the bright yellow divider which separated the road in half. It was a part of the road, so it only alerted him to the fact that he was halfway there. But as he stepped across it the dizziness started up again. Rusty hesitated as sweat began to dampen his pelt. His paws shook beneath him.

 

I need to rest again. But the other side’s so far away…

 

He raised his head and listened again. There wasn’t any sign of any cars. In fact there wasn’t any sign of anything at all.

 

I’d rather wait here for a moment than collapse before I get over there.   He decided. The tom sat back on his haunches and shut his eyes as the world stopped shifting beneath his paws. A shiver passed through his body and he twitched. After a few moments, he felt eyes boring into his pelt. His ginger fur stood on end and he looked around. This entire part of the city looked to be deserted. Maybe it wasn’t so deserted after all. The presence of other cats, or creatures, watching him made him uneasy.

 

Feeling a bit paranoid, Rusty set off, this time a bit quicker than before. Not as quickly as he wouldn’t liked but he didn’t want to risk another bought of lightheadedness while still in the middle of the road.

 

Suddenly, the ground began to shake.  

 

Bile filled his throat and he pinned his ears back, as Rusty turned with wide eyes, to see a massive car barrelling towards him. Where had it even come from?

 

The ginger tom froze, his eyes wide with panic. Every instinct in him told him to run as fast as he could, but his muscles stood stiff. Deep down, he knew it was going to crush him even if he tried to run. There was no way he’d be able to make it to the other side. Fear overpowered any rational thought the young tom had. He pressed himself to the road, as the car’s stench washed over him.

 

Run! He screamed at himself, but his paws were fixated to the road. His heart pounded and he stared into the eyes of the car. Silently, he begged the car to stop, though he knew it wouldn’t. It’s spinning black paws just drew closer and closer. Rusty squeezed his eyes shut, and accepted his fate.

 

Chapter Text

Just as the Car’s massive spinning paws were about to flatten the poor tom, he felt a hard tug on his collar and wind rush through his fur. The ground fell away from his feet and for a moment, there was nothing. Nothing but the blackness of his tightly shut eyes.

 

Is this what it's like to die?

 

The question was quickly answered as his head made contact with concrete. Rusty’s body stung from the impact as he crashed to the ground, landing in a crumpled ginger heap. The car barrelled past him, ruffling his fur and spraying him with a puddle of old, dirty rain water, which had pooled by the curb. The water shocked him and he leaped to his unsteady paws. It burned as it made contact with his cuts.

 

Slowly, he blinked his eyes open. The world spun still. But he was not dead.

 

The tom stood and shook his head, finding his paws on solid ground once more.

 

“W-What…” He mumbled to himself, confused by the new location and his state of being alive. He was safe on the sidewalk. The car roared off in the distance, barreling down the road. By some miracle, he’d been saved. But by whom. Rusty narrowed his eyes and looked around, his tail low. Even if they saved him, he couldn’t be totally sure of their intentions.

 

A few paces away, he spied his saviour: A molly with strong features, yet her pelt looked soft and downy, like a kitten’s. As harmless as she looked, Rusty couldn’t help but notice her collar. Partially hidden beneath her fluffy fur, pulled tight around her neck it peaked out slightly. But Rusty realized it was no normal collar. Teeth, yes they had to be teeth, protruded through the thin fabric. Gleaming and white, both big and small. From cats, dogs maybe even foxes or coyotes. Were they trophies of animals she killed? Rusty couldn’t be sure. Her collar gave him a weird feeling, and he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. She had not attacked him, or let him be crushed by the Car, so most likely, she was an alright cat. Right? But what was up with that collar? Rusty looked at her curiously.  Her little grey ears twitched as the two cats made eye contact.

The molly’s tail rose cheerfully as she padded up to him, outstretching her neck to sniff him. He did as well.

 

City cat. Rusty would recognize that scent anywhere. Something else was mixed in too. She reeked of gasoline and concrete, like all city cats did, but the smell of other cats, many cats clung to her pelt as well. Curiously, Rusty backed up, his tail curled around his paws. Whatever she smelled like, she seemed friendly enough. Minus the collar.

 

“Hi! I’m Minty.” She meowed, introducing herself. She smiled widely.

 

Rusty waved his tail, “I’m Rusty.”

 

“What are you doing all the way out here? Usually kittypets don’t come to this part of town.” Minty asked, tilting her head. She sat back on her haunches, her tail sweeping about behind her.

“I just kinda ended up here. I’ve been wandering the city for a while.” He replied. There was no reason to share the entire truth with this strange cat.

 

“Oh, okay-” She started. Her high pitched meow was interrupted by a much more abrasive yowl coming from the shadows of the alley behind them.

 

Rusty whipped around to see several more cats stalk out of the cover of shadow. Their muscles rippled beneath their sleek, glossy pelts as they padded past, tails low and narrowed eyes trained on the young tom. A knot of anxiety filled his stomach, as he spotted a few more collars similar to Minty’s around the necks of the unfamiliar cats. But these new cats did not look as friendly as her.

The patrol slowly padded past Rusty and gathered themselves around Minty. One, small tabby tom sniffed Rusty on his way past. But even though his ginger coat spiked with alarm, he fought the urge to swipe at the cat. Small as he was, he still looked to be incredibly tough, and would be able to finish Rusty off with one good hit.

 

As they settled themselves, Rusty cast a glance to Minty. She continued smiling and waving her tail, rather oblivious to the hostility of her companions.

 

The tallest spoke first. She was a shorthaired cat, with mean, pale blue eyes and muscular, toned features. Overall, her fur was well groomed and, minus her ears and tail, white as snow. Many, long scars stretched across her back and shoulders, parting the fur in painful, deep rows and criss crosses. He instantly ducked his head as he met her glare. Even though she was not one of the cats with teethed collars, he could tell she was not someone he wanted to mess with.

 

“So, what have you found, Minty? A kittypet?” She mocked.

 

“His name’s Rusty.” Minty informed her friend, oblivious to her sneering tone.

 

“And what’s a kittypet like him doing all the way out here? Stealing prey? Spying?” She hissed.

 

Rusty flattened his ears at her accusations, “I wasn’t stealing prey. I was just wandering and looking for water? Is that so terrible?”

 

Instantly he regretted his words. That kind of attitude got me beat up in the forest.

 

She unsheathed her claws, and he quickly added, “I wasn’t aware I was trespassing on someone else’s territory. If there’s trouble, I can just go.”

 

The white molly seemed to accept this addition and stepped back. Rusty rose to his paws, taking their silence as a hint to leave.

 

“Rusty,” Another of them meowed. This one was a tom, only a few whisker lengths taller than Rusty, with a pitch black pelt and large blue eyes. His features overall made him look younger than he probably was. But his collar, and overall expression overruled his youthful looks, and to Rusty he appeared the meanest of the group. He kept his white paws tucked under him as he continued, “How did you get so hurt?”

 

Rusty stiffened. He’d hardly thought of his wounds, but they were still quite obvious and quite painful. A rush of embarrassment filled his veins, as he realized how terrible he appeared to these cats, with his messy ginger coat, tattered, thing frame and old, unclean injuries. They’re obviously fighters, if they wear collars like those, and they surely could kill me if they wanted. I wonder why they’re not.

 

The tom’s eyes bore into him as he stammered, “I got in a fight.”

 

“Obviously. But those wounds are old, and not taken care of. This fight must have taken place after you left your housefolk, or else they would’ve cared for you. The cuts are too deep and there’s far too many for a skirmish with a regular city cat. So tell me, who did you fight?” The tom spoke in a matter of fact tone. For the most part he was right. Rusty suddenly felt very vulnerable, as if his pelt was transparent and this cat could see right through him.

 

“I fought some forest cats, back when I lived with my housefolk.” Rusty replied, trying to keep the story as plain as possible.

 

The patrol’s ears pricked at this, especially the black tom’s. Minty looked between them, her face twisted in a worrisome frown.

 

“Well, go on. Tell us about it.” He pressed. Minty nodded eagarly.

 

Rusty sat back down, keeping his head high and tail still. “I used to be a kittypet, and every night I’d look out into the woods. I felt drawn there. So one day I went in, and I was hunting. Then a forest cat attacked me and we started talking. He told me he was from… ThunderClan. He was about my age and seemed nice enough. But then his friends arrived. Then this huge cat attacked me - like attacked me for real- and almost killed me. The only reason I’m alive is because the molly in the patrol threw him off me and gave me a chance to run back home. I still didn’t want to be a kittypet, so I went to the city. And I ended up here.”

 

The black tom’s eyes crinkled thoughtfully and his tail tip twitched. “What did this cat look like? The one who attacked you?”

 

Rusty shrugged, “He was a plain brown tabby. Tall, brutish with amber eyes and really long claws. They called him Tigerclaw. Why? Do you know him or something?”

 

“Sort of. I met him once.” He replied coldly. His face gave away nothing, but Rusty could tell that encounter did not go well.

 

He flicked a torn ear, “Why did you come to the city? Why not go out further north and live in the free wilderness there.”

 

“There’s not much out there, and what lives in the wilderness is dangerous. I thought I’d have better chances of finding my niche in the city.” As soon as the words left his jaws, Rusty felt the urge to smack himself. He was certain he’d said too much.

 

“You were looking for your niche? Something to be apart of?” He asked.

 

There’s no going back on what I said now. The ginger tom shrugged, “I guess yeah. Or at least some place I could belong.”

 

“As an enemy of the forest cats, you would be welcome to join my Clan.” The tom offered. The white molly next to him raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

 

“Sorry to be blunt,” Rusty meowed curtly, “But I haven't had the best experiences with Clan cats recently. How can I know I can trust you?”

 

“You don’t, that’s true, but surely you know if we wanted to attack you, we would have already.” The tom replied in a matter of fact tone. “We haven’t been on the best terms with kittypets recently, after all.”

 

Rusty stiffened as the realization hit him. These must be the cats who were killing the kittypets in the alleys. The tom was right, if they killed other kittypets that mercilessly, they must be at least somewhat trustworthy, right? Minty could have just let that car kill him, or one of these cats could have as soon as they’d arrived. Rusty looked over the patrol, each of them well muscled, with scars and torn ears, their long, sharp claws and sharp teeth. Like he said, If they wanted to kill me, or hurt me they would have done so already. These are dangerous cats and I must be sort of on their good side.

 

“You’re right. I still don’t know any of you, though.” Rusty responded, keeping his voice steady and choosing his words carefully.

 

“Oh of course, my apologies. I should have introduced everyone as soon as we showed up.” The black tom meowed curtly. There was little sarcasm in his tone. “I am Scourge, leader of BloodClan. These are a few of my warriors, Ice, Samuel, Cocoa and Minty- but you already know Minty.”

 

His white tipped tail gestured to each cat in turn. Ice was, of course, the tall white molly. Samuel, stood next to her, coming up to around her shoulder. His coat was a dusky brown, mottled across his back and flanks, with regular tabby stripes on his extremities. He looked like a reasonable cat, with soft green eyes.

Cocoa - the other cat Rusty hadn’t acknowledged- was the scrawniest of them all, but even she held strength within her thin limbs. Her fur was a cream color, and darkened to a chocolately brown on her face, legs and cropped tail. She stared at him down a long muzzle, her blue eyes completely void of emotion. She unnerved him slightly.

“Nice to meet all of you.” Rusty said, as politely as he could muster under all their stares. He then continued with his most pressing question,“What is BloodClan?”

 

Scourge waved his tail to the cats around him, “We are all apart of BloodClan.”

 

“So you’re a Clan, kind of like the forest ones?” Rusty asked. Ice scoffed, as if she took offense to that.

 

“Sort of. We’re much better though.”

 

“How so?” Rusty asked, cautiously. “The forest cat I met told me how his Clan was constantly fighting others for food, and how the others were savage.”

 

“Did you believe him?” Scourge countered. Rusty was unsure if he was avoiding the initial question or just got off topic. He decided to answer anyway.

 

“At first I did, but the groups’ actions proved otherwise.” He replied.

 

“They usually do. That is the first difference between us and the forest Clans. We are cats of our word.” Scourge said calmly, “Unlike your forest acquaintance, there are no lies or secrets between any of us.”

 

Rusty narrowed his eyes, “So would you say you all are savages?”

 

Scourge twitched his whiskers in amusement, “Some say we are.”

 

Rusty took that as a yes. However he was definitely interested in this Clan. Unlike Greypaw’s they stood confidently amongst one another. No one cowered or was afraid of another. Everything he’d heard so far sounded appealing. There was hardly any downside to joining them. They all looked considerably stronger than the ThunderClan cats - minus Tigerclaw. There must be less fighting and need to defend stupid territory. They didn’t claw him to shreds just for trespassing. They actually acted like civil cats. They could teach me to hunt and fight, and be strong like them. Maybe I wouldn’t have to live by myself.

 

As Rusty thought, a shiver passed through his body from nose to tail tip. He twitched, and ducked his head, catching Cocoa’s eye. Immediately her expressionless features softened.

 

“Cold, kittypet?” She meowed.

 

“It’s just a chill, I’ll be fine.” He replied. Even though these cats seemed trustworthy enough, it wouldn’t be smart to show weakness.

 

She narrowed her eyes and turned to Scourge. In his ear, she murmured, “The poor thing’s got a fever. We really should take him back home and have Vesper take a look at him.”

What is up with these cats and ridiculous names? Rusty thought. He eyed her curiously.

 

The black tom nodded and rose to his paws. “Make your choice. Are you coming with us or not?”

 

“I-I am.” There was little hesitation in his voice.

 

“Then come on, we can’t sit here all day.” Scourge meowed, with the slightest hint of warmth in his tone. He padded back to the alley from which him and his patrol came. Rusty followed, keeping close to Minty as they slunk back into the shadows.

 

It’s not like I have much choice, or anywhere else to go. Like Scourge said, they haven’t given me any reason not to trust them. They’ve only been kind to me. Perhaps this is where I was meant to end up after all. Rusty thought as he followed the new, strange cats into the unknown.

Chapter Text

By the time they reached BloodClan’s camp, Rusty felt like his paws were about to dissolve beneath him.

 

The whole journey over, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect, or what he was getting himself into. Right now he only really cared if they had food and maybe some sort of medicine to help him feel better. The dizziness hadn’t completely left him yet either, and progressively got worse the further they walked. Rusty refused to show weakness though and just kept plodding along. His head continued to spin, and he found himself focusing intently on keeping his paws moving forward. Luckily, even though their trek was devoid of breaks, the camp was not too far away. For Rusty, it seemed much further than it actually was. He just kept his focus on sneaking under chain link fences, and scaling garbage cans. They crossed through alley after alley, street after street, never slowing or hesitating.

He was not remotely concerned with how quiet it was here, how still the air lay across this part of town. That is until they finally leaped up onto the last wooden fence.

 

Rusty’s eyes grew wide at what he saw on the other side.

 

The alleyway stretched off into the distance, a narrow space situated between the backs of the surrounding buildings. The ground itself was shaded and escaped sun’s pressing heat, but everything else looked dusty and dull.  Weeds and dead grass stalks sprung up between the broken pieces of concrete, which formed the floor of the camp. Empty Human food container littered the ground, spilling out of the dumpsters, which lined the sides of the alley. Old boxes, wire shelves and a vast assortment of other Human odds and ends filled the empty space between each dumpster. Most were rusted and old, tattered by time itself. No Humans had come to this area in a while. Even the buildings around them looked old and unoccupied. No one had ever come to pick up their trash, and it’d just piled up against the sides of the alley.

At first glance it didn’t look much different from the other alley’s Rusty passed through in his day to day life. The only difference was it’s inhabitants.

The alley swarmed what looked to be hundreds of cats, their conversations filling the still air like chattering birds. Some wore collars like Minty’s, and others’ necks were bare. They milled about, sharing prey and talking amongst one another. On one side, a group of wide eyed kittens wrestled with one another, rolling across the concrete. Nests made of newspaper and old cloth could be seen, covered the ground under the dumpsters, and in a few, Rusty could see a stray tail or sleeping form of a cat.

All of them were strong and well fed, like the patrol he’d already met. No one looked nearly as hungry as the other city cats he’d met previously. In fact they all looked twice as strong and healthy as the forest cats.

 

Rusty realized with a shock at just how many cats lived here. Fear still crept into his mind though

 

What if they don’t like me? They could easily tear me apart!

 

Seeing Rusty’s reaction, pride flashed across Scourge’s features. The little black tom hopped down off the fence, landing gracefully on the concrete below. Forcing his hackles to lay flat, Rusty followed suit, accompanied closely by the rest of the patrol.

 

As they began to trot down the alley, the cats began to raise their heads. Some meowed greetings, and others padded up to them, sniffing Rusty’s prickling pelt. The tom flinched away, his fur standing on end.

Those who didn’t stalk forward to scent him, began to whisper to one another.

 

“Who’s that?”

 

“What’s he doing here?”

 

“I thought all the kittypets hated us?”

 

“Why’d Scourge bring back such a scrawny kitten! He’s hardly as big as Harley’s kits!”

 

The ginger tom flattened his ears at their words, alreading a bit overwhelmed by this new environment.  

 

Scourge paid their comments no mind, and sprung up on top of the nearest closed dumpster. He sat and gestured for Rusty to join him. Hesitantly the ginger tom did so and sprung up onto the plastic lid. His paws shook under him as he landed, and Rusty dug his claws in to steady himself. Now would be a terrible time to pass out.

The dumpster rocked a bit as a third cat leaped up to join them. He was an intimidating cat, at least a few heads taller than both of them, with strong shoulders and a plush black and white pelt. His tail waved as he greeted Scourge with a purr. The little black tom brushed his muzzle against the larger cat’s cheek as the two sat next to one another. Rusty began to feel very awkward.

 

“Who’s this.” The unfamiliar tom meowed, his torn ears pricked with curiosity. Rusty raised his head, trying to look confident.  

 

“I’m about to announce that.” Scourge replied somewhat playfully, his tail swishing against the other cat’s.

 

He then turned his attention to the alley, where cats were emerging from their dens. In a shrill, cold voice he called “Cats of BloodClan! I have an announcement!”

 

One by one, they began to gather at the base of the dumpster, their wide eyes anxious to hear what their leader had to say. The group grew larger, and larger until once every cat arrived, they almost filled area around the dumpster, from wall to wall.  Most cats sat shoulder to shoulder, and some cats stuck their noses out of their dens, simply because there wasn’t any room in the open space,. Rusty began to notice what a wide assortment of cats lived here. Some were old, riddled with scars and greying muzzles, while others were barely any taller than him, and had not yet lost their kitten fur. Both longhaired, and shorthaired, skinny and strong, some with collars and some without. Did they really all have one common goal in mind? Rusty wondered, how such a huge group of cats could get along and live in one place like this.

He searched for any familiar faces in the crowd, and quickly picked out Ice’s scowl as well as Minty, who gave him a reassuring smile. At least, there’s some cats I can turn to in case things go sour.

 

Finally, once everyone was settled and quiet, Scourge spoke up again.  

 

“This is Rusty.” He motioned with his tail to the tom, who’s ears flattened under the pressure of every single cat in camp staring at him once more. Rusty dug his claws further into the plastic lid, his heart beating out of his chest.  “He’s going to be staying with us for now.”

 

Murmurs swept across the crowd, as the unfamiliar cats shot Rusty questioning glares. His stomach dropped. This situation was beginning to look less inviting with every second he stayed. They ducked their heads and muttered barely audible doubts to one another.

 

“We can’t afford another mouth to feed!” Someone finally yelled.

 

“He’s a kittypet! Send him home, his Housefolk can take care of him!” Another added.

 

“Scourge! We can’t just help out every cat we come across!”

 

Rusty’s hackles rose at their outcries. I didn’t think the rest of them would want me to stay.

 

Scourge pulled his lips back in a growl, before screeching “Quiet!”

 

Immediately, those who protested fell silent. In fact, everyone did. Rusty was somewhat amazed. They all listen just like that?

 

“He isn’t just any cat.” The black tom spat. “You all know, I don’t go around inviting soft, useless rogues to join our Clan. Rusty is different. He has left his kittypet life for good. He fought off a band of forest cats and survived out here on his own for a moon. I think that’s impressive for a cat of his stature, and you all should too. For now, while he lives with us, you will treat him as you would any of your Clanmates.”

 

Many of the whispers turned sympathetic, and Rusty exhaled a bit. At least a few more of these cats were on his side.

 

“Strawberry.” He snapped. For a moment Rusty was confused why he randomly mentioned a fruit, but as pale tortoiseshell head popped up from the sea of cats he quickly realized that was, in fact, a cat’s name. “You will help take care of Rusty until he’s regained his strength. You will hunt for him and make sure he has everything he needs.”

 

“Alright!” Came the cat’s high pitched meow. She sounded friendly enough. Thank heavens he didn’t assign someone rude to take care of me.

 

“Good. This meeting is at an end.” Scourge hissed bluntly. The crowd dispersed quickly, returning to their previous activities. Rusty turned to Scourge, unsure of what to do next. Unfortunately the black tom didn’t offer much explanation, as he followed the other large tom off the dumpster. The two padded away, finally disappearing into a tipped over trash can at the end of the alley. Rusty blinked, jumped down and began looking around for Minty, or some other cat he knew.

 

“Hey, Rusty!” A few cats meowed their greetings as he passed. He nodded to them, not really too eager to start a conversation. Especially now he was starting to feel weak again. The trek here, as well as that stressful, short lived meeting really stressed him out again. Looking about, he found most cats were now acting friendly, almost welcoming. I guess I have a bit of place here. It’s strange how quickly they changed their mind, and how much they seem to trust Scourge.

 

Finally he found Minty. She balanced on the bottom shelf of a thin, old shelving unit, her small fluffy body crouched over an even smaller, mottled heap of tortoiseshell fur.

 

“What do you mean you don’t know where she is?” She meowed urgently, “Wasn’t she at the meeting just now?”

 

The tortoiseshell cat shook his head, “No, I didn’t see her. She’s kinda hard to miss.”

 

“Well, when she comes back, could you send her to me? Rusty needs her help.” The grey molly told him, fidgeting her paws.

 

“See who?” He asked, tilting his head. Who’s help do I need?  Minty’s tail bristled with surprise as she whipped around.

 

“Oh, hi!” The molly exclaimed, letting her fur fall flat again, “Rusty, this is Blackberry. I was just asking him if he knew where his mother was.”

 

Blackberry just rolled his eyes and ducked his head back under his forepaws.

 

“Hi, Blackberry.” Rusty said. The tortoiseshell tom responded with a grunt.  

 

“Here, I’ll show you your den.” Minty brushed off her friend with a flick of her ear as she daintily stepped back onto the ground. “He’s just grumpy because he got woken up.”

 

The tom’s eyes grew wide again, “I have a den?” I thought I’d have to sleep outside or something…

 

“Of course! Everyone has at least some sort of den.” She looked at him as if he was stupid. I guess that was kind of dumb. With all this trash here, there’s no reason they’d have to fight over stuff. And they’re all at least sort of friends, so they probably don’t mind sharing.

 

Minty showed him to a makeshift den made of two boxes, with a wide strip of metal situated across them, covering a comfortable looking nest of newspaper and cloth. There looked to be room for a few cats inside, even though there was only a single nest, sitting on the concrete. Rusty wanted nothing more than to lay down in it and rest his paws.

 

“This is where any guests sleep.” Minty told him. “Until you’re initiated and become a trainee, you’ll stay here.”

 

Initiated? That doesn’t sound too good.

 

“What’s a trainee?” Rusty asked the more pressing question. These cats used so many terms and words he’d never heard of. Still, it wasn’t as complicated as his short conversation in the forest.

 

Minty brightened, “Oh, sorry. A trainee’s basically a cat who joins us later in life, and has to train to become a full member. An older member teaches them everything they need to know about living here and surviving in the city.”

 

“What about cats who are born here?” The ginger tom asked. That explanation made some sense to his tired brain.

 

“They stay with their mothers until they’re about 4 seasons old. Then they become full members.”

 

“But who teaches them?”

 

“Their parents.” Minty meowed, “Usually the queens here take a mate outside the Clan, but if both parents are BloodClan, they’ll both help to teach the kits.”

 

“Oh, okay.” Rusty said, deciding it made sense.

 

“Get some rest, I’ll have Vesper come visit you whenever she gets back.” Minty instructed, as Rusty crouched and slipped into the den. The soft cloth was such a relief after his weeks of sleeping on wet cardboard. Instantly, Rusty relaxed, and stretched his toes before curling up and shutting his eyes. He was hoping sleep would come quickly and easily. And that no one would attack him in his sleep. The tom’s heart pounded in his throat and he opened his eyes every few second to make sure no one snuck up on him. Eventually, he felt himself begin to drift off.

 

Unfortunately, it did not last very long.

 

“Hey!” A sharp meow brought him out of his short lived slumber. He quickly blinked open his eyes, expecting a hostile enemy or something. Instead he came face to face with a thin faced tortoiseshell molly, who looked about his age. Her silky tail swished side to side as he raised his head, accepting the fact that he wouldn’t be sleeping right now.

 

That’s the molly from earlier! Strawberry! He recalled the meeting a few minutes before.

 

“Stop disturbing him.” Another cat behind her snapped. He peered past to see an older, thin framed molly grooming herself a few paces back. Her golden features could only be described as stern, as she glared at both young cats.

 

Strawberry paid her no mind, and just flattened her ears before continuing to disturb him.

 

“I’m Strawberry! You’re Rusty, right?” She asked cheerfully. Rusty nodded, blearily. The golden molly let out an exasperated sigh.

 

“Cool! I wanted to introduce myself, just so I don’t show up one day and you don’t know who I am. I mean you probably sort of know who I am, but there was alot going on in that meeting so I don’t know if you heard, but Scourge assigned me to you. I’m going to hunt for you and get your water and change your bedding. What’s your favorite type of prey by the way?  Sorry my instructor’s such a grump, I swear someone must put thistles in her nest every morning.” The tortoiseshell continued meowing, in a continuous string of words which Rusty could barely comprehend or pick apart. He couldn’t tell if it was endearing or annoying.

 

“Slow down.” The golden molly padded over to her and brushed her tail across the younger cat’s shoulder, “You’re stressing the poor thing out.”

 

“Sorry.” Embarrassment washed over her face and she ducked her head.

 

Rusty offered a small smile, “It’s alright. I’m just tired. Thank you though, I appreciate it.”

 

She pricked up her ears.

 

“How about we go hunt for him now while he rests.” The golden tabby suggested. Her voice was much kinder and calmer than Rusty initially expected. “We can take Orchid and Spirit with us.”

 

“Okay!” Her features lit up and she instantly shot up and raced off to fetch the other cats. The golden molly slowly followed, casting Rusty a fond glance as she left.

 

Rusty stretched out his head, resting it on his paws as he watched the BloodClan cats go about their affairs. Why were they all being so nice? Maybe that’s what set them apart from the other city cats, and why they were thriving here. He pondered for a moment, thinking back to Henry and the strange tom’s comments. They’d most definitely been referring to this group, right? Maybe there was some deep, dark secret they’d been harbouring here. Or maybe most cats were just intimidated by them. Still, Rusty couldn’t quite put a paw on why he felt he belonged here. Maybe Scourge could tell he fit in, and would belong here, and that’s why he’d invited Rusty back with him.

 

Rusty knew he couldn’t make a decision to permanently stay just yet but with each minute he spent with these cats, they began to feel more and more like home.

 

Chapter Text

All around him there was mist.

Swirling mist drifting amongst unnaturally straight trees. No underbrush, no brambles or even any birds. Just trees and mist, blanketing the land, even covering the ground beneath his feet. Silence pressed into his ears, much like the suffocating blanket of mist around them. Looking up, there was only the canopy of trees, and looking down there was only the seemingly endless sea of thick mist. Into the distance, there were only rows and rows of tree trunks, as far as the eye could see

 

Where am I?

 

Suddenly, the sounds of shrieking cats filled the air, shattering the deathly quiet. The felines themselves seemed to appear out of thin air, formulating out of the mist itself. In two endless lines, they leaped at one another with vicious outstretched claws. Any onlooker could see the obvious winner. One line was strong, while the other was made of starving, scraggly furred cats. They clashed together, the first immediately beating the weaker cats down. No matter how minor their injuries, endless waves of blood began to seep from their broken bodies. It spread across the springy ground, seeping into the grass and lapping at Rusty’s paws. He pulled away but only to step back into more blood. It covered the land, like a horrible sea.

 

Suddenly a cat appeared in front of him, looking to be from neither line. He did not smell or look like any cat Rusty knew, in fact he smelled like the herbs which used to grow in the young tom’s garden. The unfamiliar cat was old, with unkempt grey spotted fur and wild eyes. His blue eyes glazed over with fury, or madness. His unsheathed claws dug into the ground, and he snarled viciously, a string of drool swaying from his jaws.  

 

“Spottedleaf, you are a fool!” He screeched, an unnatural amount of viciousness clouding his voice. With the speed of a viper, he lashed out an unsheathed paw. Rusty shrieked and drew back, dodging the unfamiliar cat’s swipe. He was too slow, and it slashed across his face, turning his vision a sickening red.

 

Rusty shot up in his nest, immediately slamming his head against the sheet of metal above him, his heart pounding in his chest. So many questions flashed through his head. Where am I? Who was that? My name’s not Spottedleaf.

 

For a moment the tom was confused, then the previous day’s events rushed back. Right, BloodClan. My new den. Rusty exhaled. His breathing slowed as he realized he was safe, and not under attack in a strange misty forest. The dream still bewildered him, especially the last part. Who was Spottedleaf? That almost sounded like a forest cat name.

 

It's just a weird dream , Rusty reminded himself. Dreams had no meaning. It was just something strange the young tom’s mind had concocted, not too unlike his dreams of the forest. Obviously they all had meant nothing, as did this one.

 

Rusty wrapped his tail around his paws and pricked his ears, turning to the cat sleeping next to him. He found it to be Strawberry, fast asleep, with her nose tucked under her tail. Next to her lay a pigeon, it’s grey and black feathers, mostly plucked, and littering the floor of the den. The ginger tom’s stomach growled as he laid eyes on it.

Though Rusty assumed it was for him, he didn’t want to be rude and eat it without her saying so first. Maybe she’d caught it for herself and had been saving it. Plus there could be weird rules about eating here, like in the forest, and if there was Rusty didn’t want to break them, and end up like he did in the forest. The ginger tom turned his attention to outside the den. Moonlight streamed through the entrance, and for once the sky was clear of clouds and downpour. Outside, he could hear the clicking of unsheathed claws on the pavement and the meows of talking cats. Somehow, knowing he was not completely alone in this new environment, brought him comfort.

 

Slowly, Rusty rose to his paws and stuck his nose outside the den, appreciating the cool night air ruffling his pelt. In the process of doing so, he disturbed the sleeping tortoiseshell next to him. She awoke with a mrrph and blinked rapidly for a moment while she got her bearings. The ginger tom turned back to her and stifled a purr of amusement.

 

Finally she met eyes with him, and perked up. “Oh! Good morning, Rusty! Or I guess, good evening!” She mewed cheerfully, stretching her jaws in a yawn. Her cream colored ears angled towards the pigeon and she pushed it towards him with a forepaw, “Here I caught this for you!”

 

Oh so it was for me! Rusty thought, somewhat surprised at how welcoming the Clan was. In the forest, and everywhere else in the city, they’d driven him away for trying to eat, but here food was being given to him practically for free.

 

“Thanks.” He replied with a purr, and took the pigeon from her, digging in. After months of living off mice and Human scraps, the fresh kill tasted heavenly on his tongue.

 

Strawberry padded out of the den and began to groom her striped pelt while Rusty ate. For a moment, he almost felt a need to protect his food from her, as if she would snatch it away like most every other cat he’d encountered. His tail tip twitched but he did nothing. That would be stupid. She caught it for me, there’s no reason she’d take it back.

 

“When you’re done eating, Minty told me to take you to see Vesper. She’s going to look over your wounds and stuff, make sure you’re doing okay.” She told him once she decided her mottled fur was groomed to her satisfaction .

 

“Everyone keeps saying I need to see this Vesper, cat. Who is she anyway?” Rusty asked through a mouthful of feathers.

 

Strawberry’s features brightened, “Oh! I can’t believe no one’s told you! Well she was one of the first cats to join Scourge and bring the Clan together. When she joined, she brought her kit, Blackberry, who was the first kit to be raised here! But anyway she knows how to help heal cats, from like infections and injuries and stuff the rest of us don’t know much about.”

 

“Like the Cutter?” The tom asked, finishing his breakfast and swiping his tongue around his jaws. I ran away to avoid going to the Cutter, though I guess that ended up being a stupid decision after all.

 

“I guess, yeah.” Strawberry replied, pleased that Rusty somewhat knew what she was talking about. “If you’re finished, we should get going. She usually doesn’t stay in camp so we may have to walk a bit, but don’t worry its not super far.”

 

Rusty gave a swift nod and rose to his paws, pushing the remains of the pigeon to the side. With a wave of her tail, Strawberry gestured for him to follow her as she began to hurriedly walk down the alley. The ginger tom followed, already finding it difficult to match her speed. She was stronger and taller, with longer legs than him. Even though she was quicker, she occasionally looked back to make sure he wasn’t falling behind too much.

 

The tortoiseshell lead him to a torn chain link fence, situated in between two buildings further down the alley. The fence was ripped apart in several places, as if a great creature had taken its claws and torn through the metal wires. The rips were just the right size for a cat to slip through, so Strawberry and Rusty easily did, leaving the BloodClan camp behind them- for now.

 

The ginger tom gazed around curiously, as he trotted along after the BloodClan cat. The buildings towered over them, casting shadows on the alley below. Way up above, he could see a few stars twinkling in the night sky, barely visible through the light pollution and haze.  

 

His limbs began to ache in the cold air, as he jogged along. Soon the tortoiseshell lead him out of the alley, and onto the main sidewalk, which ran parallel to the road. A few Cars speeded by, reminding Rusty of his incident yesterday. His pelt spiked at the thought of them running him over. Hopefully they wouldn’t have to cross the road.

 

They padded along the sidewalk for a while, keeping close to the brick walls of the buildings. The cold of the concrete had begun to sting his paw pads, slowing his pace even further. Strawberry seemed to have noticed he was falling behind, and slowed down to match his uncomfortable trot. His chest heaved and he tried to steady his breathing so he didn’t appear too weak. They passed alleyway after alleyway, and eventually, Rusty lost track of where they were.

How far away is this place! It feels like we’ve walked halfway across town.

 

“We haven’t gotten to talk too much, so you should tell me about yourself.” Rusty finally meowed, trying to break the silence. He tilted his head to look at the molly. “You’re a trainee, right? So what was life like before you came to BloodClan?”

 

When she took a moment to reply, the ginger tom began to think he said something wrong or had offended her somehow. But after slight hesitation, she continued with a sigh, “Me and my sister, Orchid, were the kits of a rogue, who’d made some… bad decisions in life. But she wanted me and Orchid to do better, so she gave us up to BloodClan. And we never saw her again.”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Rusty said slowly. “How old were you?”

 

“It was only a few moons ago, but y’know there’s not much I can do.” Although Strawberry was smiling, it was quite apparent to Rusty that she still cared about her mother, and the situation wasn’t quite resolved.

 

“Huh, I guess not. At least you knew your mother.” The ginger tom replied with a shrug.

 

Strawberry turned to him, “Did you not know yours?”

 

Rusty shook his head. “No, kittypets usually get taken from their parents when they’re young. I don’t remember either of mine but I do remember my siblings.”

 

“That sucks. At least you know they didn’t give you up willingly.” Strawberry replied, bitterness edging her mew. “What about your siblings? Did you still talk to your siblings after you were taken?”

 

“Not really,  I don’t know where they ended up. They could’ve gotten adopted way far away.” Rusty meowed.

 

Strawberry touched her silky tail to Rusty’s shoulder. He jumped, somewhat startled by the affectionate gesture, “I’m sorry. At least I still have my sister. But who knows, maybe you’ll see them again someday.”

 

“Maybe.” He replied. What would I even do if I saw them again? Would they even recognize me?

 

The two walked along in silence, until at last, Strawberry turned into an alley, leading away from the busy road. Here it was dark and dingy, and overall much less inviting than the BloodClan camp. Boxes and garbage almost completely covered the concret, with no visible pathway through. Many of them reeked of crow-food and had flies buzzing around them, even in the dead of night. Rusty’s tail bushed out as a rat scampered across their path. He kept his head and tail low as he stuck close to the molly, who lead the way through the cluttered alleway. The ginger tom focused on putting his paws exactly where she put hers, as to not disturb the trash pile, or accidently step in a rotting pile of something.

 

Finally, they stepped over an empty cookie container into a clearing in the middle of the alley. Rusty couldn’t be more happy to feel concrete under his paw pads once more. Gazing around the clearing, he couldn’t see any sign of the cat living here. Nothing that could be used as a den, no prey remains… Rusty was beginning to think they’d come to the wrong place. If there was any cat scent, it was easily covered up by the smell of crow food.

He shifted his paws uncomfortably as Strawberry paced around the clearing, her tail waving.

 

They waited in silence for a moment, before Rusty heard something shift in the sea of debris beyond them. He held his breath for a moment, as more discarded plastic shifted and a rather large cat came trotting out, matted, cinnamon colored tail waving in the air.

As tall as she was, her size was not what struck Rusty upon meeting her, but instead, the left side of her face. Spots of bare, scarred skin, dappled across her cheeks and muzzle like sunlight in the forest on a pleasant day. Some were smaller, and others were larger, but all were circular in shape. They were sprinkled all over her face, down her front and presumably, across the back of her head as well. It did not look like the doing of an animal, none of the scars resembling the slashing of claws or the biting of teeth. She kept one eye closed, and Rusty was unsure if it was because the eye was gone, or just severely mangled like the rest of her. Her remaining eye gleamed against her soft pelt, sparkling with happiness, as if she was glad to have visitors.

 

Rusty was curious as to what caused them. Whatever it was, she must have been pretty tough in order to fend it off.  The ginger tom made an effort not to stare and just smiled as well as he could as she spoke. Despite her friendly demeanor, he still stood on edge, unsure of how to respond to her or the situation in general.

 

“Hello, Strawberry. I’m sorry I wasn’t expecting any visitors.” The cat mewed cooly as she stepped out into the clear space, her tail curled over her back. Rusty stiffened as she padded over to him, to give him a sniff. Strawberry cast him an encouraging smile.

 

“Hi Vesper! Sorry to come unannounced, but this is Rusty- he’s going to be joining the Clan soon! Minty and I wanted you to look him over, and make sure he’s healthy for his initiation.” The tortoiseshell quickly explained. Rusty still did not like the sound of “initiation” but decided not to bring it up now.

 

The cinnamon molly’s eye flicked over him and she huffed, “I’m sure I can do that.”

 

Rusty flinched under her piercing yellow glare. Somehow having only one eye made her much more intimidating.

Vesper circled around him and sniffed at the cuts on his back and shoulder. The tom held his breath, forcing his hackles to lay flat as she passed out of his line of sight.

 

“These look infected. What have you been doing to take care of them?” She meowed.

 

Rusty paused for a minute. What have I been doing to take care of myself ? The injuries weren’t really in the forefront of his mind after all.

 

“Uhh, I’ve just been cleaning them when I groom.” He stuttered as she padded in front of him once more. The tom almost had to tilt his head up to look at her.

 

“That won’t do much to ward off disease, especially in the city.” Vesper scoffed. “You also seem to have a fever, do you know how to deal with that?”

 

The ginger tom shook his head. He hardly knew what a fever was.

 

Vesper let out a dramatic sigh and rose to her paws, “Alright, come along.”

 

Hesitantly, the ginger tom began to follow her as well, with Strawberry pressed to his side, helping him pick his way through the clutter once more. Vesper turned back the way she’d come, tail sweeping behind her as she lead the two young cats back into the sea of trash. Rusty’s ears pricked with curiosity as he quickly padded after the molly’s matted tail. It wasn’t far to their next stop. He picked his way under and over a few discarded PVC pipes before emerging into another clearing.

 

What a strange place to live! Rusty thought, as they slipped into the next clearing. Had she made this entire place herself? Or did she find it like this and clear out all the clearings? Either way, Rusty found it to be fascinating, and probably very secure. Anyone who tried to get in would probably be heard a mile off, or wouldn’t bother coming in at all.

 

Rusty drew himself out of his thoughts and scanned the new clearing. Many seemingly miscellaneous items cluttered this part of the alley, namely a bowl of water, a pile of towels and blankets, a few prey bones and another pile of human rubbish. The ginger tom wondered what on earth she was planning on using these for. How could some water and prey bones stop an infection?

 

“Come here… uh, what did you say your name was again?” Vesper meowed, as she sat next to the bowl of water.

 

“Rusty.” He replied, tail tip twitching with interest as he moved to sit near her, leaving a few paces between them, so she’d have room to do whatever she was planning.

 

The cinnamon molly did not respond, but instead dipped her head into the bowl, emerging a moment later with a sponge in her jaws. Rusty remembered his humans often cleaned their “pans” and “dishes” with those, and he tilted his head. Why did this strange cat have a sponge?

 

Water dripped onto the pavement as Vesper padded around to the cuts on his back; there was a moment of silence before the cold water gushed out over his pelt. Rusty flinched, as the liquid stung at first, but after a heartbeat, it’s cool touch soothed his irritated skin. He did his best to remain still as she padded back and forth between the water bowl and the young tom, each time, letting the water run over each cut, several times. Rusty still wasn’t quite sure what she was doing, but whatever it was, it seemed to be helping.

 

Eventually she dropped the sponge back in the bowl and called to Strawberry, “Hey, could you fetch me two fleece blankets from over there.”

 

The ginger tom glanced over his shoulder to the molly, who give a nod and promptly scampered over to the pile of towels and blankets, on the far side of the den. She sat down, her mottled back to him and began to pull them aside, one by one, searching for one made of fleece. As she did so, Vesper finally began to fill him in on what she was doing,

 

“I just cleaned out the wounds. Cleaning them with water will be better than normal grooming. Try to stay off your paws as much as you can, and come back to me if you need me to wash them out again. As for the blanket, keeping warm will help rid you of your fever, and will help fight off the infection. Sleep as much as you can and make sure you drink and eat a lot.” The cinnamon molly told him sharply. “How did you get so hurt anyway?”

 

Rusty’s tail tipped twitched, “I fought with some forest cats before I came here.” A hint of pride edged his mew.

 

“Figures. Did you win?” Vesper asked. He couldn’t tell if she was teasing him or not.

 

“No.” He stammered slowly.

 

Vesper just replied with a purr of laughter. As snappy as she was, there was kindness in her gestures, which Rusty appreciated, even though he was still not quite sure what to make of her in general. He had so many questions he wanted to ask, but assumed none of them were really appropriate after all.

 

“Will this work?” Strawberry came up to them, her meow muffled by a rather large scrap of fleece, which she held in her jaws.

 

Vesper nodded, “Perfect.”

 

The tortoiseshell grinned widely at the molly’s praise, letting the fleece drop to the ground as she spoke. “Is he alright then?”

 

“Once he recovers from his fever, I think he’ll make a good BloodClan warrior.” She told them, her tail swishing from side to side. Pride swelled his chest. No one had said those words out loud yet, and he couldn’t help but appreciate them. I’m going to make a good BloodClan warrior. He only hoped they were true.

 

“Is there anything else you need help with?” She asked, turning to Rusty. The ginger tom shook his head, feeling much less intimidated than when he first arrived.

 

Vesper gave him a fond smile, “Then I suppose you both should be on your way. Travel safe.”

 

“When are you going to come back to camp? Blackberry’s been waiting for you?” Strawberry asked, tilting her head to one side. Rusty recalled how Minty mentioned Vesper was Blackberry’s mother.

 

Vesper only responded with a shrug, “Probably when winter hits. I’d like to stay away from the drama as much as I can.”

 

“That sounds good! I hope I get to see you sooner though.” The tortoiseshell replied, picking up the fleece in her mouth once more.

 

“I hope so too.” The cinnamon molly purrs affectionately as the two turn to head home.

 

Strawberry talked for the majority of the walk home, Rusty wasn’t sure what about, as he began to get lost in his own thoughts, only offering a simple nod or opinion. When they finally arrived home, and Strawberry left him to rest, Rusty couldn't quite get to sleep. He lay, curled in his den, still thinking about the Clan. 

 

Though he wasn’t sure what “initiation” entailed, he found himself looking forward to it, looking forward to fully becoming apart of the Clan. Each cat was friendly, and they all looked out for one another, much more so than any other group. The more he learned about it, the more he looked forward to becoming a part of it, and being able to contribute to something greater.

Chapter Text

Swish, Swish

 

A ginger tail swung anxiously from side to side, stirring small clouds of dust in its wake.

 

Swish, Swish

 

Green eyes squinted up towards the sky. Despite it being overcast, it was somehow still incredibly bright.

 

Swish, Swish

 

Claws tapped uncomfortably on the pavement beside Rusty. One by one, the Clan was gathering. Today was the big day.

 

After about a week of staying inside, not doing much besides sleeping and eating, Rusty found he was beginning to feel much better. His body wasn't as stiff, and for the most part he could move without pain. The dizzy spells had been reduced to almost none, and despite the coming Fall, Rusty found he wasn't feeling quite as cold anymore. Looking over his wounds, he found they were actually beginning to heal- although the healing process was slow and not quite as smooth as he would have hoped. Still, the young tom was proud, and pleased with himself. Had he stayed out on the streets much longer, he might not have made it.

 

In the time he’d taken to recover, he’d been filled in on much of the BloodClan happenings. Minty and Strawberry visited him frequently, and told him of the battles and skirmishes that took place. Seeing the outcome, and hearing about how the warriors fought, just further fueled his desire to join them. On many nights, Rusty dreamt that he was running alongside his Clanmates, into the heat of a battle, fending off vicious, mysterious enemies, and defending his home. The more time he spent here, the more appealing it sounded.

Many of the other BloodClan cats came to visit him while he was resting too. He found it difficult to remember all of their names, but Minty assured him that when she joined, she couldn’t remember everyone’s names either. Several of them told him of their own initiation, and he’d begun to get an idea of what to expect.

 

Now, the ginger tom sat at the base of the dumpster, his fidgeting paws stirring up the dust across the ground. The sun barely was beginning to peek over the horizon and the tom shuddered as the crisp morning air ruffled his pelt. He flexed his claws. Rusty was, by no means, a battle hungry cat but tonight, he couldn’t wait for it to begin..

 

After several conversations with Strawberry and other BloodClan cats, it had been described to him. He’d have to prove his worth to Scourge and every other cat there. There were several other parts to joining BloodClan but only one portion really concerned him at the moment.

 

Lilian, he learned, was the cat in question. Rusty would admit, he was a bit intimidated by her. She was not much taller than himself, but almost twice as wide, almost all of her mass being her long, tangled fur. After being told she was going to be his opponent, he’d considered several ways to win against her. It wouldn’t be easy, he knew that much, but he had a few tricks in mind. Even though Strawberry assured him, he didn’t necessarily have to win, he wanted to. So many cats in his life doubted him, and this was his chance to prove them all wrong. Even though they weren’t there to see, he mostly wanted to win for himself.

 

Rusty gazed about, taking in the camp. Several unfamiliar faces sat around him in a half circle, their expressions unreadable to the tabby tom. Many more approached from a distance, carrying themselves to the meeting on tired, heavy paws. Rusty kept himself, alert, on watch for a small black tom. He just wanted to get it over with.

 

Looking across the cats, there were several more he recognized now and reminded himself of their names. Ice, of course, and her son, Ghost both with equally cynical expressions on their muzzles. He saw Strawberry with several of the other trainees. Next to them sat Blackberry and his mother, who must of come out of her alleyway to see the event. He attempted to catch her eye but she was too busy telling the young tortoiseshell something, most likely about the few small fuzzy kits which sat next to their mother, only a few pawsteps away.

Rusty spotted a few other cats Strawberry introduced him too, Boulder, Raven, Fizz, Blue, Maple, Dusk… A thrill of pride filled his chest. If he made it, these would be his Clanmates, his new family.

As he sifted through the large group of cats, he was startled by a tap on the shoulder. A smile spread across his features as he met eyes with Minty. Her fluffy tail waved cheerfully, flicking side to side over her back.

 

“Are you excited?” The molly asked quickly, shifting her paws as if unable to contain her own excitement for him.

 

Rusty nodded, though he was a bit more anxious than excited. Maybe an equal mix of the two. “I mostly just want to get it over with.” He ended up admitting.

 

“That’s alright. It can be a bit nerve racking. But you’ll do great.” Minty replied with a somewhat reassuring grin.

 

“I hope so.” The ginger tom said simply.

 

Minty cast a look over his shoulder, and brushed her tail against his flank before padding away, back into the now massive crowd of cats. “Good luck.” She mewed.

 

She disappeared and Rusty turned his attention behind him, where he found the crowd parting to make room for Scourge and his mate, Bone. (Strawberry had informed him of the large black and white cat’s name.)

Rusty swallowed hard as the little black tom passed him, meeting his gaze. Scourge gave him a nod, and sprung up on to the dumpster. Bone followed him, giving Rusty a nod of encouragement, as the two toms settled themselves on the ledge.

 

It’s time. There’s no turning back now.

 

“Good morning, cats of BloodClan.” Scourge said, as cold as the coming frosts. The clan fell silent as his high pitched meow filled the clearing. “Today a new member is joining our ranks, that is, if he proves himself worthy. As is our tradition, he must fight to earn his place among us. If he is worthy, he will win.”

 

Rusty's hackles rose at the tom's words. He began to feel somewhat numb to the situation, unable to comprehend what would happen if he did not win. Where would I go? Guess there isn’t any other option…

 

“Lilian, please come forward.” He continued, turning his attention to a large colorpoint molly, crouching by one of the wheels of the dumpster. She surveyed Rusty through narrowed icy eyes as she stalked forward, her fern like tail flicking and claws unsheathed. The ginger tom’s hackles rose and he unsheathed his claws as well.

The molly swiftly padded up to sit beside Rusty, her pelt on end. He wondered why, perhaps she was nervous about losing to a former kittypet.

 

“If Rusty can defeat Lilian in battle, he will become a part of the Clan. If she defeats him, he will be sent away to return to whatever life he lived before finding us. One of them must eventually back down, or tap out. Death or fatal injury does not count as defeat this morning. ” Scourge told them, even though everyone listening knew that already. The anticipation for the battle buzzed in the air like cicadas on a hot summer night.

 

“Do you both understand?” He said, his blue eyes boring into the two young cats.

 

“Yes.” Lilian meowed sharply. Despite her confidence, Rusty could smell her fear, though he assumed it was not for herself.

 

The young tom nodded hesitantly, as Scourge’s gaze shifted to glare at him. “Yes.” He managed to meow.

 

“Then, on the count of three you will begin. I wish you both the best of luck.” The black cat spoke sternly. Rusty watched Lilian turn her back on him, as she walked back to the based of the dumpster.

 

“One...”

 

Rusty’s heart raced, as the cats behind him began to rustle about.

 

“Two...”

 

Lilian bared her teeth and hissed at the ginger tom. He ran his plan of attack through his head one last time. I only hope it works.

 

“Three!”

 

Lilian wasted no time springing forward at Rusty. He froze and eyes grew wide as the world seemed to slow down. For a moment all he saw was cream fur and outstretched claws. Then, after what seemed like a few seconds, Rusty’ limbs began to work and he put his plan in motion.

 

The young tom darted to the side just as she landed. She stumbled, almost tripping over her large paws, but hardly had time to dwell on her landing before Rusty was going in for his own attack.

The ginger tom darted forward, as quick as his lithe paws could carry him, to score his claws across her thin ears. Satisfaction swelled in his stomach as he cut through the delicate skin, blood welling up and staining her light fur. Directly after, he delivered a strong kick to her shoulder, knocking her off balance. Lilian let out a huff, as Rusty tried to retreat.

 

However he was not quite quick enough to avoid her as she struck back, leaping straight at him and almost bowling him over. Rusty caught himself and reared up on his backlegs, slashing at her face while he caught his bearings.

Again she leaped for him, and this time succeeded, knocking into his chest with all of her furry mass.

 

Fox dung! Rusty thought, as the two went rolling across the concrete. He let out a screech as she bit down into his shoulder. She didn’t let up and scrabbled as his belly fur with her back claws, ripping out dusty orange clumps.

 

The orange tom’s head spun as they tumbled into the crowd of gathered cats, who parted around them to give them space.

A few called out encouragements, and others yelled at Lilian.

 

“Get him!” A tom’s yowl rose above the din of the fighting and howling cats. Anger swelled in Rusty’s stomach, and it powered a rather rough kick into Lilian’s ribs. For a second, her grip loosened and a hard exhale sounded from her muzzle. Rusty took the opportunity to sink his claws into her shoulder before pulling himself free and backed up a few steps.

 

Tail puffed and kinked out behind him, Rusty snarled. His belly stung where the fur had been ripped but Lilian looked to be in worse shape than him. The molly rose to her paws though, and arched her back, hackles raised. Although she appeared absolutely massive to the younger tom, he didn’t give up, and struck again.

Rusty raced forward and at the last second, slipped underneath the fluffy molly, scoring his claws through her wispy cream fur, drawing blood in his wake. She hissed as he appeared on the other side, knocking her off her paws. Whilst she was still down, Rusty swiped at her relentlessly, as she scrambled away from his blows, her shoulders and the side of her face bleeding heavily.

 

Blood pounded in his ears as she backed up a few paces, blinking her eyes as blood dribbled down her muzzle. Her dark tail puffed out behind her, and as Rusty drew out of him thoughts, he realized how rowdy the rest of the Clan was getting behind him. At this point he couldn’t even make out words, just incoherent yowling from all the street cats.

 

The ginger tom cast a glance up to Scourge, who’s expression betrayed nothing as he proudly sat atop his dumpster.

 

That moment of hesitation was all Lilian needed. She leaped at Rusty again, this time hoping to catch him off guard. The ginger tom caught himself in the nick of time, delivering an exceptionally hard blow to the molly’s belly. As he hoped, it threw her off for a just long enough for Rusty to twist out of her grasp and scratch across her flank before he darted out of reach once more. His claws raked through the long, silky fur, and as he turned on her once more, he found that fur was beginning to be stained a bright reddish hue.

 

Still, she was not done yet. With blood dripping down her face, she whirled on him once more, letting out a growl before biting into her forepaw. Pain shot up Rusty’s shoulder as she dug her teeth in, and he hissed, smacking her on the head in an attempt to lessen her grip.

 

Her teeth dislodged for a moment, and he backed up, shaking his forepaw. The initial shock of the bite had dulled, but he balanced off of it, favoring his back paws, and shaking the tabby striped leg. Droplets of blood scattered across the ground.

 

Rusty and Lilian glared at one another, and she hissed, waiting for him to attack. The racket around them only grew louder when neither cat made a move.

 

“What are you waiting for, kittypet.” A fat orange tom snarled.

 

“Come on!” Rusty heard Ice’s meow amongst the others.

 

Rusty narrowed his eyes and lashed his tail, scanning his attacker for a moment. He formulated a new plan in his head, and prayed it would work. In their short break, he could feel his paws growing weary, and his muscles aching.

 

The ginger tom leaped forward, in the first stage of his attack. When Lilian lept to meet him, the tom slipped underneath her, as he did earlier, before twisting out of her grip and batting viciously at her ears and muzzle. It stung his now sore paw, but he cared little as he heard the cheers of the BloodClan cats.

Lilian waved her paw in defense, backing away, but Rusty followed, determination fueling his unsteady feet. Blow after blow after blow… He began to wonder if she would ever give in.

 

Finally, Lilian backed down, shaking her head and stumbling away from Rusty’s claws.

 

“Alright!” She screeched. “Alright, I give.”

 

Rusty stopped, backing off and looking to Scourge. Instead of his usual, unimpressed, neutral expression, a small, proud smile twitched at the edges of muzzle. Rusty’s heart sped up. For the first time in a while, he realized he felt rather proud of himself, though he also felt a bit numb to the situation.

 

Looking to Lilian, he expected her to be bitter, maybe resentful that she had lost to a kittypet in front of her whole Clan. Instead she also looked impressed, and took to grooming her flank, before drifting back into the crowd.

The tom’s heart pounded in his chest, as he realized the BloodClan cats were cheering… for him. It felt odd, he thought, for an entire group of cats to stand up for him like this.

 

Scourge, jumped down to the ground, landing neatly in front of Rusty. His next words brought a strange mixture of fear, anxiety and pure joy to the forefront of the tom’s mind.

 

“This cat has earned his place amongst the warriors of BloodClan. From this moment on, he shall train with us and live with us, fight for us and defend us as if we were his family by blood.” Scourge mewed, “Ruth, you will train this young cat, until he has learned our ways and can become a full member of the Clan.”

 

Rusty turned his attention to this new cat. His stomach churned for a moment as he met eyes with them, their intimidating yellow stare, glaring him down. Their charcoal colored pelt was tattered, matted and covered with scars, all which looked to be from old battles. Rusty wasn’t sure whether to be happy or afraid of this cat being his mentor. He had little time to dwell on it though, as he realized the cats were cheering for him again.

 

“Rusty! Rusty! Rusty!” The BloodClan cats yowled, their muzzles tilted towards the sky. As he looked across them, Rusty could not see one cat who looked resentful of their new Clanmate. Maybe he was really more than a weak kittypet to them. A new family member even?

 

Bone was the first cat to approach the young tom. In his previous few weeks around camp, Rusty hadn’t interacted with Bone, and had only seen him from afar. He was the very definition of intimidating, taller than most cats in the clan, and twice as well muscled. Strawberry told him he acted as a physical enforcer in the Clan, while Scourge worked better with mental and emotional situations. There was no doubt in his mind, that Scourge and him worked well together, and by the Clan’s attitude it seemed they agreed.

 

“Good job, Rusty.” The patched tom mewed, “I hope you serve BloodClan well.”

 

“I’ll try my best, “ He stammered a reply. This seemed to satisfy the large tom and he headed off, back to wherever he usually stayed with Scourge.

 

Soon, the rest of the Clan flooded over, each giving their congratulations to the ginger tom. Many introduced themselves, telling him their name and telling him how glad they were that he was here. Even Ice gave him a slightly less cold, “Congratulations.” He found himself incredibly overwhelmed but relieved and satisfied. This new home seemed to calm the pull to leave his kittypet life, to find meaning in the world. Rusty finally found a home, a family. His heart soared at the very thought of this.

 

I’m a real cat of BloodClan now. 

Chapter Text

The rest of the Clan began to depart, some cats welcoming Rusty and others just give him a friendly wave of the tail as they went off to go about their business. Regardless of how much the others welcomed him, Rusty was thrilled.

 

I finally I made it! I can’t wait to tell Smudge! He’d probably love it here too. Rusty purred as he pictured the plump tuxedo with a tooth adorned collar.  And I wonder what Henry will say when I get some teeth in my collar! Then I’ll be the cat he tells stories about!

 

Once most of the other cats had cleared away from Rusty, Strawberry bounded up to him, her striped tail waving high in the air. The tortoiseshell gave Rusty a friendly head butt as she reached him, A purr rumbled in her throat and her green eyes glittered as she exclaimed, “Wow! I’m so proud of you Rusty, you fought super well! Definitely earned your place in the Clan!”

 

“Thank you!” Was all Rusty could reply through the pride in his stomach. The reality of the situation was setting in. This is it now… This is my life. It feels like I was always meant to be here

 

Ruth walked up soon after, standing beside Strawberry and towering over the two of them. Although Rusty immediately felt intimidated, being around a cat so much larger  and tougher than him, Strawberry didn’t seem to mind.

 

“Hi Ruth! Are you all going to go out training? Where are you going to go? Can I come too?” The tortoiseshell meowed, tilting her head up to look Ruth in the eye, her tail waving.

 

The grey molly twitched an ear but smiled at her before beginning her sentence, “No, not today. I was-”

 

A sudden screech cut the huge molly off. Everyone turned their heads and angled their ears to the source - the hole in the chain link fence, along the side of the alley. Rusty had to stretch his neck to see as the departing patrol turned back to see the commotion. Cats began to murmur amongst themselves as they crowded around those who were entering camp.

 

Rusty immediately recognized the cat as Oreo, one of the Queens. He and his two kits were padding into camp with their hair on end and eyes wide. The smaller of the two kits was who had yowled. She had her ears slick against her head and tail puffed up to twice her size. At first Rusty did not realize the cause of the yowl, but then the smell hit him. A smell he knew very well, for it clung to practically everything in the city. Harsh and dull at the same time, it make the BloodClan cats wrinkle their noses and bush out their tails. It reminded him of the dumps, where mice and rats died in the dozens and clouded their air with their vile scent. Bile rose up in Rusty’s throat as he spotted what Oreo drug alongside him, only confirming what the smell told him.

 

It looked to be the body of a cat, though Rusty could not remember their name. Blood mattered their fur, which was falling out in chunks, littering the ground with russet and black wisps. Rusty silently hoped they would move but they remained limp in Oreo’s jaws.  

 

“Flair!” Someone finally cried, rushing forward. It was Fizz, a cat who Rusty did not know well, but he guessed they were a relative of the dead trainee due to their pelt having the same mottled pattern.

 

Rusty’s stomach dropped; the pride of his new position replaced with a mixture of anger and fear, both driven by the Death Scent in the air. Only two questions courses through his mind in that moment: What had happened to Flair, and what could Rusty do about it?

 

Fizz rushed over to Oreo, almost tripping over his kits, and pushing him aside to take her sister by the scruff and gently lay her on the ground. Wide eyed and bristling she turned on Oreo.

 

“What happened to her?” The molly snarled, voicing the thoughts of most of the gathered cats. Her claws unsheathed, though it was apparent her reaction was not directed at the tom.

 

Scourge and Bone appeared from the crowd, surprisingly calm considering the situation. Scourge’s pelt lay flat as he padded up to the queen and the grieving molly

 

“Oreo, what happened?” Bone meowed first, with more emotion in his voice than Rusty had ever heard.

 

The black and white tom shook his head, “I don’t know.”

 

“What do you mean you don’t know!” Snarled Fizz, leaping to her paws. Scourge stepped in now, brushing his tail along her flank. The motion got her to keep her distance from the obviously traumatized tom.

 

“Take your time. Just tell us what happened.” The black tom murmured. Oreo nodded and sat down, wrapping his tail around his kits. His eyes stayed fixated on the ground for a few moments, and in that time, many cats began to talk amongst themselves. Rusty turned to Strawberry to see the molly stunned into silence, for the first time ever.

 

“She shouldn’t have gone before her sister.” The tortoiseshell stammered, her eyes clouded over in grief. “Who could have done this…”

 

The question was directed to no one in particular. Rusty pressed his nose to her cheek in an attempt to comfort her.

 

“Whoever it is, Scourge and everyone won’t let them get away with it.” Rusty told her, sympathy edging his mew.

 

“I want to be on the patrol, if they go out looking for the killer.” Strawberry hissed. Rusty was about to respond when Oreo began to speak. Immediately all of BloodClan fell silent to listen.

 

“I went out, just after Rusty completed his initiation. I was going to teach Riley and Jet some new battle moves, so maybe we could join in on the next attack. When I got to our usual spot, over by the Car Nests, something was off,” The black and white tom meowed, “It was so quiet. Then I noticed her, among all the Human garbage there. She was just out in the open. It’s like whoever killed her knew someone was going to be there and would find her.”

Everyone gasped under their breath. BloodClan often dealt with death, but never an intentional murderer.

 

“Did it smell like a cat or something else? Maybe she went out alone and a stray dog got her.” A maine coon molly suggested.

 

Fizz immediately turned on her, hissing, “My sister would never be that dumb!”

 

The maine coon backed up and started to reply but Oreo cut her off.

 

“No, it smelled like a cat there, a cat who was not Flair.” The black tom confirmed.

 

Scourge nodded, as a deadly quiet fell over the Clan. Everyone found themselves looking to their leader, Rusty included. The ginger tom still thought it was strange how much of a pull he had on them all.

 

“We will send out a patrol of our best trackers and fighters, immediately.” The black tom said gravely, “Bone and Ice are to lead it. You will also take Blue, Ruth, Hermes, Brick, Ghost, Raven, Hoot and all their trainee’s. Oreo and his kittens may go too if they like Depart as soon as you can.”

 

The black cat meowed something to Bone and then turned to Fizz, most likely to comfort her. The cats who had not been called gathered around the tortoiseshell molly and her sister, all offering condolences. Rusty hoped they would have time to grieve Flair when they got back. Although he’d never spoken to the molly, she was his Clanmate now and he hoped she was happy now, wherever she was.

 

Ruth turned to Rusty, “Well I suppose this will be more interesting then what I had planned.”

 

Strawberry had returned to her usual cheery self and loudly meowed to no one in particular,  “We’re going to go catch a killer!”

 

“Both you come here, let’s go wait by Bone.” Ruth meowed to the younger cats, rising to her sturdy paws and waving her tail. Rusty nodded and followed, his heart thrumming in his chest as he followed her.

 

A few cats were already gathered around the great bi-color tom, Oreo’s kit, Jet and Ice among them. She sat, her black tail flicking back and forth as she gazed across the cats with narrowed eyes. Beside her sat a young solid white tom, with baleful green eyes and a shockingly familiar face to hers. Is he her kitten? Rusty’s whiskers twitched in amusement at the thought of the tough molly being a mother.

 

“Oh fantastic.” The tom meowed, glaring at Rusty “Why’d Scourge invite him along? He doesn’t know any fighting moves.”

 

The ginger tom opened his jaws to defend himself but before any words could get out, Ice boxed the white tom over the ears.

 

“He’s your Clanmate now, you treat him with respect.” She hissed, then added with a teasing tone,“Don’t be bitter just because he beat up your mate.”

 

“Lilian is not my mate.” The white tom remarked, flattening his ears.

 

“Sure.” Ice meowed, her eyes glittering with amusement. It was strange to see her acting so positive.

 

Rusty still shied away from both of them, parting from his mentor and friend and decided to wait next to Bone and a tall, black molly with long, whispy fur. He hadn’t met her, or the cat beside her yet and thought this would be a good time to get to know them. The molly looked incredibly angry, her upper lip pulled back in a half growl, directed at no one in particular, as she stared off into the distance, obviously contemplating something.

 

Beside her, was a younger tom, most likely her trainee. He was a handsome tom with a lithe body, and and odd russet colored pelt, with bright yellow eyes and a squirrel like tail, curled around his paws. Rusty didn’t know exactly how to talk to him, but luckily he started the conversation first,

 

“You’re the new trainee, right?” The tom asked, his eyes wide.

 

Rusty nodded, his mouth going dry.

 

“I’m Spirit.” He meowed, offering a smile.

 

Rusty pricked his ears, and replied, “I’m Rusty!”

 

Immediately the ginger tom began to internally beat himself up. Why was I so overly enthusiastic?  

 

Before the conversation could continue further, a few more cats trotted up and Bone rose to his paws, and waved his tail indicating their departure.

 

Rusty’s heart jumped up in his throat as the group headed off, their paws thoroughly chilled by the damp concrete. Ginger pelt stood on end as the group exited, one by one through the gap in the fence. Rusty swallowed thickly as he trailed behind Spirit, and squeezed through the gap. My first time out of camp as a real BloodClan cat and its an important mission. I hope I don't mess anything up...



They headed down the street, the opposite way of Vesper’s alley. For the most part, this was unknown territory and while Rusty thought he was absolutely terrified of the unknown, it was thrilling to know he was helping the Clan on his first mission.

 

Eventually, Strawberry fell back to pad alongside Spirit and himself.

 

“What do you think we’ll find?” She asked.

 

Spirit shrugged, “Hopefully a scent trail we can track. I know Raven and Hermes are good at tracking but who knows how long she was there for.”

 

“I hope we find something.” Rusty agreed, stunned by the russett tom’s direct and intelligent answer.

 

Strawberry continued, “What will we do if we find the killer though?”

 

“Take him out,” The white tom from earlier cut in, unsheathing his claws. He smirked, “Then maybe one of us will get his teeth.”

 

“Maybe.” Spirit shrugged, not appearing to be too interested in the matter.

 

They rounded another corner and found the area Oreo had told them about. A vast open space, littered with human trash and stinking of Cars. The source, obviously came from the building right next to it- a massive, towering structure which had several open layers, in which hundreds of cars were sleeping. The space before them looked generally uninhabited by Cars though, which Rusty found to be a relief. A few dead bushes and bits of cheatgrass stood out among the space, even more trash tangled amongst their stalks. The grass was short, dead and prickly and it poked uncomfortably into Rusty’s paw pads and he walked across it. Even though the dirt was dry and packed down, it was cold in the morning air. Everything looked even greyer in the overcast sky. Rusty hoped it wouldn’t rain before they could catch the murderer.

 

Jet, the kitten who had come along, now took the lead at the front of the group. She was the shorter of the two kits, with detirmined hazel eyes and generally sharper features than her sister. She picked her way among the bits of grass as she approached an empty space where the trash was pulled aside, obviously by something.

 

“This is where we found her.” The young calico meowed stiffly, staring at the empty space, her gaze clouded over with something Rusty could not place.

 

The wind shifted as the patrol circled around the spot. Death scent filled the air. Rusty wrinkled up his nose as he seated himself on the grass and surveyed the scene.

 

Nothing looked too amiss. If Rusty had not been told a cat had died there, he would not have suspected it. The dirt was stained dark in a few spots and a huge chunk of mottled fur was caught in a clump of dry grass a few tail lengths away. Rusty scented the air and caught something very faint- far too faint to track. It did not smell like a BloodClan cat, as he had learned to pick out their particular scent. No, it smelled much more rancid and sharp, like the city itself. Maybe even a bit watery?

 

He looked to his Clanmates and hoped one of them would be able to track it better than himself. It was apparent that a few had, namely Hermes and Blue.

 

“Spread out,” Bones told them sharply, “If you find the scent trail give a yell.”

 

Rusty nodded, and looked to Strawberry as everyone rose to their paws and scattered, combing the area for anything they could find. The tortoiseshell was sniffing a clump of cheatgrass, where a few extra strands of fur were tangled amongst the dried stems. The ginger tom padded over, and bent down to sniff the earth near her as well.

 

Disappointment flooded his stomach as he only scented the earth, and the metallic tang of blood.

 

“Do you smell anything?” Rusty sighed, glancing over at Strawberry, who had started her search only a few paces away.

 

The molly just shook her head. Her tail and whiskers drooped in dejectedness, as she did not reply and continued scenting the clumps of grass and spots of dry blood.

 

“Me neither.” The ginger tom said, trailing off, before shifting his gaze over to a clump of prickly bushes, right up against the concrete wall of the Car Nest. His ears pricked as he spotted something moving in them. The tom squinted. It’s grey… maybe a mouse?

 

Regardless of what it was, Rusty hurried over to it, to get a better look. Maybe it was a clue, a bit of prey or maybe it would just end up being trash. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t hurt to check it out.

As he grew closer, the possibly of it being a clue or evidence of the killer only increased.

 

If it was a mouse it would have moved by now....

 

The ginger tom wrinkled up his nose as he approached the Car Nest. The scent of it was overpowering, but he caught something else underneath.

 

Rusty took a closer look at the grey scrap and realized it was a tuft of fur. Long fur, tangled in the prickly branches. Looking even closer, he found a dark brown substance stuck on the thorns of the branches. He leaned in the take a sniff, being careful not to scratch his nose on the thorns.

 

Definitely cat.

 

Tail twitching in excitement Rusty looked about to find someone to tell, and caught Ghost’s eye. He was only a few tail lengths away from the ginger tom and headed over when he saw Rusty’s expression.

 

“You find something?” The white tom asked, his eyes narrowed, almost as if he wasn’t sure Rusty was capable of finding something. The ginger tom’s fur prickled with anger towards the tom’s attitude but he said nothing.

 

“I don’t know.” Rusty admitted, stepping back and gesturing to the bit of fur with a paw.

 

Ghost’s tail tip twitched as he surveyed the branches. He took leaned forward to sniff it, and muttered to himself, “Too long to be a rat or dog…”

 

The white tom then turned over his shoulder and in a yowl that hurt Rusty’s ears, yelled, “Ma! We found something!”

 

Ice, who was investigating some trash at the far edge of the clearing pricked her ears, as did everyone else in the small field. Her and a few other cats around her rose to their paws and hurried over, anxious to see what the two young toms had found.

 

“What is it?” The blue eyed molly asked. Ghost simply motioned to the clump of fur. His mother frowned and took a step forward to investigate it. Blue and Hermes, the other two cats who had come over also sniffed it, their expressions not giving away any opinions.

 

Rusty remained silent, watching her and the others for some sort of response.

 

It has to be something, right?

 

“Rusty found it. It… It’s probably from a cat, right?” Ghost asked, looking to his mother expectantly. Even through his permanent scowl, Rusty could see anxiety swirling in his green eyes.

 

He wants it to be something too… Rusty realized. Of course he does, but if he hates me so much why did he give me credit for finding it?

 

“Yes, I’d say so.” Ice mewed, her tail flicking back and forth with thought.

 

Hermes cut in, her huge golden ears angled back, “The scent matches the one all over where Flair was found.”

 

Ghost spoke next, his shoulder fur on end, “What do we do then?”

 

Ice turned to Hermes, “Do you think you can track this?”

 

The golden molly nodded, “Yes, yes I do.”

 

“But what if it’s not the cat who killed Flair?” Rusty asked, the pressing question that had been on his mind. What if we go after some random passerby when the real killer goes unnoticed.

 

“When city cats smell Death they run as far away as they can.” Hermes told him sternly, “Any sane creature wants to avoid danger whenever they can. This area will be clean of anything for moons.”

 

Rusty simply nodded, feeling stupid for asking in the first place. He stared at the clump of fur, watching it stir in the wind. It’s strange to think this is a part of a cat who killed my Clanmate.

 

“What is it?” The sound of pawsteps and Bone’s deep meow caught Rusty off guard as the rest of the patrol arrived.

 

“Rusty and Ghost found this. We believe its a bit of fur from the killer.” Ice told him simply.

Bone nodded slowly, “Hermes, Raven, Blue, Ice, Ghost, Rusty and Ruth should all try to track the scent. The rest of us will stay and try to find more evidence.”

 

“What if we encounter them!” Blue, a shy and timid molly, exclaimed. “I don’t know if we could all fight them off.”

 

“We’d be wasting time if we all went off and it ended up being a dead end.” Raven snapped, her silky tail flicking against her trainee’s side. Spirit remained still, not agreeing or disagreeing with her.

 

“Both of you are right.” Bone said quickly, breaking the fight up before it began. “Let's say, Hermes, Raven, Ice, Ruth, Ghost, Spirit, Strawberry and Rusty will go. That leaves me, Hoot, Ash, Jet and Brick here to keep looking.”

 

Ice shrugged, “Is everyone in agreement.”

 

The BloodClan cats nodded, a few of those who would stay behind muttered to themselves.

 

“Good,” Bone confirmed, and with a wave of his tail, lead his half of the patrol back to the empty field.

 

“Hermes, Raven.” Ice addressed the two mollies, who both sat to Rusty’s right. “You lead the way.”

 

The two mollies scented the air and conferred quietly amongst one another before the set off, confidently trotting off around the side of the Car Nest. Rusty’s paws tingled as he followed closely behind. In some ways he was anxious to encounter the murderer but also not.

 

What do I even do? I’m not that good of a fighter yet…

 

“Good job finding that tuft of fur.” Ice’s mew caught Rusty off guard as they headed off. She ended up right next to him. Her features did not radiate warmth but more approval. Still, Rusty’s heart warmed. In some ways it felt good to have such a respected cat’s approval.

 

“Thank you.” Rusty stammered. Ice did not reply and kept her ears pricked as she followed behind Raven, as the black molly lead the patrol further and further from the Car Nest, deeper into the city.

 

The buildings grew denser and the amount of grass and foliage diminished significantly as they walked.

My first time back in the city, I’m glad I’m not alone. Rusty thought, while trying to keep an eye out for anything and everything. I wonder if I could find my way back to that old box, or maybe even back to my House. Or I guess, what used to be my House.

 

The patrol passed alleyway after alleyway, streaming behind the mollies in silence. Every so often, Rusty would see glowing slitted eyes, shining from the depths of the alleys. They were most certainly watching the patrol, he decided, but knew that no city cats would try anything against a BloodClan patrol. Whenever they passed by a cat on the street, they would scamper out of the way as quickly as their nutrient starved limbs would carry them. Pride swelled in Rusty’s throat as he realized how much stronger he, and all his Clanmates were compared to them.



Cars raced past them along the Road,Thunder cracked above them as they padded across the concrete in silence. Rusty stole a nervous glance up at the sky, watching the grey clouds swirl and twist in the sky, threatening in the coming storm.

Hopefully we can get home before it starts raining…

 

“How much further do you think it is?” Strawberry mewed, from somewhere behind Rusty. The ginger tom angled his ears back to hear her.

 

“Hopefully not far.” He heard his instructor tell her. Strawberry just sighed.

 

Hermes then took the lead, guiding them single file through a hole in a chain link fence, into a vast stretch of lush, grass covered land. In the distance, Rusty could see a few Houses, a some Human children playing on some bright, oddly shaped trees, clustered in the middle of the empty field. A few other Humans were walking about on thin concrete paths, which snaked their way through the field.

 

But instead of going across the field, or investigating something in it, the golden molly lead them a few fox lengths forward, before dropping down into a ditch. Rusty’s ears pricked with surprise but he followed her and Raven, bunching his muscles and springing down into the muddy earth below. Despite it being dry as a desert everywhere else, this ditch was soaking wet, due to a small stream of muddy water running through it. He wrinkled his nose up as the tainted water seeped in between his paw pads, staining his orange fur. He flicked his paw, trying to get some of the mud off, before taking a few steps to the side, making room for the other cats. Once the rest of the patrol had landed, Hermes and Raven took off once more, leading the way down the disgusting ditch, right to a gaping hole in the earth. Then there they stopped.

 

Rusty’s tail tip twitched as the stared into the hole. It looked like a huge mouth and only went back a few paces, before the rest of the entrance was shrouded in darkness. A few straight poles stood straight up, as if they were guarding whatever lay inside the hole, but Rusty was certain he and the others would be able to get in.

 

Raven took a pace forward and scented the hole. The black molly’s lips pulled back in an irritated snarl as she stared at blackness.

 

“Fleabags!” She spat suddenly, her unsheathed claws digging into the dirt. Hermes brushed her tail against the black molly’s flank. Raven flattened her ears.

 

“What’s going on?” Spirit’s meow voiced most everyone’s opinion in the moment.

 

“The scent goes into the sewers.” Hermes meowed calmly.

 

Ice took a pace forward, “Then we follow it. We know our way around the sewers better than the rest of the city cats anyway.”

 

“They’re using our own tactics against us.” Raven snarled. “Once we find this mangy rat-face, I’m going to tear his stupid head off with my own claws.”

 

“Then let’s go find him.” The van molly said, placing her paws onto the concrete before easily hopping through the bars and disappearing into the black void.

 

Rusty’s stomach swirled as he followed after Hermes, hopping inside the pitch black entrance. Once inside he found it to be more of a tunnel than a hole, as it stretched far off into the distance. Instantly he was hit with a wall of trash- scent, as vile and harsh as the city itself. The sound of rushing water echoed somewhere off in the distance, and the presence of water made everything humid, which only further amplified the disgusting smell in the tunnels.

 

Somehow, Spirit ended up next to Rusty as the patrol set off again, padding slowly through the maze of tunnels. The russet tom stuck close to Rusty, his fur on end. Rusty’s ears flattened against his head, as his paws splashed in the disgusting stream of water at the bottom of the tunnel.

 

“I don’t like this,” Strawberry whispered, from somewhere ahead of the ginger tom. In the darkness, even her pale pelt was not visible. Rusty found himself straining his ears to follow his clanmates.

 

“Me neither,” Spirit replied, “I just hope Hermes knows where she’s going.”

 

After a few twists and turns, they exited a tunnel, and the golden molly lead them out into a huge open cavern. There was a grate in the ceiling above them, and a bit of grey toned light streamed down into the vast arched cave. A river rushed past them, it’s water surprisingly clear, despite the darkness of the entire tunnel system. The pathway opened up here, though the majority of the patrol stuck close to the wall, for fear of falling into the rushing water.

 

“He should be here somewhere.” Raven hissed softly, “His scent is all over this place.”

 

The black molly turned to her trainee, “Can you smell it?”

 

Rusty opened his jaws to take in the scents of his surroundings. Underneath the musty odor of trash and the humidity of the water, he could pick out a scent much like the one he’d found in the clearing, except here it was everywhere.

 

“We’ll keep going, but stay alert.” Ice meowed sternly, “Don’t hesitate to kill him if you see him. We’re looking for a longhaired grey cat, remember.”

 

Rusty nodded stiffly, regretting taking a place at the front of the patrol, in case they did encounter the tom.

 

Hermes dipped her head in agreement, and moved to the side, to let Ice take her place in the front of the group.

 

But then, just as the molly stepped aside, a flash of grey caught everyone’s attention. Out of one of the other tunnels, a scrawny grey molly appeared, her yellow eyes bulging out of her head and her shredded ears slick against her head. She paused, staring at the group of cats, her tail puffed out and hackles raised.

 

For a moment, the group of BloodClan cats were too dumbfounded to move. Had the cat they’d been looking for just appeared right in front of them?

 

Then, time seemed to slow. The grey molly took off, and before anyone else could react, Spirit sprung from Rusty’s side with a yowl. The russet tom took after her, his squirrel like tail streaming out behind him, his ears angled back and lips pulled back in a hiss.

 

The tom was fox lengths ahead of the patrol when Ice started sprinting after him. Rusty followed behind the van molly, aware of the thrumming of paws behind him as the rest of the cats took chase as well.

 

Spirit was just ahead of them, only a few whisker lengths from the molly, who’s poor health was not aiding her in escaping the BloodClan tom. Rusty’s muscles burned and his lungs ached as he pushed to stay in stride with Ice, determined to not lose the molly’s approval.

 

Come on, Spirit!

 

The ginger tom fought back the urge to let out a yowl of triumph as Spirit finally caught the grey molly, bowling her over, onto her back. The two became a writhing mass of teeth and claws, rolling across the pavement as the rest of the BloodClan cats drew closer and closer. Blood was staining the concrete, but Rusty was certain it belonged to the molly.

 

He was barely a mouse length away when the molly finally got a good kick in, sending Spirit sprawling a few steps away from her. As he scrambled to his paws, anxious to get back into the fight, he slipped and disappeared over the edge, into the rushing water below.

 

Raven’s shriek barely registered with Rusty, and before the tom could think, he whirled, nearly crashing into the cats behind him.

 

All thoughts of catching the killer were lost, as the ginger tom spotted a russet mass bobbing up and down in the rushing water. Rusty’s heart stopped and quickly turned on his back paws before launching himself off the concrete path and into the swirling black water below.

 

I have to save my Clanmate! Was the last thing Rusty thought before he was plunged into icey black water.



Chapter Text

Rusty’s head broke the surface a few moments later. He paddled with his front paws almost instinctively trying to stay afloat. The freezing water penetrated his pelt, chilling him to the bone. He sputtered, trying to get the water out of his nose, its sting filling his sinuses and burning his face from the inside.

Frantically, blinking water out of his eyes, Rusty spotted his instructor and Strawberry running alongside the river, screaming something incomprehensible through the water in his ears. In the heat of the moment, Rusty didn’t quite care what they had to say anyway, and only focused on the clump of russet fur, swirling towards him.

 

I am not losing two Clanmates on my first day in this Clan. He spat to himself, and kicking hard with his back legs, successfully propelling himself towards Spirit. The tom’s yellow eyes were wide with terror and his usually fluffy pelt clung to his sides, making him look somewhat like a rat. Had the situation been different, Rusty would have made a joke but now was most certainly not the time. As he grew closer, Rusty dug his claws into the tom’s pelt and clamped onto his scruff. There was a moment of panic from the russet tom who yet out a gurgled cry before he realized he was being rescued. and relaxed, still kicking his legs in an attempt to swim.

The churning water continued to carry the toms downstream, further and further from their Clanmates. The weight of Spirit was beginning to tire Rusty out as he fruitless paddled against the current, desperate to get back to the concrete path.

 

My paws are going to freeze off! He thought, feeling his limbs going numb as he determinedly swam towards the concrete.

With each kick it grew closer, and Rusty began to focus on it, blind to anything else. His heart pounded and fur attempted to stand on end from the freezing water. Although he couldn’t feel his paws any more, he forced them forward in a motion he never truly learned. It came from somewhere deep inside himself, like a long lost memory.

 

Then, just when he was barely a whisker length away, Rusty felt a harsh tug on his scruff and he was jerked out of the water.

 

It took a moment for him to realize what happened but when he did, relief washed over him, relaxing his muscles from head to tail tip. The ginger tom flopped onto the concrete panting, thanking any and all higher powers for the ground beneath his paws, while Spirit, who had also been pulled out of the river, sat coughing violently a few feet away. The tom was bent over, retching up water onto the pavement.

Rusty took a moment to catch his breath, his limbs aching from the ordeal. He glanced around, seeing the rest of the patrol had gathered around.

 

“Rusty! Are you mousebrained!” A voice above him snapped. He blinked his stinging eyes open to see Ruth, Ice and Strawberry above him. It was obvious Ruth was the one who had spoken. She glared down at him with yellow eyes, clouded over in fear. Her tufted ears lay flat against her head.  Rusty quickly rose to his feet, seeing the rest of the patrol gathered around Spirit. He sat down and took a moment to steady himself. His paws still felt as though he were in the water, and his fur was a mess. Still, the fear subsided. He’d saved his Clanmate and was ready to face whatever consequences would come from his mouse brained actions.

 

I’m safe now. And so is Spirit. That’s all that matters.

 

“You could have died! On your first day out of camp! I'm responsible for you, Rusty, you can't just run off and do whatever you like!” Ruth yelled, snapping him out of his thoughts. The ginger tom flattened his ears at her short lecture.  She paused to take a breath. Guilt rushed over Rusty and he drooped his head.

 

I could have died.

 

“Still, I'm glad you're okay.” Ruth finally meowed, after a sigh. Rusty silently agreed, unsure how to respond to his instructor.

 

“Did you catch him?” Spirit’s rasped mew brought up the next question. The russet tom was bent over, still coughing profusely.

 

Rusty took in his surroundings and looked about. Where did the culprit go?

 

“Yes.” Ghost meowed. He sat crouched down a few paces away from the group, shadows falling over him and somewhat hiding his pale pelt. Rusty's stomach dropped as he noticed the red staining the white tom’s muzzle. A new tooth had been added to the tom's collar.

 

They killed her. Rusty realized with a start. In theory it was not shocking but to see one of his clanmates with fresh blood on his muzzle… the tabby found it disturbing. It's our way of life. I knew we killed cats but...

 

“Let's head home.” Ice told them, her usual cold demeanor had returned. Without waiting for an answer, she turned back down the tunnel they had come from, her black tail low and lashing.

 

Stunned to silence all Rusty could do was follow.

 


 

 

The sun had set and rain had begun to fall in sheets by the time the patrol arrived back in camp. It certainly wasn't helping Rusty dry off, and only further numbed his soaking paws.

 

Still, the ginger tom remained unbothered by the drops of rain bombarding his pelt- he was far too lost in thought to care. The droplets pelted his coat and rattled the city around him, but he focused on Ruth's tail in front of him, feeling somewhat hollow, as if the series of events in the sewer had shaken the very essence of himself out of his body. His tail was dragging through puddles and he didn't care.

 

Ghost killed a cat. Ghost killed a cat…

 

It remained the only thought running through his mind, all the way home.

 

I shouldn't be surprised or shocked but I am. Why? How can be not care that he killed a cat, he took her life and left her in the sewers. What if she had family, or a mate or-

 

“Rusty!”

 

The ginger tom whipped his head up. Strawberry, nodded towards the wooden fence, slinging raindrops which clung to her whiskers at it. Her green eyes were dull, and her mew, flat. “We’re home.”

 

“Oh.” The ginger tom murmured before he bunched his aching muscles and sprung up onto the wood. He dug his claws into the slippery wood before catching his balance and clumsily dropping down into camp. My limbs feel like jelly.

 

The alley lay incredibly still as the patrol streamed into camp. Only a few cats peeked out of their dens to see the returning patrol. Most were taking shelter from the storm, and Rusty couldn’t help but be jealous.

 

As everyone filtered in, a small black tom emerged from underneath the meeting dumpster. With him was Fizz, her whiskers tangled and eyes clouded over with grief. With their rain soaked pelts, both cats looked twice as small and scrawny as usual. They met the group halfway in the alley, and everyone gathered about in a half circle surrounding Scourge.

 

“Did you get them?” Scourge asked cooly as he approached. His icy gaze flitted from cat to cat until someone spoke.

 

“Yes. Ghost killed her.” Ice meowed, even though her voice was as cold as a Winter night, her exhaustion showed through. “We almost lost two trainees though.”

 

Rusty flattened his ears as Ice gestured to him with her tail.

 

“Oh?” Scourge said, obviously pressing for details. Watching him, Rusty could not figure out what he thought of the situation. Only his white tipped tail moved as he curled it around his paws.

 

“Spirit went after the cat when we encountered her, and he fell into the Sewer-River. Then Rusty went in after him.” The van molly said, her jaw stiff as she spoke. “Then Ruth had to rescue both of them. While she was doing that, Ghost and Strawberry got the killer.”

 

Strawberry helped? It was difficult to imagine the light hearted molly murdering a cat, especially alongside Ghost.

 

“Good. What matters if that they're alright.” Scourge said, flicking an ear. He then turned to Ruth and Raven, who sat side by side next to Ice. Raven’s gaze was still fixated on the ground, as it had been the whole time. She almost looks disappointed. Maybe she wishes Spirit would have gotten the murderer instead.

 

“If it's alright with you two, I'd like it if they stayed in camp for a few days, just to make sure they’re well before returning to training.” The tom mewed. Rusty frowned, I have to stop training before I even begin.

 

“It's fine with me.” Raven muttered. Ruth only nodded, her ears drooping. She’s probably already disappointed in me too…

 

“You all are dismissed.” Scourge finally said, dipping his head to the patrol. He then addressed the two young cats in turn, as they padded away “Good job, Ghost, Strawberry .”

 

Ghost grinned at his leader's praise as he began to pad away, following behind his mother.

 

“Thanks for helping me back there, Rusty.” Spirit murmured before getting up to leave. The ginger tom watched him as he padded away, the corners of his muzzle quirked up in a smile.

Rusty waited until Strawberry got up to leave before following The sodden tortie frowned as she left, a look of concern across her features. She did not acknowledge her leader’s approval or Rusty as she departed.

 

“Rusty!”

The ginger tom had only risen to his before be he turned to see Scourge had not made any move to retreat to his den, but instead remained in the middle of the clearing.

 

Rusty was getting quite tired of hearing cats call his name.

 

The black tom gave Strawberry a nod when she paused as well, gesturing for her to go to her den. She met eyes with Rusty for a moment before obeying the silent order. Her green eyes sparkled with curiosity as she padded away. Had Ice not told him, Rusty would have never guessed she had blood on her paws. The ginger tom turned back to Scourge with a slight scowl at having to sit out in the rain for even longer.

 

“Yes?” He asked as he approached his leader.

 

“You seem unusually upset, Rusty. Did something happen?” Scourge asked. Looking into his icy blue eyes, he felt colder than he had during his swim a few hours earlier. The ginger tom glanced away momentarily.

 

For a moment, Rusty’s words caught in his throat and the urge to lie swirled about his head. He was not sure where it came from but something deep down told him Scourge did not need to know his real thoughts on what had occured in the Sewers. But at the same time he felt that if he lied, Scourge would know. He feared what would happen if the black tom caught onto his lie, even as simple as this one.

 

But before he could properly respond, Scourge spoke once more, “I can tell you’re holding something back. Come with me to my den, we will talk there.”

 

Without waiting for an answer, the little tom rose to his paws and began to pad back towards the meeting dumpster. Rusty stiffly followed, his anxiety overwhelmed with the prospect of seeing the leader’s den. It almost made him feel like a leader himself, someone close to Scourge.

 

Rusty crouched down as the black tom lead him under the dumpster, his ears brushed the top of the space, as he wriggled inside. After the initial act of getting underneath, Rusty found it was quite roomy and pleasant. It was much nicer hearing the rain on the lid of the dumpster above them, rather then on the tabby’s pelt. He crouched low to the earth, scenting only Bone and Scourge, and the smell of the rain, which had yet to snake its way into the den. Rusty ruffled his soaked pelt in an attempt to get warm and tensed his shoulders. Scourge settled himself against the wall of the building beside them, while Rusty awkwardly remained on the floor across from the smaller cat. The ginger tom tucked his paws under his chest, while his heart pounded in his ears.

 

He reminded himself that this was his leader. There was no reason to be afraid.

 

“So Rusty.” Scourge meowed smoothly, “Tell me about the patrol.”

 

Rusty’s throat grew dry, “What about it?”

 

The black tom shrugged, “Did anything concerning happen? Ruth seems rather worried about you. You aren’t acting very yourself.”

 

“A few things actually.” The words came out before Rusty could stop them. He stopped himself, the whites of his eyes showing his uneasiness towards his own rash words. Scourge’s expression did not waver, and the black tom merely nodded, silently telling him to share.

 

Rusty took a deep breath, “I was fine on the way out but on the way back here, I got scared…”

 

“Why?” Scourge asked. It was a cold remark, reminding Rusty of the time his Human dropped a dish on the floor, and it shattered. The question itself was pressing, and sharp, almost squeezing Rusty’s next words from his body.

 

“Ghost killed a cat!” Rusty exclaimed, “What if that cat had a family or kits or-”

 

The black tom cut him off with a hiss “Did that cat consider if Flair had a family or kits? Did they even pause for a moment when Spirit fell into the the water?”

 

Rusty flattened his ears and bowed his head to think under Scourge’s glare. Did they? The image of Spirit’s form disappearing into the swirling black water flashed in his head. The grey molly had not cared. They just kept running. Eyes wide, desperate to get away.

 

“No… I don't think so.”

 

“Rusty, I understand how you're feeling.” Scourge replied, his high pitched voice now soft, and almost soothing, like a mother cat speaking to her kittens. “Death is a difficult thing to witness first hand, but for us it is something we must learn to cope with. We must utilize it for our own survival. If you are not willing to put your Clanmate’s lives before the lives of rogues then you have no place here. Do you understand?”

 

“Yes…” Rusty nodded slowly. It makes sense. Yet why do I feel so… hesitant. Surely there are ways to survive and get back without murder.

 

The thought swirled in Rusty’s mind for a moment, yet he began to feel doubtful about that too. Perhaps it really is the only option to protect the ones I love.

 

“There is no doubt in my mind that had you gotten the opportunity, you would have killed that cat.” Scourge told him.

 

“I-I'm not sure if I could have though.” The ginger tom stammered, raising his head to look his leader in the eye. What happens if I can’t?

 

“For now, that's alright. Trust me, Rusty. It will be easier with time. I can see you care for this Clan deeply, and you care for those in it even more. You risked your life to save Spirit after all. Not many others would have attempted that so quickly.” The black tom continued. His words reassured Rusty, and calmed his overactive mind.

 

“Yes.” The ginger tom agreed.

 

“You must simply apply that thinking to other aspects of life.” The black tom told him with a smile.

 

“I can assure you I'll try. But aren't there better ways to go about a situation like today’s?” Rusty asked. For whatever reason, Scourge’s words made him feel a bit better, more comfortable asking the questions he’d been considering since his first day in camp.

 

“Such as?” The black tom narrowed his eyes, his white tail twitching.

 

“I don’t know, talking to her? Taking her prisoner? There has to be another way.” The tabby looked to the tom hopefully.

 

Scourge’s reply was not what Rusty expected. He pulled back his lips in a hiss, his hackles on end, before he barked,“Rusty, use your head! She killed one of our own, someone who was like a little sister to everyone in this clan, with no hesitation or remorse. What do you think would have happened if we tried to talk to her or take her prisoner?”

 

“Maybe we could have figured out why-” Rusty cowered under his snarl but did not back down.

 

“There is no reason why. Cats here are cold. The longer you stay in the city, the more you begin to only look out for yourself. When you were on your own did any single cat ever share with you or try to help you?” Scourge hissed, his long, unsheathed claws digging into the concrete. Rusty stopped again. He was right. Why was Scourge always right?

 

“No, only one…” He finally admitted.

 

“Exactly. There are good cats here but they are few and far between. All the others are just concerned with how they're getting their next meal and they won't hesitate to take out anyone in their way. That’s why our clan is special. we are stronger than them because we help those in our family. They only care about themselves, but we care about one another. The cat Ghost killed today threatened our survival, and in turn they had to be eliminated. Anyone who threatens one of our Clan threatens the survival of all of us. Do you understand now?”

 

“Yes.” For once, Rusty did understand.

 

The two sat in silence. The rain had since stilled but it remained dark. The only sound was the flicking of Scourge’s tail against the rusted wheel of the dumpster and the distant, constant sound of rushing cars. Rusty’s pelt was beginning to dry, and he fought the urge to groom a few stray tufts back into place as he sat, unsure if their conversation was over. Unsure if he was free to retreat to the quiet of his den. The tabby’s eyes remained fixated on the ground, mulling over Scourge’s words.

 

“There is no doubt in my mind that had you gotten the opportunity, you would have killed that cat”

 

The ginger tom pictured it, seeing the grey tabby writhing under his unsheathed claws, their green eyes pleading and afraid. He tried to imagine what it would be like to sink his teeth into the soft fur of their throat. It only brought up bile, and he turned his head away, shutting out the mental image and fighting back the urge to vomit.

 

“Rusty, did you know your father?” Scourge asked suddenly. The thought of family dispelled the horrid idea of murder.

 

An odd question.

 

Rusty blinked, “No, no I only remember a faint memory of him visiting my mother before she became a kittypet. It was most likely the day I opened my eyes. But my mother told me many stories of him. Why?”

 

“Your coat.” Scourge meowed, “It stirs a memory of my own father. My mother’s housefolk used to keep a picture of him in their house.”

 

“What was your own father like?” Rusty asked, tilting his head, somewhat fearful of crossing a line.

 

“My mother was very fond of him, she’d tell us grand tales of his adventures in the wilderness.” Scourge scoffed, seemingly not put off by the question, “I think he made it all up to impress her.”

 

The ginger tom nodded, taking in the information. He was unsure how to reply.

 

“But he never came to see us.” The black tom drew his tail close to himself, his muzzle drawing up in a sneer, “Not once. Mother said he moved on to another cat, a forest cat, and lived too far away to visit. I think that was a lie as well.”

 

“Why do you think your mother lied to you?” Rusty asked.

 

Scourge shrugged, opting to look elsewhere. Rusty didn’t press the issue further.

 

“I didn’t know my mother for very long, but I think she told me and my littermates similar stories.” The ginger cat mewed, “About the time the forest cat saved him from a dog.”

 

“My mother told me a similar story.” Scourge said quickly, his ears perked up. The wheels began to turn in Rusty’s head.

 

“Do you think we could have had the same father?” Rusty asked. His heart warmed at the thought of knowing his kin.

 

“Maybe. There’s no way to know for sure. Do you remember your parents’ names?” The black tom asked. Its strange to look at him and think we might be related. Having kin in the Clan would change everything.

 

“My mother was Nutmeg and my father was J-” Rusty paused before he finished, “Jack? Jake, I think.”

 

“Jake was my father’s name too.” Scourge meowed. Some sort of excitement tinged his mew, but for the most part his expression remained neutral. “But my mother was someone else.”

 

“Does that mean we’re kin?” The ginger tom blurted out; an overwhelming weight had been taken off his shoulders. Although he knew he could trust his Clanmates with his life, there was something incredibly comforting about having kin in the Clan. Somehow it made him feel not so alone.

 

Scourge didn’t reply right away, and instead paused for a moment, his blue eyes focused on the ground. “Yes, I believe it does.”

 

Rusty nodded slowly, fidgeting with his paws. Daylight was starting to stream into the den, and he no longer had to squint in the dark to see. Outside, he could hear cats walking about, and talking quietly amongst themselves.

 

“It’s getting early, Rusty.” The black finally said. “Why don’t you go get some rest.”

 

“Alright.” The ginger tom replied. The thought of rest brought exhaustion flooding through his limbs.

 

“Thank you for talking with me.” Scourge’s meow caught his attention as he exited the den. “You’re going to make a valuable warrior one day.”

 

“Thank you.” Rusty replied. The encouragement sent a thrill up his spine as he padded away from the den.

 

The dark clouds which had previously coated the sky in their dreary dampness, had cleared and the sun was rising over the buildings. Rusty yawned as he skirted the edge of the gathered cats, all from the morning patrols, which were about to depart. Minty was leading one, and Ghost was leading another. Everyone was chatting amongst themselves, like idle pigeons picking at bread crumbs. It was as if nothing ever happened. For them it wasn’t a big deal. One more threat was gone. They could sleep soundly another day.



Chapter Text

“Twist and kick!”

 

Rusty followed the barked order, as he had all morning, flying over his opponent's head, landing behind her and lashing out a paw before she could react.

 

The move had almost become instinct for him now. He assumed that was a good thing. His muscles burned and the tendons in his claws ached from the repeated motion. It was a good burn, one that proved he was getting stronger.

 

Half a moon had passed since the incident in the Sewers, and Rusty spent it training harder than ever. His friends and mentors assured him that no one doubted him any more than they had on his first day, he disagreed. I have to get better. I have to prove myself.

And so he did. Each day spent mock fighting with Ruth and the other trainees, wandering the city looking for food and with whatever time he had left, listening to Ruth tell him the ways and story of BloodClan. There was never a dull moment. Nothing like his kittypet home, where every moment was a dull moment. And even better, he didn't appear as an outsider anymore. The names of his Clanmates came to his mind easier and he was starting to develop a mental map of the city. He began to remember which Sewer entrance lead to which street, what buildings and parks the camp and training grounds were nearby . I could find my way around these streets without my ears and eyes .

 

Suddenly a sharp slash across his cheek brought the ginger tom back to the present.

Frost, his opponent for the day, was glaring at him, her amber eyes narrowed and lips drawn back in a hiss.

 

“Pay attention!” She snarled, snow white tail lashing at his short attention span.

 

“Sorry!” Rusty retorted, grimacing at his smarting cheek.

 

At the edge of the clearing, sat Ruth, Hermes, Strawberry, Orchid, Maple and Frost's littermates: Dusk and Otter. Orchid, as Rusty had learned, was the complete opposite of her sister: quiet, calm, stocky and attracted to toms. Together, they were not the most agreeable company and spent most moments bickering with one another, and accidently excluding Rusty with their strange inside jokes. The young tom didn’t ever know quite where to look when around the both of them together.

 

Maple’s litter, were another overwhelming pawful. Rusty found himself feeling sorry for the red tortoiseshell, as she tried to rein them in . First there was Frost, a powerful white molly which deep amber eyes. She was not afraid to speak, or act her mind and rarely knew (or cared) when it offended someone else. Well spoken yet she hesitated to use violance, something her mother didn’t care for. Many cats didn’t in fact. And from that, many ignored her, thinking she was weak and useless. Rusty found he could relate on some level and after many evening of Strawberry inviting her to eat with them, he found her good company.

Then there was her shadow, Otter, a soft black tom with a white chest patch and the largest yellow eyes Rusty had ever seen. He spoke to few in the Clan, keeping close with his mother, sisters and occasionally Ghost. Rusty found it surprising how well the two got along. Unlike Ghost, he was timid most times and avoided conflict whenever possible. Yet Frost managed to bring him out of his shell every once in a while, usually within conversation on patrol. The two were practically inseparable, outcasts, their own talents shadowed by that of their last sibling, Dusk.

She was a mean spirited, tortoiseshell tabby with the most intimidating demeanor out of every cat Rusty knew in BloodClan. Lankier than her siblings, with thin wiry muscles flexing underneath her mottled coat. She shot daggers at anyone who looked at her and spent most nights sleeping on the shelf above her mother and siblings, rather than with them. She didn’t speak often and stalked around camp with unsheathed claws and a bushy tail, warning others to stay back, as she was not in the mood for conversation. She was never in the mood for conversation. Still, many cats said she was likely to become someone close to Scourge, since she was a brilliant fighter. Rusty disagreed. He saw the sour expression that passed the tiny cat’s face whenever the tortoiseshell was mentioned. Rusty and Strawberry often wondered if that was because he worried about her driving him out or something. They joked about it sometimes, yet their jokes did not lack some sort of basis.

 

Still, even with Dusk’s eyes on him, Rusty thought he was doing alright at battle training.

 

As Rusty caught his breath, Ruth waved her scrawny, matted tail, calling, “Do it one more time, then come over here.”

 

The tom nodded, and crouched down, consciously keeping his ears back, head tucked in and limbs underneath himself - like Ruth had taught him on their first day of training. His green eyes met Frost’s amber ones as, without warning, he sprung into the air, aiming to land on her back. Just as she reared up to meet him, he twisted aside and landed behind her, scoring his claws across her snow white haunches. She let out a snarl as his claws lightly broke the skin, leaving a few red droplets across her pelt.

 

“Good,” The grey molly stated from the other side of the clearing, as the two young cats got to their paws and padded over to the rest of their Clanmates. But when he turned, he found that there was one extra cat there who had not been there before. A grey and white molly, who he recognized as Jasmine, one of the first cats to join, and one of Scourge’s closest associates. She sat as still as a statue, the only thing giving away her as not being a statue was her lightly tapping grey tail and darting yellow eyes, scanning the gathered trainees. She scanned the smaller cats like one would scan a barn full of mice.

 

I wonder what she’s doing here. Usually the higher ranking warriors didn’t attend simple training sessions. His fur raised at the thought of such an important cat watching him train- if that's what she was here to do.

 

Rusty seated himself next to Strawberry as the young cats gathered around their instructors - plus Jasmine. Frost took to grooming her pelt, sitting herself next to her siblings. She received a hard jab in the ribs from her mother as Ruth began to speak.

 

“As most of you know, we are going to go to battle again tonight-” The grey molly started. Most of the trainees did not, and upon hearing this, their eyes grew wide with excitement. Actual battles did not happen often in BloodClan- most of the blood on their paws came from skirmishes or cats getting in their way. For several of the young cats, this would be their first time in an organized fight.

 

“Kittypets?” Strawberry asked, her tail puffed out with excitement. Rusty assumed this was not her first battle, but she was excited nevertheless.

 

Ruth nodded, “Yes. Hopefully this will be our last battle against such soft cats, but still we must all be prepared.” She motioned to the taller tuxedo molly who sat next to her, “Jasmine has come evaluate you all, to make sure you are prepared. Everyone will be going, except for the younger litters, of course.”

 

My first battle? I’m going? Rusty’s stomach churned at the thought. He flexed his claws, tapping them on the pavement. It’s finally time!

 

Jasmine spoke next, flicking a tattered ear, her voice stern and resentful “Scourge would like to know which of you are ready to graduate to full members of the Clan, and would like to monitor the progress of newer recruits . No matter how you do, all of you will be fighting tonight.”

 

She emphasized the words ‘newer recruits’, her piercing yellow stare falling onto Rusty’s pelt. The ginger tom swallowed hard and ducked his head.

 

“You will pair up, and fight until one of you gives in, similar to an initiation fight. Claws unsheathed. Pretend this is a real battle. I will be watching and reporting your performance to Scourge.” The grey tuxedo continued. She then motioned to Ruth to take charge once more.

 

Ruth nodded and meowed, “Orchid and Otter, you go together, Frost and Strawberry, and... Dusk and Rusty.”

 

Rusty’s heart rate skyrocketed at the name of his partner. Does she really think I can take on that cat.

 

Dusk slowly turned to glare at him. It was obvious she was thinking the same thing: Rusty would be an easy target and measly opponent. She met his eyes and her muzzle turned up in a mischievous smirk. For a cat that didn’t usually express anything other than anger, it was unnerving to say the least. The ginger tom swallowed hard and turned his attention to the mollies beside him as their names were called.

 

“Frost and Strawberry, you go first.” Jasmine instructed, lowering herself into a loaf to watch the young cats.

 

Rusty pretended not to see Dusk’s expression of pure delight, as he watched the skirmish before him. With every second that passed, he became more and more terrified of his own mock battle. I’m going to lose, and then I won’t be allowed to go tonight. Or worse! Scourge won’t want me to stay anymore.

 

Frost and Strawberry padded out into the empty clearing, their paws leaving behind little prints in the dust as they started. Strawberry hissed, flattening her ears and arching her back. With her silky fur fluffed out and teeth bared, she turned from a cheerful young cat to a fierce and bloodthirsty warrior. Rusty was proud of his friend and fought back the urge to cheer her on.  

Still, Frost was not phazed. The white molly arched her back as well, and hissed before swatting out a claw at the leaner trainee. Strawberry wasn’t having it and backed up, slashing at the white molly’s outstretched paw with her own, unbalancing the smaller molly. Frost backed up a pace, trying to find her balance before Strawberry could notice. The tortoiseshell had, however noticed, and sprung forward, with outstretched claws. Dust billowed up around the mollies as they wrestled together on the dusty earth. The spectators raised their heads to better see the commotion, as the molly’s snarls and cries rose into the air.

After a few seconds the dust stilled, and Rusty could see Strawberry was on top, her teeth dug into Frost’s cheek, obviously not deep enough to leave a serious wound. Frost had her back legs outstretched, keeping Strawberry at a distance, and preventing her from getting to her belly. (Another move Ruth had taught Rusty) Both molly’s forepaws were wrapped around one another’s shoulders. They remained like that for what felt like an eternity before Frost finally kicked hard, and the two began twisting about once more, disturbing the fine dust as they went.

 

Frost’s annoyed cry of, “Fox dung!” rose into the air as the two broke apart. Rusty spotted drops of red in the clearing, as the white cat backed up a pace, away from Strawberry. Her ear had been torn and was streaming red down her face, staining her fur. Strawberry didn’t seem to care and crouched low to the ground, a few paces away, before swatting out a claw and landing a vicious blow to the white molly’s cheek.

 

The white molly had her moment of disorientation before she leaped onto Strawberry, digging her claws into the tortie’s shoulder and biting at her neck from above. The lean molly rolled onto her back, knocking the wind out of Frost before scrambling out of her grasp.

Before Frost had time to get back up, Strawberry was on her again, placing a now sheathed paw on her throat and imitating a Killing Blow.

 

Frost sighed dejectedly as Strawberry turned to her instructor’s smiling widely at her victory.

 

Hermes, who had remained silent thus far, turned to Jasmine, “She wins then.”

 

The two mollies came back to the group. Strawberry was beaming, while Frost sat next to Otter, her shoulders slumped and whiskers drooping. Maple only twitched an ear, her lips pulled together in a thin line. From what Rusty had gathered, Maple was a good, but strict mother, and she didn’t like her kittens losing, even in mock battles.  

 

“Well done, Strawberry.” Ruth said. “Frost, do you know what you did wrong?”

 

The white cat sighed, “Yes. I didn’t keep my ears back and I should’ve been quicker getting up after she flipped me over.”

 

“Good. Remember that tonight, we don’t want anyone getting killed on the battlefield.” Ruth approved, she then looked around the group for a moment, “Dusk and Rusty, you two go next.”

 

Instantly Rusty felt his paws turn to jelly and his blood freeze. For a moment, he was certain he had left his own pelt and was hovering somewhere above it, unable to go face Dusk in the clearing.

 

Strawberry spotted his horrified expression and leaned over, whispering to Rusty, “You can do it! She wouldn’t have paired you up if she didn’t think you had a chance.”

 

Her words brought some comfort to the ginger tom, but did not quite dispel the frogs hopping about his stomach. On shaky paws he padded out to the dusty clearing, his menacing tortoiseshell opponent in tow.

Dusk ended up reaching the training space first, since Rusty was forcing his paws to move one at a time. He began to talk himself down as he hurried after her.

 

I can do this. Even if I lose it’s alright. At the end of the day, she’s my Clanmate. He stole a glance towards her gleaming amber eyes, Even if she is twice as good a fighter as Scourge.

 

With a deep breath, Rusty turned to face her, trying to imagine there was a bell around her neck and a soft bed awaiting her at home. Instead, all he saw was the lean muscle beneath her mottled pelt, and her sharp claws scraping across the ground.

 

The tortoiseshell began posturing almost immediately. A low growl rose up in Rusty’s own throat at the sight of her arching her back at him. His hackles rose on instinct and his kinked his tail, keeping himself low to the ground. There was no need for posturing, right now, or tonight. He was already intimidated.

 

Rusty looked back to his Clanmates. Strawberry gave him a huge grin and a waving tail. I can do this. He reminded himself one more time, before turning back to the battle entirely, focusing his attention in on her every move.

 

The ginger tom growled, lashing his fluffy tail and keeping his ears slick against his head. He did not want to end up with a sliced here, like Frost. At this, Dusk rose herself up higher on her paws, her unsheathed claws digging into the dirt. Then, Rusty struck.

 

He lunged forward, sinking his teeth into her shoulder fur and delivering a strong blow to her stomach. Moving fast, Rusty wrapped his paws around her body and scrabbled his back claws into her belly fur, tearing out chunks and leaving scratches in his wake.

Dusk snarled, and retaliated quickly, digging her own teeth into his neck and shoulder. Her claws dug into his fur, and for a moment, Rusty was reminded of the time in the forest. He stopped, imagining her as a forest cat, rather than a soft kittypet. Picturing his claws scoring across Tigerclaw’s thick tabby fur sent fire running through his veins, a fire that was not easily put out.

 

His moment of hesitation lasted only a second, and when he came back to his senses, Dusk was in the motion of trying to dislodge his back paws from her belly fur. He hissed under his breath as one of her claws sliced along his outstretched hind leg. Without thinking, he drew back his back paws and gathered them under himself as the world spun, the two tumbling across the clearing, their claws still dug into one another.  There was nothing but blood, tortoiseshell fur and the occasional earth digging into his pelt when he rolled on his pelt.

Rusty snarled, attempting to pull away and get his bearings, for a split second he exposed his neck and Dusk lunged forward, her jaws threatening to dig into his throat. Had this been a real battle he was as good as dead.

The ginger tom was quicker though, and dislodged one of his front paws, bringing it down on Dusk's muzzle before she could bite down on his neck fur. His claws met her whiskers and dug in, raking across her cheek and muzzle, leaving trails of red on her light colored fur.

 

The BloodClan warrior snapped her head back in shock, allowing Rusty to scramble to his paws and back up a few tail lengths. Blood roared in his ears and his lungs stung as he panted, green eyes locked on his opponent. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the other trainees, their eyes wide and locked on the pair.

 

Dusk’s now bloodied muzzle was twisted back in a hiss of outrage and pain. Her mottled tail lashed and she sprung again.

 

Rusty didn’t take the time to think and slid forward as quickly as he could, launching himself upwards at the molly. He knew he was heavier than she, and even if she landed on him, he could escape.

 

The ginger tom leaped up, wrapping his forepaws around her skinny torso and raking his claws down her flank, snatching her out of the air like he would a bird in flight. With a screech, the two crashed to the ground once more. The ginger tom’s breath was knocked out of him as he landed hard, body aching from the impact. Though Dusk was on her belly for half a second, she quickly remedied that situation, slithering out from Rusty’s claws and swiping at him before she retreated, spitting and hissing.

 

Time stood still for Rusty as he and Dusk circled each other for a moment.  The pupils of her amber eyes were wide and glaring, her pelt dusty and riddled with scratches. She looks rabid. Rusty was certain he didn’t look much better though.

 

Suddenly, she surged forward. Rusty could see by the way she stayed low to the ground, she was aiming to get underneath him, to attack him in the same manner he had, just moments before.  

 

Not this time.

 

He stepped to the side at the last second, and lashed out a paw, knocking her in the shoulder and unbalancing her. She did not fall though, and whirled on Rusty, delivering a firey blow to his haunches. He snarled under his breath and batted a paw at her. It did little though, she just glared up at him, stalking low to the ground. She’s staying low, I’ll never be able to get her like this.  

 

Just as he thought that, the molly pounced, flying up at him and hitting him with the speed of a falcon. Rusty tumbled onto his back, dirt clouding up around him. He felt a paw on his throat, her unsheathed claws prickling his skin.

The ginger tom groaned internally, unsheathing his claws and relaxing his limbs as she glared down at him, not a hint of emotion in her amber eyes.

 

I lost.

 

The realization was numbing. The stress of the battle was over.

 

“Do you give up?” Dusk spat, one of the first words she’d spoken all day. Her voice was brittle and piercing. It hurt Rusty’s ears.

 

The ginger tom nodded, and felt the paw be removed from his fur. He sprung to his paws, and shook out his pelt, padding back to his clanmates rather angry about his loss. He’d lost in front of Jasmine and everybody.

 

Why’d she pair me up with her if she knew I’d lose. I’d be better off fighting someone like Orchid or Frost…

 

Rusty seated himself next to Strawberry and began to rasp his tongue across his pelt, wrinkling up his nose at the taste of dirt in his mouth. Watching the next pair go up, and seeing their fighting, how good they were matched against one another. Jasmine’s void expression, the way Ruth said nothing to Rusty, Dusk’s smug grin, not yet wiped off her face. It made the dirt taste that much more disgusting.

 

Strawberry did not comment when Rusty spat at the ground and dug his claws in until the joints began to strain and burn.

 

The tom could not wait for the coming battle.









When the group arrived back at camp, Rusty was fuming. He was not sure why exactly he was upset in the first place, it was certainly not the first time he’d lost a battle during training. But the loss worried him greatly.

What if I can’t defend myself tonight. Unfortunately it was a valid fear. A fear that could end in disaster. It got Rusty thinking terribly dark thoughts, but he swallowed his fears as he padded back to camp. I can't let the enemy know I'm afraid. That was one of his many mistakes with Dusk. Fear. It always got him thinking, and not acting. 

 

The sky was clear and by the time Rusty and the other got back to camp, though the evening grew near, the sun was beating down as hard as ever, making the concrete of the alleyway as hot as the sun itself. It felt as though heat was trapped in his fur, making him sweat and pant after all the exercise and the trek back to camp in the blistering heat.

For the most part, the alley  was deserted. Those who were in camp, either stayed in their dens, or in the shade of buildings, speaking with one another. Coming out in the daylight was a mistake, Rusty thought as he tip toed across camp, trying to avoid burning his paw pads on the firey concrete. He spotted Spirit, Ghost and Fawn sharing some prey in the shade of a neighboring building and decided to join them.

 

When he was a few pawsteps away, the russet tom raised his head and purred a greeting, “Hey Rusty! How did training go?”

 

The ginger tabby shrugged as he lay down beside the group, ignoring Ghost’s annoyed hmph as he did so.

 

“Pretty bad,” He meowed, “Ruth paired me up with Dusk and I lost.”

 

“It was a solid fight though.” Strawberry said as she joined them as well, Frost and Otter behind them. “He stood up pretty well against… well you know.”

 

“I bet.” Spirit replied, “Definiely put her in a prickly mood”

 

Strawberry settled herself beside Rusty as the group watched the tortie in question stalk up to Blackberry, who sat crouched, eating a scrawny sparrow in the middle of camp. The young cats watched, somewhat afraid and somewhat amused as she darted forward to try to take the prey from the older warrior and received a slap with a sheathed paw and a growl. The tom’s tail lashed as she swatted back.

 

“I wonder who’s going to win this one…” Fawn meowed, obviously bemused by the situation. The bicolor molly sat in a loaf, unaffected by the little battle within the camp. Looking around, a few other groups of young warriors were watching as well, while the older cats cared little what the turnout was.

 

As Dusk went in for another go at the sparrow, Blackberry got to his paws and while he was a stout little tom, he definitely had some weight on Dusk. The tortoiseshell tom stood over his sparrow and hissed at Dusk, before batting her on the muzzle with an unsheathed paw. The smaller molly got the message and slunk away, growling, as she often did. Rusty sighed and Blackberry got back to eating his sparrow.

 

“When are the other hunting parties getting back?” Otter asked. Ghost shrugged.

 

“My mom was on one earlier. She’s not back yet, but you all could always go out and hunt for yourselves.” He suggested, flicking his notched ear. “Make sure you’re back before sundown though, that’s when we’re leaving.”

 

Rusty eyed the sky. The Sun was sinking lower and lower with each passing moment.

 

“We won’t get back in time.” He said, “I’ll just wait for Ice to get back.”

 

“Fair enough.” Ghost said with another shrug of his muscled shoulders.

 

“This is our first battle,” Frost whispered excitedly, her white tail lashing, “What is it like?”

 

“Stressful.” Strawberry replied almost immediately.

 

“Stressful, thrilling, and incredibly fulfilling.” Spirit added, looking to Rusty. “You leave knowing you helped your family and will help them live another day.”

 

Rusty couldn’t wait to experience it. Though some anxiety still clawed at his pelt, like a burr, he felt prepared, and couldn’t wait to try the moves Ruth had taught him. He wasn’t looking forward to the bloodshed, that fact scared him. Yet he knew he would be helping his Clanmates. Recalling Scourge’s words about survival, he flexed his claws.

 

The group talked amongst themselves for the remaining hours. Rusty watched the sun. He watched the shadows of the alleyway grow longer and longer, and the storm clouds gathering at the edges of the sky. The buzz in the air did not only come from the coming thunderstorm as the cats of BloodClan began to gather in the clearing, fur on end and ears pricked.

Rusty was not the only one looking forward to the coming battle.




Chapter Text

Thunder crackled in sky overhead that evening. The clouds buzzed with it’s energy, like a nest of angry bees. They blotted out the stars and moon, which usually lightened the night sky, and brought some sort of comfort to anyone who would venture out at night. But no, tonight was black, as black as a vat of tar, and with the humidity of the coming storm, Rusty felt as though he was padding through such a murky substance. The only light to guide the Clan’s way was in small pools, created by the overhead streetlights, shining down and creating oasis’ of light on the cement. As late as it was, few Cars passed by along the Road, and still, their lights did little to break through the blanket of darkness, and help guide the cats to their destination.

 

Scourge lead the way, his small form perfectly camouflaged against the blackness. The Clan found their way along by scent, and scent along, for Rusty found he could not see even the lightest of pelt colors tonight, and the only things they could hear were the distant roar of cars on the Road and the barking of dogs in their houses. The Clan’s pawsteps were silent, and did little to aid one another in finding their way. As hard as Rusty strained, he could barely pick out even the faintest sounds of breathing from his Clanmates. They walked as silently as the night itself.

He swallowed thickly, glancing up to the clouds overhead. What a day for my first battle.

They padded along the sidewalk in silence, like a long snake, winding its way through the city buildings, before trailing into a neighborhood. Rusty relished the grass under his paws but had little time to dwell on the feeling. His pelt stood on end, energy coursing through him as he knew they were getting close.

Rusty knew the plan. They had gone over it together, as a Clan, before they left. He was to remain next to Ghost and Ruth until the group struck as one- on Scourge’s signal of course. Even then, as they fought, he was to keep an eye on the other two cats, and back them up if need be. He would be apart of the first wave, and halfway through, on Bone’s signal, the other wave would attack to finish them off.

 

The ginger tom kept his eyes on the ground, the shadowy shapes of his and Ruth’s paws guiding him onward. Onward to his first bloodbath. The tom did not know what to expect. Will I have to kill someone? Will I get killed? Is this first battle going to be my last? The thoughts swirled around his head, and made his pelt stand on end. He reminded himself that Ruth and Ghost would have his back. Or if they didn’t, someone would. That’s what BloodClan was about- looking out for one another.

 

He stole a glance behind him, attempting to see the pelt of one of his other friends, but in the black there was nothing. The stream of cats was silent, not a whisper could be heard of them. Had he not been apart of the group, he doubted he would’ve noticed their very presence.

 

He thought back to the meeting, and remembered Strawberry would be with Primrose and Hoot, both competent cats. He reminded himself that he’d have to focus on staying alive and winning for now, there was no time to ponder the other cats in his Clan. They could all hold their own. And Scourge thinks I can too. The meeting had also gone over the trainee’s progress. Scourge thought they all were doing well, and apparently Jasmine was impressed by Rusty’s performance. It gave him an ego boost for sure, knowing his leader and such a respected warrior were impressed. An ego boost was certainly something he needed for tonight.

 

Ruth’s tail brush his nose. The Clan had stopped.

 

We’re here.

 

Ahead of them was an alleyway, barely illuminated by the street lamp beyond it. Towards the front of the alley, Rusty could see a sea of cats. He heart jumped into his throat at this first sight of the enemy.

 

One by one, they padded through a gap in a chain link fence, the only thing separating them from an alleyway full of cats. Cats who were waiting. Rusty could see their eyes through the chain link, and despite the collars around their necks, he could tell they were eager for blood. My blood, my Clanmate’s blood. He reminded himself, There is no reason to show them mercy. They paced back and forth, hissing and spitting as the Clan slipped into the alleyway.

 

It was finally his turn to go through, onto the battle ground. Apprehension gnawed as his stomach as now there was nothing between him and the enemy. Unlike in his mock battle that morning, this was real. The lives of him and his Clanmates were at stake.

 

As stated in the plan, Rusty seated himself next to Ghost and Minty (with Ruth sitting on the other side of Ghost). The little grey molly was part of a different group, but she still pressed herself against Rusty. Though the two had interacted little since their first encounter, Rusty still considered her a close friend, almost like a mentor. He knew she felt the same way. They were all in the second row from the front, the only thing separated Rusty and his friends from the vicious kittypets was a line of his other friends. Among them he could smell Spirit, Blue and Lilian, their scents distinctive against the overpowering stench of kittypets and blood. All other cats were lost in the sea of smells.

Anxious was an understatement; Rusty nervously glanced around, spying a few rogues and loners perched on top of the buildings. Ruth had told him there would be spectators- bloodthirsty cats who loved to watch others get slaughtered. He shuddered, hoping none of them would venture down to try to interfere. He forced his tail and ears to stay still, and with a tap on the back from Ghost’s tail, forced his paws to remain stationary as well. They had to appear as one, not a group of restless fiends like their enemies.

 

Finally the rest of the BloodClan cats were settled. Scourge stepped forward, only a few tail lengths away from Rusty. He appeared as a shadow, the only thing giving him away was his blue eyes, shining against the street lights.

 

Movement on the other side could be seen as well, as a young looking tuxedo molly stepped forward from the ranks of opposing cats . Her yellow eyes were fearful but determined, and despite the bell around her neck she appeared to be strong- a formidable opponent, Rusty thought.  

 

“Good evening, Scourge.” She meowed harshly. Over the scent of kittypet, blood and rain, Rusty could sense her fear.  “I see you have not decided to back down after all.”

 

“Hello, Jemma.” Scourge replied. His high pitched voice broke through the blanket of night like a harsh dagger. “BloodClan never backs down from a fight. You know that.”

 

“Neither do we.” The tuxedo molly, Jemma, replied, flexing her claws.

 

“You sure did back down pretty fast after your leader was killed last battle. Oskar was his name, yes?” The small tom continued.

 

“Yes. We have not forgotten. And I see you have not forgotten either.” Jemma hissed, eyeing Scourge’s collar.

 

The tom hissed in response, “BloodClan never forgets.”

 

Then, through the cover of black, Rusty saw the slightest of movements, a tail tip lashing, low to the ground. That was the signal.

The ginger tom’s fur prickled as he and his Clanmates rose to their paws at once, rising up above the kittypets all at once. Not a single cat was left wondering what to do. They all knew the signal. As one , he recalled Scourge’s words.

 

Then, after 4 heart beats, they surged forward with unnerving synchronization.

 

Rusty’s paws pounded on the concrete as he sprung forward, in step with Minty and Ghost. Though the ginger tom could not see their movements, he’d liken the entire group to a cloud of starlings, swarming the sky. Unsheathed claws scraping on the pavement, he followed the cats in front of them as they rushed towards the kittypets. The ginger tom thought he would be afraid, or that he would freeze up as he often did during training. But with his Clanmates by his side, he found rushing into battle was much, much easier. A simple and instinctive as catching a mouse.

 

A great crack in the sky sounded, just as the row ahead of them crashed into the kittypets, the muscular warriors easily swarming their opponents. Thunder cracked again, as if the heavens were letting BloodClan know they approved of the action.

 

The kittypets were eager to meet them, and almost at once, Rusty encountered  his first opponent. The cat was a molly, with cream markings and long fur. Her green eyes bore into Rusty as he slammed into her, latching his claws into her pelt and knocking her to the ground. She screeched and unsheathed her own claws as he toppled her over, wasting no time clawing at her sides and landing bites wherever he could. He flattened his ears and kept his head tucked into his chest when appropriate. Tonight would not be the night he died.

The cream molly hissed, as she hit the ground hard, blood staining the concrete where her head made contact. It wasn’t exactly Rusty’s fault, but for a second he wondered if he had gone too far. It was a stupid thought and it quickly dissipated, as he remembered that this was her fault, not his. She shouldn’t have left her House seeking adventure if she wasn’t willing to get hurt.

 

She scrambled to her paws and hissed, standing out amongst the fray, her once silky pelt now matted and dusty, parts of it stained with blood. She panted and sneered at him, pupils wide and tail lashing.

 

“You have a collar!” The molly snarled, “You’re one of us! Fight with your brethren!”

 

“I’d never stoop that low again!” Rusty spat. The kittypet arched her back and sprung at Rusty again, bowling him over. The firey tom rolled with the impact and when the time was right, kicked the molly’s stomach as hard as he could, successfully knocking the wind out of her. Her grip loosened and he scored his claws across her chest, aiming for her neck, but not quite landing the hit. Blood began to matt her pale fur, in three rows, not too dissimilar to some of Rusty’s scars. Still, she hissed in pain and tried to land her teeth in his throat. The move was clumsy and Rusty easily moved to the side, using his hind paws to leverage himself away from the molly, escaping her clutches and springing to his feet.

 

Even with a bleeding chest and head, the molly did not give up just yet. She darted forward once more but Rusty swiped out a paw last minute, catching her across the cheek and easily knocking her down. The cream molly stumbled but caught herself. She glared at him before bolting away, back into the battle.

 

In the heat of the moment, Rusty didn’t realize how out of breath he was. Blood was roaring in his ears, as loud as a forest fire, and the screeches and howls around him weren’t much quieter. It was somewhat amazing how quickly chaos descended on the sea of cats.

 

Pausing to catch his breath, Rusty looked about. To his left, he could see Scourge grappling with who he guessed was the leader of the kittypets, Jemma. Beside them, Blue and Brick had ganged up on a colorpoint tom, who looked as if he had been in several battles before them, as his white pelt was covered in scars, both new and old. Then, to his right, Ruth was fighting off a huge tail less tom, Raven was fighting a ticked ginger tabby and Strawberry had ended up overpowering a young looking black kitten, who hardly looked to be any older than Snowfall’s kits, back at home.

 

I’m glad she’s okay. Rusty thought, somewhat thankful his friend wasn't fighting anything too vicious. He groomed his paw for a moment, before looking around for a new opponent. The ranks of the kittypets had thinned out significantly, most of them running back to their Humans, he guessed.

 

Then, out of seemingly nowhere, Rusty was shoved to the ground, his paws flailing from the unexpected impact. Thankfully, he landed on his belly, his paws tucked under him but a cat was still pinning him down. Their face was close to his, their kittypet breath clouding Rusty’s senses. The kittypet’s needle like claws sank into the ginger tom’s shoulder fur. He hissed, as the pain lanced across his body, and squirmed under the tom, to no avail.

Thinking fast, Rusty recalled a move Ruth had taught him only a few days ago. The ginger tom relaxed his muscles and let himself go limp under the toms grasp. It seemed to work, as the kittypet loosened his grip, believing he had won against Rusty.

He had not though. The ginger tom heaved upward, flinging the surprisingly light cat off his shoulders, and whirling on his paws to face them.

 

They were a scrawny black tom, resembling Hermes in size a shape. A narrow muzzle, huge ears and strong wiry limbs. They did not have a collar but their scent did not betray them.

The kittypet seemed shocked, and did not react as Rusty attacked again, leaping and sinking his teeth into the skinny tom’s shoulder. His fangs punctured the skin, and his mouth was filled with the metallic taste of blood. As disgusting as it was, Rusty paid it little mind. Like Scourge told him, it was something he’d have to get used to.

The tom howled in pain and clawed at Rusty with his free leg, landing a mark across the ginger tabby’s flank. Rusty hissed and backed off again, but not before battering the tom’s muzzle with his claws. Satisfaction swelled in his stomach as blood welled up in the wounds.

 

The kittypet shook his head and stumbled back, red splattering the pavement. He did not give in, and jumped at Rusty. The ginger tom lept up to meet him, rising up on his back paws to push him back down. Quickly, the black tom ducked down, avoiding Rusty’s attack and lunging at Rusty’s exposed belly.

 

Fox dung! Rusty snarled as he felt claws rake across his pale belly fur. He hissed in pain and dropped down, kicking the kittypet in the face, knocking his head to the ground. The kittypet went cross eyed for a moment but still, rose to meet Rusty once more. The toms circled each other, their tails bushed out, oblivious to the cats fighting around them.

 

Rusty hissed, spitting at the tom, waiting for him to strike. He did not though, and simply waited for Rusty to do the same.

 

Time seemed to slow as Rusty glared into the tom’s green eyes. The blinding thrill of battle was beginning to back off, leaving him with his thoughts. The tom’s expression was unreadable but Rusty couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking. Was he afraid? What drove him to join with the other kittypets tonight? What had they told him of BloodClan? What cause was so great to draw him from the comfort of his House, out on this dark night, to fight and potentially even die for.

 

Still, his eyes betrayed nothing. Nothing at all. They were almost empty as he if was just a shell of a cat.

 

Without warning, the tom lunged for Rusty again. Everything seemed to snap back into motion as Rusty, repeating a move from earlier, rolled back with the force, snarling viciously and trying to land a hit wherever he could. The battle around him was raging on, except now it was upside down, as the Rusty dug his forepaws into the tom’s back, scoring his hind claws across his underside.

 

The tom snarled and then, before he could realize it, the tom had bit down into the space between his shoulder and chest. Rusty screeched as searing pain shot across the wound, not dissimilar from the wounds the forest cat had inflicted. Scars that still remained.

 

The ginger cat hissed, some sort of new energy coursing through him and he snapped around, painfully pulling the tom’s teeth from his flesh. His pelt was now wet, not from the storm’s humidity but rather from his own blood, matting his ginger pelt as it oozed from the new wound. Despite the pain that continued to fire from the site of attack, he maneuvered his back paws and rolled on top, dragging the bite through the dusty earth.

Now there was some sort of anger in him. There was no doubt in this mind that this kittypet meant to kill him. Had that bite landed only a mouselength to the left it would have been fatal.

 

But it hadn’t and now Rusty found he had the upper hand.

 

Seconds later, he found the tom pinned on his back, flailing wildly in an attempt to escape. He placed a paw on the cat’s throat and the tom paused, looking up at him down a long muzzle. Instead of nothing, Rusty saw fear in his eyes.

 

I hold this cat’s life in my paws.

 

Rusty could chose whether he lived or died, whether he made it home to his Humans or was left here to rot away in the city. Surely, he had friends in the city. Rusty could chose if  those friends ever saw him again or if they would spend the following moons wondering, grieving maybe even searching. That realization made Rusty feel incredibly powerful.

 

Thunder cracked again, and Rusty felt the prickle of falling rain against his pelt. He glanced towards the sky, his chest heaving with laboured breaths. The thunder was almost like a sign, but he could not tell whether it was encouraging him to end the kittypet or let him go.

 

“Do it!” Someone yowled. Rusty recognized that high pitched meow.

 

The kittypet scrabbled with his back paws, thrashing under Rusty’s weight. His eyes no longer blazed with the fury of battle, but now were cloudy with fear, his pupils wide and ears laid back as he struggled in a desperate attempt to get away.  

 

Rusty willed his limbs to move, to dig his claws into the tom’s throat, to launch forward and end it. But they refused, and the longer he stared into the kittypet’s eyes, the more frozen he became.

 

I can’t do it.

 

“Do it, Rusty!” Another cat screeched. He recognized that voice too. It was Strawberry. She stood only a few paces away from what he could hear. The noise of the battle had died down immensely. Or maybe that was just his mind playing tricks on him again.

 

The ginger tom was frozen, thinking, contemplating, staring into the tom’s eyes. The tom's fear scent overpowered him, clouding his nostrils and ears.

He felt as if he were trapped in his own body. He begged himself to move, to do something, anything even to let the kittypet go. Deep down, Rusty knew he would have to kill a cat eventually. This one though? He had someone to go home to. The tom could smell it in his fear, and see it in his expression.

 

I can’t kill this cat.

 

I can't do it.

 

They tried to kill me, why can't I do it?

 

In his moments of hesitation his grip lessened, and suddenly the tom surged upwards. His jaws parted, aiming to close in on Rusty, to strike back and not end up as another body left on the pavement.

 

They never reached him though.

 

Instinct kicked in. It was pure instinct and Rusty had no control over it. All thoughts and contemplations dissolved. His head was still swirling as his body moved on its own and before he could realize what was happening, the taste of blood filled his mouth. It was stronger than earlier. Gushing between his teeth and filling his senses.

 

A few heartbeats later, Rusty found that he had darted to the side and gone for the exposed throat of the tom. Everything happened so fast. The ginger tom didn’t realize what he had done until it had already happened. Until a snarl of fury was cut off with an all too familiar, horrifying gurgling sound. Black fur filled his vision, and the scent of fear was overpowered by the smell of blood. It was everywhere.

The ginger tom’s heart stopped, and he staggered back, releasing the tom from his jaws. The kittypet fell to the ground with a sickening thump. He was unable to take his eyes off the tom. Nothing else mattered as he scrambled away, willing the kittypet to get up. His flank rose one final time in a shakey breath. Then the limp mass of black fur stilled. The only thing that moved was the growing puddle of red around him, him and his eyes, staring off into the distance, unmoving and unblinking.

 

Rusty’s limbs began to shake and he lowered himself to the ground, his pupils wide and pelt on end. His eyes did not move from the kittypet, numb to the sounds and cries of battle around him.

 

I killed him.

 

That tom’s never going to make it back home to his Housefolk.

 

The realization began to set in. It left a foul taste in his mouth. Rusty wanted to wretch, and his stomach turned at the taste of blood still on his lips. He could not take his eyes away from the kittypet, whose flank now lay still. He wouldn't get up again. Is that what he deserved for messing with BloodClan?

 

“Midnight!” A screech sounded across the clearing. It didn’t register in Rusty’s ears until a huge black and white molly barrelled into the him. Still shocked out of his wits, the tom hit the ground hard, his vision spinning as he skull collided with the concrete. He weakly kicked out his legs, hoping to claw at her underside. None of them landed however and she stood above him, panting and hissing, her pelt drenched in sweat and blood. His instincts screamed at him to react, to get away from her, but Rusty did not. He simply could not.

 

“You little sewer rat! I’m going to show you the same mercy you showed my brother!” She snarled, glaring down at Rusty with furious yellow eyes. At that point, Rusty couldn’t find it in him to defend himself,as she aimed her claws to strike.

 

I deserve it.

 

Just as her claws were about to end him, a flash of white fur saved the day.

 

As by the plan, Ghost had come to Rusty’s aid! (though he was quite obviously not pleased about it.)

 

The white tom leapt in from the right, crashing into the molly and dragged her off Rusty. She screeched with fury as he drug her away a few paces. Once the weight was off Rusty’s shoulders, his shock began to fade. Everything snapped back into motion and the ginger tom scrambled to his paws, his head spinning as the more muscular white tom rolled across the clearing. For a moment, they were a blur of black and white, then the molly lay still as well.

 

Just like her brother. Rusty thought bitterly- at first. Then he reminded himself of the events a few moments before it happened. Somehow he had forgotten them. He may not have ever known the kittypet personally, but the stinging pain in his shoulder made clear his intentions. His eyes narrowed as he glared at the body of the kittypet molly. Her brother who tried to kill me.

 

Ghost turned back to him, and the kittypet molly did not rise.

 

“No mercy.” Ghost spat as he stalked up to Rusty. His green eyes were ablaze. His plush pelt was plastered to his sides from the rain, but not even the downpour could wash the red from his pelt. Rusty could not tell if that red was his own or not.

 

Rusty nodded, his ginger fur still bristling.

 

Ghost took a step closer. For the first time since Rusty met him, his posture softened, like someone talking to their mate or kitten. It spooked the ginger tom to some extent and he began to worry for Ghost’s health.

 

“Are you good?” The white tom asked, sincerely. Rusty blinked. It wasn’t exactly the most comforting phrase, but somewhere deep within it, he could tell it was meant to be. Ghost wasn't exactly a comforting cat, after all.

 

The ginger tom stammered, “No, not really.”

 

“It’ll be okay.” Ghost replied, then turned his attention to the battlefield, “We still have a battle to win.”

 

Looking about, it seemed most of the kittypets were either dead or had scattered. The second wave of cats had already arrived, and stepping over the corpses of cats who’d lost their individual fights, Rusty found none of them to be from his clanmates. Seeing the blood staining the concrete, how much worse it could have been, the horrificness of his actions began to dull in his brain. It was either him or that kittypet. One of them was going to be left lifeless in that alleyway, and Rusty began to realize how grateful he was that it was the kittypet and not himself.

 

Scanning the clearing, Rusty spied Ruth amongst a group of BloodClan mollies, who had a group of several kittypets backed into a corner. A few paces away Dusk and Oreo were fighting against a huge rugged tabby tom and a even larger lynx point molly. They seemed to be outmatched and the usually skilled fighter was getting battered by the larger tom.

 

Ghost and Rusty exchanged a glance, seeing Ruth was with other cats. The initial shock of ending another being’s life was soon replaced by the thrill of battle as Rusty and Ghost sprung across the clearing to the aid of their Clanmates.

 

Rusty was quick to jump back in the fight. As soon as he arrived, the fire colored tom sprung alongside Dusk, and raked his claws across the large tom’s face. He hissed and backed up a pace as Rusty’s claws tore through the thin skin of his nose.

 

“What are you doing here?” Dusk spat, “I’m doing fine on my own!”

 

“Well, you’ll do even better with me.” Rusty retorted with a hiss. Why was she always so difficult!

 

The tortoiseshell blinked before she lashed out a paw, hitting the dark tabby tom across the eye. Then, Rusty did as well, landing the next hit as well. The dark tabby snarled and lunged forward. As if on cue, the two cats sprung out of the way and then whirled back to attack the kittypet opponent’s flanks. He howled and tried to snap at the trainees before they scrambled out of the way.

 

Rusty darted behind him and sunk his teeth into the tom’s back leg. When the tabby turned to attack him, Dusk darted in and scored her claws across whatever part of his pelt was left unguarded.

Together, they circled the tom, each going in for a hit whenever possible, each cat somewhat aware of the other’s move. The tabby’s reactions seemed to be slowing down while, for Rusty, with his heart racing and lungs aching, he never felt more alive and ready for action. Pushing the thoughts of the black kittypet’s death to the back of his mind, he focused on the battle in front of him, anticipating the attacks and repeating whatever seemed to work against his opponent.

 

Even though he was twice the size of both of them, it didn’t take long for the tabby to give up. He stumbled to his paws and darted to the alley’s exit. Rusty didn’t have to think twice and immediately took chase. Dusk wasn’t too far behind him.

 

Rusty took in a deep breath of air as he sprung through the cluttered alleyway, glimmering green eyes intent on his target.

 

When the tom noticed he was being pursued he picked up the pace and whipped around the corner, his claws scrabbling as he lost his footing and darted off into the night beyond. The ginger tom skidded to a halt, panting as he watched the tabby’s form appear under streetlight after streetlight, until eventually Rusty couldn’t see it anymore.

 

“That was some good fighting,” Rusty encouraged the tortoiseshell beside him. She shrugged and turned away, back to the now quiet alleway.

 

“I know.” Was her simple, snarky response. Then she paused. Wheels seemed to be turning in her mind. “You weren’t too bad yourself.”

 

The firey tom blinked. Had Dusk really talked to him? Oh,.Strawberry was going to hear about this for sure. With a waving tail, Rusty followed behind her, back into the cover of darkness, off of the street. He blinked as he realized how still the alley was compared to moments before. It seemed everyone had won their separate battles and were basking in the victory. Taking in the scenery of their bloodbath. How much darker it seemed now that the ground was covered with blood and even more disturbingly- the dead. Movement caught his attention from the roof. The rogues who had gathered were slinking away, their silhouettes in stark contrast to the streaks of pink in the sky behind them. The battle was over after all. There was nothing more to see. But a few remained, their eyes gleaming with curiosity. Rusty knew what they were curious about. Most of his Clanmates stood around, crouching by their victims, and Rusty could only guess why.

 

Do I have to take a tooth from that kittypet? I did kill him after all.

 

His mental question was soon answered by Strawberry bounding over to him, her pelt slick from the rain. Her green eyes were wide with excitement.

 

“Rusty!” She exclaimed, her tail waving, “I’m so proud of you! You totally showed that kittypet! Scourge will be proud too! Come on, you have to get your first tooth! I’ll show you how!”

 

Rusty felt sick enough having killed the poor cat, but now wearing a trophy around his neck? It didn’t feel right, at least not this time. Now that he didn’t have something to distract his tired mind, the realization of the situation set in again. I killed a cat. Then he reminded himself of Scourge’s words in his den, and reworded his thought. I killed a cat that tried to kill me. It still feels weird taking his tooth.

 

“I don’t know if I want to.” He admitted, tail drooping.

 

Strawberry tilted her head, “Why not?”

 

The ginger tom just shrugged, “I’m kinda shook up about it, if I’m being honest.”

 

“Rusty…” The tortoiseshell sighed, “Think about it. You won! It was either you or that kittypet and you won.”

 

She pushed a paw into his shoulder, making him stumble a bit. “You won. You’re strong and you deserve to be proud of that.”

 

I deserve to be proud of that. Rusty blinked. She’s right. I do. Maybe it'll feel less weird after I've had it for a while.

 

“You’re right.” Rusty meowed, raising his head to look his friend in the eye.

 

She grinned, “Then come on! Everyone’s going to be thrilled.”

 

Rusty followed the tortoiseshell as she lead him back through the alley, to where the whole incident took place. It was beginning to get light outside, the first streaks of dawn were cutting through the sky. His stomach twisted and turned as he approached the spot where it had happened. A few other cats were already gathered there. Namely, Ghost who sat a few paces away, working on prying open the black and white molly’s mouth. Then, in front of the kittypet's corpse sat Scourge and Ruth. The molly towered over her leader, her tufted ear flicking as she spoke to him in a low voice.

 

“You're quite sure he did it?” Rusty could hear Ruth murmur once he was in earshot.

 

“He most definitely did.”

 

The proud little smirk on Scourge’s face was unmistakable.

 

“Hello, Scourge! And hi, Ruth.” Strawberry greeted the older cats as she padded up. Rusty started staring at the dead cat at their paws. It filled him with grief and shock for the most part but also some strange sort of pride. It was even stranger, seeing him in the daylight. Seeing the corpse of a cat that would not be returning home, thanks to him.

 

“Hello, Strawberry.” Scourge mewed curtly, giving the molly a small dip of the head. “Is Rusty ready?”

 

“I think so!” The tortoiseshell squeaked.

 

“Are you?” Ruth meowed, addressing the ginger tom in question.

 

There was no need for anyone to speak about what he was ready for. They all knew. Rusty knew as he stared at the tom’s muzzle, still slightly parted in his last cry of terror. The canines that protruded from his mouth, would be in Rusty’s collar for quite possibly the rest of his life.  

 

This is what makes me a BloodClan cat.

 

“Yes.”

Chapter Text

“Yes.”

 

As strange a tradition as it was, it sparked some sort of morbid curiosity in Rusty. Something in him told him that it was wrong, and he couldn’t help but think of how that cat’s family would react to finding him, dead - murdered- on the outskirts of the city with his teeth pulled from his skull. Or how weird it would be to have that cat’s teeth in his color, and  Yet some other part of Rusty told him that the kittypet would certainly not need his teeth in the afterlife (if there was one) and that there was no reason Rusty shouldn’t take a tooth for himself. Studding his collar with teeth would make him look fierce and would tell other cats to steer clear or else. It was symbolic. It showed everyone that Rusty was a BloodClan cat, and that’s where his loyalties lie.

Forest cats can’t wear their loyalty around their neck like we can. Rusty thought, somewhat smugly.

 

Scourge dipped his head, “Good. I’m proud of you Rusty. I knew you had it in you.”

 

Rusty couldn’t help but grin at his leader’s praise. Warmth filled his chest, and a sense of belonging washed over him, as he thought back to the battle, how Ghost had saved him, and how his Clanmates no longer seemed to regard him as an outsider. If anything would seal the deal, it would be this. Rusty knew that this was it, and there was no turning back now. However he couldn’t imagine himself anywhere else. I’m a BloodClan cat through and through. And I think everyone else agrees.

 

“Show him how, both of you. Minty or one of the other collared cats might offer some helpful advice as well.” Scourge mewed, snapping Rusty back to attention. The black tom turned to Ruth and Strawberry, before slinking away, to the far side of the alleyway where Bone and Brick sat conversing with Jasmine and William crouched a few paces away. A mass of black and white fur lay at their feet. Rusty’s mood immediately dropped, as he assumed it was the body of the kittypet leader. What was her name again, Jenna? Jemma?

She seemed like a noble cat, and now there she was. Rusty blinked, staring at the lifeless body of the kittypet leader. Just a few hours before she was standing before the BloodClan cats, speaking, leading her own cats to battle. The ginger tom wondered what she was like, what drove her to bring an army of kittypets out of their Houses and into a battle. What was she thinking in her final moments? Was she afraid? Did she go into battle knowing she would die or did she really expect to win? In life, what was she like? Did she have friends and family? Did they come with her tonight and die alongside her? Or was did she face Scourge alone, with no one waiting and no one to truly back her up?

 

Rusty wished he knew the answers to such questions. It doesn’t matter now. He turned his attention back to the other stiff kittypet at his feet. He flexed his claws. She’s gone now. Whoever she was in life doesn’t matter, because she’s dead. She tried to face us and she failed. That’s all there is to it.

 

“How does this work?” Rusty asked, looking to Ruth and Strawberry for answers.

 

Strawberry was quick to answer, “Well there’s two ways to go about it. The first is you try to get one of his teeth out right now, like Ghost is doing. Or if you can’t get any out now, we take his body to the Crow Food Place and leave him for a while. After he’s just bone, its much easier to get teeth out. But that takes awhile and sometimes the teeth can smell bad when you get them back. Sometimes its the only way though. Once we get one of his teeth, you just hold it in your mouth and push it through the fabric of your collar. Minty can probably show you how. Or one of the other collared cats. I wish I had a collar.”  

 

Rusty nodded slowly, taking in the information. He looked down to the dead tom’s partially open mouth, still twisted in a final yowl of agony. Rusty pushed down the uneasy feeling it caused and decided it was best to focus on the teeth and not the cat’s expression. How on earth am I going to get one of his teeth out?

 

Luckily, the ginger tom spotted movement in the corner of his eye. Minty, who was previously speaking with her mate, Juniper began to trot over to the small group. In the lightening sky, Rusty could see many of his Clanmates, mostly those with collars picking up a few of the dead by the scruff and hauling them back to the hole in the fence. Scourge, his closest associates, were leaving as well, with the calico tom known as William, dragging the kittypet corpse behind him.

 

Minty padded up quickly, her tail waving in friendly greeting as usual. Her mate followed as well, lagging behind as if she wasn’t sure she was welcome in the group. Rusty hadn’t really spoken to Juniper before- he found her height to be intimidating- but he had nothing against her. She and Minty were obviously close, and she seemed nice enough.

 

“How’s it going, Rusty?” Minty mewed when she arrived, seating herself beside Strawberry and leaning down to see the tom. Rusty could see her scent the blood pooled around his head, although it was barely visible in the dim light. Juniper sat next to her, giving Rusty a polite nod.

 

“Um, alright.” Rusty said, smiling at the grey molly. She smiled back, but said nothing in response.

 

Ruth glanced towards the dawn sky, flicking one of her tufted ears, “We should hurry unless we want to be caught out in the daylight.” She motioned to the tom, “Try using your teeth to pull it out.”

 

Rusty blinked, swallowing the lump in his throat as he bent down. Minty stopped him though, tapping him on the shoulder with her paw.


“Sometimes it helps to have another cat hold down his head.” She told him. “And try for the lower canines first. They’re usually sharper than the top ones and will be easier to get into your collar.”

 

“I’ll do it!” Strawberry exclaimed, darting forward from beside Minty. Rusty just nodded, as Strawberry placed her mottled paws on the cheek of the cat and pressed down. Out of sheer curiosity, Rusty sniffed the kittypet before he fully attempted to remove the cat’s lower canine. For some reason, the ginger tom would’ve guessed it’d smell like death already, but instead he only smelled blood, rain and well, kittypet. The smell of canned slop and Humans washed over his nose, and Rusty wrinkled his nose. I can’t believe I used to live like that.

 

The ginger tom took a deep breath. Finally, after a few heartbeats he hesitantly opened his jaws and closed them around the kittypet’s lower canine tooth, gripping the smooth surface in his back molars. The tom’s upper teeth brushed uncomfortably across Rusty’s nose as the ginger tom pulled forward. He unsheathed his claws when, at first, he felt resistance and pulled harder. Suddenly there was sickening pop and Rusty lurched forward, losing his foot realizing he had in fact pulled the tooth out.

 

Rusty took a step back and spat the tooth onto the ground.

 

I did it. Definitely no turning back now.

 

Looking at the pleased expressions of his friends, Rusty knew he wouldn’t want to anyway.

 

“Good job!” Ruth praised him, motioning for Strawberry to step off the kittypet.

 

“Yeah, nice.” Juniper meowed awkwardly, giving him a smile. Minty nodded as well, brushing her tail against the taller cat’s.

 

“Now get it in your collar and we’ll be on our way.” Ruth said, “Minty, you definitely know how to do this better than me.”

 

“Of course.” Minty chirped, “Just take it in your teeth, and wedge it under your collar on the side closest to your fur, like you’re going to use it to pry your collar off, but instead just stick it through the fabric. It looks sharp enough to do so.”

 

Rusty could somewhat understand what she was going for. Carefully, he picked up the small tooth in his teeth and cranked his head down, as if to groom his chest fur. He couldn’t quite see what he was doing, and tried to go off of touch more than sight as he angled the sharp end of the tooth down, slipped it between his fur and the fabric of his collar.

The ginger tom jumped as Minty placed a paw on his collar, pressing it against his fur to hold it in place, as he forced the tooth between the threads of his collar. Again, at first there was resistance but once Rusty found a rather weak spot in the fabric, he gave the tooth a good shove with his teeth and watched as well as he could, as the sharpened edge point poked through the fabric. Once it was at the widest point he let go, and

 

Well, I definitely can’t get it out now.

 

It was strange to think that now, this cat’s tooth was in his collar and would stay there, quite possibly forever.

 

“That looks good.” Ruth meowed. Rusty beamed.

 

Strawberry gave a little bounce of excitement, “It looks fantastic!! Rusty that's so cool, I'm already jealous! Everyone's gonna be so proud of you!”

 

Minty smiled, “At this rate, your collar will be decked out in no time at all.”

 

Ruth rose to her paws, her tail sweeping back and forth. “Let's get back to camp and let Scourge and the others see. It's getting a bit too light out for my liking.”

 

Rusty followed after his instructor, his tail waving in his excitement. All doubts about the kittypet were forgotten as he trotted along, chatting with Minty and Strawberry about the battle. He hopped through the chainlink fence, giving the alley one last look before heading home.

Most everyone had already cleared out. Only a few other BloodClan cats remained stood about. Fawn, Primrose and Dusk were gathered around another dead cat, while Oreo groomed himself a few paces away. Cocoa and Fizz were chatting with an unfamiliar  cat, most likely one of the rogues who watched the battle. Only a few bodies remained scattered around the alley, their forms undistinguishable lumps on the concrete. Rusty assumed most had been drug away, and discarded at the Crow Food Place. The rest would remain there, and would serve as a grim reminder for other kittypets to stay indoors at night, to keep out of city cat business.

 

Rusty carefully padded along through the dying grass, picking his way in between the patches and bits of shattered glass and other sharp Human garbage that littered the ground behind the Human Houses. Ruth lead the way, with Strawberry and the others following close behind. Every so often they would see a kittypet or city rogue in an alleyway, however there was no confrontation. Their eyes widened as they saw the little group’s collars and they would quickly dart away, or drop their gaze to the ground. Rusty held his head a little higher. There was so empowering about seeing how their tails bushed out and smelling their fear when they laid eyes on him.

 

The smell of other BloodClan cats hung in the air in the back alleys. It was still somewhat fresh, not yet mixed in with the other scents of the city. This was quite obviously the way to get home. To Rusty, it looked different in the daylight and wasn’t quite how he remembered it. Granted, he couldn’t see much on the way over, but still it looked different on the way back. There were certainly more houses, and the sound of Cars was distant. They appeared to be further from the road, when on the way there, they had walked along the road for the majority of the time.

 

“We’ll stop by the Crow Food Place on our way back.” Ruth meowed, noticing Rusty’s confusion about their location. “Its good to know where it is, after all you won’t always have help after a battle. Plus sometimes its a good place to find food.”

 

“Okay.” Rusty replied. He looked about and scented the air as they went, taking in the sights and smells of the nearby houses. Every so often, he would see a kittypet in the window of a house, looking out at them, or just the birds in their garden.

 

Eventually, Rusty’s paws began to ache and exhaustion set into his limbs. After such an intense night, he wanted nothing more than to go home to his nest. In addition to that, the tooth in his collar had begun to rub uncomfortably against his pelt. The end which had previously been dug into its’ owners mouth was irritating, and with each step Rusty took, it bothered him more and more. Still it was something he’d have to get used to, and he hoped that after a while, it became as unnoticeable as a broken whisker. The sun had risen considerably and the sky was now a pleasant blue as opposed to a light pink. His pelt prickled with unease at the amount of creatures running about at this time of day. Thankfully, the houses began to thin and the ground became considerably more unkempt that in the heart of the City. The ground was dry and littered with trash and dying grass, and the lack of trees and overall cover was rather unnerving. Rusty found himself glancing about constantly, his fur on end at the thought of Ruth suddenly took a sharp turn, clambering up onto a torn down chain link fence. On one section of the fence, the net of chain had been curled under itself, and made into a gap, where there was plenty of room for a cat- even maybe a Human- to fit through. The poles which held the fence up were still in place, and the terrifying line of barbed wire along the top was still in tack as well. Looking up at this, Rusty recalled a conversation with Blue, when she told him of the time she attempted to climb a fence with such wire to escape a dog. The Russian blue molly warned him against them, since they had caused the huge scar along her belly.

However there was nothing to worry about, as there was still at least a fox length above Ruth before the barbed wire started. She motioned to him with her paw, beckoning him to join her on the chain link.

 

Curiosity sparked in Rusty’s tired limbs and he bunched his aching muscles, springing up on the  broken fence. The metal links dug uncomfortably into his paw pads, and the fence shook as Strawberry and the other mollies joined him.

 

Before Rusty could take in exactly what he was seeing, the winds turned and a wall of smells slammed into the young tom’s senses. It smelled like a mixture of Crow Food, rotting leaves and decay. Not exactly death but everything in the place before him must be food, or plants just left to waste away. After squinting for a moment, Rusty’s eyes widened as he looked out across the land before him. There appeared to be a field, a huge vast empty space filled with heaps upon heaps of Human Trash. The piles themselves looked to be as tall as mountains, maybe even taller. They towered above the creatures of the wasteland. A few cats darted about, only little black specks in the distance. Humans walked about too, with giant Cars, dumping more trash in the heaps, adding to the growing wasteland. A vast array of birds swarmed the air, riding the winds above the trash piles, and occasionally swooping down to grab bits of trash from the piles. The fence they sat on bordered the entire space, and the ground only went forward a few feet before dropping down to a steep slope. Down there, was where the trash began. Looking closer, Rusty could see a few of his Clanmates gathered around the bottom of the slope, dragging and dropping the limp bodies of other cats.

 

This must be where they discard the dead. Like how Strawberry told me…

 

“This is the Crowfood Place.” Ruth meowed after Rusty had gotten a good long look. “It’s a Human made place, but like all things Human made we can utilize it for ourselves. Get a good look at it, you’ll most likely have to come here again for one reason or another.”

 

“Get a good smell as well.” Minty added.

 

“Do you see your Clanmates down there?” Ruth asked.

 

Rusty nodded, “Yeah.”

 

“They’re going to leave the dead there for a few moons, like Strawberry said.” Ruth meowed, “Now, its very important they come in this way, otherwise the Humans would see them and possibly chase them off.”

 

“Then what about the other cats there?” Rusty meowed, waving his tail in the direction of the other cats, darting in and out of the trash heaps.

 

“Like I said, there’s loads of old Human food here. Loners and Rogues like to stay here. We don’t bother them and they don’t bother us. The Humans usually don’t see them anyways.” The Maine Coon replied with a shrug. Her ears twitched with unease as one of the rogues raised their head to glare up at the BloodClan cats. “Let’s head home. It’s not safe to be out in the day time.”

 

Rusty didn’t ask why, but took a good long look at the Crow Food place before turning and hopping off the broken down fence.

 


 

 

By the time they arrived home, Rusty was beginning to envy how he felt earlier, when he first thought his paws were going to fall off. When the ginger tom finally staggered into camp, his shoulder bite burned and his lungs ached from the several times he and his group had to dart across a large road, as a shortcut back to their alleyway. As soon as he padded into the alleyway, he immediately began to head to his den, and parted his jaws in an enormous yawn at the thought of finally resting his exhausted body. It had been a stressful night, and now morning and he couldn’t wait to get comfortable in his nest of newspaper and fabric.

 

“We have to talk with the rest of the Clan before we go to sleep.” Strawberry mewed to Rusty, seeing how he was eyeing their shared den. She motioned to the rest of the Clan, gathered at the end of the clearing, which the ginger tom had not previously noticed in his sleep deprived haze.  

 

“Why?” The orange tom sighed, a bit more dramatically than intended.

 

Ruth flicked an ear at her trainee’s tone, and Rusty flattened his ears, “As a Clan, we need to make sure everyone is alright and is on the same page after the battle. We can't have anyone out of line, or not understanding the outcome.”

 

“Oh, okay.” He murmured, drearily following Strawbery to sit among the group of cats. Scourge, who sat on top of the dumpster gave the group of arriving cats an approving flick of his tail, before turning his attention to the rest of the Clan. Most everyone was talking amongst themselves, sharing stories and talking about who they encountered in the battle. Strawberry chose to sit with her usual group, made up of the trainees and a few kits. Rusty wasn’t inclined to go find someone else to sit by, so he opted to doze at the edge of the group, while Strawberry chattered to her sister about the many happenings of the battle. Rusty didn’t mind just listening and was content letting the sunlight warm his dusty and tired pelt.

 

The conversation faded as sleep began to lure him in. The ginger tom was about to fall asleep when an loud meow brought him back to his sense.

 

“He did?”

 

Blinking open his bleary eyes, he found Orchid, Spirit and Otter all staring at him. Strawberry.

 

“He did!” The tortoiseshell exclaimed, “Tell them, Rusty!”

 

“What did I do?” Rusty asked with a yawn.

 

Strawberry rolled her eyes, “Your collar, mouse brain!”

 

“Oh!” Rusty exclaimed, looking down to see the tooth in his collar. It felt foreign, seeing something there.

 

“Yeah! Who'd you get it from?” Spirit asked, his yellow eyes bright with excitement.

 

Rusty blinked, “Well, I fought this black kittypet and he tried to kill me once but I ended up pinning him down and then he tried to kill me again but I was too quick for him!”

 

“He left out the part where I had to tell him to do it.” Strawberry teased. Spirit chuckled.

 

“Wow, Rusty that's great!” Otter mewed, “You're really one of us now, huh?”

 

Rusty purred, “I guess so.”

 

It was strange to here the little black tom say that. Rusty stared into his amber eyes, filled with cheerfulness. For a moment, he could forget they were cheery about a cat who had been killed. But still, Rusty thought, their collective happiness made sense. They all had come back unharmed and would live another day. That was something to be proud of, wasn't it?

 

Before anyone else could speak, a yowl sounded across the alleyway, echoing between the old brick buildings. Immediately, the Clan fell silent and turned their attention to Scourge. Rusty sat up on his haunches to get a better look at the leader.

 

The black tom waited a moment before speaking.

 

“Are we all here then?” He meowed sharply. His pelt was as smooth as ever but his tail lashed back and forth. I wonder what he's upset about?

 

One of the twins, Tess, was quick to reply. The wirey molly rose to her paws and stood above the others, glaring accusingly at Scourge.

 

“Oreo and Maverick still aren't here!” She spat, “Why are we starting without them?”

 

Bone frowned at her words but said nothing. Rusty wondered why for a moment, but then remembered Bone was most likely worried for his only kin. 

 

“They did make it out of the battle though?” Scourge snapped.

 

“None of our own were killed.” Jasmine answered from her spot at the base of the dumpster.

 

“Then they're taking their time getting back. We're all exhausted and none of us want to wait any longer to talk.” Scourge told Tess, in an irritated tone. “If its so important to you, you can wait and fill them in on what we talk about.”

 

Rusty half expected Tess to make a sharp remark back, she usually did after all, but she only dipped her head and sat back down. The annoyance in her amber eyes did not go unnoticed though.

 

“If that's settled then. Let us share news of the battle. ” Scourge meowed loudly, “Vesper and Cocoa helped me kill the new kittypet leader. By the way her followers scattered, I think its safe to say we will not be hearing from them again. At least not anytime soon.”

 

“Her mate was killed too.” Raven said, raising her head to catch Scourge’s attention. “She was very likely to succeed her leader, so we eliminated her as well.”

 

The little tom caught her eye and nodded approvingly, “Good thinking. Still, we must be on high alert. If anyone smells them in or around the camp, be sure to check on the Queens and Litters. We don't want another incident like last time.”

 

Incident?  Rusty thought. I wonder what incident he’s talking about. Maybe I'll have to ask later…

 

“Was anyone seriously injured?” Scourge asked, looking out across the Clan. Vesper stood up above the crowd to answer.

 

“The only serious injuries were to Maverick and Bright. Bright was bit in the eye and Maverick got a good scratch on his neck.” The cinnamon molly said, her ears flattened as everyone’s gaze bore into her. Rusty knew that feeling well, “Still, both of them look like they will recover.”

 

Scourge nodded slowly, and opened his jaws to reply. However a familiar meow cut him off.

 

“If Maverick is hurt, shouldn’t we be concerned if he doesn’t come back?” Tess’ abrasive mew was quick to cut off the black tom. The wirey molly stared at her leader accusingly, as he

 

The tom’s ears flattened and his dark shoulder fur stood on end. He sprung off the dumpster, landing gracefully on the ground. Rusty’s ears pricked with interest as the little tom stalked over to the much taller molly. The crowd parted to make room for him, scattering out of the way of the fight which might take place.

 

Tess shrunk back under Scourge’s glare, her shoulders hunching as she ducked her head.

 

“If he’s unable to take make it back to camp, then that’s his problem.” Scourge snarled, “We will be concerned but there’s only so much we can do, before it become Maverick’s problem- not ours. I am understood?”

 

“Yes, Scourge.” The molly stammered.

 

The little tom briskly rose to his paws and rejoined his mate on top of the dumpster. “Good.”

 

Those around Tess slowly filled back in, warily keeping their distance in case the thin molly decided to instigate another conflict. She kept her dull eyes focused on the ground and Rusty found she didn’t look up again for quite some time. The rest of the Clan sat about, half watching Tess and half watching Scourge.

 

“Rusty got his first tooth.” Ruth announced after a moment or two of silence. Rusty held his head a little higher as several cats looked in his direction, their expressions bright.

 

“And Otter got his first kill.” Maple added quickly.

 

“Minty and Juniper were really quick to help me and Fizz.”

 

“Hoot was really on top of his game today. The calico kit won't be trying to face him again any time soon.”

 

Rusty blinked as the conversation was suddenly filled with compliments. Most every cat was speaking up about something good someone else did. He hadn't payed attention to others’ fights in the battle, and he didn't really have much to say about them. His pelt prickled with discomfort as cat after cat spoke up. Scourge's blue eyes darted about, eyeing each cat that was mentioned and nodding slowly as he mulled over what was said.

 

I'll have to remember to keep an eye out for next time. I guess that is apart of supporting each other… building each other up after the battle. It does feel nice to be singled out like that…

 

Still he felt awkward, not having anything to say in the meeting. Rusty felt somewhat guilty as well.

Eventually, once everyone who was going to speak had said their peace, Scourge spoke once more. As exhausted as they were, all the cats of BloodClan were looking to him for their next instructions- if there were any.

 

“Good, good. I am glad to hear how well last night went, and how bravely everybody fought. Those of you who are feeling up to it, go hunt. Snowfall tells me that she and Harley fed the queens and kits earlier, so keep your food for yourselves. The rest of us must sleep and regain our strength. All of you are dismissed and I encourage you to retreat to your nests for the rest of the day.” The black tom meowed slowly. Rusty couldn't be more glad to hear his final words, and departed with the rest of the Clan, who scattered to their respective sleeping spaces.

 

Rusty ducked under one of the many discarded bookshelves, propped up against the side of one of the buildings. After being kicked out of the guest den, he, Ghost and Spirit had decided to make a “toms only den” under the bookshelf, just to poke fun at Orchid and Strawberry- who had been the ones to send them away in the first place. The den became a topic of fun banter most days, especially when Fawn and Lilian opted to join in and sleep on top of the molly’s den.

 

The small space was warm from the sunlight, filtering in through a hole in the shelf, which made up the roof of the den. Spirit and Ghost had decided to cover the ground with nest materials, as opposed to making individual nests. Rusty purred as the pleasant temperature as he settled himself in the patch of sunlight, relaxing as he sunk into the comfortable newspaper and fleece. The excitement of the previous nights’ events was only beginning to where off, as Rusty sat back to survey his wounds. The only serious one was the bite on his shoulder, but still, the kittypet’s teeth hadn’t pierced nearly as deep as other wounds- even ones he’d received in training. He scoffed under his breath and curled up in the indent, which served as his spot in the den. He closed his eyes and sighed, covering his nose with his soft fore paws. Exhaustion set into his limbs, reminding him how worn out he truly was. It was a good sort of exhaustion though, and the tooth in his collar would forever remind him of how life changing this day actually had been.

 

Its good. Life changing in a good way. Rusty looked about his den, smiling pleasantly. His thoughts began to trail off as sleep overtook him. I think I belong here. For certain now And now I’m here, going to sleep in my den, comfortable and safe. Its nice to think how far I’ve come…

 

Almost as soon as Rusty shut his eyes, he opened them again.

 

The ginger tom blinked with surprise. The comfortable nest material beneath his paws had turned to damp earth and the warmth of his den was now replaced with cold, humid air. All around him was darkness, minus a sliver of moonlight painting the ground in pale silver. It did little to help him determine where exactly he was.

 

He staggered back, eyes wide with terror. His pelt stood on end and his heart was about to pound out of his chest.

 

Where am I?

 

This was not the city, was it?

 

No, the air is too crisp, too clear to be the city. It stunk of mildew and leaf litter here, and brought Rusty back to his old dreams of the forest.

 

Right, his dreams.

 

I must be dreaming . Rusty realized with a start. But still, why did his dreams bring him here? To this damp, dusky place? And why do I know I'm dreaming?

 

Looking about, Rusty guessed it was a cave. The walls were made of stone, and the ground was a fine silky dirt. Before him was a great stone, protruding from the earth. Above it, a hole in the ceiling which showcased the rock, as well as the night sky beyond. There were way more stars than Rusty would normally see in the city. It reminded him of the night sky by his old House. The sky was simply covered in tiny twinkling specks. It was oddly beautiful to the young tom. The damp air smelled of forest and Rusty would've thought there were crickets or something of the sort but instead his ears were met with silence.

 

What a strange dream. He thought, and once the initial fright of the dream had worn off, the ginger tom began to investigate the huge rock in the middle of the cavern. He couldn't explain why, but there was some sort of inkling that it had some meaning or purpose for being there.

 

The ginger tom was leery of the rock. The stone was smooth and plain in appearance. It was not reflective or special in any obvious way. It didn't smell special either. It was just a rock. However he was still not quite sure what to make of it and most certainly did not intend to bump his nose into the cold stone.

 

Almost as soon as he stepped back, his eyes widened further. The stone had begun to glow, illuminating the cavern in pale, soft light, not too dissimilar to moonlight. Rusty's tail bristled. How in the world was it glowing? Rocks don't just glow and shine like streetlights, after all. He blinked. Nothing about the rock appeared to change- it was just shiny now.

 

As transfixed as Rusty was, something else caught his attention. A feline figure was standing to the side of the rock. They were a tortoiseshell, and smelled like a tom (which Rusty found incredibly odd). Their yellow eyes were filled with sorrow and their russet tail flicked as they curled it around their paws. The thing that caught Rusty's attention was the wound across their throat. It looked like any of wound, maybe even like the one Rusty had given the black kittypet earlier. Their fluffy coat stank of forest.

 

“Rusty.” The cat meowed stiffly, rising to his paws and padding over to the ginger tom in question.

 

“How do you know my name?” He snapped, unsheathing his claws out of fear.

 

The tortoiseshell stepped closer, “I'm sorry to startle you but my time grows short. My name is Redtail, and in life, I was ThunderClan's deputy.”

 

Thunderclan? Wasn't that the name of the forest cats group? But what on earth was a forest cat doing in his dreams? He had never met this cat, and most certainly didn’t know what a “deputy” was. The wild cats he encountered never told him of any Redtail either.

 

Maybe its not really a dream then... Rusty thought for a moment, But things like that are impossible, right? They’re not real...

 

The ginger tom hissed, as the tortoiseshell sat only a few feet away. In the soft glow of the stone, Rusty found the tom created no shadow and the light didn’t shine on his pelt, like it did on the BloodClan tom’s. Instead he was see through, like glass.

 

“A-Are you dead?” The tom stammered before he could think exactly what he was saying.

 

Redtail sighed, “Yes. I was murdered, and now my killer walks free amongst my old friends and Clanmates. He trains my daughter. He is respected by his Clan, while I wander these lands, caught between the worlds of the living and the dead. I am forced to sit by while my friends and family are poisoned by his presence.”

 

Rusty shook his head, “But, Redtail, if your story is true and you aren’t just a figment of my imagination…. What can I do?”

 

The tortoiseshell - Redtail - bowed his head, “It was difficult to reach you, Rusty. I tried and failed many, many times. But my message is important, I must urge you to go back to the forest-”

 

“No.” Rusty snarled, backing away a pace. The tortoiseshell tom’s shoulders drooped, and he took a step towards the smaller tom. The depths of his yellow eyes were filled with despair, unlike Rusty had ever seen.

 

“Please, you were supposed to help.” Redtail pleaded, “StarClan foretold it, when I was just a young warrior. They told us you would come to the forest and save us, you’d stop his reign of terror and save the lives of those he has yet to kill. I’ve seen it. I know I am only the first of many. ”

 

The ginger tom just squeezed his eyes shut, willing the dream to go away. Redtail’s words still filled his ears. Images of Tigerclaw and the forest cats flashed in his mind. The sunlight catching Tigerclaw’s claws as they tore through him. The terror in Greypaw’s eyes when his Clanmates- a pathetic word for them- arrived. What kind of Clan was that? Why on earth would he give up his home in exchange for that- where a cat who killed their Clanmate got away with it? Where none of his own Clanmates would help him, and where everyone was afraid of one another.

 

It sounds like an awful way to live.

 

“Wouldn’t you want to get away from the life you have now? Wouldn’t you like to be free in the forest? No Twolegs, no Monsters, no dingy city buildings and scraps for meals.” Redtail continued, almost feeding off of Rusty’s inner monologue. “Rusty, you must go back to ThunderClan-”

 

“No!” The ginger tabby finally snapped. His unsheathed claws dug into the ground and he took a step towards the tortoiseshell, his tail lashing. “No I don’t! I’m happy where I am! I’m not afraid of some deranged killer like you are! My Clan is my home, not the forest. Not whatever stupid borders your Clans obsess over, how can you call yourself a Clan when you are tearing yourselves apart piece by piece!”

 

Redtail stared at him blankly for a moment, then sighed, his posture deflating and tail drooping, “I suppose you will not help me then?”

“I will not.” Rusty meowed coldly. In this dream, he could feel his collar rubbing into his neck, the kittypet’s tooth still lodged within it. Somehow it felt better than in his old forest dreams, where his collar vanished and the breeze flowed through his fur like a stream. “I will never ever be a ThunderClan cat. BloodClan is my home, and that won’t ever change.”

Chapter Text


When Rusty awoke, the next morning his heart was still racing and his pelt still on end. He couldn't have been more grateful to feel old newspaper beneath his toes and hear the distant roar of the Thunderpath, rather than silence and the damp stale air of the cave from his dream. Looking about, Ghost and Spirit were asleep on either side of him, and minus the regular city sounds, their gentle breathing was all that really filled the makeshift den. It was still dark outside, but the sky was most likely beginning to lighten from black to a pleasant pink-violet The tom’s stiffened shoulders relaxed as he looked around the den. It was home, and the familiarity of it comforted him.

 

Might as well try to get back to sleep if its so early. Rusty thought, opening his jaws in a yawn. Hopefully I don't get anymore weird dreams…

 

The tom shuddered and sighed, wrapping his tail around his nose and shutting his eyes again. His limbs still ached from the fight and he wanted to remain in the comfort of his warm nest for as long as he could get away with. Outside, the dawn air was brisk and wouldn't do much to comfort his tired body. He was not looking forward to the day's activities, whatever they may be. Most likely Ruth would take him out for training to go over what was done wrong in the battle. And then she'd send him to go hunt by himself or something. It happened often. Maybe they'd go over a new move or something of the sort. Or better yet, we'll be assigned are assessments for how well we fought in battle . That was doubtful though. Most of the cats who'd been trainees for moons hadn't gotten theirs yet.

 

It’ll be a while yet, but I wonder what we’ll be tasked with? Hopefully nothing that brings me to the forest.

 

Rusty narrowed his eyes, moving his head to rest more on his paws. Why does everything keep bringing me back to the forest? I don’t want to be there. There’s nothing there for me anyway. Its obvious I’m meant to be where I am right now, so why does my stupid brain keep bringing it up? It has to be my brain and not just fate, after all, spirits and stuff like that aren’t real. My dream had to be only that- a dream. Nothing more to it.

 

As much as he tried to get his mind on the coming day's events, he couldn't. Something about that tortoiseshell cat in his dream kept coming up. So finally, the ginger tom had enough and heaved himself to his paws and carefully stepping over the sleeping form of Spirit, lying near the entrance of the den. He took a moment to contemplate staying there, and sleeping the rest of the day away beside the russet tom but he knew there was no point. He wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep anyway, as the comforting confines of rest had already lost their hold on him.

 

Slowly padding out of the den, Rusty yawned widely and shook out his pelt, as the cold dawn air ruffled his ginger fur. Practically no one was outside. Everyone was most likely sleeping off the battle in their dens, like Rusty wished he could. The only cats outside were Snowfall, and her kittens, plus Vesper, who were all gathered at the wooden fence, which guarded the alleyway.  Snowfall sat atop of a turned over garbage can, while Vesper and the kittens practiced fighting moves on the ground below. The ginger tom purred, as he watched them for a moment. Cygnet and Willow were attacking one another while Hail watched on from Vesper’s side, her tail curled around her paws, while she watched her brothers intently.

A few heartbeats passed before Snowfall noticed him. A sour expression crossed her face, for a moment, as if she wasn’t sure whether or not he was an intruder. Then her odd eyed gaze softened and she motioned for him to come over.

 

Rusty smiled and did so, his tail waving in greeting to the group of mollies.

 

“Morning, Rusty.” Snowfall meowed, resting her chin on her paws.

 

“Good morning, Snowfall.” Rusty replied pleasantly, sitting down beside Vesper, to better look up at the queen.

 

“Can’t sleep?” She questioned, her matted white tail flicking.

 

Rusty shook his  head, “I had a weird dream and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I came to see if anyone else was awake.”

 

“Good thing you did,” Vesper responded gruffly, “Scourge wanted to see you.”

 

The tabby’s ears pricked, “Scourge?”

 

“Yeah!” Hail chirped from the cinnamon molly’s side. “He mentioned something about a special mission with Bone and Brick!”

 

At the mention of a special mission, all remnants of sleep officially dissipated. Maybe that cat in his dreams really had been there for a reason.

 

“Brick is really important, right?” Rusty asked. He knew the answer, but just wanted to double check.

 

“They both are.” Snowfall told him fondly. Her odd colored eyes twinkled. “They’re still talking in Scourge’s den. You better run along and see what they wanted.”

 

“I will!” Rusty called over his shoulder and he darted off, anxious to find the two other toms in question.

 

A special mission? I wonder what it is, and why Scourge wanted me to go along?

 

Rusty swallowed hard as he approached the old dumpster, pricking his ears to better hear the hushed voices inside.

 

I’m just a trainee after all? Why is he sending me along with BloodClan’s most important cats?

 

Just as the young tom was about to call out, a familiar black tom slunk out of the dumpster, with two other cats in tow. Rusty’s heart pounded as he realized just how small and puny he was compared to Brick and Bone. What sort of mission was it, where they needed the help of a cat like Rusty?  

 

“Ah, Rusty. Just who I was looking for.” Scourge meowed cooly.

 

“H-Hey.” Rusty stammered, his gaze shifting to the two toms behind the BloodClan leader. Bone and Brick were sat there, both of them standing stoic and staring blankly at the younger tom.

 

Scourge motioned to the two toms with his tail, “I suppose someone has already told you, if you came looking for me, but I am sending you with these two. They’re embarking on a mission, which must only be kept between us four. I will let them explain on the way, for you all must not waste any more time.”

 

Brick flattened his tattered ears and frowned, “Why is he coming with us? He’s hardly any old than Maple’s kits, and he’s not been with us very long. If something-”  

 

“Brick.” Scourge cut him off sharply, dipping his head to look back at Brick’s paws, rather than himself. His voice was level and calm. Still, the skinny tom immediately shut his jaws and let the blue eyed tom continue. “My half-brother is a trustworthy cat. I am certain he will not let you down or impede your mission. If anything this will make good practice for him. ”

 

The ginger tom opened his jaws to respond, but decided against whatever he was going to say, and simply replied with a meek, “Yes, Scourge.”

 

“Good.” The black tom said. He waved his tail, “Go find him then. May your claws be sharp and your paws be quick.”

 

Who? Rusty thought curiously. He had little time to ask though, as Bone and Brick departed quickly. Scourge only gave him a small nod of encouragement before ducking back into the comfort of his own den. Rusty didn't blame him.

 

The toms were almost halfway across the alley, before Rusty caught up with them, practically bouncing with kit like excitement at the prospect of their mission. It was obvious neither of the older toms really wanted him to tag along, but Rusty decided to ignore that for now. Scourge thought he was special and was sending him on a mission! When they got back, he was going to rub it in Ghost and Strawberry’s faces for sure.

 

Rusty said nothing and only followed along as the toms carefully stepped through the hole in the chain link fence. They cleared the alleyway, trotting along at a quick pace, all signs of the camp growing smaller and smaller in the distance. Rusty shook his pelt in the pleasant morning air as they padded out along a deserted sidewalk. Not a single Human could be seen, and only the occasional Car rushed by on the Road alongside them. Humans usually slept in, and none were out this early. Although the sun was mostly above the horizon, the sky was now a bright blue, and the air was an agreeable temperature. To Rusty, it appeared today was going to be a good day. Especially knowing Scourge trusted me enough to send me with such important cats. The tabby glanced over to Bone and Brick, who were briskly slinking along with narrowed eyes and lashing tails. Hopefully they like me… or at least tolerate me. When neither cat spared him a glance or spoke a single word of the mission, Rusty felt his tail drooping a bit. He glanced behind him, towards the camp. Still, I wish Strawberry was here. Or anyone else really. At this point him and Strawberry would be chatting up a storm of life's happenings and such. Instead, today, there was only silence.

 

Only when the alley was no longer in sight, did Rusty choose to speak.

 

“So what's the mission?” Rusty asked, as he forced his short legs to move a bit faster so he was walking alongside Bone.

 

The older toms exchanged a knowing look before Bone answered.

 

“You know Boulder, right?” The bicolor tom meowed gruffly.

 

Rusty did, but only vaguely. He was a massive grey tom, with a few tabby markings and hazel eyes- definitely one of the more intimidating cats of the Clan, in Rusty’s opinion. His quiet, calm nature made him all the more intimidating as well. In addition to that, Rusty hardly ever saw him, and when he was around, he never had done so much as spared Rusty and his friend group a glance. The only cats he spoke to were Vesper, Cocoa and sometimes Samuel. Now that I think about it, I don't think he even showed up to yesterday's fight.

 

“Yes.” He replied, looking to Bone for more answers.

 

Brick was the one to speak up, though. “We suspect he is plotting against us, and helping out our enemies.”

 

“What makes you think that?” Rusty asked. Boulder seemed incredibly distant but maybe he just didn't play well with others. The point of BloodClan was that they could had to work well together, and trust one another. So what on earth could make Scourge's companions think he was a traitor? What had he done to break that trust?

 

The ginger tom unsheathed his claws and hissed, “First of all, he’s hardly ever in camp. That in and of itself wouldn't be bad- Vesper and Harley live outside of camp and they're loyal cats. But he has kittypet friends and a kittypet mate which he refuses to bring to BloodClan.”

 

Rusty’s fur bristled slightly at the tom’s exaggerated response. He had apparently struck a nerve. Determined to stay calm and somewhat neutral, Rusty frowned, “Don’t other cats have mates outside the Clan? Why does that make him a traitor?”

 

“It's not just that.” Bone said, giving Brick a moment to calm down, “It's him not making an effort to be a BloodClan cat. Take yourself for example, we all took you in and helped you out. Then in return, you fight with us and hunt for us and generally just are one of us now. You wear your collar with pride. Boulder, well, he does none of that.”

 

“Plus,” Brick added, “ He disappears for days on end without a word and worries all of his friends sick. We’ve followed his scent all the to the Forest and today we're going to call him out and get to the bottom of what exactly he's up to.”

 

“Okay… Where are we going now?” Rusty meowed, taking his in the information presented to him. I'd never guessed Boulder was up to all that… Scourge really is a good leader if he can keep track of all his cats like this.

 

“We're going to pay his kittypet friends a visit. See if they know anything.” Brick replied. With a flick of his ear, he turned into one of the yards and slunk along the base of the fence. Bone was quick to follow, with Rusty darting along behind him. The ginger tom’s fur stood on end. What were Boulder’s friends going to be like? Will we have to fight them?

 

The BloodClan toms kept close to the fence, as they cut through the Human’s Yard. Rusty looked about, his eyes wide with wonder. The garden was not too different from his old home, with flowers and well kept plants decorating the yard and a rustic wooden fence enclosing the territory. I’m glad I don’t have to live out the rest of my life somewhere like this. It seems too cramped and unnatural for my liking. Rusty thought, as he stretched his neck out to sniff a wooden yard decoration.

 

“Keep up.” Brick hissed under his breath, bunching his muscles to spring up onto the fence. Rusty muttered an apology as he scampered over, and  joined the ginger tom on top of the wooden posts. It seemed unstable, and the ginger tom dug his claws into the wood to steady himself. Sitting atop the fence post, the Houses seemed to go on forever, each one almost exactly the same as the next. A few were better kept than the others, but many of them had peeling paint, and were made up of weathered wood, old and rusty with age. It looked like a good few of them didn’t have Humans living in them at all.

 

Bone was quick to join them as well. The fence shook under the black and white tom’s weight.

 

“Do you remember which House it is?” Brick asked, looking

 

Bone pointed with his paw, to a quaint looking Nest, much further down the line. Like the others around it, it had a back porch and a small, fenced off garden. This garden didn’t seem to be as well kept as the others, and in the morning air. “That one. Look, they’re even outside.”

 

Rusty peered around Brick and squinted at the house, looking closer to see a pitch black tom and a russet tabby molly chatting with one another on the porch swing.

 

“Won’t they see us coming, though?” Rusty asked, looking up at the taller cats.

 

“Good thinking but they most likely know we're coming anyway.” Bone replied. The ginger tom brightened at his praise but had little time to reflect as the older cats began to carefully pad along the top of the fence, towards the house with the two kittypets.

 

Rusty kept his focus on keeping his paws on the narrow wood, placing them one after another and making sure to dig his claws into the wood to steady himself. How embarrassing it'd be if I fell right now !

 

Then, Bone dropped down into the yard of the house. Rusty was close behind him, landing with a thump that shook his body. Seeing how scared the kittypets already were, the ginger tom fluffed out his fur to make himself look more intimidating, as Brick landed gracefully beside him.

 

“Let Bone do all the talking.” Brick murmured in Rusty’s ear. The young tabby gave a nod and shut his jaws.

 

“Morning, kittypets.” Bone yowled as the three toms stalked through the overgrown grass towards them.

The two cats’ heads snapped up and their eyes grew wide. There were two of them, lounging on the edge of the porch, their tails lazily swaying back and forth. The taller of them was a solid black tom with green eyes, and the other was a bright ginger molly with a few white patches and yellow eyes. Her fur was unkempt and littered with scars. She looked more like a rogue than a kittypet. Unlike her companion, she did not have a single trace of a collar around her neck. Both of them looked young though . About as young as the kittypet I killed. Rusty thought uncomfortably. He wondered if they were at the battle last night too.

 

The black tom whispered to the molly, “Why are they here? We haven't done anything!”

 

“Best just see what they want and answer honestly,” The molly replied with a growl, “No use runnin’ after all.”

 

Rusty stuck close to Bone, keeping his fur puffed out. I'd like to see them try to run.

 

“Jay and Red was it?” Bone meowed, hopping up the steps onto the porch. Rusty and Brick slunk close behind. It feels weird having a porch beneath my paws. The wood felt foreign and it reminded Rusty of the time he'd spent in Smudge's garden. He couldn't think about Smudge now though- he had some kittypets to interrogate.

 

The black tom skittered back, hiding from the larger cat while the molly bravely sat up on her haunches, tilting her head up to glare at Bone through slitted eyes. She unsheathes her claws as her companion peered out from behind herself.

 

“It is.” She hissed. “Whaddya want. We ain't done nothin’ wrong.”

 

“You haven't, but your friend, Boulder has.” Bone meowed in response. His tail twitched with irritation.

 

“Boulder?” The tom, Jay, asked. “We haven't seen him recently.”

 

“Then why does his scent lead right here?” Brick barked. Jay flinched.

 

“Just ‘cause he came here doesn't mean we've seen him. We only came out a few minutes ago, to sun ourselves.” Red told them. “If I had seen him today, I would've gone with ‘em.”

 

Bone's ears pricked, “Where do you usually go?”

 

“I don't need to tell you,bitch!” The russet molly hissed. Rusty could smell her fear and discomfort but remained silent, seated at Bone's side.

 

Bone’s hackles rose and he unsheathed his claws, “Don't test me, kittypet!”

 

Jay was quick to speak up as Bone took a step closer to Red. The black kittypet jumped forward, his limbs trembling and collar jingling.

 

“They go to the forest.” He stuttered. Red sighed and focused on the ground.

 

“The forest?” Bone echoed with interest.

 

The forest .

 

Why was it always the forest?

 

“Y-Yeah.” Jay meowed, his raven colored pelt still on end.

 

“Yea.” Red told him with a shrug. “We go and help out the forest cats fight sometimes.”

 

She raised her head a bit, still not meeting the stronger cat’s gaze as he spoke his next words, “Does Boulder go too.”

 

Red opened her jaws, her bright yellow eyes swirling as she thought.

 

“Does he?” Brick roared suddenly, unsheathing his claws and stepping towards the cowering kittypets. Jay shrunk back, and Red’s head snapped up.

 

“Yes. T-That’s what we were gonna go do today.” The russet molly spluttered. Almost immediately, her ears flattened and embarrassment rolled off her pelt. She hadn't meant to say that.

 

“How do you get there? What route do you take?” Bone asked calmly. His black and white tail swayed behind him as he listened, green eyes glaring into Red, almost seeming to pull the information right out, like a vole being torn from its burrow.

 

Red answered quickly this time. She knew the damage had already been done. “We go to the Crowfood place. The cats we help live in the Marsh.”

 

Bone smiled, showing his sharp canines. “Thank you for your time and cooperation.”

 

The huge bicolor then jumped off the porch, padding nonchalantly across the garden Brick followed and Rusty did as well, landing gracefully on the dry dirt beneath.

 

“You aren't gonna hurt him are you?” Red called after them. Rusty paused to look back at her, her yellow eyes wide with fear for her friend. “I'll kill all you bastards if you do!”

 

“He'll be alright.” Rusty promised her quickly before catching up to his Clanmates. However he wasn't sure how well he could keep that promise.

 

The toms headed through the city, keeping a steady pace for most of the way. The more they walked, the less excited Rusty became for this mission. His tail began to droop and his paw pads were cracked and bleeding. For the most part, the group stuck close to the shadows, out of sight from Humans and the Sun's almost deadly touch. Sweat made Rusty's undercoat slick, sticking to his skin and no matter if they were walking in the shadows, the heat never really got better. It still clung to the air like a deadly fog. Scourge really did have to chose the hottest day of the year for this, didn't he?

 

What have I gotten myself into? Why did Scourge pick me for this?

 

Rusty's tail only drooped further when they passed and alleyway with a somewhat familiar vile stench. It made Rusty retch.

 

The ginger tom paused to catch his breath, and sniffed the air for the source of the smell. It was obviously Death- as obvious and clear as it had been in the Crowfood place. It came from the alleyway in front of him. It looked different in the daylight, but it smelled the same.

 

But Rusty almost wished he hadn't looked for the source at all. For when he found it, he jumped back with a yelp.

 

There, only a few paces back was the body of the kittypet. Skinny and black, his throat wound now dark with dried blood and buzzing with flies. His jaws were still opened in a silent scream and his glossy lifeless eyes stared straight ahead, right into Rusty's very soul.

The ginger tom couldn't help staring back, his heart racing and his tail bushing out. He was unsure why he was afraid but nevertheless he was terrified.

 

“Great stars, is he alright?” Brick asked, turning to Bone.

 

“What is it?” The black and white cat asked, worry painting his face as he moved to see what Rusty was so fixated on.

 

The tom finally drew his eyes away. ““I-Its the cat from yesterday- The cat I killed.”

 

Bone and Brick were both considerably unphased and neither tough cat really seemed to know how to comfort the smaller tom. Out of the corner of his eye, Rusty saw Brick shove Bone in the direction of their younger companion.

 

“Rusty…” Bone meowed calmly, his voice considerably softer than usual.  “It's ok.”

 

When Rusty didn't reply, he continued, “It's just life, Rusty. We have to keep moving.”

 

“I know.” The ginger cat replied, dragging his gaze away from the corpse. Once he drew his eyes away, his voice steadied. “Its still startling. That's… that's all.”

 

“Good.” Bone meowed. Then they were off again.

 

Brick lead the way for most of the trip, with Bone and Rusty close behind. Not many cats were out and about- those who were steered clear of the BloodClan patrol. Rusty caught several flashes of wide glowing eyes, darting off into the shadows. He smelled their fear scent on the wind. Somehow it made him feel a bit better about the corpse of the kittypet. He remembered his days out here, on his own, how terrifying it was to stumble across something like that and wonder ‘who killed this many cats?’

 

Rusty felt powerful knowing he was now on the other side of it all. It felt good.

 

Death was still a thing he didn't want to tangle with often. It scared him. The rush he got from a fight terrified him in ways he could not describe. Somehow it wasn't just a rogue or an enemy. They always had a mother, a sibling, a mate. Someone looked out for them, and they looked out for someone as well. Taking them away from those cats didn't feel right to Rusty. He could justify the killing of the rogue in the sewers, but the kittypet did not get passed off as easily. The rogue had taken someone from them all- someone they loved. Flair would never live to become a full warrior of BloodClan. She'd never have kits or go on hunting trips with her sister and Cocoa again. All because she got into a skirmish over something dumb.

 

It made Rusty’s chest feel hollow. He felt guilty, in that surely someone felt the same way about the kittypet. The kittypet who was now rotting in an alleyway- forgotten by the world.

 

Rusty drew his eyes up from the pavement to see Brick and Bone chattering about something. The bicolor tom looked as cheerful as a bluebird. It only made Rusty wish Strawberry or someone was here.

 

Community .

 

That was the word for it.

 

That word flipped all of Rusty's guilt on its ugly head. Cats who destroyed his community, his friends, deserved what they got. They deserve to be forgotten and left to rot in dirty alleyways.

 

The thought was bitter and tasted like bile on his tongue. It made him narrow his eyes and unsheath his claws. It certainly was a selfish thought but everyone had to be a little selfish every now and then. It's what keeps us alive.

 

They crossed a road, and on it, Rusty caught a whiff of Crowfood, mixed with the strange scent of mud and rotting plants. Rusty pricked his ears, dragging himself from his tangled thoughts. They must be getting close to the Crowfood place, and beyond that- the forest. He hoped they won’t have to go too far into the forest to find Boulder. The forest still made him uneasy- especially after his dream. Besides, Rusty just wanted to get this whole mission over with. It was turning out to be less exciting than he had anticipated. If anything, he was looking forward to finding Boulder, bringing him home and hearing what he had to say for himself.

 

If Boulder betrays us, he had it coming to him .

 

On the other side of the road, was a small hill, of old dry grass leading up to a slope. Rusty blinked, recognizing the area. The pokey stalks of grass, coated in the scent of decay distinguished it from every other part of town. It was unmistakably, the Crowfood Place.

 

Bone took the lead, confidently padding up the hill. Rusty stuck close behind with Brick following a bit further behind. The ginger tom took to sniffing at every bit of grass, most likely trying to catch Boulder’s scent. However, the incline was steep and Rusty focused on picking his way around the clumps of dead grass, which would make him trip and hurt his already sore paw pads. After a short while of walking, Bone stopped. They had made it to the top.

 

Rusty’s eyes widened as they finally reached the top of the hill. It wasn’t exactly a hill after all, but more of an outcropping, which overlooked what Rusty assumed was the whole world. A bleak wasteland, lay before them, with the Crowfood place just below. Then further to the South looked to be a Marshland, cut by a Road, which was only a thin black line on the horizon. Beyond the Road was a splash of vibrant green. Rusty’s eyes widened further. That had to be the forest! All at once, Rusty understood where he was in the world. By that forest was his old Human Nest! Maybe he could keep his promise to Smudge after all. I know how to get there now! I know where I am! His old home was to the South and his new home- the BloodClan camp was further East, and somewhat to the North. In a heartbeat, the city didn’t really seem to big and vast, and an overarching sense of direction filled Rusty’s senses. Although he knew the city well by now, this realization had connected his two worlds in a way. Rusty grinned at the realization. The prospect of going wherever he pleased without getting lost thrilled him almost as much as the thought of Smudge’s face when the chubby tuxedo tom saw how Rusty had grown.

 

Another Road ran parallel to the outcropping, stretching off into the distance, and cutting through the empty land. Alongside it ran a river, and on the other side of the River- a Moor.

 

In his moments of staring, Rusty hadn’t noticed Bone watching him with an amused glint in his eyes. His ear tips burned with embarrassment  and ginger tom gave his chest fur a few licks.

 

“Well, what do you think, Rusty?”

 

“I didn't know the world was so big!” He exclaimed in reply.

 

Bone only chuckled turning his attention back to the Marshland.

 

“There's no scent of him here.” Brick meowed, suddenly appearing next to Rusty.

 

“Perhaps the scent of Crow Food masked it?” Bone suggested, frowning.

 

Rusty narrowed his eyes, “Or he masked his scent with Crowfood?”

 

Brick blinked at the smaller tom. It was the first time he'd acknowledged him all day.

 

“He knew he was doing something wrong, right? Maybe he tried to hide his scent with Crowfood, so when we did come looking, it wouldn't be as easy for us to track him down.” Rusty explained to the two taller cats. He prayed his theory didn't sound too outlandish.

 

Bone nodded thoughtfully, “He always was a resourceful one…”

 

“Say your theory is correct.” Brick meowed, flicking his ginger tail in irritation. “Where would we find him then?”

 

“We'd have to look down there.” Bone motioned to the wasteland below them. Rusty turned his attention back to the expanse of short grass. A little bit in the distance, he spotted movement. It was like hunting almost, except way way in the distance. Green eyes scanned the area again, and there he saw them- a group of 3 or 4 cats slipping through the shrubbery and heather which dotted the landscape. One of them was considerably taller than the others and the very color of Boulder. They seemed to be headed towards the Marshland.

 

“We won't have to look very far.” Rusty replied, he motioned with a paw to the group of travelling cats. “Look.”

 

The two older toms leaned forward, squinting at the place Rusty pointed to. Sure enough, they noticed the small patrol as well.

 

Bone looked pleased, “Good eye, Rusty.”

 

Brick frowned and looked to Bone, “How do we know that's him?”

 

The bicolor tom shrugged, “Well, if it's him, we take him, and if it's not, we ask those cats if they saw anything.”

 

“Fair enough.” Brick muttered. Bone stattered down the slope, skidding down the dirt and using his large forepaws to keep from falling. The patrol went down at a diagonal, with Rusty in between Bone and Brick. The smaller tom had to dig his claws into the somewhat loose, dusty soil as they scrambled down the incline. After what felt like ages of awkwardly half falling, half walking down through the dirt, Rusty saw the end in sight and sprung down into the grass again. He shook out his pelt, and then immediately darted behind a tall clump of heather for cover. Crouching in the dirt once again, he heard voices and spied Bone and Brick in a similar position a few fox lengths away, speaking in hushed tones with each other.

 

I’m glad the wind’s in our favor today. Rusty thought, as he crawled forward on his belly to join his companions. They appeared to be downwind from the Forest cats, which would mean they could neither hear nor smell Rusty and his acquaintances.

 

“Let’s just go up to them, and if he bolts then me and Rusty will go after him.” Brick was hissing. His striped tail lashed, stirring the dust around them. Some of it got into Rusty’s eyes as he crouched

 

“Alright, what do you want me to say when we go up to them?” Bone muttered back, flicking his ear. He seemed annoyed with Brick’s high strung attitude.

Brick rose to his paws, shaking his boney limbs, “Let’s go then. They’re gonna be too far into the Marsh if we wait any longer.”

 

The skinny ginger tom began to weave his way through the brush, his tail low and lashing as he approached the patrol. Rusty pricked his ears to better here the Forest Cat’s voices. Among them he picked up Boulder’s voice. Brick picked up the pace, until him, Bone and Rusty were pelting through the brush, head on towards the patrol.

 

Wind whipped in Rusty’s eyes as he sprung over bush after bush, focused on the patrol ahead. He couldn’t keep a small smile off his muzzle, at the thrill of leaping over clumps of grass and swerving around briar patches, towards a traitor- a weak link in the Clan. Something in the moment made Rusty think. The other night, when he was about to get slaughtered by the kittypet’s sister… if Boulder had been his partner in the battle, would he be here now? Or would Boulder have hesitated, fearful of betraying his kittypet friends, and let the molly slit Rusty’s throat.

 

“Boulder!” Bone yowled. At once the patrol stopped, whipping around with the fur on end. Boulder, who was at the back of the group looked especially terrified after hearing Bone’s snarl. The grey tom whispered something into his companion's ear.

 

The BloodClan cats slowed as they stalked up to the group of forest cats. Rusty paused to catch his breath. The stench radiating off the group made his fur stand on end. A disgusting mix of rotting plants, stale water and Crow Food was all that filled his nostrils as he tasted the air. It made his tail bristle and ears go slick against his head.

 

Boulder stood at the back of his group. He stood out amongst the other cats- with a larger frame and shorter fur than all of them combined. The others consisted of a grey tabby, a siamese and a kitten sized brown tabby. All appeared to be toms. Rusty thought for a moment about the best approach, and then decided maybe it was best for him to just listen to Brick and Bone. They'd dealt with these situations before anyways.

 

However before the patrol got within three fox lengths of the Forest Cats, a great yowl sounded and the Siamese surgered forward, claws unsheathed. The other two followed behind him, while Boulder darted off to the side, disappearing into the underbrush.

 

“Fox dung!” Brick screeched as he attempted to follow the huge grey tom, but was cut off by the Siamese cat.  All at once a fiery battle had broken out, with the screeches and hisses filling the air. Both the BloodClan cats were occupied, while Boulder was getting even further away

In a split second, Rusty realized both Bone and Brick wouldn't be able to go after Boulder.

 

It's up to me.

 

Without a word, Rusty spun on his heels and pelted in the direction Boulder had gone. His scent, mixed with that of Crowfood, hung in the air, and clung to the bushes in the area. It wouldn’t be difficult to find him.

 

The tom was a streak of orange as he dodged briars and heather, trying to put some distance between himself and the fighting cats. Boulder was smart and had a head start on them. Where would he go?

 

If I was in Boulder's paws right now, what would I do?

 

“Get back here, rogue!” A squeak came from behind Rusty, as the ginger tom slowed to a trot. He looked around, then down, finding the source of the voice.

A tiny kitten was glaring up at him. He looked only 3 or 4 moons only, and especially small for his age. Milk scent still clung to his fur, and his eyes were hardly a dull hazel. His fluffy tabby pelt stood on end, and his limbs were shaking with fear.

 

Rusty blinked, unsure of how to react. What sort of cats sent a kit this young into battle?

 

The kitten lashed out a tiny paw, hardly parting the fur on Rusty’s foreleg. He hissed, but it came out as hardly more than a small exhale.

 

Rusty growled, and batted out a sheathed paw, sending the little kitten stumbling back in the dirt. It felt wrong to hit a kit with unsheathed paws. I’m not savage, like these cats are. I could easily kill him but that would be wrong. He’s just a kit.

 

“Run home, kit.” Rusty snarled, as viciously as he could muster. It must have come out pretty harsh, as he kitten didn’t need any further telling and was quick to bolt, high tailing it back through the brush.

 

Rusty spat at the ground and continued onward, trying to pick up the scent of Boulder as he went. What sort of awful cats were these? Where was that kittens mother? If I ever run into her, I’ll be sure to claw her ears off for being such a negligent excuse for a queen.

 

Once the kitten was well out of sight, Rusty fully turned his attention back to the situation at hand. There didn’t seem to be any scent of Boulder past this point. The ginger tom frowned and back tracked. Perhaps he had taken a few twists and turns to throw off the BloodClan cats. Its difficult enough to pick apart his scent as it is.

 

Rusty retraced his paws to the last place he’d smelled Boulder, before the kitten had followed him and “attacked”. The tom frowned and sniffed at a clump of sagebrush. The kitten’s scent was there as well as jack rabbit and Boulder. Rusty frowned at the scent of the tom It was strong, as if he’d just been there, only heartbeats before.

 

Maybe he’s hiding out close by. Rusty realized with a blink and followed the scent again. It veered off to the left, back towards the way of the other Road, the one running parallel to the city- deeper into Forest Cat territory.

 

The scent stopped again, and this time, the tabby tom couldn’t find it again. He sniffed around the ground in a fox length sized circle around the bush. If Boulder had thought to mask his scent with Crowfood, surely he would have come up with some other schemes to hide his scent.

 

“Have you found him?” A yowl came. Rusty pricked his ears and looked up. Just above the foliage, he could spot two familiar faces. Both their pelts were ruffled, but both toms looked unharmed, minus a small nick taken out of Brick’s ear. It was still bleeding, but he looked more irritated with it than actually pained. Rusty  waved his tail and called back a simple, “Not yet!” as Brick and Bone trotted over.

 

“We’ll look over here.” Bone yowled in response. “Let us know if you see anything.”

 

If Rusty hadn’t put his nose to the ground, he was sure he would have missed it. A clump of dried up bushes, close to the ground was a knot of grey fur, caught in the thorns. Many cats lived on this land, Rusty knew that for certain. It could’ve been anyone, and there was no reason to suspect it as Boulder’s, except for the overwhelming scent of Crowfood, and well, city cat that painted the air around that bush.

Narrowing his eyes, Rusty slunk closer, unsheathing his claws in case of a battle. He didn’t know Boulder well, but he didn’t seem like the kind of cat to want to talk things through. If it did come down to a fight, Rusty knew he had to be loud and catch the attention of his other Clanmates. There was no way he could win on his own.

 

Sure enough, his scent was all over that bush. Rusty called out, and received no response. With clouds rolling in, it was becoming difficult to see inside as well. I guess I have no choice..

 

The ginger tom pressed himself flat to the ground and wriggled forward. Unlike Boulder, he could fully fit into the bush, without losing a patch of fur to the thorns above. Luckily though, he didn’t have to make it very far before he was greeted with a pair of gleaming hazel eyes, pupils wide. Rusty found the tom’s fear scent clouding his senses. The two toms stared at one another in shock.

 

“Don’t tell them I’m here. Rusty please, you’re a good cat.” Boulder hissed, his voice shakey. “I know you are. They’ll kill me if I go back to camp.”

 

The ginger tom hesitated, but only for a heartbeat. Maybe he should have thought about that before he became a dead weight to his Clan.


“He’s over here, Bone!” Rusty yowled.

 


 

 

The trip back to camp was uneventful, far more so than the journey over. It was faster too.

Brick and Rusty padded along on either side of Boulder, while Bone lead the way. Boulder’s head and tail almost drug along on the ground, and his shoulders were slumped. Occasionally he’d glance over at Rusty, with a pleading look in his eye, as if he wanted Rusty to give him space to run again. To let him go back to the secret life he’d built with the Forest Cats. But the tabby tom was having none of it. He kept his focus straight ahead, and refused to look the grey tom in the eye. Whatever punishment awaited him back at camp, Rusty thought it was well deserved.

 

For a few moments, Rusty felt guilty, but when Bone told him, they had no reason to kill Boulder, he felt a little bit better. The guilt of giving away one cat was far less than the guilt he would’ve felt if he left Boulder run free.

 

The small amount of guilt Rusty felt, completely dissipated when they arrived back at camp, to the outraged glares and hisses of the Clan. The moment they stepped foot through the chain link fence, they were greeted with a swarm of their Clanmates, with laid back ears and lips pulled back in snarls. At first, Rusty thought they were hissing at him, Brick and Bone but eventually, he heard the name “Boulder” mixed in there a few times, and came to the conclusion that, the Clan was completely on his side. Of course they were. Boulder was on his own.

 

Bone lead the way through the crowd of hissing cats, all of which clustered around them, shouting insults at the tall tabby tom. Rusty ducked his head, as the sound of their chaotic screeching was hurting his ear drums and was overall quite overwhelming. He recognized a few familiar voices, including Minty’s. He found that somewhat surprising, but at this point he wondered why he did. If he was among that crowd, he would be outraged as well, knowing a warrior of the Clan was not acting much like apart of them at all.

They eventually shouldered their way up to the meeting dumpster, breaking free of the crowd of cats, and padding into the open area of the Clan. Scourge was sitting above the chaos, as usual, with Jasmine at his side. Her vacant glare bore into Boulder as Brick shoved him into the center of the half circle everyone had created around the dumpster. It resembled an arena, with Boulder right in the center, awaiting judgement from his Clan. Unlike the Clan, Scourge sat silent, his hackles flat and narrowed blue eyes calm, as usual. Rusty wondered how he pulled it off.

 

The black tom gave Rusty a small nod of approval, as the small patrol dispersed. Bone replaced Jasmine alongside Scourge, and Brick took a seat at the base of the dumpster, beside Bright and Raven. The group of three closed off the half circle, so there was no way the grey tom could escape. It appeared, he knew h was caught, as he sat, with his tail tucked around his paws, and head lowered. His stone colored pelt stood on end, under the hisses of the Clan.

 

Rusty took a moment, to relish in the fact that he had completed Scourge’s mission and earned his approval, before he darted off, anxious to not be in the center of attention any longer than he had to be. He found his way over to his usual group, with Strawberry, Maple’s litter and the group of trainees and young cats. Ghost was quick to scowl his way, but the snarky white tom had little time to speak before the “trial” began. Strawberry and the others in the row only gave him somewhat astonished looks. Spirit mouthed what looked to be, “Tell me about it later.”

 

“Silence!” Scourge called. Rusty settled himself on his haunches, raising his head to better see the events that were unfolding at the meeting dumpster. At their leader’s command, the Clan fell silent, but their fur did not yet lay flat. There was justice to be served after all.

 

“As you all know, I sent out a patrol this morning, to track down this traitor.” The blue eyed cat spat at Boulder’s feet, “They brought him back, from all the way over by the Marsh- Outside the city limits.”

 

With that, Scourge sprung down off the dumpster, landing a fox length from Boulder, who remained silent. His eyes were wide, and fixated on Scourge as he circled the larger cat.

 

“What do you have to say for yourself, traitor?” The BloodClan leader hissed.

 

“I-I was just doing what I felt was right. The forest cats- they needed extra help in their struggles and-” Boulder started, his voice shaky.

 

“The forest cats struggle is not our business.” Scourge snarled, “Neither is that of the kittypets, or rogues, but The forest cats are the opposite of everything BloodClan is. And you go out of your way to help them?”

 

Boulder raised his head to look his leader in the eye. Fear for the tall tabby coiled in Rusty’s stomach as he saw Scourge’s tail lashing. “They’re cats though. Just like us-”

 

“They are nothing like us! The Forest cats are weak! They are savages, blinded by their own rules. They are elistist groups, more obsessed with their bloodlines than their own survival.” The tiny tom sprung back up on to the dumpster, his head tilted towards the sky. “We are strong. BloodClan is strong. Our ranks have never grown soft with stupid rules and useless ceremonies. Our rules weren’t given to us by our dead. We create our own path. Our strength lies in ourselves and our ability to survive!”

 

The cats around him cheered their approval, their yowls filing the alleyway. Rusty couldn’t help but join in, his tail lashing. Yes! Why on earth would Boulder want to be apart of that? If he wants to throw away his family here, then that’s his problem.

 

“And if that’s what you want to be apart of, then that is your choice to make, Boulder.” Scourge meowed, after the cheering had died down. Rusty’s stomach was tying itself in knots. Tension and excitement buzzed in the air like bees, and it clawed its way into Rusty’s fur, making him jittery and excited as well, even if he could not place why. “But know that you will never be welcomed back here. When they throw you out for not being one of them. When you finally realize how strict and stupid they are, you will come crawling back here and you will be greeted with our claws.”

 

“I found my place in the Marsh. It was never here to begin with.” Boulder replied, his voice now strong. He glared up at the smaller tom. “I will never come back here, Scourge.”

 

“Then you will run. Run as far as you like, traitor, but we will always be one pawstep behind.” Scourge finished.

 

With that, Scourge leaped back down off the dumpster, landing a mouse length in front of Boulder. Rusty couldn’t quite see what happened from his spot in the crowd, but from the screech that sounded in Boulder’s throat, he could guess it was nothing good. It sent a chill through Rusty’s bones. The metallic scent of blood filled the air, and Boulder stumbled backwards, finally displaced from his original spot in the clearing.

 

I thought Bone said we weren’t going to kill him?

 

“Escort him to the border then, since that’s his home.” Scourge sneered , motioning for Brick’s group. Raven and Bright stood alongside him. “Let’s see how much use he is to the Forest cats now.”

 

Rusty stretched his neck to see as Raven gave Boulder a hard shove in the shoulder. Fear scent filled the clearing, as Boulder staggered away, guided along by Bright and Raven, with Brick in the lead. Rusty finally got a good look at what happened.

 

He blinded him. Rusty realized. Three deep claw marks had been scored across the grey tom’s right eye, which he now kept closed, as blood pooled in the corners of his muzzle and stained his fur. Rusty’s blood turned to ice. Even if it was only one side, what was a cat to do with only one eye? How would he judge the distance of his prey or where his enemies were?

Rusty watched as Boulder’s tail disappeared through the chain link, for the last time, before he turned to head to his nest.

 

As the ginger tabby fell asleep that night, he noticed how little he felt for the grey tom. How little he cared if he actually made it back to the forest or not.

 

And for a reason, unknown to Rusty, he welcomed that feeling, that sort of primal selfishness. Deep down, he knew it would keep him safe.

Chapter Text

The next few days came and went, as dulll as ever. Rusty went about his business, training, hunting and sharing prey with his friends. It was all fairly mundane, and stuff he already knew. No one mentioned Boulder, and when they did, they usually spoke about him with malice in their meows. Many of the others in the Clan sent Cocoa and Fizz glares of disdain, and Rusty saw them get chased away from the prey pile more than once. It hurt to watch, as Fizz had already lost so much that moon.

 

Strawberry and Spirit didn’t press Rusty about what happened on the patrol, although Strawberry did insist on knowing why Rusty of all cats was chosen to go along- a question Rusty didn’t even know the answer to himself.  Most of the time they just went about their days, without so much of a sniff about what happened to Boulder. If Rusty didn’t know better, he wouldn’t have even known there was ever a cat named Boulder in BloodClan.

 

Overall, Rusty found the suffocating summer heat to be dying down, with the evenings being cool and the nights even colder than he’d ever known them to be. It didn’t rain quite so much, and when it did, Rusty almost refused to venture out of his nest. The rains were now at an almost arctic temperature, and when Ruth and Minty laughed at him, saying the weather would only get worse, he couldn’t tell if they were joking or not.

 

On the fifth day of doing practically nothing, Rusty finally got the courage to ask Spirit to go hunting with him. The russet tom happily obliged and the two of them were off, and eager to go alone. It'd been some time since Rusty got a chance to speak with anyone his age. Most days were spent training, and many others were spent with Scourge and Bone. However those plans of solitude were quickly cut short when both their instructors, Ghost, Strawberry and Frost invited themselves along too. Thankfully no one Rusty found disagreeable but still, he was longing for some alone time with his friend.

 

The patrol departed in the evening, when the sun was dipping down below the horizon and casting long shadows throughout the city. It was especially humid and somewhat cold, despite still being sunny. Autumn, as the others called it, was most certainly on its way. He just hoped that the little live prey in the city wouldn't start running low. If it did, he hoped that the Humans wouldn't start keeping their leftover prey to themselves. It seemed that most of BloodClan relied on the great hairless creature's wastefulness. If there weren't humans throwing out scraps, it seemed everyone would starve. Even if that did happen, Scourge surely would have some sort of backup plan. He always did after all.

 

Despite whatever might be happening in the coming months, prey seems to be running good now. It wasn't long before they picked up a trail after all. It was the trail of a young and healthy animal too- something that would be a delicacy if caught and a waste of time if it escaped.

 

“Dammned rats.” Frost muttered. “Always getting their grimy paws into good cat's food.”

 

The white molly stalked alongside Rusty and Strawberry, with the other cats lagging behind a bit, keeping to their own conversations.

 

Strawberry purred in amusement, “Don't worry, Frost, we'll track it down and soon it'll be our food.”

 

“It'd be easier to track down if Otter was here.” The molly huffed, pausing to catch the scent trail better. “He’s much better than me when it comes to hunting.”

 

“Where is Otter anyway?” Rusty asked. The quiet black tom was always good company when out and about. He was incredibly resourceful and good at hunting live prey.

 

Frost shrugged, “Said he had to stay behind and practice some fighting techniques with Riley and Jet. A good thing too- Riley's going to get herself killed unless she gets her act together.”

 

“She's that bad?” Strawberry mewed. Rusty looked on with concern and interest. A cat with poor fighting skills wouldn't last very long in the city, no matter how protective their family was.

 

“Clumsy and slow on her paws, according to Jet and Oreo.” The white molly told them. “Then again, I'm the same way and I figured it out. She'll be fineI'm sure.”

 

“Hopefully.” Rusty said, “She's not going to be staying behind for much longer.  She's not that much younger than you and your littermates.”

 

“Agreed.” Strawberry sighed. “She’s just gotta try harder.”

 

“How are the other kittens of the Clan doing?” Rusty asked.

 

“Leaf hardly knows what to do with her litter, rambunctious little brats.” Frost scoffed, “Then Snowfall's are going to start properly learning to fight and hunt soon. Harley's are still too young to do much about, but they're getting there too.”

 

“Oh yes, I saw Snowfall and Vesper teaching them a few moves the other day, before…” Rusty trailed off. Boulder was a sensitive topic still, and he wasn't entirely sure if it was appropriate to bring up.

 

“Before Boulder?” Frost finished with a raise of her eyebrow.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I wonder what he's up to anyway. Doubt the forest cats were worth losing all your friends, your home and an eye over.” Strawberry meowed.

 

Rusty shrugged, “I'm sure it wasn't. Scourge was right about the forest cats, they'll spit him out as soon as he's no longer useful to them. We made the right decision, getting rid of him..”

 

Strawberry nodded slowly, an unreadable expression on her muzzle. Did she agree with the rest of the Clan? It'd be stupid not to, they were right after all. Boulder wasn't their problem any longer. However before the conversation could continue, Frost waved her tail- a sign for the two to shut up.

 

“Shh!” Frost pricked her ears, “I think I hear it!”

 

The ginger tom prompted shut his jaws and pressed himself low to the ground, giving Frost room to properly locate the mouse. He could hear it, just a few tail lengths away, shuffling through a pile of trash around the corner. If Rusty looked around the corner he knew he'd see it. He just hoped Frost could get it before it dove for cover. Hunting in trash wasn't ever fun.

 

He held his breath, and watched the white molly creep forward, pawstep by pawstep, until her waving tail disappeared around the corner. Rusty was tempted to move, to better see how the hunt was going. There was a heartbeat of silence, accompanied only by the scuffling of tiny paws and a rapid heartbeat in Rusty's ears. Then a great crash as one could assume Frost pounced. The ginger tabby rose to his paws, eager to see if she got the catch, but before he could take a single step, a great yowl sounded. It sounded like a yowl of pain.

 

Strawberry and Rusty exchanged a quick look of alarm before the two were off, darting over to aid their friend.

 

Upon rounding the corner, it was clear Frost did get the catch. She stood over it's tiny, limp body, hissing and spitting like mad. Blood was running down a gash in her shoulder, staining her snow white fur red.

 

“I was stalking that, you bitch!” She snarled. At first Rusty was not sure who on earth she was talking to. Then he saw him.

 

A rogue was crouched a few paces away pressing himself to the ground. He was scrawny, and about half the size of Frost, despite looking to be only a few moons older than her. His dusky greyish brown pelt was unkempt and looked to be crawling with fleas. The white parts of his pelt hardly looked white anymore,instead dyed a pitiful mix of brown and red. His unfocused yellow eyes were dull and one was partially closed and oozing with blood. His claws were curled into his paw pads, and his pelt was littered with unclean and infected wounds. For Rusty, it was like looking back in time, to when he first came across BloodClan.

 

Strawberry immediately jumped to Frost’s defense, shoving the white molly away from the strange tom. Frost took her mouse, and the tortoiseshell growled  in the tom’s face, with ferocity that Rusty had never witnessed from the normally kindhearted molly.

 

“I'm sorry, I didn't know.” He squeaked, backing up and laying his ears back.

 

By now, the rest of the patrol had caught up, and were watching on with narrowed eyes. Spirit in particular was glaring at the young tom, from his place next to Ghost. Strawberry had lead Frost away from the tom, and the two were whispering about something, their eyes trained on the strange tom.

 

“Then you will from now on!” Ghost spat, shouldering his way forward with unsheathed claws.

 

Something moved in Rusty, as a particular scent caught his nose. It wasn't one he knew well, but he recognized it instinctively. Faint as ever, but there nonetheless, the scent of kits and milk caught on the wind. There was no reason to harm him, especially if a cat as young as himself had a family to provide for.

 

“Wait.” Rusty meowed firmly. “This cat has kits.”

 

“So? He should've thought about that before trying to steal our prey.” Ghost spat.

 

“It was an accident.” The rogue exclaimed, backing up another pace.

 

“Look at him, isn't he suffering enough.” The ginger tom took another step towards Ghost, putting himself between the white tom and this unfamiliar cat.

 

The two stared into each other's eyes for a moment, their fur now on end. Rusty felt the urge to back down, if a squabble did break out he knew he would not win. He braced himself for an attack, unsheathing his claws. But uncertainty flashed across Ghost's features the moment their eyes met and after a few heartbeats the white tom took a step back.

 

“Fine, but if I ever see this mangy rat again...” Ghost snapped before turning back to the patrol, still gathered at the edge of the clearing.

 

“Thank you.” The rogue murmured. “I don't know what I would've done if you weren't here.”

 

“It's no problem.” The ginger tom said softly. “You still better be on your way.”

 

“I know. I won't bother you all again, but do you know another place I could go to hunt for my kits. Somewhere out of your way.”

 

The ginger tom sat back on his paws to scratch at an itch at the base of his neck as he thought of a response. His claws grazed his collar and effectively pushed the fabric around his neck, revealing the fact that there was a tooth in his collar.

 

“W-Wait, you're BloodClan.” The rogue suddenly gasped. It was a mix of surprise, awe and sudden hope.

 

“Yes?” Rusty was somewhat puzzled. Did he not see Ghost's collar as well.

 

The dusky tuxedo tom shuffled his paws, “I'm sorry, it's just I've been looking for you all. Someone told me that you could help me, at least until I get back on my feet.”

 

“Oh?” The tabby was somewhat stunned. Is this something BloodClan did regularly, just helping out random cats, and then sending them on their way.

 

Ruth's yowl brought Rusty back to the present. “Rusty! Come on!”

 

“Wait!” The tom looked over his shoulder, back towards his instructor. She and the others were all standing about, getting ready to leave. In a split second, he'd made his decision. There was no point in leaving the rogue to die on his own. Rusty could sense the lean muscle under his pelt, as scrawny as he may be now. He could tell this tom would not be a liability, unlike Boulder.

 

Rusty gestured her over with a flick of his tail.

The maine coon molly frowned and began to pad over to the pair of young cats. Her grey tail swept back and forth with uneasiness.

 

“What is it?” She asked, her gaze flicking between the two toms.

 

“This cat said he's been looking for us, because we can help him.” Rusty told her, “He has kits too- I can smell them.”

 

Ruth huffed, “What's your name, kit?”

 

“Micah.” The rogue replied, hope filling his dull eyes.

 

“Micah, gather your kits. We'll take you back to camp, and see what Scourge will do with you.” The grey molly told him gruffly.

 

“Thank you, thank you so much.” The rogue, Micah, said eagerly. He scampered off almost as fast as he had appeared, presumably to gather his kittens.

 

“You invited him, you're going to have to convince Scourge.” Ruth muttered in Rusty's ear, “Scourge will listen to you but I still wouldn't get my hopes up.”

 

Rusty padded back to the patrol with a nod, keeping his anticipation to himself. It wasn’t everyday a new cat came to join them, or even stay with them. In fact, the last cat who came to the Clan was him. It was exciting, to Rusty at least, to know he was no longer the newest member of the Clan. At least he hoped so. It felt like the final step to becoming a part of the Clan- obviously he was a part of the Clan, but he wasn’t “the new cat” anymore. The focus on initiations, first times and first training sessions would no longer be on him- it’d be on Micah. Rusty couldn’t wait to show Micah around camp and the city, like Strawberry had shown him. Then in the future, Micah could show someone else. However, his Clanmates weren’t so happy.

 

“Rusty, what’s going on?” Strawberry whispered when the ginger tom reunited with his friends.

 

“Micah’s coming back to camp with us.” Rusty told them. Ghost growled.

 

“We don’t need more mouths to feed. He’s weak, what’s he going to contribute?” The white tom snarled.

 

“More paws in the Clan, means more cats who can hunt and fight with us.” Spirit meowed thoughtfully- as usual.

 

Ghost scoffed at the russet tabby, “And more mouths to feed.”

 

“Hey now, he just needs time to get back on his feet.” Spirit said, defending the rogue tom. “Then he’ll be a good warrior, just like Rusty.”

 

“He has kits too.” Hermes, who had remained quiet the whole time, finally spoke up. “Even if he doesn’t stay with us, it’s likely his kits will grow up in BloodClan.”

 

Rusty blinked. Didn’t it feel a little wrong, keeping kittens around without their parents. If the parents gave up their kits, that was one thing, but just taking them felt odd. They’ll be safer with us at least.

 

“Has that happened before?”

 

“Sometimes it does.” Strawberry mewed, “That’s how Primrose and Ash joined the Clan. And they’re going to be warriors soon, y’know. ”

 

“Hm.” Was all Rusty had to say. They didn’t seem unhappy without their parents, maybe it wasn’t a bad thing. He’d never known his parents, and joining BloodClan was his own decision, so he found it wasn’t really his place to form an opinion.

 

Before the conversation could continue any further, Ruth and Micah came trotting up. Micah’s tail still hung low and his posture was submissive, and afraid. Yet hopeful. He glanced back and forth across the group, gathering in the appearances of the group. Rusty could smell his fear, the uncertainty as he took in the fact that Rusty and his group could have torn him to shreds but didn’t. It was the uncertainty that came with taking a risk. Rusty knew it very well.

Now, Micah held a small, kit in his mouth. The kit hardly looked to be a moon old, and wasn’t in any better shape than his father. His eyes were shut, with clumps of blood, and his ginger pelt was tattered and clumped together in places, either from sweat or a general lack of cleaning.

Ruth held a second kit, a tom-kit with a mostly white pelt, and a few ginger patches. This one's eyes were open, but blankly followed the cats in the patrol. They looked old enough to talk, but to weak to actually. The last pranced around at her feet. She was the largest of the group, with a fluffy mottled, tortoiseshell pelt and bright blue eyes.

 

“Are we ready then?” Hermes meowed sternly, her thin tail flicking as she gave the small family a once over.

 

Micah gave a hesitant nod and they were off. His tail was low but Rusty could sense the excitement rolling off his pelt. He knew that feeling well, for it was not too many moons ago that he felt the same way.

 

I just hope Scourge listens to me.

 

Rusty stole a glance back at Micah, who was now chatting with Strawberry. That molly had no trouble making conversation with strangers.  

 

I don't know what I'd do if Scourge hadn't taken me in. Perhaps I'd have found my way home by now, and me and Smudge would be friends, just like old times. Or maybe I'd be a barn cat… but both of those sound so boring, especially now. Heck, maybe I'd even-

 

“Hey!”

 

A squeak brought Rusty out of his thoughts. It took a moment for him to locate the source of the noise, but when he did, a small purr sounded in his throat.

 

The tortoiseshell kitten was wobbling along at a rather fast pace, especially for a kitten that barely seemed to know how to walk. She still had her baby blue eyes after all. But still, she had no trouble keeping up with the patrol, and didn't need to be carried like siblings. Rusty blinked as he laid eyes on her.

 

“I'm Sniff! What's your name?” The kitten mewed.

 

“Um… Rusty.” The tabby tom replied uneasily. He hardly knew where to put his paws with kittens, despite not being much older himself.

 

“It's good to meet you, Rusty!” Sniff chirped.

 

What a polite little molly! He thought with a purr, as the tortoiseshell scrap of fur scurried off to talk to others in the group.

Sniff scurried up to Ghost, her baby blue eyes gleaming with delight at the prospect of meeting other cats. Rusty couldn’t help but wonder when the last time she spoke to other cats was. Well her siblings don’t seem to be in any shape to talk to her. The poor little molly must be so lonely. Despite only knowing her for a few heartbeats, Rusty couldn’t help but feel very protective of the tiny little family.

 

I have to do whatever I can to help them.  

 


 

“So? Why should we help them?”

 

A light drizzle had started up by the time they arrived home. The precipitation was as cold and bone splintering as the glare of the cats sitting before Rusty.

 

An unofficial meeting had been called when the patrol arrived in camp. While the trip back to the alley was quiet, their arrival was considerably less so. When Ruth and Hermes told Scourge of Micah's tale, a crowd had gathered, listening in and spitting their disapproval. Rusty couldn't blame them, he really couldn't- they had just lost a Clanmate after all. A strong, healthy Clanmate who had many years left to serve his friends and family, and just got sent away just like that? And now, a group of trainees decided to bring in another cat- a replacement,as Tess called him. It was like a spit in the face to the whole Clan. Yet Rusty knew that Micah, once he regained his strength, would be a fierce extra claw to the Clan. And even if he wasn't, Sniff and her other littermates would be. They would lead the same path as Rusty, a good path, a rewarding path. The path of someone strong, who knew their place: at the top of the pecking order.

 

However as he sat with half the Clan looking at him like a piece of fresh kill, defending a cat who most likely couldn't clean his own tail, he wasn't feeling so strong after all.

 

Rusty sat between Micah and Strawberry, with the other cats of the patrol settled on either side of them. Micah kept his kits close to himself, sheltering them from the cold with his body. All of them faced the high ranking warriors at the meeting dumpster, with everyone else crowded around them, their eyes wild and fixated on the small, new family. Many cats were screeching and yelling their disapproval with unsheathed claws, namely Tess, Maverick and Dusk. Most everyone else remained quiet, yet restless. Rusty could see many of his Clanmates pacing back and forth, their tails twitching with interest. It looked like everyone had been gathered, either by word of mouth or curiousity, even the more reclusive of warriors was looking onward. Even Vesper and Blackberry were huddled together on the outskirts of the crowd. Rusty tried to make eye contact with the old cinnamon molly, but to no avail. Her good eyes was focused on the smallest kitten, Flash. I wonder if she can tell what’s wrong with him.

 

Scourge was situated at the base of the dumpster, with Bone and Jasmine at his side. His gaze was flickering from one cat to the next, ears twitching as the rain began to pick up. It was hard to tell what he was thinking, but whatever it was, Rusty doubted it was good. His hackles were risen, as he scanned the crowd, looking onward as the rowdy bunch began yowling louder and louder when their leader remained silent. As their volume increased, so did the wind, rattling the earth and the broken window panes of the buildings around them. The rain began to come in bursts, diagonally hitting the gathered cats like raking claws. The noise of the Clan as well as the weather was becoming deafening to Rusty.

 

“Why should he stay Scourge! Tell me!” Tess snarled, her amber eyes wild with rage.

 

Maverick was quick to join in with his mate, “We aren’t a charity, Scourge! We need to send this rogue home!”

 

Finally, it looked like Dusk had enough. The lithe tortoiseshell hissed and bounded forward, lashing out a claw at the rogue in question. It all happened so fast, Rusty hardly had time to react. His eyes widened, as Dusk lunged forward, her rain soaked fur puffed out to make her look twice her size. Time seemed to slow as she just about crashed into Micah and his sickly kittens, claws outstretched. Just as she was about to make contact, a white blur intercepted her attack.

Rusty sat shell shocked as Ghost took Dusk by the scruff flinging her about a fox length away from the kittens. Dusk was about as shocked, landing on her side with a thump and staying there for a moment before stumbling up to her paws. The much larger tom, put himself between the patrol and the tortoiseshell. In that moment, Rusty realized just how intimidating Ghost actually was. His narrowed green eyes seemed to bore holes in Dusk’s pelt, and she pressed herself to the ground, looking considering younger than she actually was. She wasn’t going to give up so easily, her tail lashing out of humiliation, as she bunched her muscles to attack. The only thing that stopped her was Scourge’s shout.

 

“Stop it! All of you go back to your business, I will discuss this only with the cats involved.” He hissed. Immediately, Dusk backed off, a scowl painted on her face. The crowd dissipated quickly, trusting their leader to deal with the matter. A few cats from the patrol decided to take their leave as well, and only a few braved the rain. Almost the whole Clan retreated indoors, except for Vesper and Lilian. The latter of the two was speaking with Ghost, most likely asking if he was okay. Rusty snorted.  The longhaired molly looked like an old mop in the rain.

Vesper was slowly approaching the group, her matted tail raised in greeting. Her huge golden eye was still fixated on the smallest kitten.

 

“I’m just going to take a look at them, if that’s alright with you.” The cinnamon molly meowed. Her tone was unsure, as if she wasn’t completely comfortable being around the tiny kits.

 

Micah’s tail puffed out as he opened his jaws to reply. Strawberry was quick to speak though.

 

“This is Vesper, she knows all about healing stuff. She’ll know whats wrong with your kits.” The tortoiseshell informed him. “It’s alright. She won’t hurt them.”

 

Micah nodded, stepping back from the kittens to let Vesper give them a sniff. I hope she knows whats wrong with them.

 

Blackberry remained sat a few paces behind them, his mottled tail tip twitching in irritation, most likely about being in the rain. Rusty couldn’t blame him, and wished that they could all just hurry up and get into the shelter of Scourge’s den. He just wanted this ordeal to be over with. The ginger tabby stole a glance back at the group of high ranking cats, who were crouched together murmuring and casting the smaller patrol a few confused looks. Bone wore a frown across his face, and Jasmine seemed more confused than opposed to the group joining. More than once, one could overhear her mutter “Why was Dusk upset?”. It was no secret that Jasmine was the cat to go to when kittens were in need. Despite her battle hungry exterior, everyone knew she was the most experienced queen in the Clan. Hope began to bloom in Rusty’s heart. Surely she’d at least support taking the kittens in. Brick looked to be more on Tess and Dusk’s side, as he watched his leader with a scowl. The old ginger tom only spoke up a few times, but when he did he kept his ears laid back. However all of them were looking back at the patrol, or more specifically: Rusty. It made the ginger tom nervous.

 

A hiss brought him back to the present. Micah’s outraged exclamation was enough to get the attention of every other cat in the area. Those who were sharing prey in the shadows of the buildings look up to see the commotion, and Rusty could even see a few others poke their heads out of their dens.

 

“What do you mean he’s not going to make it?!” The grey tuxedo snarled. Vesper stood her ground though, laying back her tattered ears.

 

Well that’s not a good sign. For the first time all day, doubt began to fill Rusty’s senses. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea, bringing the little family back to camp.

 

The cinnamon molly was quick to reply, “He’s almost a moon old and he’s half the size he should be! And surely your nose isn’t so bad you can’t smell the sickness on him.”

 

Blackberry had come over to try to break up the fight. Rusty almost didn’t want to watch if the two did actually unsheath their claws. Micah may have potential but Vesper certainly had him matched. It wouldn’t do any good for his case if he did fight the first cat that tried to help him.

 

“Mom-” The tortoiseshell muttered, brushing his tail along the cinnamon molly’s flank.

 

“You’d listen to me if you knew what was best for him!” Vesper hissed before padding away, alongside Blackberry, who shot daggers over his shoulder at the dusky grey tom. Micah was still spitting when Scourge finally called the rest of them over.

 

Rusty slowly rose to his paws, put off by the little spat between the two cats. Vesper did have a point, and Micah should listen to her. I can't blame him though. What would I do if a cat told me my children were going to die?

 

Strawberry lead the way over to Scourge and his group, while Micah herded his kits along behind her. It took them a few moments longer to get settled in the ragged circle, and Micah was not blind to Brick and Bone’s hostile body language. They kept their jaws shut though, knowing better than to speak out against their leader.

 

“Rusty, your instructor tells me you were the one who found this cat?” The little black tom questioned. In the presence of the leader, Rusty didn’t feel afraid. Usually he would have been at least a little intimidated.

 

We’re kin, I know I can get through to him.

 

He glanced over at Micah, who was crouched over his kittens. The dusky tom had a wild eyed stare. He’s certainly intimidated by Scourge. But hopefully he feels the same way I did when I first met him.

 

“Yes, I-I was.” The ginger tabby finally answered, his head lowered out of respect.

 

Scourge nodded, “And why should he stay?”

 

“Leaf-bare is coming quickly.” Brick put in, “We don’t need extra cats, especially kits to take care of.”

 

“Especially sickly kits.” Bone agreed in a low tone. His green eyes easily met Micah’s and glanced down to Flake and Flash, the smallest and weakest of the litter at his feet.

 

Micah did not take kindly to that. Immediately, the tom stood lashed his tail, “What did you say!?”

 

“Stand down.” Scourge snapped. Even to a new, (hopefully) soon-to-be warrior his voice held power and Micah did not hesitate in following the order. The black tom continued, “My warriors have a point, but I want to hear what Rusty has to stay.”

 

Bone spoke sharply to his mate, his irritation growing, “Why? He’s just a trainee.”

 

“He is my kin, and a cat of good judgement. He most likely has spoken to this cat enough to know he’s a good fit among us.” Scourge replied. Rusty wondered how he could stay calm in such circumstances. Brick and even his own mate looked about ready to tear the poor rogue’s throat out right there.

 

Scourge turned back to Rusty, crouching down to sit in a loaf on the cool ground. He gave a small nod of approval, pushing the ginger tabby to speak.

 

“We just lost a strong warrior,” Rusty started, his paws restless under the watchful eye of Bloodclan’s highest ranking warriors, “If we take Micah in, he’ll grow strong and healthy among us, and so will his kittens. That means we get four new cats to help fill his place.”

 

“He does have a point there too,” Brick muttered, curling his tail around his paws. “We will need cats to fill Boulder’s pawsteps.”

 

Jasmine meowed, “I don’t doubt that many others will die this winter. We are always in need of healthy kits to fill our ranks down the road.”

 

Rusty beamed at the molly’s approval. Brick seemed to be more on board as well. The ginger tom usually had a disapproving glare on his muzzle but now he was looking to Scourge instead of glaring at him.

 

The black tom didn’t look entirely convinced though. In fact, Rusty couldn’t tell which way Scourge was leaning.  

 

“And what if your judgement is wrong, and he doesn’t ever get stronger. What happens if, even after they all get better, him and his kittens become a burden on the Clan, just like Boulder was?” Scourge meowed, “What would we do then, Rusty?”

 

“Then I guess, we do what we did to Boulder.” The ginger tom replied.

 

Micah spoke up again, “I can promise you, I won’t be a burden on you or your Clan.”

 

“Certainly not, because you will be apart of it.” Scourge replied with a small smile. The tiny tom rose to his paws, shaking out his pelt. “I have made my decision, if the rest of my advisors are in favor of it. Micah and his kittens will stay in BloodClan, for the time being.”

 

The brown tom in question almost seemed to emit his own light as he bounced to his paws, absolutely giddy from the decision. Sniff let out a small, angry squeak at his sudden movement. His next exclamation came as a jumbled string of words, “Thank you, you won’t regret this! I promise, I’ll be the best warrior I can be.”

 

“I’m sure you will,” The black tom told him calmly. “As per Jasmine’s request, you as well as your youngest two kittens will sleep with Vesper and Blackberry, outside of camp, at least until you are all are well.”

 

Micah opened his jaws to protest, most likely to complain about Flake and Flash not being ill despite them clearly being at least a little sickly. He looked about before murmuring an, “Alright”

 

“Good.” Scourge meowed. “Then it’s settled.”

 

“Where will Sniff be staying then?” The rogue hesitantly asked.

 

Jasmine answered him this time, “She’ll stay here, because she’s well, and no one wants to risk her getting sick too. There is a queen who can take care of her, and I’m sure the rest of the Clan will do their part as well.”

 

Micah nodded, coming to terms with the agreement. Rusty felt a little remorse, but he could see where both Vesper and Jasmine were coming from. There wasn’t any point in getting the only healthy kit of the litter sick. They’ll be in good care with Vesper too. She’s good at healing cats, even if she can be rather blunt about things.

 

The meeting split up quickly, with everyone eagar to get inside to their respective dens. Micah was giving Sniff a small pep talk, before he left, while Ghost sat a few paces behind him. His green eyes were narrowed and his tail lashed. He’s so protective of her… I bet he’ll make a good father one day.

 

Sniff was nodding vigorously, her blue eyes wide and brow furrowed as she took in whatever her father was telling her. It must have been decent advice, since he took so long, but it was entirely inaudible over the downpour.  Soon though, Strawberry drew the dusky brown told aside and Ghost stepped in, leading Sniff over to where Harley and Snowfall, the mothers’ of the youngest kits slept. He kept his tail curled around her, pressing her close to him, to shelter her from the rain.

 

With the family now settled and the alley barren, Rusty decided it was time to take his leave. The ginger tom slowly padded back to his own den, where Spirit was curled in the middle nest.

 

The russet tabby raised his head as Rusty slunk into the den, not anxious to get his wet paws all over their nests.

 

“How’d it go?” Spirit meowed, as his ginger tabby friend settled himself on the side closest to the wall, leaving enough room for Ghost to sleep as well.

 

Rusty shrugged and tucked his tail over his nose, “Well enough.”

 

“Is he staying?” He asked, his yellow eyes shining in the dark.

 

“Yeah, but he’s with Vesper until his kits get better.” The ginger tom told him simply.

 

Spirit didn’t press anymore, thankfully sensing that Rusty was just tired. The tom was excited for the rogue and his kittens, and glad they would be staying. There was no doubt about that. But still, Rusty couldn’t help but be worried.  What if I am wrong about Micah, and we’ll have to send him away.  It made him sick to think of the rogue tom getting chased out, leaving his kittens behind. But Rusty knew he wasn’t wrong about Micah. The tom’s enthusiasm showed that- so what was making his stomach toss and turn with unease.

 

There’s just something wrong. I’m probably just tired, and there’s no use worrying about it anyway.

 

Rusty was right about something being wrong. Change was coming, and he could sense it on the wind, as good as any cat. The tom would have to make a choice, a small, seemingly insignificant one, that would change his path forever. A fork in the road was coming, and Rusty knew it- deep, deep down.

 

The tortoiseshell cat in the stars just hoped he would choose the right path.

Chapter Text

“If a cat attacks you, you crouch, like this.” Snowfall instructed. The sleek white molly pressed her belly to the ground, demonstrating the move for the hoard of kittens in front of her.

Rusty purred, watching on from a distance. After a few endless days of tossing and turning, still haunted by strange dreams, the tom found himself getting up earlier and earlier. He also found that, often times, the queens used the early hours to train their kittens, something he thought to be enjoyable to watch and sometimes help (if the queens allowed it). Most of the younger kittens were out today, namely Snowfall and Harley's collective litters. Harley was resting, while Snowfall taught them. The rest of the Clan was still waking up, slowly padding out of their dens and seeing what of the food pile was leftover, and still somewhat edible. Rusty spied Scourge and Bone sharing a meal beneath the shade of the meeting dumpster, while Fawn and Primrose took to sunning themselves in the shafts of sunlight, warming the concrete of the alleyway.

 

The ginger tom crouched to take another bite of his breakfast, a bit of old fried chicken from a Human nest a few blocks away. His tabby fur was ruffled out against the crisp morning air, which seeped into his bones and pawpads. The sky was clear, and the weather seemed mild, even if it did carry a slight chill to it. With the sun out, it was sure to warm up though. Perfect weather to train kits in. He thought, shifting his paws.

 

Rusty watched on as Snowfall looked over the kittens’ forms. Hail and Cygnet, the eldest of the bunch were doing the best. The two pale scraps of fur were pressed close to the ground, their eyes narrowed and fur puffed out. Willow sat in front of them, in a similar form, but not as close to the ground as his siblings. An attacker could easily get underneath him and turn him to shreds. Cygnet wore a smirk across his face as his wriggled his haunches, aiming to attack his brother’s sweeping tail.

Pepper and Blossom were both crouched to the ground as well, their eyes wide as if they weren’t entirely sure what they were doing. Sniff sat beside them. Rusty puffed his chest out with pride as she easily assumed the correct position, going the extra mile and turning her ears back.

 

“Good!” Snowfall praised the group, “Willow, get lower to the ground, and Pepper- narrow your eyes. You don’t want to lose an eye…”

 

She trailed off, turning her attention to Sniff. While the tortie was the smallest of the group, she’d grown considerably over the past couple days. Her eyes were slowly turning from blue to a bright, sunshine yellow. She had no trouble keeping up with her foster siblings, even if they were a couple moons older than her.

 

She deserves to practice with her own family. Rusty frowned. I wonder how they’re doing anyway. I hope they come back soon.

 

“Now, if the cat attacks you, you need to know how to defend yourself.” The odd eyed molly meowed. She looked about for a moment before her gaze fell on Rusty, and she proceeded to cheerfully call him over.

 

The tabby obliged, taking a final bite of his meal and padding over to see what he could do to help.

 

Snowfall purred, “Now, watch closely. Rusty’s going to attack me, and I’ll show you what to do to defend yourselves.”

 

The white queen pressed herself to the ground, in the same position the kittens had been in just moments before.  She gave a small nod.

 

Oh. Rusty crouched down on all fours, laid back his ears and narrowed his eyes, just like Ruth taught him. His fur bristled and with the eyes of the collective group of kittens trained on his back, he sprung into the air, aiming to bowl right into Snowfall, with sheathed claws, as not to spook her or the kittens.

 

The fierce queen had different ideas however, as she launched herself upwards, slamming the smaller tom over, and successfully pushing him onto his back. The impact resonated in his bones as he hit the concrete with a huff, limbs and tail flailing as he struggled to regain his balance. Had this been a real battle, Rusty would have swiped up with a claw, tearing the molly’s throat, as she stood over him. This was not though, and he forced himself to be defeated, serving as an example for the kittens, who were watching on with delight. All except for Sniff that was. Rusty frowned as he spied the tiny tortoiseshell who seemed to be deep in thought. Her mottled brow was furrowed as she studied her foster mother and Rusty, and the actions which had just taken place.  

 

“You have to be quick on your paws to avoid getting hurt.” Snowfall mewed, stepping off Rusty, allowing him to get to his paws and shake off his fur. “Now let’s get into pairs and practice defending ourselves…”

 

That’s going to leave a mark tomorrow. He thought with a sigh, giving his pelt a few licks to groom away any bits of fur, that had gotten crumpled in the attack, and retreating back a few paces to give the kittens enough room to practice.  

 

“'You going to practice defending yourself?” A snarky purr sounded from behind Rusty. The ginger tom didn’t know if it was mocking or simply friendly banter. He never really knew with Ghost.

 

“No, not today.” Rusty sighed.

 

The white tom made himself known, padding up to sit beside the ginger tom, looking on the fighting kittens with a worried expression across his features. Rusty blinked, when he heard no more mockery or sass from the white tom, who sat as still as a stature. It was unusual, but gave Rusty a heartbeat to look the tom over. For some unknown reason, he hadn’t ever taken a good look at Ghost. His tail was curled around his paws, and his deep green eyes were following the kittens as they began pouncing and rolling on one another, scattering all over the alleyway. For the first time, Rusty took note of the notch his ear and how it gave made him appear rather rugged and fierce. Had he not adorned a BloodClan collar and had that notched ear, Rusty might have took him for a kittypet. His fur was the healthiest and sleekest of all the cat’s in the Clan, showing off his strong form and it’s lack of color just made his eyes all the more beautiful and striking. Something about the way he kept his jaw in a straight line, the constant, tiny motions of his ears and whiskers, made Rusty curious, about what he was thinking and feeling. He began to wonder about the tom’s past, and what life he might have lived before coming to BloodClan. He had a collar, so was he a kittypet? Was that why he was so mean? Why do I care. He probably just makes fun of me all the time in his head. He may be attractive but he’s definitely-

 

Wait did I just think Ghost was attractive?

 

Luckily before Rusty could think about that strange revelation any further, the white tom in question spoke. His voice lacked any sense of mockery this time.

 

“How's she doing?”

 

Rusty shrugged, “Sniff? I'd say she's doing good. She's the youngest of the group but she keeps up with the older kits and is determined to succeed. That alone will get her far.”

 

“Good.” Ghost mewed. “Y'know, I'm glad you brought her back. She's a good cat.”

 

The ginger tabby blinked at his sincerity. Maybe he's not so bad after all, and I've just been reading him wrong this whole time.

 

Before the conversation could progress any further, something else caught the young toms’ attention.

A loud yowl sounded from across the camp. It almost sounded like a warning. It made the fur on Rusty’s shoulder’s bristle. Are we being attacked?

 

Every cat in the alleyway perked up their ears and raised their heads to see what the commotion was. An unfamiliar scent caught Rusty’s nose as he spied two unfamiliar cats, perched on top of the fence at the far end of the alleyway. Ice and Blue were sat next to them, and appeared to be guiding them along with bristling fur and lashing tails. The air of pleasentry dissipated almost immediately as the unfamiliar cats hopped down off the fence, landing unsteadily on the concrete below. Every cat who had been previously eating a meal or sunning themselves was on their paws, growling with claws unsheathed. Even Scourge, who usually kept an air of relaxation, as if he was above the other cats’ quarrels had discarded his meal and was perched beside Bone on top of the meeting dumpster, his long claws digging into the plastic. It was obvious these were no ordinary outsiders, everyone already knew who they were- and they were not good news.

As the two mollies lead them through the alley, even more cats looked on with hatred, hissing and spitting as the pair of outsiders passed by. Rusty slunk forward to join the group, weaving through the crowd to find Strawberry or someone who could tell him who the strange cats were.

 

The ginger tabby quickly found his tortoiseshell friend and stood beside her, raising his head to see the unfamiliar cats better as the Clan gathered quickly, surrounding them as they were shoved forward in front of Scourge. It reminded him of the day Boulder was brought back. It didn’t appear that the Clan would show them much more mercy than they showed Boulder.

 

Both were malnourished, their ribs and even the bones in their backs showing through their thin, patchy fur. They look like skeletons with fur. Based on scent, Rusty found one to be a tom and the other to be a molly. The tom was stood protectively in front of the molly, his tattered ears laid back against his head. He looked up to Scourge expectantly, his black and white patched fur, standing on end. It seemed to be bristling out of fear instead of anger. The molly looked in worse shape than the tom. She adorned a mostly grey pelt, with a few ginger patches, though it was difficult to tell what color her fur actually was. Blood was caked over one of her eyes, and her fur was patchy and covered in dirt. It looked like she hadn’t washed in moons. Both cats reeked of gasoline and Humans, and wore collars around their necks. The fabric was almost black with dirt, so much so that the ginger tabby couldn’t tell what color it had been originally. Rusty felt sympathy for the pair. Maybe they were kittypets like me, and are just looking for help.  

 

“Who are they?” Rusty whispered.

 

Strawberry shrugged, “I have no clue.”

 

Brick, who was sat on the other side of Rusty answered the two younger cats, “Those are Scourge’s siblings.”

 

Those are my half-siblings then. Rusty thought. If we’re all kin, why is everyone being so nasty to them?

 

The ginger tabby opened his jaws to ask a question but the wirey ginger tom continued, “They’ve been here before, looking for help- looking to leech off of us.”

 

“Has Scourge helped them?” Rusty mewed. If I knew my siblings needed help, I’d help them. I wonder if he’s offered them a place here before.

 

“Too many times.” Brick scoffed, turning his attention back to the pair. From his tone alone, Rusty could tell he wasn’t exaggerating.

 

If they’ve taken from BloodClan and Scourge that many times, maybe it’s time to send them away for good. Obviously they haven’t taken his advice.

 

Strawberry leaned over to whisper to Rusty, “I hope he sends them away. We don’t need any more cats in this Clan, especially if they’re not going to help. I wonder how many times they’ve asked before and not listened. It looks like quite a few.”

 

“Same.” The ginger tom replied.

 

The group of cats seemed to fall silent on their own, their attention turning to their leader as he addressed the two outsiders. Rusty peered between Maverick and Tess, who sat in front of him. They were the only thing separating him from his half siblings.

 

“Socks. Ruby.” Scourge meowed, “Why have you come back?”

 

The tom stood on shakey paws to address the smaller tom. “We need help. I-”

 

“That much is obvious.” Scourge snarled. “I have given you advice, food, shelter before now, and yet you come back time and time again, in this sorry state. Was that not enough for you?”

 

“We’re trying!” The molly hissed. She looked around with uncertainty as Bright, a thin tortoiseshell molly, growled at her from the edge of the clearing. “We just need a bit more help, just a little bit of time to get back on our feet.”

 

“You’ve had two season cycles to get back on your feet.” The tiny tom snarled at his sister. She did not seem phazed. “Look at all these cats, all these cats that are my responsibility. We barely scrape by as it is, we cannot care for you two, especially when you can hardly clean your own fur.  All you’ve ever done is be a parasite to my Clan.

 

“Please, Ti-, er, Scourge.” The tom pleaded. “Just a few days. I’m your brother. Won’t you help me?”

 

Scourge paused for a moment, as if he was thinking. The whole Clan seemed to be holding it’s breath, and waiting for the leader togive his answer. Rusty winced as Tess murmured, “Is he really considering this.”

 

“You’ve taken too much of our time and resources. But I will help you-” The black tom meowed. Rusty frowned as a small smirk twinged the corner of his muzzle. There’s no way he’s actually going to help them. What’s he planning?

 

“You can’t be serious!” Tess snarled, her thin tail whipping back and forth, successfully hitting Rusty in the ankle.

 

“-For the last time.” He continued darkly casting a silencing glare at the silver molly. “There is a place, not far from here where you will be sheltered and where prey is plentiful. You will be safe there. I, and some other warriors, will escort you there.”

 

“Thank you.” His brother replied with relief.

 

Something doesn't seem right here… Rusty couldn't understand how Scourge would help them. Yet the black tom's words didn't sound quite true. He was up to something that was for certain. It reminded Rusty of when hunting mice, one would often toss them in the air a few times before actually killing them.

 

“Bone, Brick, Ruth, Ice, Tess, Maverick, Raven, Bright, Hoot, Juniper, Cocoa, Lilian, Strawberry, Rusty and Fawn will come too.” Scourge called out. At the sound of their name, each cat stepped forward until they formed a semi circle in front of the two outsiders.

 

Rusty stepped forward uncomfortably, taking his place alongside Strawberry. Up close, he could see fleas and ticks crawling around the fur of the two siblings, and their odor smelled even worse here. This is alot of cats to be taking. And some of BloodClan's strongest cats too. He exchanged an uncomfortable glance with Lilian, who seemed to be thinking the same. I wonder why we need so many cats to go along.

 

“We will depart at once.” Scourge meowed, joining the patrol on the ground

“Jasmine will be in charge until we return.”

 

“Yes, Scourge.” The tuxedo molly said curtly. She promptly took his place atop the dumpster.

 

“Let's go then.”

 

With that, Scourge took the lead, with the rest of the cats swarming around Socks and Ruby, just like he and Brick had done to Boulder. It was almost like they all wanted them to be trapped. If either cat tried to run, they'd be met with claws and teeth.

 

There's no way we're just taking them to a safe haven. If such a place really existed we'd already live there…

 

The siblings seemed oblivious, their eyes hopeful and a new strength had returned to their emaciated limbs. How could they not sense something wasn't right?

 

Still Rusty followed along, trailing towards the back of the patrol as they left the alley, heading deeper into the city.

 

Strange. I would think a sanctuary like the one he described would be away from all the Humans and Cars.

 

“Do you think there's actually a safe place?” He whispered to Strawberry, who padded along beside him.

 

Immediately a tail was slapped over his muzzle, a sign to be silent. Strawberry shook her head, and it didn't take a genius to read her expression.

 

Don't speak, we don't want them to be suspicious.

 

Rusty didn't need to be told twice.

 

They headed deeper and deeper into the City. The buildings around them grew denser, and the Human activity picked up immensely. A few curious young Humans cast them glances but they kept close to the shadows, out of sight. None made any move to bother the group of battle scarred cats. Other cats kept their distance, curious but also not suicidal. They all saw the determined glare in Scourge’s eye and knew to keep out of his way. Ruby and Socks were the only ones who didn’t see it, blinded by their own newfound will to survive. It was something the BloodClan cats understood, and felt no need to share- especially with cats like the two siblings. Rusty wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but he knew it couldn’t be anything good. It was deserved, and something he did not want to get in the way of. That much, he had decided. Whatever decision Scourge made, he would stand by it. That’s what it meant to trust your leader, right?

 

Rusty hadn’t kept track of where they were heading, too lost in his own thoughts about what might happen to Ruby and Socks. That was until he felt grass beneath his paws. After moons of standing on the concrete, almost all day every day, it felt unnatural and unfamiliar. However this particular field of grass was one he knew, and remembered very well. His first day out of camp, when they’d had to hunt down a murderer. He’d padded through this grass half drowned, in a rainstorm after Spirit fell in the river. They were heading down into the Sewers.

 

The sanctuary was in the Sewers?

Rusty found it hard to believe. There was hardly anything in the Sewers, after all. Just a maze of smooth, empty tunnels, leading all over the city. Every BloodClan cat had to memorize every twist and turn, and know every path like the back of their own paw. It was something that set them apart from the rogues and strays of the city. The city was their home, and they had to utilize every inch of it.

 

So why are we going there now?

 

Maybe the Sewers lead to the safe place, or wherever Scourge was taking them.

 

Ruby finally seemed to know something was up, as Scourge lead the stream of cats down to the ditch, which lead to the entrance of the Sewers. A few cats looked uncomfortable, as if they too seemed to know something was wrong. They made no move to change though, and kept close to one another and Scourge.

 

“Why are we going underground?” Ruby asked, her yellow eyes flicking back and forth with anxiety. Fear scent rolled off her pelt like a tidal wave, clouding all of Rusty’s sense.

“It’s a shortcut.” Scourge replied shortly. “You do want help, don’t you?”

 

Ruby paused, her jaws parted in protest until Socks whispered to her, “We have to trust him. He’s our brother after all.”

 

“You’re right.” She replied. She didn’t seem convinced though, keeping her eyes fixated on the ground as she hesitantly stepped through the bars leading into the darkness of the sewers. Rusty couldn’t blame her. He almost felt sympathy for the ragged molly.

 

They slunk along, disappearing into the darkness of the tunnel, one by one, until Strawberry and Rusty were the only ones left outside. As he squeezed through the metal bars and entered the void, he remembered his first time in the Sewers. It didn’t smell quite as bad as he remembered, but the water level at the bottom of the tunnels seemed to have risen, leaving Rusty with the urge to shake out his paws every step of the way.

 

The patrol was in a single file, with only their whiskers and ears to guide them. Rusty kept close to Ice, who ended up in front of him. Even her white pelt was shrouded in darkness, despite the daylight outside. It was almost like they were walking through the night itself. He found his eyes straining to make out anything, and ended up focusing on the sound of his Clanmates’ pawsteps, splashing through the old, dirty water. He had no idea where they were going, and soon became mixed up in the darkness of the tunnels. Scourge knows where we’re going though.

 

About halfway through their journey, Rusty recognized something. A familiar turn brought with it, a strong humidity and the distant sound of flowing water. It seeped into his pelt, prickling at his fur and pressing the air out of his lungs. The sound of the water reminded him of his first day out of camp.

 

That was when the realization hit him. We’re heading to the Sewer River.

 

His suspicions were confirmed just a few heartbeats later, as the patrol emerged into a dimly lit passageway. They were further upstream than last time, and here the path was wider. Rusty could stand comfortably alongside Ice and Fawn, as they kept a steady pace, almost equal to that of the river, which rushed downstream, to another huge cavern. It supplied the tunnel with a bit of light, only showing that the path ended a few fox lengths from where they were standing. The river hungrily splashed against the sides of the concrete path. The churning waves made Rusty nervous for Ruby and Socks. The ginger tom couldn’t help but look on curiously.

 

But why? It’s just old, dirty water. And it’s dangerous here. What on earth is Scourge planning?

 

Just as Scourge reached the end of the path, he stopped, leaving a room for a single cat between him and the drop off, down into the water. Then, with a flick of both ears and his tail, he signaled to the group.

Rusty knew that signal. Ruth had gone over the battle signals with him a million times, as they were one of the most important parts of the fight. It was one he had a hard time remembering, but he did now. It was the one time he almost wished he’d forgotten.

 

Block them off. Don’t let the escape.

 

He obeyed.

 

Moving so he was shoulder to shoulder with his Clanmates, he found himself pushed to the front of the group, standing between Bone and Raven, with his back to the wall and Ice at the edge of the river. The two siblings had been pushed forward, to the open space, where they stood shoulder to shoulder, pressed against one another. Rusty looked on, their fear overwhelming the humidity in the room. Ruby looked angry, and Socks’ ears lay flat against his head, his tail puffed out with terror, as he shrunk back against his sister. Rusty did not move, even when Ruby met his eyes and mouthed a please.

 

Scourge still stood at the end of the pathway, his blue eyes glistening with glee.

 

“What is this?” Ruby snarled, unsheathing her claws. As if she’d be able to claw her way through us and back to safety. Rusty thought with a scoff. Whatever Scourge was doing, it was deserved.

 

“It’s a trap!” Socks hissed, his voice shaking.

 

Scourge answered. Everyone, even Tess and Maverick, was stunned to silence, watching up with wide eyes. No one dared speak as the scene unfolded before them.

 

“I suppose you could call it that.” The black tom meowed simply, stepping towards his brother and sister. “Now, Ruby. You know what happens to unwanted kittens, don’t you?”

 

The tortoiseshell molly had no response. She simply swallowed hard, loud enough to hear over the river.

 

“Say it.” Scourge snarled, “So everyone can hear.”

 

Rusty could feel Ruby’s terror, in her trembling limbs as she uttered her next words. He couldn’t imagine what she must be feeling, as her death was laid out before her.

 

“T-They get thrown in the river.”

 

Rusty’s blood ran cold. He didn’t truly know what was happening, and almost felt like he was intruding, as if this moment should be kept between Scourge and his siblings. Where had that phrase come from? He debated whether or not to ask Scourge about it later.

The black tom glared at his siblings for a moment. Maybe he’s just going to scare them, so they leave us alone.

 

“Which of you will go first then?” The tom’s voice was as cold as ice.

 

Socks stuttered a cry for help, “You’re kidding, we’re brothers. Let Ruby go first! You know I never meant any of it- it… it was all her! I swear.”

 

Pathetic. Rusty blinked at his own thoughts for moment. It was such a dark thing to think after all. Of course any cat would plead for his death, and maybe if Rusty were in charge he would have let them go with a bit of a scare.

 

It’s not my place though. Scourge knows what he’s doing.

 

“Silence!” Scourge hissed, stepping towards his brother. The patched tom stumbled back, his hind leg getting dangerously close to the edge. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath.

 

Socks took a moment to compose himself, yellow eyes fleeting to all the gathered cats, looking for someone to help. No one did though.

 

“Alright.” The tom said, putting on a brave face. “Alright. I’ll go.”

 

The black and white cat took a moment to look behind himself, his tail low. Rusty could see his paws shaking and ears flicking as he thought, debated with himself. Was he trying to figure out when he’d be able to get out of the river? Or maybe trying to recall how to swim.

 

I almost died in that river as a healthy cat. He’s not going to make it, if he jumps.

 

Rusty raised his head to better see, anticipation swelling in his stomach as he watched Socks bunch his muscles. His gaze flickered to Scourge for a moment. There was no regret on the tom’s face. Had he been toying with them earlier, like a hunter plays with his prey, this was the moment he finally stopped, and tasted the prey’s blood on his teeth.

 

“Well, see you soon, Ruby.” Socks meowed.

 

He wasn’t sure why it did, but when Socks finally launched into the air, Rusty’s heart stopped. Time seemed to slow as he watched the ragged tom fly through the air, before he reached the water. His patched pelt disappeared under the swirling dark waters soon after.

 

He did not surface again.



Ruby let out a cry, her posture deflating until she was flush with the ground. Her head dipped and a sob shook her body. Rusty almost felt bad. He reminded himself again. Whatever they had done to Scourge, or to BloodClan- they had brought it upon themselves.

 

Scourge’s gaze was focused downriver, and there was almost relief in his eyes, as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders.


However, with Scourge thoroughly distracted, Ruby had other plans for the rest of her day. Being caught up in the shock of the whole situation, Rusty had almost forgotten about her. Had he been just a hair slower, she might have gotten away.

 

The grey tortoiseshell plunged forward, aiming to slip between Raven and Rusty. He wasn’t sure why she did it, or tried to- there were many other cats behind himself. She may have been weak and riddled with wounds, but there was still some kick in her. Rusty understood that, the instinctual urge to survive. Her instincts told her to live, to escape and run with everything left in her. Socks was gone, and she only had herself now.

 

But Rusty almost felt the opposite. Ruby was a threat to his livelihood, his food, his shelter, his friends and family. There was no hesitation when he struck a claw out, before even Raven or Scourge himself could react. There was no remorse as he felt his claws tear through her grey fur.

 

She wailed and stepped back, shaking droplets of blood off her face. Rusty hissed, as fierce as he could muster. It must have sounded somewhat like he imagined, as she stepped back with horror in her eyes. She was trapped.

 

“Ruby, you’re up.” Was all Scourge had to say.

 

The grey tortoiseshell looked from cat to cat, as if she could not believe her brother had power over so many. When she realized that no one would help her, just as they did not help her brother, she turned her back. Rusty could not see her face, but he could see her tail spike out as she lay sight on the water. His heart ached somewhat for her. In her moments of hesitation doubts began to plague his mind. Was such an weak, feeble cat really such a menace to Scourge and the Clan? Should I have let her past? Kittypets who arranged battles and attacked the camp were one thing, but a family member, who just needed help… was she really so bad? Everyone seems to think so. Maybe I should have figured out a way to help her. But that would be going against Scourge and the Clan.. everything I think is right.

 

No. The others would have torn her apart regardless of what I did.

 

With that thought in mind, Ruby followed her brother, plunging down in the darkness of the angry river water.

The Clan looked on, some watching to see if she would try to swim, and others looking on in morbid terror. Out of everyone, sweet, innocent Fawn was looking the most unwell. Rusty wasn’t sure he felt the same way.

 

“Let’s go home.” Scourge commanded after a moment. Rusty noticed, as they turned to leave, the way he held his head a little higher than he had that morning, in the presence of his siblings.

 

Perhaps Ruby was deserving of such punishment after all.

 

Chapter Text

The scent of blood was not unfamiliar to Rusty.

 

It came in waves, those smells and sounds that set his fur on end. Everytime he closed his eyes he saw them, Death itself at the very edge of his vision. It stalked him like a great hunter and hung over him like a fog. All the cats of the city knew Death like an never tiring enemy. It clung to their fur like a plague and each day, when they went out of their homes to hunt, to groom, to socialize, Death was only one step behind. It was routine to the cats of the city. Every day might be their last. They did not dwell on it though. They had come to accept it, that death might pounce any day. Every time they stepped foot out of their dens, it could be their last. Every bite they took of their meals could be their last. Every time they crossed a street, they could never make it to the other side. It wasn’t sad, it was simply life. It was no one’s fault, it was just the way of the world.

 

Then, why did Rusty’s dreams tell him he was responsible. Why did he wake up with the blood of the forest on his paws.

 

Surely, he thought, forest cats must feel the same way. There were other dangers in the forest. They were just as likely to die on an infected wound, or get hit by a Car. Why did his dreams tell him, him of all cats could prevent it?

 

The dreams did not really affect his waking hours, but when he retreated to his den, he found himself pressing close to his denmates, hoping their comfort would keep the nightmares from creeping up on him.

Of course, they never did.

 

Tonight, he found, was one of the worst ones yet.

 

Rusty had curled up in his den, same every night. Ruby and Socks were not even on his mind, as an afternoon of training and hunting had chased them away. They were like morning dew, evaporated by the sun. Once they disappeared beneath the surface of the River, they were no more. Death had pounced on them, and Rusty decided they were none of his concern.

 

His dreams told him otherwise, as distant as they were.

 

One moment, he was comfortably curled up, his back pressed against Spirit’s. The scent of his denmates filling his nose. It didn’t take long for him to drift off, and for the comforting scent of be replaced with one much more metallic. One that signaled Death was near. It made his fur stand on end, and a growl rise in his throat.

 

Spirit's presence faded, and Rusty felt something wet touch his paws. He knew he was dreaming, but did not want to open his eyes, in fact he squeezed them shut, willing the dream away. It never worked but it was worth a shot.

 

Not again.

 

Another scent filled his nose, this one a bit more pleasant than the first. It smelled like the backyard in his old home, flowery and herbal. The scents of pine and leaf litter began to drown out the scent of blood. These scents, along with something else slowly pushed him to open his eyes and take in whatever this dream had to offer.

 

They were sitting on the bank of the river, which roared as it rushed by them. This one was incredibly vicious, and much more powerful than the one in the sewers. It ran through a canyon, or a gorge, which Rusty was sitting in the base of. The rocky walls of the gorge were as tall as skyscrapers, reaching up into the heavens. Wet sand dug into his paw pads, and a cool morning breeze stirred his fur. He tasted the air, wondering what was going to happen. Things seemed too peaceful. However, it only took him a heartbeat to realize he was not alone

 

Next to him sat a tortoiseshell molly. She was only a hair taller than him, with sleek fur, ginger and black with splashes of white. In face and stature, she reminded him of the cat he’d met in his dreams just a moon before. She was the one who brought the smell of herbs and flowers, and one could assume that was due to the sprig of lavender tucked behind her ear. Her amber eyes were scanning the gorge, distant yet focused. She seemed just as confused as Rusty, as the two met eyes.

 

“Are you the fire?” She meowed. Her voice was smooth and soft. It was familiar. Had he met her before?

 

Then it happened, a screech of pain. Rusty watched, frozen in terror as the river, became as red as blood rushing past them in a sickening tide, lapping at the edges of their paws. His fixation on the river was soon shoved aside as movement from the top of the gorge caught his attention instead.

 

Cats were gathered at the edge, looking down into the river. Rusty had to squint to see them, as they were so far away. A few stood out, while others looked more like a faded memory. Still there had to be at least a thousand. One by one, they bunched their muscles and jumped, until they were pouring into the gorge like a never ending waterfall. Rusty’s gut wrenched and he fought the urge to throw up as they hit the water and the banks, with thumps. His ginger fur bristled and he hissed. Their bodies lay limp as they fell all around Rusty and the strange tortoiseshell. They screeched and yowled but it didn’t help. Between the yowling and the falling bodies, Rusty was reminded of a thunderstorm. A horrific thunderstorm.

 

The tom turned tail and fled, leaving the tortoiseshell. Something told him, she knew these cats. They were her friends, her family. It was not place to interfere. He shouldn’t be here.

 

His paws kicked up sand as he raced along the bank, not entirely sure of where he was running. He didn’t care where he ended up. He needed to get away from the cats.

 

You can’t run.

 

Still he did, as fast as his paws would carry him.

 

The gorge faded, and the sand beneath his paws now felt more like, grass, flattened by both time and paws. He skidded to a halt as thunder cracked on the horizon. Clouds swirled on the horizon, framing another horrid scene before him.

 

Now, Rusty found himself standing at the base of a huge pile. It was made up of another substance he knew all too well.

 

Bone.

 

Cat bones. Skulls, vertebrae, leg bones, all stacked together to create a morbid throne for a single cat. He glared down at Rusty with shining amber eyes. His dark brown tabby fur was buffeted by the wind but he didn’t care. Rusty stared into his eyes, growling and hissing like he never had before. Something about this cat… Rusty knew in his heart, this cat was evil. He saw it in his eyes, the smirk on his muzzle. Yet somehow he too was familiar. What was it? He looked different, older, stronger but he was the same as that day in the forest.

 

“Rusty!” A yowl came from elsewhere.

 

The ginger tom pricked his ears.

 

“Rusty! Wake up!”

 

Rusty welcomed the voice as he jolted awake at last.

 

All at once, the dream was gone. The tortoiseshell, the gorge, the pile of bones, the dark tabby cat, replaced by narrowed green eyes.

 

“Rusty!” Ghost jabbed a paw into his stomach, fulling pulling him from his dream.

 

“Yeah?” The ginger tabby meowed groggily. He let out an exhausted sigh. His body may be rested, but the brown tabby tom had yet to fully disappear from his mind.

 

“You were yowling and kicking in your sleep.” The tom snapped but then his expression softened. “Is everything alright?”

 

“Yeah, just a bad dream.” Rusty replied, curling up again. It was just past moonhigh and the sun would not be up for quite a while. Now that he was up, he just wanted to go back to sleep.

 

Ghost was silent for a moment, but he looked as if he wanted to say something. His usually neat white fur, was disheveled and sticking up in spots, and his green eyes were tired. Rusty felt bad. I must have kept him up all night.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” The white tom finally asked, uncertainty clouding his mew. It looked like he’d been contemplating saying that for quite a while. Rusty wondered why.

 

“Not really.” Rusty sighed. He didn’t want to dwell on it any more than he had to. It was just a bad dream. Must’ve just been a bad bit of tuna.

 

Ghost lay down, his back to Rusty. His “Alright, just thought I’d offer.”

 

“Thank you though. I appreciate it.” The ginger tom said. “I just get bad dreams all the time, its no big deal.”

 

“This one seemed especially bad though. You usually look uncomfortable and sometimes you talk in your sleep but you never scream bloody murder.” Ghost said with a purr of amusement.

 

“It was, but its fine.” Rusty meowed. Then he paused. Does Ghost pay attention to me when I sleep?

 

“Well if you ever want to talk about any of them, I’m here for you.”

 

“Thank you.” Rusty purred, hoping Ghost could feel the warmth in his mew. The white tom said nothing though.

 

The ginger tabby felt sleep creeping up on him, pressing at the edges of his thoughts. He hoped that it would not bring any nightmares with it this time. However  it was just a few moments later when another voice brought him back to the waking world.

 

“Pssst”

It was an urgent mew. There was panic and concern, and he could smell it. Rusty pricked his ears, and slowly raised his head, blinking sleep out of his eyes, yet again.

 

Sniff stood just inside the den, her eyes as wide as saucers and her tortoiseshell pelt puffed out to twice its usual size.

 

Rusty frowned. Why is she up? Shouldn’t she be with Snowfall and the other kits?

 

“Sniff? What are you doing here?” Ghost asked, worry edging his mew as he rose to his paws and ushered the tiny molly into the den. He wrapped his tail around her, as if it would help shield her from whatever was wrong. Something was wrong. Both toms could sense it.


“There's cats outside of camp and they don’t seem very nice.” Sniff cowered. Rusty’s blood turned to ice. “I didn’t know what to do, and I heard you talking so I came here.”

 

“I’m sure everything’s alright. Here, why don’t you go back to bed, and we can figure things out in the morning-” Ghost started. Then he stopped. Rusty watched as his snow white fur fluffed out. Rusty turned his head to the entrance of the den.

 

Pawsteps.

 

That smell was not of anyone he knew.

 

Just then, a yowl came from outside of camp. It was an alarm.

 

“Intruders!” Juniper’s screech sounded across the camp. It didn’t take long for everyone to wake up and come pouring out of their dens. Rusty unsheathed his claws and sprung past Ghost and Sniff.

 

We're under attack!

 

“Sniff, be quiet and stay here.” Ghost meowed, as he followed Rusty outside.

 

The usually peaceful alleyway was now a sea of writhing, fighting bodies. The once quiet night was now filled with hisses and growls of battle. Everyone seemed to be holding to their own despite only being asleep heartbeats before. He scanned the clearing, looking for anyone who needed help. However it seemed everyone was holding to their own. Ruth was wrestling with a sleek white molly about half her size, and Ghost was right next to him. Blood roared in Rusty’s ears as he plunged into the fight, eager to defend his home.

 

It didn’t take him long to find an opponent. The ginger tom crashed into a young looking tabby cat, who looked like he was trying to sneak through the battle unscathed. The smaller molly let out a cry of alarm as Rusty dug his claws into her patterned brown fur. The two rolled a few paces as the brown tabby collapsed under his weight and hit the ground with a thud. Rusty sunk his teeth into her shoulder, missing her neck by a whisker. He felt her claws score across his shoulder, scraping by the scar that already parted the fur there. He hissed through her grimy fur before letting go.

 

The brown tabby scrambled back a pace, hissing. She narrowed her eyes and laid back her ears, fluffing out her fur. Rusty wasn’t scared though.

 

“Get out of our camp!” He spat.

 

“Give us your food then, you greedy fox heart!” She hissed before lunging at him again.

 

She was quick on her paws, but Rusty was quicker. The ginger tom reared up to meet her midway, snatching her out of the air as he would a bird. He latched onto her with his claws, focusing his balance to his hind legs as he slammed her to the ground in one quick motion. He aimed a bite at her face but she moved to the side, kicking him hard in the stomach to throw him off. It worked, and Rusty missed, letting out a hiss of frustration as she slithered out of his grip and darted away. She looked back and forth uncertainly, as if she was debating whether or not to engage again.

 

That moment was all Rusty needed. He jumped forward, bowling her onto her back and sinking his teeth into her throat. The tabby let out a gurgled cry as blood filled Rusty’s mouth. It brought back memories of his dreams. He bit down harder. And just like that, it was over.

 

Once she fell still, he stood up. His shoulder stung from where she’d clawed him, but he had to keep going. Although a few cats lay still, the battle was not over yet.

 

Rusty rose to his paws and looked about, searching for anyone that needed help. He spotted Snowfall and Harley standing defensively in front of her kittens, fending off a huge ginger tabby. Another cat lay motionless at their feet.

 

Well they seem to be doing alright.

 

He spotted Strawberry a few paces away, a big black molly collapsing at her paws. Her pale tortoiseshell fur was soaked in blood and she was hissing furiously. To her right, Ghost and Otter were teaming up against a speckled ginger tom. Thankfully, everyone seemed to be doing alright. 

 

Through the chaos, Rusty heard a cry of alarm. His ears swiveled back and he quickly located the source. Dusk, a cat who frankly hadn’t crossed his mind in quite a while, was cornered by the meeting dumpster. Two well muscled rogues were spitting at her and backing her up against the wall. She was already bleeding heavily from a gash along her shoulder.

 

Rusty frowned. Where are her partners?

 

He remembered them to be Samuel and Maple. He spotted the stocky brown tabby in a fight with a much larger cinnamon tortoiseshell, and Maple, fighting alongside her other two kittens at the edge of the alley. Neither seemed in any spot to help her.

 

Fox dung. I guess I’ll do it. Rusty spat to himself. She better not be a mousebrain about this later. Still he scrambled to his paws and forced his way over to the thin tortoiseshell, dodging his fighting clanmates and hopping over fallen rogues.

 

The ginger tabby broke through the fray and immediately launched himself at the larger rogue- a grey and white molly with an oddly curled pelt. He landed nimbly on her back and immediately took to clawing at her ears, distracting her from Dusk. The tortoiseshell took the hint, and lunged at the other cat- a Ragdoll tom. Rusty’s help looked to be just what she needed. 

 

Rusty focused himself back to his own battle. The grey molly snarled and shook herself vigorously, aiming to throw the ginger tom off her back. At the first shake, he jumped free, landing gracefully a few feet away.

 

Rusty whirled on his paws as the grey molly charged at him. He stepped to the side, at the last moment and slashed at her haunches. She let out a hiss of pain and anger, turning on him again, smacking him across the face with a claw. It stung and Rusty stumbled back, shaking his head and scattering red droplets across the concrete.

 

“Stupid kittypet. Learn to fight your own battles!” The rogue hissed, her fur bristling. Rusty was not intimidated.

 

“I’m not a kittypet, you dumb bee-brain!”  He shouted, somewhat offended that she’d called him a kittypet. With that, she snarled and threw herself into the air.

 

Rusty thought fast, ducking down and then leaping upward, digging his claws into her throat at the last second.

 

It wasn’t enough to kill her, but as soon as she landed she sputtered. She stole a look at Rusty before she turned tail and ran, vanishing into the crowd. Rusty didn't bother pursuing her. Several stronger warriors stalked about at the camp's entrances, making sure no cat got away. She definitely wouldn't make it past them. The majority of rogues lay still across the alley but a few were still fighting, especially Dusk.

 

We really showed them. Thats just what they get for attacking us. 

 

The tortoiseshell had an especially bad bite to her foreleg, which seemed to be slowing her down. Her opponent was definitely taking advantage of that.

 

I need to help. Even if she is a brat, she's still my Clanmate and she needs help.

 

The two were circling each other, Dusk hissing and pacing with a limp. The Ragdoll seemed too caught up in his posturing to notice Rusty sneaking up behind him.

 

The ginger tom jumped with a yowl, wrapping his forepaws around the tom's shoulders, pulling him onto his back. He was about the same height as Rusty and served to be a much easier fight than the other molly had been.

 

The ragdoll tom fell back with a yelp of alarm, exposing his fluffy belly. As he fell back, his weight pushed the air out of Rusty. Still he hung on, clawing at the tom's thin fur. Then he went limp, like the rest of the cats in the alley.

 

Rusty slipped out from underneath him, letting him fall to the ground with a thump. Dusk had taken the opportunity and delivered a killing blow. She still was breathing heavily, her eyes clouded over with exhaustion.

 

“Thanks.” She breathed, shaking out her injured leg and rasping her tongue over her fur.

 

“Sure thing.” Rusty replied. “You should really have Vesper take a look at that bite. It doesn't look too good.”

 

“I know.” The lanky tortie meowed sharply, casting him a glare. She stood up and limped around to the front of the meeting dumpster, where everyone else was regrouping.

 

Its over. Not a single rogue was still fighting around the clearing. The cats of BloodClan had taken all of them out, cleaning them like beetles would clean a carcass. They now lay scattered across the clearing, being drug off to the side by William and Jumper. Rusty would go gather whatever teeth he'd earned from them later.

 

The rest of the Clan was gathered around, tending to their wounds. It seemed no one had gotten seriously injured but everyone was shaken up. With the battle over, Rusty found himself disturbed by the attack. How did they know where we were? Why did they attack us?

 

Tess stalked back and forth in front of the group, her hackles raised as she waited for everyone to join them. She looked furious, and Rusty was not eager to hear her opinion on the situation. He slowly trotted over, sitting at the edge of the group beside Minty and Ruth. Both didn't have any serious injuries but they looked worried. Worried for their Clan, and worried about the cats who attacked their home. It was how everyone felt.

 

Minty was bleeding heavily from a wound across her flank. She rasped her tongue across it, a pained expression across her muzzle.

 

“Are you alright?” Ruth mewed, giving her trainee a once over.

 

“Yeah, I'm fine.” He sighed. “A molly clawed me pretty good but its nothing serious.”

 

“Good.” The maine coon nodded. “I saw you helping Dusk. You fought well.”

 

“Thank you.” The ginger tabby dipped his head.

 

Rusty turned his attention forward as Scourge and Bone finally joined the group. The two had been speaking to one another in hushed voices, no doubtly discussing the attack and what they would say to the Clan.

 

“Well?” Tess snapped as soon as they sat down in front of the rest. “What the hell was that? Who were those cats? Why-”

 

“That's what we'd all like to know.” Ice snarled at the skinny molly.

 

“Everyone be quiet. Let's not tear each other apart over this.” Juniper mewed, giving each of the shorter mollies a glare.

 

Scourge dipped his head in approval, “Yes. We need to discuss what we heard and saw in that battle. However there is no need to be concerned for a second attack. After all, every cat who attacked is still here.”

 

He gestured to the rows of bodies along the back wall. Everyone nodded in understanding.

 

No one got away.

 

Rusty was relieved.

 

They came to attack us, they only got what they deserved.

 

“I heard alot about food. They all seemed pretty hungry too.” Spirit meowed from the edge of the group.

 

“I did too.” Maverick agreed with the young tom.

 

“Me too.” Several others agreed. Rusty murmured his agreement as well, thinking back to what the tabby molly had told him.

 

“Did they come to raid us for food? That doesn't sound like a smart idea. We don't have any more food than they do.” Strawberry called with a frown.

 

“I second that.” Samuel meowed.

 

“Then why'd they talk about food so much?” Maverick countered, his splotched fur ruffling.

 

“Maybe they were hungry and were running out of options.” Spirit offered.

 

“Everyone in the city knows about us. No one would attack us on a whim.” Ice told him with a frown.

 

“Well everyone knows about us, maybe they think we're doing so well because we have more food.” Minty offered from her spot beside Rusty.

 

“That's true. It's not like they'd know about us or know we didn't have food.” Blackberry agreed, looking to Scourge. The black tom’s brow was furrowed in thought.

 

“It would make sense if they were starving and thought they could take us.” Bone meowed, mostly to his mate.

 

“So they were a bunch of hot headed mouse brains who were hungry and underestimated us?” Blue offered. A good majority of cats murmured their agreement.

 

“That would make sense. We are pretty mysterious to rogues and kittypets.” Samuel chuckled.

 

Minty was the one to protest this time, “Are we though? I feel like most cats know about us.”

 

“I think we are. When I was a kittypet, this old cat down the street told tall tales of city cats who wore teeth around their necks.” Rusty said, recalling how Henry tried to persuade him to stay a kittypet because of the BloodClan cats. Thats ironic considering I became one. He stole a look up at the moon which was fading in morning light. It'd been almost four moons since he left. Perhaps I should pay them a visit sometime soon. I'm sure Smudge is worried sick about me. I bet him and Strawberry would get along well.

 

“That settles it then.” Scourge decided.

 

“Should we worry about another attack?” Harley asked. She stood protectively over her kits, her amber eyes wide with fear.

 

“No. It seems this is an isolated event. And when this many cats don't return home, I'm sure their friends and family won't be coming looking for them anytime soon.” Scourge said. Everyone let out a sigh of relief. They could count on their leader.

 

“Let's get rid of them and take our trophies.” The black tom continued. “Let them serve as a reminder that BloodClan will not be pushed around by rogues and kittypets.”

 

Rusty and the others let out a cheer. He rose alongside his Clanmates, going to gather the teeth he earned.

 

As he pried the canine out of the brown tabby's mouth, he couldn't help but stare into her vacant eyes. He felt no pity, no fear and no remorse. There was no place for that in BloodClan.

He wedged the tooth between his fur and his collar. With each tooth he added to the fabric, he felt himself holding his head a little bit higher. Looking about, as his Clanmates did the same, he gave a bit more thought to his view on death.

 

No, it almost seems like Death doesn't stalk  the cats of BloodClan, rather we walk together like old friends.

Chapter Text

“This is such a pointless adventure.”

 

“No it's not, it'll be fun. We're like full grown warriors, going out of camp on our own!”

 

“Well, I'm surprised your instructors trusted you enough for this.”

 

“Believe me, I am too.”

 

The group departed at sunrise. As soon as the idea popped into his head, Rusty had gone and begged Ruth to let him and the others go. And she'd begrudgingly obliged when Rusty explained it'd be good practice for his assignment, as well as giving her a day to herself, without having to worry about him. She insisted she'd still worry whether or not he was actually present in camp. They had just been attacked a few hours ago, after all. Still, he thought no one would be mouse brained enough to go attack a group of cats right after they slaughtered that many others.

 

Rusty brought Ghost and Strawberry along, and Strawberry insisted they bring Frost and Orchid too. He wished he could've invited Spirit and Micah along too, but both had no free time on their hands today. As a bonus, Frost knew the streets of the city best, and lead the way once Rusty told her where they were headed.

 

Despite the sun being out and the skies being blue, the breeze brought a bite along with it. The cats didn't mind though- it a put a bit of spring in their step and encouraged them to keep a quick pace as they continued their trek south, keeping close to the outskirts of the city. None of them were daring enough to go out past the city limits. Besides, they were on a mission.

 

“So tell me more about this friend of yours,.” Ghost asked cautiously.

 

“Oh yes! What's he like? Is he cute?” Strawberry gave a little bounce as she hopped along.

 

“No!” Rusty protested. “He was my best friend when we were kittypets, and we grew up together.”

 

I wonder if he'll even recognize me. Even if he didn't show it, the ginger tabby was nervous. Dread swirled about his stomach as he went over the worst possible outcomes. What if Smudge didn't recognize him? What if he didn't want to see Rusty and the other cat had officially replaced him after all? What was his replacement even like? Even if they did recognize him and everyone got alone, what if his Humans see him and try to take him back? What would he do? Henry and Smudge, and other pampered kittypets could be dealt with if worse came to worst, but Humans? In the city we barely interact with Humans, they don’t pay us any mind unless we’re trying to get something from them. Humans with cats are different than Humans on the street. They’ll come out looking if Smudge and I get into a scuffle.



Strawberry’s anxious mew broke into his thoughts again., “Well, what does he look like?! Is he the only cat we’re going to meet?”

 

“There might be another one, but I’m not sure if we’ll meet him. He’s an old, senile cat named Henry,” Rusty told her. “Smudge is a black and white cat, and Henry’s a light brown tabby.”

 

The molly smiled. “Good to know! I’m looking forward to meeting them!”

 

“Of course you are!” The usually shy Orchid snickered. “You’re just looking forward to seeing if this Smudge is mate material.”

 

“No I’m not!” Strawberry flattened her ears. “I just like meeting new cats!”

 

“If you don’t like anyone in the Clan, better start looking for suitors outside it,” Ghost added with a smirk.

 

Strawberry cast him a glare. “I do like someone in the Clan, thank you very much. Besides, toms are gross anyways.”

 

“Oh really? Strawberry likes someone?!” Orchid squeaked. “Who is it?!”

 

“I can’t tell you, mouse brain.”

 

“Oh.” Orchid wiggled her eyebrows knowingly. “Is it because they’re on this patrol?”

 

“N-No, I just can’t tell you,” Strawberry replied hastily.

 

“Are they a tom or a molly?” her sister pressed. “You at least have to tell us that.”

 

“They’re a molly,” the tortoiseshell replied. “And that's all I’m telling you!”

 

With that, she slapped her sister on the nose and scampered up to the head of the patrol, alongside Frost. The fact that Frost was her crush was as blatantly obvious as a three headed mouse.

 

Orchid moved onto Rusty as her next target. He didn’t mind though. It’d at least get his mind off the impending meeting with Smudge.

 

“So, you’ve been in the Clan long enough. Anyone caught your eye?” The white molly mewed. As quiet as she is, she’s quite the gossip. It was nothing new to Rusty. Deep down, he enjoyed hearing what all his Clanmates were up to.

 

“Not really--” he started.

 

Ghost promptly cut him off with a snort. “Liar! He obviously likes Spirit.”

 

Rusty’s ears turned hot. “Do not.”

 

“Yes you do, I can see it written all over your face. You run off with him every minute you get, and you always sleep right next to him-- every single night!” the white tom meowed. His tone was accusing yet still light hearted.

 

“He is a nice tom,” the ginger tabby admitted, “But I haven’t really given it much thought.”

 

“Understandable,.” Orchid replied. “We all have to focus on training, and with things as rough as they are recently, I don’t blame you. Still, you gotta settle down with someone eventually.”

 

“What about you? Do you like anyone?” Rusty retorted.

 

Orchid paused for a moment. “Yes, actually, I do.”

 

“Spill it then!” Ghost purred, his green eyes wide with curiosity.

 

“Otter’s a nice cat.”

 

Frost broke out in laughter, having to pause the patrol. “You like Otter?!”

 

Orchid frowned. “Yes, he’s really sweet once he opens up to you. Why what’s wrong with that?”

 

The white molly was still cackling. “Oh nothing.”

 

“What is it, you mouse brain?!” Orchid exclaimed, bounding ahead to bowl the white molly over. The two wrestled about in the grass for a moment, leaving Strawberry to jump back in alarm before the roar of a Car caught the whole group’s attention. All signs of gossip and banter were lost.

 

We made it to the Road! This Road, did not sound quite as busy and dangerous as most of the city Roads, even though it lead right to the heart of the city. It didn’t look like many Humans came out there, to the Forest, and whatever lay beyond. Rusty didn’t blame them, there wasn’t much for anyone out there, anyway. Not for cats, or for Humans. Rusty frowned, as they emerged from the tall grasses, which bordered the fences along the edge of the city. Still, it was a sign they were getting close.

 

I really hope Smudge recognizes me, I have so much to tell him! He’ll get along great with everyone too, if he isn’t scared of them, that is.

 

“You said its past this Road right? At the edge of the Forest?” Frost asked, slipping out from Orchid and approaching the edge of the pavement.

 

“Yes.” The tom swallowed thickly.

 

“We should cut into the Houses, instead of going along the forest,” Ghost suggested as he trotted up. “Wouldn't want to run into any Forest critters.”

 

“Or Forest Cats,” Strawberry muttered. Rusty silently agreed.

 

Frost nodded, looking one way, then the other before trotting across the street. The others followed as she lead them in a single file line along the fence before taking a sharp right turn into the nearest neighborhood. Rusty pelt prickled. They were getting close. All it did was increase his anxiety, until it seemed like a low buzz in his ears.

 

This street was silent, all except for the wind rustling the trees and the birds chirping. The city roared in the distance but out by the wilderness it was eerily silent. Rusty missed the constant white noise of the city. It made him feel safe. Looking up at the towering Houses, and seeing the rustling treetops beyond unnerved Rusty. He just wanted this to be over with. Or at least the part where I have to meet Smudge. Everything after that will be alright or it can be dealt with. It's the not knowing that's getting to me.

 

“Do you remember which House was yours?” Frost mewed, looking to Rusty.

 

“Yes, there's another Road that intersect with this one, and leads into the forest. Mine’s the one on the other side of that Road, and Smudge’s is the one next to that,” Hhe told her. The white molly waved her tail in acknowledgement.

 

“What happens if he’s not home?” Strawberry whispered, mostly to Rusty.

 

“We turn around and head home. Maybe hunt a bit on the way.” Ghost didn’t seem very hopeful. He was good at masking his emotions though, so Rusty couldn’t be sure.  I wonder how he would’ve reacted if Orchid asked who he liked. I wonder who he likes anyway. It’s probably some pretty molly, maybe Lilian or Primrose. I see him spend a lot of time with those two. Rusty shook his head. Why do I care who he likes?. It doesn’t matter. What matters right now is Smudge.

 

“I’m sure the Forest Cats wouldn’t miss a mouse or two,” Frost added with a smirk.

 

Rusty shivered, remembering his encounter all those moons ago. They do miss a mouse or two. He recalled how cruelly he’d been sent away over a mouse. The scars were still fresh and hurt from time to time, just reminding him to steer clear of the Forest. He wasn’t very keen on repeating that encounter.

 

They had been walking for quite awhile when the Road finally came into view, a black line crossing their path on the sidewalk. His heart dropped, as it grew closer and closer-- a sign that this was in fact, really happening. Even if Smudge didn’t recognize him, he’d be thankful his friend was alive and well. The tabby tom’s pelt stood on end and his tail hung low with uncertainty as they drew nearer to the Road. This is more difficult than the fight last night. Who knew meeting my old best friend would be so terrifying?

 

A familiar, green-sided House came into view, and past it, the House in which Smudge lived. His heart leaped in his throat, as the familiar wooden fencing, which close off the garden from the other Houses came further into view. It was bittersweet, remembering all the nights he’d sit on top of that fence, and dream of the woods, never daring to jump down and actually take a pawstep into the dense underbrush.

 

I was so naive back then… what was I expecting the wildcats to do? Let me join them or something? Rusty thought about how he’d changed over the past few moons. His ears flattened with sadness. What if I don’t even get along with Smudge anymore?

 

At last, they reached the edge of the intersection. Rusty’s old House sat across it, as if he’d never left. It was an odd feeling, coming back to it, with the way he was now. With three teeth in his collar, and a ragged, scarred pelt.

 

He glanced down the Road, to where the treeline began. The thick underbrush didn’t seem quite so intimidating now. He knew what lay lurking past those ferns and brambles, and he wanted nothing to do with it. Still, he could hear his name in the rattling of the leaves and birdsong. It beckoned him, in the same way it did when he was young. But he had changed, and now that call was only met with a stubborn heart and anger.

 

Taking his eyes off the trees, he gazed up at his old House. The garden was still closed off but he could smell the sweet herbs and flowers which grew within its walls. It was only a few paces away. His old life was only a few paces away.

 

Sensing his fear, Strawberry brushed her tail across his flank. “Hey don’t worry, it’ll be alright. If you’re really that nervous we can just turn back.”

 

“Did you see the way Rusty sent that fat old molly running for the hills last night?” Ghost meowed loudly. “No way, if you can do that, this is a piece of cake.”

 

He isn’t wrong.

 

The white tom gave Rusty a shove, sending him stumbling off the sidewalk, towards his House. “Come on, we’re going-- even if there's nothing to see.”

 

“Alright, alright. I’m just nervous,” the tom muttered, regaining his balance and bounding after the white tom, who was trotting confidently towards the wooden fence. His paws turned to jelly as they rounded the corner of the fence. Rusty stole a hesitant glance into the forest. For a second, he thought he saw someone staring back, but before the thought could even register, they were gone-- that is if they were even there at all. Still, he unsheathed his claws. The reality of everything was setting back in.

 

I’m here. I always end up back here,. Hhe thought bitterly.

 

They passed his House, and were soon in front of Smudge’s. Rusty took a deep breath, shifting from paw to paw. The whole patrol stood behind him, waiting for him to take the lead. The ginger tom pricked his ears, as he heard voices from the other side of the fence.

 

“Did you hear something?” A molly’s meow sounded through the wooden panels.

 

“I bet it was an old squirrel, tramping through the woods! Going for a walk out in the sun.” Another molly’s meow, different from the first. Since when was Smudge friends with all these mollys?

 

“Or a coyote, you know how those things love to come out to the neighborhood at night.” That was Henry’s voice. Rusty never expected to be grateful to hear Henry’s voice. He felt his muscles relax a little bit.

 

“It’s not night time though. Princess is right, it’s probably just a squirrel.” Now that was Smudge. Rusty’s heart ached with nostalgia and hope as he heard his old friend’s gentle mew.

 

Well, now or never.

 

With that, Rusty bunched his muscles and sprung up onto the fence.

 

Upon looking down into the garden, it was the exact same as when he’d been there, all those moons ago. The porch swing was lazily rocking back and forth, and the grass was as green as ever. By the steps of the porch, sat four cats-- two of them familiar and two of them not so much.

 

Smudge looked the same as when Rusty had left-- round, gentle hearted features and wide yellow eyes. His back was to the fence but as soon as the ginger tabby appeared on top, he turned around, faster than the blink of an eye.

 

To his right was Henry, as old and as chubby as the day Rusty left. His eyes widened as he spotted the tom. Beside them were two mollies who the BloodClan tom had never seen before in his life. One was a long haired cream molly, who sat beside Smudge, and the other was a short haired ginger and white cat with white green eyes. Something about her looked and smelled familiar but Rusty didn’t have time to ponder it just yet.

 

“Stay back, rogue!” Henry was the first cat to jump to the defensce, springing out in front of the others and hissing. It wasn’t very intimidating, especially after Rusty’s evening. All the ginger tom could do was twitch his whiskers.

 

Smudge peeked out from behind Henry, his eyes wide with awe.

 

“That’s no rogue! That’s Rusty!” He gasped.

 

At least he remembers me. The ginger tom purred.

 

Henry had to squint, as Rusty sprung down into the garden, his tail waving in a greeting to the group of kittypets. Smudge immediately darted out from behind Henry to see him, giving him a sniff as he approached.

 

“Well, I’ll be. It really is you!” Henry looked over the tom. “You finally come home to be a Housecat again?”

 

“No, not at all,” the tabby replied with a grin. “Just wanted to pay a visit, since I promised I would.”

 

“How have you been? And how are you still alive?” Smudge asked., “Those city cats would’ve ripped you to shreds, how’d you make it out there?”

 

Rusty sat, wrapping his tail around his paws. The sunshine felt all the more pleasant knowing that his friends actually remember him, and actually cared that he was back. It put a smile on his face. “Remember how you told me about the cats who wear teeth on their collars?”

 

“How could I forget,” the fawn tabby replied with a disbelieving huff.

 

“I ran into them and now I’m one of them. I’ve got lots of stories to tell, and I brought my friends too.” The tabby couldn’t help but chuckle as Henry’s eyes widened. The fawn cat finally seemed to notice the three gleaming white teeth around Rusty’s neck. He also noticed as the rest of the BloodClan cats joined them in the garden, overhearing the coast was in fact clear, and that the encounter was going well.

 

“We have lots to tell you too!” Smudge purred. He brushed his cheek along Rusty’s and gestured to the two other mollies. “Come, sit with us!”

 

The tabby smiled at his old friend's touch. It was good to be back, even if only for an afternoon.

Rusty gestured his friends over with a wave of his tail. Strawberry’s tail was puffed out, but she followed with wide eyes, slinking up to the unfamiliar cats. Ghost, Orchid and Frost tagged along as well, giving Smudge and Henry a hesitant sniff as they settled themselves on the grass beside Rusty. I really hope everyone gets along.

 

Once all the cats were seated on the grass, the ginger and white molly was the first to speak. “So this is the cat you’ve been telling me so much about?”

 

“Yes, Rusty, this is Princess. She’s your sister,.” Smudge told him. The ginger tom blinked, suddenly recognizing the molly. She was a memory just too far out of reach, but now he remembered, and could see her clearly. He had only been a few weeks old when he was given away, but he remembered her scent, and the comfort it brought along with it.

 

“Oh,” was all he could say. It was a shock, but a pleasant one, just like when he’d found out Scourge was his kin. Knowing he had family, scattered all across the city brought him a warm comfort. He knew he wasn’t alone, no matter where he was.

 

“Good to finally meet you, Rusty.” Princess purred. “Smudge has told me so much about you.”

 

“And this is her mate, Honey. She’s the cat who moved into your old home.” Smudge gestured to the cream colored molly. She gave a brisk dip of her head. The cream molly’s eyes widened as she made eye contact with Rusty, before dipping her head and fixated her focus back on the ground. She said nothing as the gathering cats met. Must be the quiet sort of cat. He didn’t mind though. If she was Princess’ mate then well, she was his family too in a way.

 

“Nice to meet you. Both of you.” Rusty’s tail stirred the grass behind him. Princess gave him a warm smile as he introduced his friends. “This is Strawberry, Orchid, Ghost and Frost. We’re all members of BloodClan.”

 

“Is that what you cats call yourselves?” Henry asked, somewhat skeptically.

 

“Yep,” Strawberry meowed. She didn’t seem to understand exactly what he was thinking and still looked to be on the defense and out of her comfort zone.

 

“You have to tell us all about it!” Smudge exclaimed. “All of you. Its been so long since I’ve seen you, you look like a changed cat.”

 

“I am in a way,” the ginger tabby meowed, now addressing the whole group. “Life in BloodClan is very different from being a Housecat, but I really feel like its where I belong.”

 

“Even more so than the forest?” Henry asked with a raise of an eyebrow.

 

“Definitely. Everyone there looks out for one another, and we’re all like a big family,.” The tabby explained.

 

Princess listened with wide eyes. “Isn’t it hard having to find your own food and sleeping out in the open?”

 

“It is,” Rusty meowed. “But its like every day is a new adventure.”

 

“There’s never a dull moment,” Strawberry agreed with a purr. Princess turned to the skinny tortoiseshell.

 

“But what happens when there isn’t enough food or there’s danger. Surely there’s all sorts of terrible things in the city, like dogs or disease or…” The ginger and white molly looked intrigued, as if she wanted to hear all the stories the group of BloodClan cats had to tell.

 

“We manage.” Strawberry puffed out her chest. “There’s nothing that we can’t overcome.”

 

“Even other cats? There’s all sorts of bad cats out in the city, I’ve seen em,.” Henry asked. Rusty’s whiskers twitched as he watched the fawn tabby attempt to hide his curiosity, and pretended as if he already knew all about what they were discussing.

 

The tortoiseshell continued, “Oh yes, there’s all sorts of terrible cats out there. But we deal with them. Not many city cats want to take their chances against us. We’re one of the strongest groups out there.”

 

“In fact, just a few moons ago one of our Clanmates got murdered--”

 

“Murdered?!” Smudge gasped. Oh yeah, I almost forgot about Flair. I’m sure Smudge will get a kick of this story. Despite the danger they were in at the time, Rusty looked back on the adventure with a purr.

 

The group of kittypets looked on, their eyes wide and mouths agape in awe as Rusty and Strawberry told of how they’d tracked down the old grey molly, how Rusty fell in the river trying to save Spirit from drowning, and how they’d eventually gotten justice for Flair. It didn’t seem like that grand of an adventure, at least to Rusty, but the kittypets certainly seemed to think it was. Even Honey, who hadn’t really paid attention to anything they talked about, was captivated by the story.

 

“She didn’t last very long against me and Ghost. We still don’t know why she killed Flair, but it doesn’t really matter now,” Strawberry told them, finishing her story. She was now sitting up, grinning with her ears pricked forward. Her tale was told with wild motions of her paw, while the whole group looked on, almost able to envision the hunt through the Sewers before their very eyes.

 

“Do you all get into fights often?” Smudge asked.

 

Ghost answered this time., “We do, but usually we win.”

 

“In fact, we got into a fight just last night, before we came here,.” Strawberry meowed.

 

Princess gasped., “Really?!”

 

“Yes, it was an attack on our camp,” the tortoiseshell told them, her green eyes sparkling. “We were all fast asleep when a bunch of rogues broke into our camp. Every cat fought to defend our home, and the alley was swarming with rogues. We won though, obviously. I guess they were looking for food, but no one was really sure. None of them got away though. Our leader doesn’t think they’ll be coming back anytime soon.”  

 

“You mean they all died?” Smudge’s hackles stood on end.

 

“Unfortunately so. But we couldn’t risk them coming back, stronger and hurting any more of us than was necessary,” Rusty explained, his gaze travelled over to Honey. She looked on edge, shifting her paws uncomfortably. She almost looked… guilty? But what would she have to be guilty about? She’s a Housecat.

 

The black and white tom seemed to accept that as an answer. “Out of all my friends, Rusty, you’re the last cat I would’ve expected to become a fierce city cat.”

 

“Well, we all come from different backgrounds, and we all have different stories. Some of use used to be kittypets, some were rogues or loners and others like Frost were born into our Clan. We all have one common goal though and we all get along and protect each other,” Rusty told them. “It's the whole point of being apart of the Clan.”

 

“That sounds like a good way to live. Full of adventure and excitement, I wish I could do something like that,” Princess meowed enthusiastically. Smudge nodded.

 

“Why don’t you then?” Strawberry asked with a tilt of her head.

 

Princess chuckled., “No, being a Housecat is the only life for me. My Humans would miss me too much. Plus I don’t think I’d be able to really fight dirty if it were to come down to it.”

 

“Some members of the Clan don’t, they contribute in other ways. But I understand.” The tortoiseshell’s tone was understanding and gentle.

 

“Tell us more about this battle last night? Are any of you hurt?” Smudge questioned the group.

 

“Oh no, we’re all quite fine,” Strawberry hurriedly told them.

 

“Thank goodness.” The black and white tom sighed. “What are your days like over there?”

 

“We spend most of them training, or hunting, or just hanging out. Usually though, there’s something of interest going on,” Rusty told them after a moment. He watched Honey from the corner of his eye, curious as to why she was acting so odd. Is this how she always is?

 

“We do spend a lot of the time fighting though. Rogues and other city cats like to try to stand up to us when we have fresh prey,” Ghost added.

 

“Fresh prey? Like rats?”

 

“Sometimes mice too…”

 

The conversation trailed off as Ghost and Princess began discussing the morality behind eating fresh prey. Princess thought it would be disgusting and she’d much rather eat wet food from a can. Ghost then told her that the wet food in the can was in fact, fresh prey, just in a can. The ginger molly thought that was gross as well. They talked about the battle with the kittypets, and Strawberry told them all how she’d come to join the Clan. Ghost did as well, telling about how his mother, Ice, had to rescue him from some Humans when he was a young kitten. From there they went to BloodClan, and were rescued by Scourge and the others, right as it was beginning. Rusty thought it was an interesting story, and now he knew why Ghost had a collar, but his mother didn’t. He decided that both cats were strong in their own right, and it only amplified his respect for Ice-- and his admiration of Ghost. Even if both had a nasty side to them, they were good warriors both in mind and body.

 

They talked all afternoon, and it only felt like a few heartbeats passed before the sun was starting to dip down below the horizon. Rusty didn’t really want to leave his friends, but it brought him comfort, knowing Smudge, Henry and even his sister were all doing well, and had not forgotten him. And it was even better when his own BloodClan friends opened up to them, and they all chatted about how different their lives were. It was good to see all his friends getting along. The group decided to meet up again every few moons. Rusty thought it would be strange to return home, without Smudge. They were kittypets though, and they wouldn’t belong with him and the other cats of BloodClan. If anything happened though, he made sure they knew they had a place there.

 

They bid one another farewell and were just getting ready to go when Honey approached him.

 

“Rusty, can I talk to you for a moment. Alone?” It was the first words she’d spoken all day. Her voice was raspy and made her sound much older than she actually was. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t talk.

 

“Of course,.” He meowed, curiosity prickling his pelt from ears to tail tip as she lead him away from the rest of the group. They hopped over the wooden fence, trotting a few paces away, just to the edge of the forest, and out of earshot from everyone else. Rusty kept his ears turned away from the smaller cream molly, focused on the forest. It was silent though, minus the gentle sound of crickets.

 

“What is it?” the ginger tom asked in a hushed tone.

 

Honey spoke slowly and softly. “You and your friends spoke about a battle, last night was it?”

 

“Yes, yes it was. What of it?”

 

“And you said your leader doesn’t think they’ll be back?” Honey’s eyes were focused on her paws.

 

“We don’t think they will. Why? Do you know something about it?” Rusty leaned in to hear her better. What could this kittypet possibly know?

 

“I do. There is a cat, who is somewhat of an idol to some of the city cats. Her name is Leopard, and she has a kit named Lynx. The cat you described, the big grey and white molly, sounds alot like her.” Honey paused, her tail tip twitching. “I fear that Leopard will attack you again. She is the violent sort. More so than you and your friends.”

 

“How do you know this?” Rusty said quickly. It wasn’t an isolated attack. A chill ran up his spine.

 

Honey sighed. “Let’s just say I had a very, very close encounter with her.”

 

She turned as Princess appeared on top of the fence, balancing on the wooden panels and digging her claws in. As Honey turned, Rusty spied a long scar, partially hidden by her fluffy fur, crossing across her chest and under her chin. It looked thick and deep, as if someone tried to slit her throat but wasn’t quite successful. They definitely did some harm to her voice as well. She must have been a kitten when she got that, but who would hurt a kitten? There was intent behind that wound, and it definitely wasn’t anything good.

 

“Honey! Are you going to see me off?” her mate yowled.

 

“One moment!” Honey replied as best she could.

 

The longhaired molly rose to her paws. “I have to go. But please, keep yourselves safe. Leopard is as evil as cats come. There’s no way that attack was random. She’ll come back, especially if you all really killed her daughter.”

 

Honey padded off, leaving Rusty alone in the dark, with only the chirping crickets to keep him company. His mind was spinning. I killed her daughter. That alone would send her coming back for us. I have to tell Scourge. Scourge will know what to do.

 

What happens if there’s already been another attack? And we were gone for it?

 

Rusty was getting antsy, hopping from paw to paw as he heard his friends say their goodbyes to one another one last time.

 

I’m glad they got along. Today was a good time, but we really need to get home.

 

He hardly noticed when his friends finally showed up and they left. Leading the patrol in silence, it was the only thing on his mind. His friends could definitely sense something was amiss but none of them dared ask. They just let him lead, with his ears flattened and tail lashing, deep in thought.

 

We need to get home right now.

 

I have to tell Scourge.

Chapter Text

“You're certain this cat is trustworthy.” Scourge's mew was flat but his ears were pinned back and his brow was furrowed in thought. Rusty looked on nervously as he flexed his claws, eyes fixated on an unseen enemy before him.

 

“She seemed to know what she was talking about, yes,” the ginger tabby told him.

 

The two half-brothers were crouched under the meeting dumpster, as a light drizzle had started up outside, beating against the metal and plastic of the den. Bone was out on patrol and the camp was, for the most part, silent. Occasionally a Car would drive past on the road outside their alley, stirring up the puddles of rainwater as it went but the intervals between Cars was eerily quiet. A few days had passed since the meeting with Smudge, and it was drawing closer to the half moon. Rusty brought up the incident once with Scourge before but neither had much time to talk on it. Most of the trainees were preparing for their assignments and Rusty was no exception. He found himself with little idle time, and assumed Scourge would try to solve the issue without him. He was just a trainee after all, there was no real need for his help. But his half brother wanted more information, and today was dull, the prey pile was full, finally giving both toms some time to talk.  

 

“What are we going to do?” Rusty pressed, nudging Scourge with a paw. He wanted his half brother to answer him, or at least give him some indication of what he was thinking.

 

“We deal with it as we always do.” The black tom sighed. “Did the kittypet tell you where this Leopard cat lives?”

 

Rusty shook his head. “No, but we could track them down. It wouldn’t be hard. I’m sure plenty of cats have heard of her.”

 

“We need some sort of clue,” Scourge meowed with a frown. “I don’t want to send my warriors out on a pointless and potentially dangerous quest.”

 

“I understand but we can’t risk another attack.” The ginger tom spoke firmly, his tail lashing. “If this cat is as vicious as Honey said then who knows what she'll do when--”

 

“I know,” Scourge snapped. “I know, but we just need something.”

 

“Maybe we could send someone to ask Honey about where she stays?” Rusty offered hesitantly. “Or see if any of the address’ on the rogues and kittypets collars look familiar. Some cats can read Human Speak right?”

 

“Yes, Ash and Primrose can. It's about time for them to become full warriors anyway.” Scourge rose to his paws and arched his back in a stretch. The rain had stopped. “I'll let their instructors know and then we'll announce it to the Clan.”

 

“We?” Rusty asked, somewhat perplexed as he followed after Scourge. Do I get to help hold the meeting? I was the one who found out about her anyway…

 

Rusty gave his pelt a shake. The alleyway was damp now but the sun was coming out. It was an unpleasant cold rain but it looked to be the last one for a while.

 

“I will.” The black tom chuckled. “You're already acting like a leader but you're not holding a meeting until you're at least a full grown warrior.”

 

That makes much more sense. Rusty blinked, somewhat delighted at the praise but also very much confused as to his “acting like a leader.”   What have a done that'd make me be any more leader-like than anyone else? All I've done is be loyal to my Clanmates and do my duty to keep us all well.

 

“However if you'd like to go fetch their instructors, as well as Ruth, that would be incredibly helpful,” Scourge told him. “Just tell them all I'd like to speak with them.”

 

“Of course.” Rusty smiled. With that, Scourge gave a brisk nod and trotted away, exiting camp over the wooden fence.

 

Where do Samuel and Brick usually sleep? Rusty pondered for a moment, scanning the alleyway. He didn't usually pay attention to where everyone else slept, as it didn’t really matter most days. Right now though, he wished he paid more attention to things around him.

 

Before the ginger tom could begin his hunt, he heard pawsteps coming from the second camp entrance, his ears turned back and he stretched his neck to see who it was. Most likely it was just a scavenging patrol coming back from a late night hunt. Maybe one of them will know where the instructors’ dens are.

 

Rusty began to make his way over to the other entrance, and was immediately somewhat shocked and very pleasantly surprised by the cats he saw there.

 

“Vesper!” he purred. “And Micah! What are you all doing back so soon?”

 

The old raggedy molly was in the lead of the patrol, her single golden eye scanning the alleyway, and a usual frown painted across her muzzle. Behind her was Micah and only one of his kittens-- the white one with ginger patches. The kitten was still small and weak but his eyes were open and alert, taking in his new surroundings from his spot by Micah’s feet. The dusky grey tuxedo looked tired, and his eyes were dark with sorrow, but his pelt was shiny and sleek, his claws seemed sharper, and there didn’t look to be a flea on him.

 

“Where is Scourge?” Vesper asked gruffly, padding up to the young tabby, her gaze still wandering the camp.

 

“You just missed him,” Rusty mewed. “Why? Is something wrong?”

 

The cinnamon molly huffed, “Quite the opposite, kit. Micah is ready for his initiation.”

 

“Oh. Well that's good news, isn’t it?” The tom tilted his head, eying Micah as he sat just inside the camp entrance. The grey tuxedo was looking about, his yellow eyes wide as he watched a few of the warriors walk about the camp. Rusty knew how he felt. It was so weird coming here after living alone for such a long time. But I know he’ll like it once he gets used to it.

 

“Indeed it is,” she meowed.

 

“I’m sure he’ll be back soon. He was just going out to get Bone,” Rusty told her.

 

Vesper sat back on her haunches and wrapped her tail around her paws. “Very well then. We’ll wait.”

 

“Oh, do you know where Samuel and Brick usually make their nests?” he asked as he turned to leave.

 

“Samuel usually sleeps by himself towards the end of the alleyway, and Brick makes his nest next to Scourge and Bone’s.

 

“Alright! Thank you, Vesper!” Rusty called over his shoulder as he padded off to find the two toms.

 

-

 

It was sunhigh when the whole Clan finally got together. Most cats had been sleeping or out on patrol, and it’d taken quite a bit for word to spread and for everyone to come home. When they did arrive though, all were in good spirits. The prospect of a new Clanmate, as well as seeing two others graduate brought many cats coming. Regardless of how it turned out for Micah, everyone loved witnessing a good fight.

 

The young tom sat at the base of the meeting dumpster, his tail twitching and wide eyes darting back and forth as he scanned the crowd. Ash and Primrose, the two graduating cats, were crouched a few paces away. Ash looked confident, but Primrose seemed terrified, pressing her pelt close to her brother. Rusty didn’t know either of them very well, but Ash always seemed like the more outgoing of the two, while Primrose was almost afraid of her own shadow. When it came down to it, she could hold her own, but Rusty noticed she always held her head higher when with another cat. Perhaps that's why Scourge is sending them out together.

 

Strawberry soon came to sit beside Rusty, at the edge of the group, just a few paces away from Micah. She’d been helping Ghost usher his two surviving kits, Flake and Sniff, indoors with Snowfall, so in case their father failed in the fight, they wouldn’t have to watch. Rusty couldn’t blame them, but he had full confidence in Micah’s abilities. Even after only a moon of rest, he could see how strong the dusky tuxedo truly was.

 

He’ll make a good warrior.

 

“Sniff is the noisiest little rascal I’ve ever met,” Strawberry huffed as she situated herself beside Rusty, rasping her tongue across her forepaw.

 

Rusty twitched his whiskers in amusement. “What makes you say that?”

 

“She just wants to know all of what’s going on, all the time! I told her sometimes its better not to know things, and she got all snippy,” the tortoiseshell complained. “She told me that maybe that works for me but she’d like to know. She asked where her other brother was, and what her dad was doing-- which I don’t blame her for wanting to know-- but I’m not the cat to ask. I didn’t have the heart to tell her what happened to her brother.”

 

“What did you tell her then?”

 

“Ghost told her that Flash didn’t make it, and that he’s in a happy meadow in the sky now, far far away.” Strawberry continued to groom her paw. “That tom certainly has a way with kits.”

 

“I agree,” Rusty meowed. “He’ll make a good father one day, that’s for sure.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Where is he anyway?” Rusty strained his head to try to find the muscular white tom, but he was nowhere to be found.

 

“As you can guess, Sniff cried and cried when she heard Flash didn’t survive, so he stayed to comfort her.” The molly’s eyes darkened. “‘Poor thing has been through a lot. Micah better win this fight. I don’t think she could bear to lose him too.”

 

“He will,” the ginger tom told her. “I know he will.”

 

Scourge’s yowl sounded throughout the alleyway. It was time.

 

Just before Scourge started talking, a large paw tapped Rusty on the shoulder. The tabby scented his instructor, and turned to see what she wanted. Is now really the best time?

 

The great Maine Coon was seated behind him, leaning forward to whisper to both him and Strawberry. “Will you two come meet me by the wooden fence after the meeting?” She meowed in a hushed tone.

 

“Sure,” Rusty replied flatly. He thought they'd get the day off, and he could go visit with Micah. Disappointment wormed its way into his heart, as he really didn't want to spend another day battle training or trekking halfway across the city. Both those things were important in their own right, but he wanted to spend time with Micah once he was officially a trainee.

 

The meeting was starting. Rusty shut his jaws and turned his attention to the top of the dumpster, where Scourge was perched looking over the sea of gathered cats.

 

“I have two things to announce today,” the little black cat meowed, his high pitched voice echoing in Rusty’s eardrums. “Firstly, two of our trainees, Ash and Primrose, have become skilled and wise enough in our ways to graduate to full members of the Clan. As is traditional, they will be assigned a task, known only to them, which will benefit the Clan in some way. If, and only if, they complete this task will they be invited to graduate.”

 

Samuel and Brick, the twins’ instructors, were whispering to one another. A few cats cheered as Ash and Primrose exited the small clearing, joining their instructor’s beside the dumpster. Scourge continued his speech.

 

“Next, as you all know, a moon and a half ago Rusty invited this young cat to join our Clan. Now that he is healthy and ready, he would like to prove his worth to us.” The black tom flicked his tail to motion to Micah, who stepped forward. Rusty felt his heart swell for the tom, as he knew exactly what it was like to be right there, in the center of everything, unsure of whether or not the Clan you’ve come to call home would really be your home.

 

Who is he going to have to fight? Ghost was absent and Lillian had fought him. Rusty barely knew anyone else around their age.

 

“Maple, please step forward,” Scourge meowed. Rusty blinked. Of course, even if shes a queen, doesn’t mean she can’t fight. He’d thought she was closer to two season cycles old, not one like Lilian. I suppose Scourge knows best though. Maybe no one else is available.

 

The mottled tortoiseshell queen stepped forward from the crowd. Her expression was consierably calmer than Micah’s. She wasn’t the one about to lose her home if she lost though.

 

“The rules are simple. If Micah can defeat Maple in battle, he will become a part of the Clan and will train as a trainee. If he loses, he will be sent away to whatever life he came from. You both will fight until one of you backs down or taps out. Death and fatal injury do not count as winning this afternoon.” The BloodClan leader addressed the two cats. Both knew what was expected of them, as they had probably gone over the rules and what was expected of them several times.

 

“Do you both understand?” Scourge asked, looking to the two young cats.

 

“Yes,” Maple meowed confidently, her kittens watching her from the sidelines. Rusty’s tail lashed in anticipation. Everyone’s nerves were a fog in the air, making the clearing spark.

 

Micah’s mew was unsteady but determined. “Yes.”

 

“Then on the count of three you will begin.”

 

Rusty’s green eyes widened and he found himself pressing closer to Strawberry as the countdown began.

 

“One…”

 

Micah bunched his muscles. Rusty could see him formulating a plan in his mind. Good job, Micah.

 

“Two.”

 

Maple did the same as well, but she looked to be waiting for what his first move would be. Neither were hot headed cats. On a normal day, neither would strike first, but today, Rusty could see the fire in their eyes as the two sized one another up.

 

“Three!”

 

Rusty held his breath.

 

The moment the call was uttered, the two cats lunged for one another. Rusty winced as almost immediately, Maple bowled the smaller tom over, landing a deep bite in his shoulder. Micah snarled and flattened his ears, wincing but using his nimble hind legs to push her away and slither out from under her. Instead of running though, he turned quickly, scoring his claws across her face, and hissing with a viciousness, Rusty had never, ever heard from the gentle tom.

 

He has to win this. His kits and his whole life are on the line.

 

Maple stumbled back a pace, shocked by the attack. Micah didn’t give her any time to rest though, and lunged again. The young queen yelped as she was ambushed in a moment of confusion. Falling head over tail, Maple hit the ground with a thump, as Micah scrabbled at her belly fur with sharp claws. The two wrestled about, screeching and hissing before tumbling back to the edge of the crowd. Oreo, who was seated in front of Rusty had to jump back (and step on the young tabby’s paw) in order to avoid getting hit by the flurry of fangs and claws as the fighting cats tumbled by.

 

Rusty could hardly tell who was who in the tussle, until he heard Maple screech out a profanity and leap away from Micah. Her ear was sliced in a v shape, and she had a gash across her cheek. Micah wasn’t doing much better, and had a few cuts across his back, not unlike Ice’s scars. Unlike Maple though, his eyes were still firey and it didn’t take him long to catch his breath and attack again.

 

Many cats were yowling around them, mostly Maverick and Tess, who, Rusty had learned, were the thorn in Scourge’s paw when it came to any conflict within the Clan. It didn’t take a genius to figure that out, as both opposed most everyone anyone offered in Clan meetings. However to his surprise, Tess wasn’t yowling at Maple, she was trying to encourage Micah.

 

“Come on Micah! Think of your kittens!” The silver molly was sitting at the edge of the crowd, spitting, her tail lashing as she watched the battle. Rusty blinked but brushed off the strange event. Tess was the last cat he expected to support an outsider like Micah, but he wasn’t going to complain if she did. Maybe she's not so bad after all. Outspoken, yes, but she seems to get along with Micah and the kits.

 

Several others, namely Dusk and Leaf, one of Maple’s close friends and fellow queen, were encouraging the tortoiseshell queen. The Clan was definitely divided on who they think should win. Rusty stole a glance up to Scourge, who was watching, his ears pricked with interest.

 

Maple gritted her teeth, tail lashing as she watched Micah prepare for another attack. The mottled molly was breathing heavily, and the wound on her cheek was bleeding quite a bit. Rusty frowned in worry. That's going to scar up for sure. Hopefully it doesn't get infected like my wounds did.

 

The events that unfolded next were, well, completely unexpected by the entire Clan, and even Micah and Maple themselves.

 

Time seemed to slow and Micah dove forward in another attack. Maple clashed with him in the air, and the two gripped one another in unsheathed forepaws. Then, Maple went to hiss, or say something-- no one could really be sure which-- as Micah aimed another bite at her muzzle. In a strange coincidence, his teeth met her jaw in a rather rough, deep bite, the outcome of which was unseen, as both crashed to the ground in a heap of dusty, tattered fur.

 

Blood sprayed on the concrete, and for a moment, the alleyway was silent. Every cat held their breath, trying to determine which cat was hurt and what exactly was going on, as the strong scent of blood filled the air around them.

 

Maple stumbled back, her pelt clawed half to shreds, and her bottom jaw hanging open in pain, blood dribbling down her chin and chest. Her nose wrinkled up at the taste and she sat back on her haunches, eyes widened and trying to catch her breath. Rusty had never seen the young cat so distraught or beaten up. It was a short battle, but a gnarly one for sure.

 

Micah’s eyes were as wide as saucers, and the young tom seemed oblivious to his own injuries. He was entirely focused on Maple, her half open jaw, and the blood pooling at her paws.

 

“I-I didn’t mean to do that, I promise!” The tuxedo tom stammered, shrinking back. Even he seemed shocked at the bite, looking to Scourge for some sort of redemption. He didn’t seem to realize no one was angry with him.

 

“I give,” Maple muttered. From his place in the audience, Rusty couldn’t tell if she was upset at the defeat or just incredibly pained from the injury. Either way she lost. Micah's going to be a part of BloodClan!

 

Scourge nodded approvingly, giving Maple a flick of his tail, signalling that she was dismissed. Immediately the queen weaved through the crowd and found her way to Vesper, who had stayed to watched the fight. Rusty let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, as Scourge gracefully lept down off the meeting dumpster, and resting his tail on Micah’s flank.

 

“Micah has earned his place amongst the cats of BloodClan. From this moment on, he will train with us, live with us, fight for us and defend us as if we were his family by blood,” Scourge yowled. Several cats cheered their approval. Micah, with the fear now gone from his eyes, looked shocked, as if he couldn’t believe he had won. A smile crept across his muzzle, now stained a reddish tint, and he held his head a bit higher at Scourge’s words. “Tess, as you’ve become close with this young cat, you will train him in our ways, until he is ready to become a full member of the Clan.”

 

Tess held her head high with pride as she stalked forward from her place in the crowd, pressing her nose to Micah’s in a friendly manner.

 

“Micah! Micah! Micah!” Maverick started the chant, followed by the rest of the Clan.

 

Rusty pointed his muzzle to the sky as he joined in yowling Micah’s name. His heart soared in delight for his friend.

 

I’m so proud of him. He's a part of the Clan!

 

The crowd dispersed fairly quickly, as soon as the chant died down. Tess, Scourge and Micah were still chatting at the base of the dumpster, most likely discussing how training would work with his kits.

 

Speaking of his kits, Rusty spotted them, racing across the alleyway with Ghost hot on their paws. Sniff was sprinting far ahead, while Flake, the weaker tom, was guided along by Ghost. Rusty stifled a purr as he watched how gently the snow white tom spoke to Flake and lead him along after his sister.

 

“Dad!” Sniff squealed, barreling past Rusty and straight to Micah. “You’re back!”

 

Micah gave her a gentle lick, introducing her to Tess, and such. Rusty looked on, finding it not his place to intervene. He couldn’t help but be happy for the family. After a rough few moons, they deserved to be together again.

 

“How’d it go?” Ghost asked casually strolling up to Rusty and Strawberry.

 

“Pretty rough, but he won. Quick and bloody,” Strawberry chirped. “I hope Maple’s going to be okay though. Mouth wounds are never any good for anyone.”

 

“He bit her in the mouth?” Ghost’s mew was flat. It made Rusty’s pelt prickle with annoyance. Wasn’t he happy to have a new Clanmate? Sniff and Flake got to have their father back, why wasn't he happy about that?

 

“Sure did! Pretty sure it went right through!” the tortoiseshell meowed, oblivious to the white tom’s tone. “She got a few good hits in too, but she definitely didn’t have the kinda motivation Micah had, y’know?”

 

“That’s impressive,” the tom meowed, then continued with a scoff. “I'm surprised Maple didn't fight harder.”

 

Rusty frowned and flattened his ears. She did her best, cats who fight in their initiations usually win, from what I’ve heard. And she really isn’t a fighter, why is Ghost being so rude?

 

Strawberry only shrugged, “She's not the best at fighting. She's a great hunter though! One time she caught a duck over by the Sewer entrance. Snatched it right out a midair! It was pretty cool.”

 

“I can believe it. Ducks are easy to catch.” Ghost began to cleaning his paw and drawing it over his ear, somewhat distant from the conversation. Rusty followed his gaze to where Flake and Sniff were chatting with Tess, Maverick and Micah. Suddenly, it hit him. Maybe he’s worried that Sniff won’t care about him now that she has Micah back. It's not that he doesn't care about Maple or the battle, he's just sad.

 

I have to make sure that doesn’t happen. For whatever reason, Rusty felt responsible for the situation. He was the one to bring Micah and his kits here after all.

 

Strawberry’s punch to his shoulder brought him back to the situation at hand.

 

“Come on.” The tortoiseshell was rising to her paws, tail waving. “Let’s go find Ruth.”

 

“Yeah,” Rusty murmured, giving Ghost a final glance as he padded away. For a moment, he thought he saw sadness flash in the tom’s eyes, before he slunk away to share prey with Lilian and Blackberry.

 

-

 

Just as expected, they found Ruth at the base of the wooden fence. Bone was with her as well, which Rusty found odd. Ash, Primrose, Orchid and Spirit sat next to two older cats, chatting amongst themselves. The two silver siblings were eager to depart, with swishing tails and pricked ears, while the rest of the trainees just seemed mildly confused as to why they were being talked to, and what Ash and Primrose had to do with it. Rusty was thinking the exact same thing.

 

If it’s a normal training thing, why are those two here? Shouldn’t they be going on their way?

 

“Good everyone’s here,” Bone rumbled as the two joined the little circle. Rusty’s ears pricked. And why is Bone announcing it. Usually he doesn’t have anything to do with training and stuff…

 

“What’s going on?” Strawberry asked, her large hazel eyes darting from cat to cat. “Shouldn’t Ash and Primrose be leaving? They’re going on their assignment…”

 

“They are,” Ruth told her. “And you all will be going to--”

 

“Really?!” Strawberry’s eyes lit up. “But why?”

 

“You all handled yourselves very well on your trip to visit Rusty’s old friends. Due to the nature of Ash and Primrose’s assignment, Scourge and I have decided to send you all along in case they get into trouble and need help,” Bone told the lanky tortoiseshell. “You are only there for backup. Don’t interact with them or step in unless absolutely necessary. You’re to be silent and unseen. Do not be hindrance to their mission.”

 

Strawberry nodded solemnly. Rusty’s tail twitched. Another mission! The ginger tom was finding that he loved missions.

 

And who knows how long we’ll be gone! It’ll just be us four. The tom looked over his shoulder, back to where Ghost was eating his dinner. I wish Ghost could go too.

 

“Are there any other trainees you’d like to send?” Bone asked, turning to Ruth. He seemed dissatisfied with the cats she’d gathered. If he wanted a battle patrol, why not just send the adults? Rusty thought bitterly.

 

The molly shook her head, “Fawn is still too inexperienced. All the other trainees are right here.”

 

“Hm,” Bone frowned. “I’d prefer at least two more cats.”

 

“We could take Frost.” Strawberry’s ears pricked. Spirit rolled his eyes.

 

“Frost and Dusk could go,” Ruth offered, looking to Bone. “As long as their mother okays it”

 

Frost’s alright but Dusk… She could ruin the whole trip! Rusty was looking forward to spending time with his friends. Why was Dusk the one to get invited along? He'd much rather have Otter go. He was the more tolerable of the remaining siblings.

 

Orchid stepped in now, probably thinking the same thing as Rusty. “What about Otter?”

 

“Maple said Otter caught a cold and was going to stay inside for a few days,” the Maine Coon told the younger molly. “I don’t think sending him along would be the best idea.”

 

The short molly dipped her head and curled her tail around her paws, obviously disappointed that the tom she liked couldn’t go along.

 

“I’ll go fetch them then,” Bone told the group, before slinking away.

 

The small patrol was left in silence. Rusty wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It should be an easy trip, except whatever happens with the Leopard cat. He assumed that’s what their task was, after all, unless Scourge had come up with some different idea.

 

Bone quickly brought Frost and Dusk back to the group. Frost eagerly pranced up to Strawberry and the two sat pelt to pelt as Bone filled the two siblings in on the point of the mission. Dusk was listening on intently, though she was a few paces away from everyone else. She looked awkward on her paws, scuffling her feet and twitching her tail, ears flat and orange eyes focused on the ground. She was mean, but Rusty knew she didn’t have many friends within the Clan. He felt bad for her. No cat should be so uncomfortable going on an adventure with a bunch of other cats their own age.

 

I got Ghost to open up to me, maybe I can try to be friends with Dusk too.

 

“Are you all ready then?” Ruth asked, once everyone had their tasks thoroughly explained to them.

 

“Yes!” The group of trainees yowled, before they all hopped over the fence.

 

Rusty’s pelt prickled with excitement as they departed, leaving the alley for a potentially long time. He was looking forward to a few sunrises without training, and just walking about the city with his friends. Ash and Primrose were both smart and strong, so he doubted they’d need his help. It would be a good time, filled with all sorts of fun and adventure. Maybe if we do well enough, we’ll be made full warriors next!

 

Little did he know, this journey, as simple as it was, would change the fate of cats everywhere.

Chapter Text

The moon was high in the sky when they decided to make camp.

 

After a whole day of walking, chattering like sparrows and tagging along behind Ash and Primrose, Rusty found himself incredibly worn out, nevermind a little lost. It felt like they had walked to the end of the earth and back. First, the silver trainees lead them to the Crow Food Place, where they looked over some of the old rogue’s collars, and found that the attackers came from the Eastern part of the city, much further out than any of them had ever ventured before. None of the other cats understood how Primrose could read what was written on the collars, but she seemed to know what she was talking about. They then ran into a rogue who used to be apart of Leopard’s gang, and told them that she spent most of her days alone. Rusty didn’t know why they had to go along, especially if this evil cat was alone and vulnerable. Then again maybe the rogue was lying and setting them up. After learning this new information, they headed deeper into the city. That was when Rusty started to think all the buildings looked the same. Frost knew where they were, and Rusty gave up trying to figure it out. All he knew was that they were in the heart of the city, South of the alleyway but still East of the forest. Only a few stars could be seen in the sky above, and the night air was incredibly cold. Rusty ruffled out his fur as he looked up at the towering buildings, and the bright city lights. Even though they were almost a day away from the alleyway, the distant roar of Cars and his friend’s voices made this unfamiliar part of the city feel all the more like home.

 

They’d lost sight of Ash and Primrose when they decided to make camp. The two siblings had to stay on their own, and the small patrol couldn’t make camp with them. They all knew that.

 

“Does this look good?” Frost asked, turning in between two buildings. The alley was twice as narrow as their camp and ended abruptly with a wooden paneled fence. A few dumpsters lined the walls and there was a pile of wooden pallets against the fence.

 

“It looks fine to me,” Spirit told her with a yawn.

 

The russet tabby tom trotted down the alleyway and pawed at the pile of pallets, “We can sleep in here.”

 

“Then we should get settled down before it gets too late,” Frost said. Rusty frowned. The alley didn't look remotely comfortable. But I suppose it's better than nothing . Plus with my friends it'll feel more like home. “We need to get some sort of bedding and food if we can.”

 

“I'll go find us something to eat,” Dusk offered perking up. She looked excited to go after a day of trailing behind the patrol. Strawberry and Spirit exchanged and uncomfortable glance. The amber eyed molly flattened her ears, her shoulders drooping at their unspoken words.

 

“I'll go too,” Rusty meowed quickly. He had yet to talk to the cream and grey molly, despite being with her all day. She'd hung around the front of the patrol, paying way too much attention to Ash and Primrose. He wondered if she even wanted friends. Oh well, I'm at least going to try.

 

Frost nodded approvingly. She'd pretty much become the leader of the patrol.

 

“Very good then. There's a few Human restaurants back the way we came. It'd be good to start there. Me and Spirit can go get some bedding, so why don’t Strawberry and Orchid go get some food. We can all meet back here by moonhigh.”

 

Dusk smiled. Rusty wasn't sure if he was imagining it. Since when did Dusk smile?

 

“Let's get going then,” The ginger tom meowed, taking the lead as they turned back out onto the sidewalk, heading towards the tantalizing smells of chicken and fish. Everyone else scattered, going to their new jobs.

 

They walked in silence for a while. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence and Rusty thought it was to be expected when walking with a normally hostile cat. Right now though, she didn't seem hostile. In fact, she looked nervous and her amber eyes were fixated on the ground. Her tail was waving and twitching, showing she was thinking about something.

 

What is she thinking about? Maybe what's going to happen when Ash and Primrose find that evil cat. I wonder if we'll have to help. I sure hope we won't have to. Honey made them sound especially evil. I wish Scourge was here to help us…but I guess that's the point of the assignment. We have to do stuff on our own now. Rusty took a moment to pause and listen to the peaceful city sounds around them. It's nice out here anyway.

 

“Rusty,” Dusk suddenly said. Rusty almost jumped out of his skin, as he had become accustomed to the quiet. The tortoiseshell didn't seem to notice though. Her flank was rising and falling quickly and her eyes were fixated on her paws. This only further puzzled the flame colored cat.

 

“Yeah?” The tabby blinked.

 

“Can… Can I tell you something?” She asked, her voice quivering. What is so she afraid of? Dusk isn’t ever afraid of anything.

 

“Of course,” He replied. Anxiety was rolling off her in waves. What does she want to tell me? And why does she want to tell me?  This is probably the first time I've talked to her outside of battle training.

 

Dusk took a deep breath before a stream of words tumbled out of her mouth, “Mom and my siblings already know this but they're not very good at remembering… a-and I thought maybe if you knew too, you could tell Scourge, since you're close to him and he could help everyone remember. I do need to tell the whole Clan too. You seem like you'd understand anyways...”

 

She trailed off, looking for Rusty to reply. The ginger tom was considerably thrown off but somehow he understood. She really doesn't have any family or friends to talk to.

 

“Alright. What is it then?” Rusty meowed slowly.

 

“I don't really feel like I'm a molly,” Dusk stammered, her tail curling around her back paws. She seemed to be preparing herself for rejection or humiliation.

 

At first, Rusty didn't get it. Then he did. She's like Ruth and Brick. They were born as one gender but then found out they're another.

 

“Oh. Do you feel like a tom then?” He asked calmly. Dusk looked relieved, as if a great weight had been taken off her shoulders.

 

“I don't know. I feel somewhere in between. But I'm still figuring a lot of stuff out,” She finally admitted. “I tried too hard to be a molly for too long and I realized that's not actually me. Now I'm trying to figure out how to actually be myself.”

 

So that's why she was so mean for so many moons. Rusty understood and also felt incredibly guilty. He'd judged her so harshly for so long. That must be so hard, and now everyone thinks she's terrible because of it. She was trying to be fierce and protective, like all the other mollies in the Clan.

 

“That's alright,” Rusty brushed her flank with his tail. “Sometimes things take time to figure out. What would you like me to call you in the meantime?”

 

Dusk brightened, “Frost said something gender neutral might help… like ‘they’ maybe?”

 

“I'll do my best to remember,” He assured them with a smile. “Would you like me to tell Scourge too?”

 

“Yes, I'd like that,” Dusk murmured, a small . “Thank you.”

 

“Sure thing,” Rusty purred feeling much more at ease around the tortoiseshell cat. He could tell Dusk felt much better too.




 

They were the last ones back, returning to camp in the dead of night and coming upon a very deflated Primrose and Ash speaking with Frost in hushed tones. The trio of cats was sitting in the shadows of one of the neighboring buildings, their eyes gleaming in the darkness.

 

Rusty’s eyes widened as they rounded the corner and got a good look at the cats’ pelts. Both sibling’s pelts were spiked up and stained red with dried blood. Ash’s ears were flat and he was obviously angry, his tail lashed as he spoke. Primrose on the other hand, sat down with her shoulders slumping and green eyes sad and cloudy. She looked up as Rusty and Dusk approached, sadly flattening her now bloodied ears.

 

“What happened? Are you alright?” Dusk exclaimed as they rushed over to the siblings.

 

Ash responded quickly, “We’re fine, we just got attacked.”

 

“Was it Leopard’s cats?” Rusty asked. He was still cautious about the rogue they’d encountered that morning. It just seemed too good to be true.

 

Primrose nodded, “Y-Yeah. They were so vicious. We came back for help but they left us alone when we ran.”

 

Rusty’s heart ached for his Clanmate. I’ve never seen any cat so defeated.

 

“Where’s everyone else?” Dusk asked. The alley looked bleak and empty besides the little group of trainees.

 

“Spirit’s looking for water and Orchid and Strawberry went to get these two some extra food.” Frost told them. “I think we need to go home.”

 

“What!” Ash spat. “We’ll get kicked out if we go home!”

 

"Or worse…" Primrose murmured.

 

“Then we all need to stick together.” Rusty replied with a hiss. “Honey was right, these cats are dangerous.”

 

“But we’re more dangerous.” Dusk added, rather smugly. They flexed their claws.

 

Ash shook his head,  “We need to regroup and find where this cat is. Then we strike first.”

 

“How?!” Primrose cried, “There’s too many of them! We’ll never make it out alive.”

 

“Then we die trying.” Her brother replied. Primrose just whimpered.

 

We need more cats. But we’re all the trainees the Clan has! We need to talk to Honey again, and find where she lives and take her out before she can cause anymore harm. These cats are too dangerous. We shouldn’t have come here.   The cuts on Primrose and Ash’s pelt were deep, parting their long, silver fur. They would most certainly scar. Had they fought any longer, they might have died.  I don’t want to die on someone else’s assessment. Rusty thought worriedly.

 

Strawberry’s mew was a welcome sign as they group fell silent. They all knew they were defeated on their own.

 

“We found food,” She meowed cheerfully around a finch. Rusty smiled, impressed with her hunting skills. As much as he wanted the fresh kill for himself, he knew his Clanmates needed it more.

The tortoiseshell set her catch down on the ground and pushed it to Primrose. The silver molly was quick to chow down on the bird, while Ash waited anxiously for his sister to finish. Rusty noticed how he kept his forepaw up off the ground, and balanced on all his feet except for that one. He frowned. Is his paw okay? He can’t fight with a bad paw.

 

“What do you all want to do?” Spirit asked. “There’s not much water around here, and I didn’t want to go too far.”

 

“That’s alright.” Ash sighed when his sister pushed him the rest of the bird.

 

“We could try attacking them.” Frost offered. “Once we’re all fed and rested, we could head out and try to take them on. I’m not sure how well that would go.”

 

“Me neither.” Primrose sighed, curling her tail around her paws.

 

“We should rest.” Rusty meowed, “We can heal up, get some food and sleep and then attack tomorrow night.”

 

“That’s a good plan.” Frost murmured. Ash and Primrose muttered their agreement, and the trainees began to pad over to the pile of wooden pallets. The ginger tom slipped inside, picking his way under the pile of wooden pallets, finding a spot next to Strawberry. Rusty curled up on the wooden board. With a full stomach and new connection with one of his Clanmates, he felt content. This trip was a good idea, even if it did get cut short. The wood beneath his paws was surprisingly comfortable and for the first time in moons he fell into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.

 

That is until a peculiar scent filled his nose.

 

He didn't know how long he'd been asleep. It was still dark. The starry sky gave way to a dull, navy blue but the streetlights were still on. Still, it was difficult to see the source of the scent as there were many wooden slats obscuring his vision and the night was still incredibly black.  Looking over, it appeared all his friends were accounted for, still curled up in a pile. The scent had only stirred him.

 

Why am I the only one up? And what is that?

 

Rusty parted his jaws and breathed in the pungent odor. In his freshly awoken state he couldn't quite recognize the smell. It was buried too deep in his memory. Like an elusive bit of live prey, it kept darting just slightly too far out of reach.

 

Probably rogues or loners…

 

Rusty heard them talking, towards the entrance to the alleyway. He and his friends were still out of earshot and if they came this way, they were fairly well hidden. Other city cats could be violent, and Rusty didn't know what to expect. He just wanted to curl up in a ball and hide until they left. Even if they were violent, they wouldn't mess with the sleeping trainees, once they knew the shelter was already taken. No one wanted to start a fight unless it was necessary. Yet, his ears pricked when he heard what they were talking about.

 

“Did he come this way?”

 

“I don't know, I just know he was gone for quite a while.”

 

“Well how are we going to find him?”

 

“This was your idea. You tell me.”

 

“Leave it alone! He's her father, of course she wants to go after him!”

 

They were looking for someone. There’s quite a few of them, whoever they are.

 

Rusty's pelt stood on end. Something about them was different than the other rogues. He saw their shadows growing closer. If they see me, I don't want to be the only one up.

 

“Strawberry,” He hissed urgently, turning to tap the lump of tortoiseshell fur next to him. “Strawberry wake up!”

 

The dilute tortie’s head shot up at his second tap. At first she couldn't figure out who had tapped her, until she laid eyes on Rusty.

 

“Rusty? What-” She started, yawning and blinking the sleep out of her eyes.

 

“Not so loud!” He whispered, fear edging his mew. Her shining green eyes narrowed in concern.

 

He gestured with his ears to outside the pile of wooden pallets and mouthed listen.

 

Strawberry pricked her ears, straining to listen. Their voices were clear, even above the soft din of city noise.

 

“I just feel like he might've gone this way.”

 

“He could've gone any way, Sandpaw.”

 

She turned back to Rusty, and moved closer to whisper to him.

 

“Those aren't normal rogues. Who are they?”

 

“I don't know,” the ginger tom told her.

 

Strawberry blinked with sympathy, “They sound lost. Why don't we go help them out?”

 

“Are you crazy?!” Rusty whispered back. “There's only two of us! We don’t know what they want or why they’re here.

 

“Maybe these cats aren’t violent. Besides, they’re just lost and in need of some help. .” She said with a shrug.

 

“I guess,” the ginger tabby muttered. It did make sense. We're BloodClan, we don't hide from our enemies. We can take them if they are violent.

 

“Come on then,” The tortoiseshell molly gave him a push towards the entrance to the den. “Let's go see what they want.”

 

Rusty took a deep breath, his heartrate quickening as he slunk out of their makeshift den. Strawberry followed close behind, practically shoving him along, tail low and twitching with distrust. The prospect of meeting new enemies set him on edge. Well, it's now or never.

 

The odor hit him like a brick wall. They all stunk like leaf litter and pine. It made Rusty curl up his nose and unsheath his claws. It took a gust of cold night air, and in an instant, he recognized the scent.

 

Forest cats!

 

Something changed in Rusty, as he exited the den and laid eyes on them. None of them were the ones from that day in the forest. But they were that terrible cat’s friends. Anger filled Rusty from nose to tail tip. He flattened his ears, feeling the tattered part of his right ear brush against his fur. They did this to me! These are the worst kind of cats and they’re in our city. They’ve taken enough from us! What a bunch of fox hearts! How dare they come here!

 

A haze fell over Rusty's vision. Without warning, Rusty lunged at the closest cat to him, a skinny chocolate colored tom, with a light undercoat and shockingly dark stripes. He was lanky and thin but still looked to be just a bit older than Rusty. Upon seeing Rusty barrelling towards him, the tom yelped, and unsheathed his claws.

 

“Rogues!” He screeched in alarm. His friends jumped back, as Rusty crashed into the skinny cat, latching his claws into their fur.

 

This is not going to end up like it did back in the Forest. These cats are on my land now!

 

The tabby fell backwards, his claws scratching on the pavement as he hit the ground, hissing viciously. His claws stung but Rusty didn’t care. The ginger tabby swiped out a claw, catching the tom’s ear and slicing it in a neat V. The chocolate cat hissed and swiped back, missing by a whisker length. The Forest cat's hiss sounded pained, as blood began to drip down his ear. With him distracted by his ear, the ginger cat attacked again. He tom was tall enough to get underneath, so the ginger tabby decided to take that approach. He jumped forward, claws outstretched and teeth bared. The skinny tabby looked ready, hissing like mad. But before the two could fight anymore a yowl sounded and Rusty was tugged back by the scruff.

 

“Break it up!” Strawberry called, pulling the ginger tabby away. Rusty gathered his feet under him and retreated to his friend’s side. He licked his lips in after a final hiss and wondered why on earth she’d pulled him away. Strawberry may be nice but she’s not any less opposed to fighting than the rest of our Clan.

 

“They’re Forest cats!” He snarled to Strawberry. “They’re in our city!”

 

“So?” She replied with as much anger and ferocity as himself. “They’re still cats and they need help!”

 

Rusty curled his tail around his paws, begrudgingly staying silent. But they’re vicious and terrible cats! He wanted to scream at her to look at his pelt, his scars. They’re all the same.

He felt his pelt turn hot with anger and a bit of shame. I did attack them first. And now his ear’s going to be nicked forever. After taking a moment to calm down, Rusty found himself able to look over the group. They didn’t look remotely vicious or harmful. In fact they looked hungry… and scared. Guilt ran through his veins and made his shoulders slump a bit. He felt bad for attacking the chocolate tabby. Maybe she’s right. I'm so stupid; why'd I do that?

 

Strawberry and Rusty stood their ground as they sized up the little group. The Forest cats seemed to be doing the same. There were only four of them, with soft features, and hungry, scared eyes. He puffed out his chest with pride at their expressions, as they looked over his torn pelt and collar. They’re afraid of me. He could sense it in the way the smallest of them backed up a pace, and how the two in the front looked uneasily at one another. It felt good in a strange way. They can’t hurt me again. They’re the ones afraid of me now. With this new realization in mind, Rusty felt much more comfortable around the group. He almost felt as if he’d gotten his “revenge” on the Forest cats, and the little skirmish with the chocolate tom took quite a weight off his chest. These were not the brutes he encountered in the forest all those moons ago, and that fact, along with their fear scent helped him stand a little bit taller. Even if Tigerclaw was with them, I think he might be a bit afraid too, Rusty thought smugly.

 

The chocolate tabby hissed too and stepped back, “I told you we couldn’t trust them, Sandpaw! Look! He ruined my ear!”

 

“Oh shut it, Longtail! Your ear will be fine,” A pretty ginger molly meowed. Rusty’s eyes widened as he spotted her and her Clanmates coming over to join them. She came up to the chocolate tabby’s shoulder, and sported a pale ginger coat, marked with the faintest of stripes. Her green eyes seemed to glow in the darkness and her tufted ears were pricked as she approached the two BloodClan cats. “These are the cats!”

 

What cats? I swear, if these Forest cats want to join our Clan like Micah did, I’m turning them away with a few scars of their own.

 

“You’re from the Forest?” Strawberry noted. Her mottled tail twitched and she stepped back defensively. She was thinking the same thing as Rusty. “Why are you looking for us?”

 

“It’s a long story, but we need help,” The ginger molly, Sandpaw, told them. Despite all his other encounters with Forest cats and those outside his Clan, she seemed anxious to see them, yet unafraid. She didn’t even look scared by the teeth around his neck. Rusty could respect that a bit- but only a bit.

 

Longtail, Sandpaw… What weird names.

 

“I'm sorry for my friend’s behavior. But please, tell me. What do you need help with?” Strawberry meowed politely. She flicked Rusty with her tail in a friendly, yet annoyed manner.

 

The ginger molly continued, “We’re from the forest, yes. My father went missing about a quarter moon ago, and we’ve been looking for him. This probably sounds crazy to you rogues but I saw you in a dream. We got lost, and I saw a cream tortoiseshell and a ginger tom with a collar in my dreams. You helped lead us to him and we got home safe. Please, could you help us?”

 

Sounds like delirium to me. Rusty thought. However he couldn’t help but wonder if this encounter with the Forest cats was somehow connected to his own weird dreams. It sounded impossible, but he couldn’t be so sure.

 

“They’re rogues, they’re not going to help,” The black tabby tom beside her muttered. He sounded so lonely and defeated- just like Primrose.

Rusty’s tail lashed but he felt a bit of sympathy for the pale ginger cat. If Princess, or Scourge went into the forest and vanished he’d certainly want to find them. She seems harmless anyway. If anything, she doesn’t seem so different than us.

 

The Forest molly looked back and forth between the two. She pleaded, “We’re a bit lost too, and hungry. I’m not asking for you to go with us or anything, just maybe give us a few pointers on where to get food, or start looking for him.”

 

That I can live with. Rusty thought. He didn’t want to spend another heartbeat around the Forest cats, even if he had somewhat come to terms with his anger about the situation.

Before either cat could answer, they spotted Frost’s head peeking out of the wooden pallet pile. Her amber eyes were as wide as saucers as she looked over the group. Based on the shining eyes inside, Rusty could assume he woke up the rest of the patrol. He gave his chest fur a few embarrassed licks.

 

“Strawberry? Rusty?” Frost asked hesitantly. “Who’s this?”

 

“They’re Forest cats,” Strawberry told her. She motioned for the rest of her friends to join. “Don’t worry, they’re alright, just in a bit of trouble.”

 

The white molly slipped out of the makeshift den, landing easily on the ground. Dusk stuck close to their sister and gave the ginger molly, Sandpaw, a hesitant sniff as she joined the little group. Spirit and Orchid, the quietest out of all of them, took a seat beside Rusty, paying the Forest cats no mind. Spirit cast them a dubious glance before shaking his pelt. Ash followed the tabby out confidently, while Primrose ducked her head and slunk towards the back of the group.

 

“It’s cold,” The russet tom hissed, irritated. “Why can’t these cats just figure their issue out for themselves.”

 

“We’ve been trying,” Sandpaw snapped, turning on the splotched tom before sighing and flattening her fur. Anyone could tell she was incredibly stressed. Rusty felt bad for her. “I had a dream about a group of cats who would help us. My father’s gone missing and we’re trying to find him.”

 

Frost tilted her head, her amber eyes gleaming as the wheels began to turn in her head. What’s she thinking about? Rusty watched on curiously.

 

“I’ll offer you a deal,” The white molly said, taking a step forward. “We need help too. If you’ll help us, we’ll help you.”

 

Sandpaw looked warily at the smaller molly. She stopped for a moment, thinking before slowly asking, “What do you all need help with?”

 

“We need… cats to help us fight,” Frost explained smoothly. “See, we’ve got some enemies here in the city and we don’t have quite enough cats with us to take ‘em out on our own. If you help us defeat them, we’ll help you find your father.”

 

“Fighting? We’re good at fighting,” Sandpaw exclaimed. Her ears pricked and she brightened. Her friends nodded eagerly as well. “We can help!”

 

“Terrific!” Frost purred, waving her tail and pricking her ears. Her body language softened and a smirk painted her snow white muzzle. “What are all of your names?”

 

Rusty thought it wasn’t very terrific at all. But we do need cats to help us. She’s got a good idea. I just wish we could find cats that weren’t from the Forest. Still, I guess this is good enough for now. I’m just really not looking forward to helping them later.

 

“I’m Sandpaw,” The ginger molly meowed, relaxing at Frost’s body language. She gestured with her to each of the cats around her. “This is Dustpaw, Longtail and Ravenpaw.”

 

“Odd names,” The BloodClan molly observed. “I’m Frost, with me is Strawberry, Orchid, Primrose, Ash, Rusty, Dusk and Spirit.”

 

Rusty held his head high at the mention of his name. Sandpaw met his eyes for a moment, taking in the information. His lip curled back as he realized he’d have to fight alongside them. We do need to kill Leopard but these are Forest cats? What can they do? I doubt they’ll even be any help…

 

“Where are these enemies of yours?” The ginger cat inquired. Her gaze flitted from cat to cat, looking for an answer.

 

“Only a few streets from here,” Ash meowed curtly, stepping forward to sit beside Frost. He looked over the Forest cats suspiciously. Sandpaw and her friends’ eyes gleamed. Rusty ruffled his fur. Battle hungry savages. Just like I thought.

 

“Let's not waste any moonlight then, ” Frost said after a moment. The white molly motioned to Ash to lead them. The silver tom wasted no time, beckoning them with his tail and turning out of the alleyway.

The streets were still quiet, as it was far too late for any Humans to be out and about. The occasional Car rolled by and a dog barked in the distance, but other than that it was peacefully quiet. They all knew that sense of peace wouldn’t last for long. They were on their way to a fight, after all.

Rusty stuck close to Strawberry and Dusk as Ash lead the whole patrol along the sidewalk. They stayed against the walls of nearby buildings, while the Forest cats padded along behind, rather skittishly. Rusty noticed how they jumped at every dog bark, every sound of a car or Human. Their expressions were calm, but he saw the way their tails bristled and ears flicked. Why are they so jumpy? Surely there’s dangers and nighttime sounds in the Forest as well.

 

He turned his ears back to listen as the little black tuxedo and the black tabby tom began to whisper to one another.

 

“Dustpaw, these are rogues! We can’t trust them,” The black cat whispered urgently.

 

The black tabby murmured back, “I know but we have to trust them. They know Twoleg-place better than us. I know they’ll help us find Runningwind.”

 

The little black cat only sighed. Maybe they’re so jumpy because of us. I wouldn’t blame them. We’re quite fierce looking. If we’re going to fight alongside them, maybe I should talk to them a bit. They may be Forest cats but they can’t be that bad.

 

The ginger tabby slowed his pace until the two Forest toms had caught up to him a little bit.

 

“You know I can hear you, right?” Rusty meowed, turning to face the little black cat. His blue eyes widened and he ducked his head. His friend answered for him.

 

“Sorry, we’re just all a little on edge right now,” Dustpaw meowed apprehensively, giving Rusty a once over.

 

“I understand,” The ginger tom replied, calmly. “We are as well.”

 

Dustpaw nodded, relaxing as he realized the BloodClan tom wasn’t going to tear him to shreds, “Is it because of your enemies?”

 

“That, among other things,” Rusty told him with a twitch of his whiskers.  

 

“I’d think it’d be hard, living here,” Dustpaw continued. “There doesn’t seem like much of anything out here, and everyone seems very… unorganized.”

 

Rusty shrugged. He does have a point there. Most everyone is pretty unorganized, except ourselves.

 

“Most everyone looks out for themselves, but there’s organized groups around. We’re all apart of one,” The tom told them with a wave of his tail, “It makes life much easier, having other cats to look out for you.”

 

“Yes, definitely,” The black tabby meowed. He frowned though, as if he didn’t quite believe his words. “What’s it like out here?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“How do you get food? Where do you sleep? How does your group work?” Dustpaw asked. “Living in this Starclan cursed Twoleg-place… It just seems so different from Forest life…”

 

“Pardon?” Was all Rusty could stammer in reply. Just like the last time he'd spoken to a Forest cat, their words sounded as comprehensible as Human-speak. What do they mean by StarClan?

 

Dustpaw raised an eyebrow. “What?”

 

“Starclan? Twolegs… You sound like you've got bees in your brains,” Rusty mewed lightly. Dustpaw didn't seem to understand the city tom's confusion and simply stared on blankly.

 

“You don't know what Starclan is?” The dark tabby gasped. His little tuxedo companion appeared equally as shocked.

 

Is that another one of their Forest Clans? How many were out there?

 

Rusty just shook his head.

 

“It probably sounds crazy to you but StarClan is our warrior ancestors, in the sky. They watch over and guide the Forest cats,” Dustpaw explained.

 

Rusty scoffed and stole a glance up at the mostly starless sky. There was too much light in the city to see anything up there, besides one or two twinkling lights. He remembered how many stars he could see from his old House though. But they’re just stars, not anyone’s ancestors.

 

“Sounds like you have too many bad mice out there,” Rusty replied, giving the tom a good natured shove. “But whatever helps you sleep at night.”

 

Dustpaw shrugged and laughed, “Well, what do you believe happens when you die?”

 

“Nothing.” The tabby told him. I’ve never thought much about it. But surely nothing happens when we die. We just get buried or left to rot, and then that’s it.

 

“Really?” The black tabby sounded shocked. “You don’t think there’s any sort of afterlife?”

 

“There could be, but I’ve never heard any proof for one,” Rusty told them. Then he thought about his dreams. Or maybe I have, but I’m not going to admit that to them.

 

Then Ravenpaw, the little tuxedo cat, cut in, “Sounds depressing.”

 

“Not really. It just makes me appreciate what time I have here.” The ginger tom explained. He pricked his ears, realizing Ash and the others had stopped.

 

“We’re here.”

Chapter Text

Sandpaw looked to Strawberry and Ash, her pupils widening, “Are we sure this is the right place?”  

They were standing before a dark alleyway, where even the gentle city lights didn’t penetrate the blackness. It was similar to Vesper’s home, with a lot of trash and bits of plastic, Human stuff cluttering the narrow gap. The scent of cats hung heavy in the air, along with the smell of molding wood and acrid gasoline. It was quiet though, and Rusty began to doubt whether or not there were cats actually inside. Not even the tiniest bit of plastic had been stirred since they moved, and Rusty could not see the gleaming eyes of cats. He said nothing though. City rogues could be tricky. Perhaps upon hearing the approaching cats, they hid. The fact that he couldn’t see them made Rusty uneasy.

 

“Yes, it’s where we were attacked earlier.” The silver tom meowed. “The address on one of the rogues’ collars was just a street over.”

 

Primrose nodded weakly, pressing her pelt to her brother’s.

 

The patrol stood about uneasily for a moment, unsure of what to do next. They’d made it here after all, and hadn’t really planned anything past that. Rusty parted his jaws and tasted the air, breathing in the fresh scent of cat. Rogue! They must be inside.

 

“We need a plan.” Ravenpaw murmured to his brother. Dustpaw nodded.

 

“I think they live in an abandoned building at the very back of this alley.” Primrose whispered. The sleek silver molly had a new gleam in her eye. She turned around, gesturing with her tail for them to huddle together. Rusty leaned in close to listen as she continued.

 

“We should pretend we’re going in looking to join with Leopard. Then, we can assess the situation, see how many there are etc.” She spoke quickly. “Like back home, we’ll need buddies. Me and Ash will go for Leopard, she’s a Bengal according to the rogue we met at the Crow Food place. The groups for everyone else can be...Strawberry, Frost, Orchid and Ravenpaw as one, Longtail, Spirit and Dusk, then Sandpaw, Dustpaw, and Rusty. Does that sound alright?”

 

“I don’t want to fight with a rogue! We can defend ourselves,” Sandpaw protested, She sent Rusty a less than friendly glare. No one had any time to tell her off though, as an even fresher scent filled their collective senses.

 

Rusty’s head shot up as a cat appeared on top of the metal trash can, right at the edge of the alleyway. Their mottled chocolate colored coat almost completely hid them in the darkness. Their bright yellow eyes narrowed as they looked over the group, their tail tip low and lashing. His heart leaped up into his throat, as they locked eyes with him. How much have they heard?

 

“Stay there, strangers,” The cat snarled. “What’s your business here?”

 

Upon their being discovered, Strawberry immediately took the leader role, “Er, we’re here to see Leopard? Do you know her?”

 

The cat laid back their ears with suspicion, “Yes.”

 

“Can you take us to her?” Strawberry asked, stepping up to stare up at the cat.

 

The rogue hesitated, “Usually she doesn’t take-”

 

“It’s really important.” The tortoiseshell continued. She crouched low to the ground and looked up at the molly with huge green eyes.  The rogue peered down at her for a moment before turning to scan the rest of the group. Rusty was holding his breath as she stared into his soul for a moment.

 

“Fine,” The rogue hissed. “But one paw out of line, and I’ll tear you to shreds.”

 

“Thank you!” Strawberry exclaimed, “Thank you so much!”

 

The yellow eyed molly grunted a response before she hopped down off the trashcan and whisked down the alleyway. Strawberry exchanged a look with Frost before the two mollies took after her. Rusty trailed behind, sticking close to Sandpaw as they went. Neither cat really said much. They were all too on edge.

 

Shards of plastic dug into Rusty’s paw pads as he picked his way down the alley. Darkness fell over his and his friend’s pelts as they slunk along through the cluttered alley, as silent as the night itself. It wasn't Rusty's first battle, but he hoped they wouldn't be outnumbered. And that the Forest cats don't wimp out at the last minute. They're not my Clanmates, but they are extra claws for us. I just hope they'll actually do their part.

 

Soon, they reached the back of the alley, and were stood before a narrow hole in the side of another building. It looked old, with rust on the edges of the metal, and looking up, one could see that the roof was caving in. Despite the obvious fact that no Humans had used the building in years, the overwhelming odor of city cats clung to the rotting metal implied that the cats were making quite the comfortable home in there. Rusty just hoped that it wasn’t too cramped inside and that they could take the rogues.

 

“In here,” The rogue molly snapped, motioning to the hole.

 

Strawberry raised an eyebrow but obliged, her lithe body quickly disappearing into the blackness.

 

They had to go single file, with the yellow eyed rogue looking over every cat that entered. Rusty would be one of the last to go, he realized. He and Dustpaw had ended up at the very back, along with Primrose and Ash. Primrose stood behind her brother, shielded from the rogue’s view. She flexed her claws anxiously. I really hope her nervousness doesn’t give us away.

Ash strode forward, giving the rogue a sniff before he slipped through the opening. Suddenly, the rogue’s eyes grew wide as she spotted Primrose, who followed after her brother, keeping her head low.

 

It only took a heartbeat for Rusty to realize their mistake. His heart leaped up into his throat and he felt his limbs grow stiff.

 

We still have our collars!

 

The molly opened her jaws to yowl an alarm, but she was cut short as Rusty suddenly lunged forward, sinking his teeth into her throat. He grimaced as blood filled his mouth, and the rogue let out a gurgled cry before falling limp. The ginger tom bit down harder just to be sure she could not call for backup, even if she did survive. Remembering Honey’s scar and the way she talked about these cats, he felt little remorse for the molly.

 

“Rusty!” Dustpaw sounded horrified. “What-”

 

“She knew we’re BloodClan,” He meowed quickly to Primrose. The silver molly nodded, her green eyes narrowed.

 

“BloodClan?” Dustpaw started, confused. It won’t take them long to find her body. Rusty began to panic. We have to get this over with. Everything's going wrong!

 

The ginger tabby gave the Forest tom a shove towards the building’s entrance. “No time to explain. We have to move fast!”

 

“You just killed a cat in cold blood!” The black tabby hissed, his voice clouded over in fear and yellow eyes wide.

 

“She was going to alert the others,” The BloodClan tom told him sharply. Dustpaw nodded shakily and followed after Primrose. Sandpaw said nothing, but shouldered her way past Rusty to catch up with Dustpaw. The molly’s fur was puffed out to twice its usual size. Fox dung, this is all going wrong.

 

The ginger tom looked around quickly, making sure no one else had come out looking to see what the ruckus was about, before turning to follow Sandpaw. His paws trembled and the smell of Sandpaw and Dustpaw’s fear clouded his senses. He met the rogue molly’s lifeless gaze as he slipped inside.  Rusty swiped his tongue across his lips, to make sure it wasn’t blatantly obvious he’d had to deal with the rogue molly.

Hopefully there aren’t any other hitches in our plan.

 

Blackness swallowed up his vision and he felt the metal walls scraping the edges of his whiskers. He heard the Forest cat’s pawsteps guiding him onward- the only real indicator of where to go.

 

It didn’t last long as they soon emerged into a huge, open space. The concrete was old, and cracked in many places, as if something huge had stomped on the place and shattered the floor to bits. Little patches of greenery were beginning to fill in the cracks, spreading out across the freezing ground.  The building had a high ceiling, left open to the elements in some parts. The entire building was barren, save for the cats running about inside. Based on smell alone, Rusty would have expected there to be more, but it only looked to be about twenty or so. The battle with them must’ve really put a dent in their numbers. Better for us though.

 

Looking about, Rusty noticed a grey molly with bright green eyes, nursing a few kits in a corner, sheltered by a few old Human boxes. A black tom sat beside her, talking to her. The two laughed about something. He scanned the rest of the cats, and quickly found a black bengal cat with an odd yellow toned stomach. She was talking with a dilute tortoiseshell, who cowered in her presence. That must be Leopard. Rusty felt a bit queasy, yet also angry as he realized that cat was the one who scarred Honey for life, and who tried to harm his Clan.

 

Strawberry and the others were crouched near the opening of the building. Strawberry and Ash were speaking to one another.

 

Seeing Rusty was the last one in, and that the rogue cat was nowhere to be seen, Spirit grew visibly concerned. His plumed tail bristled, “Rusty, where’s our escort?”

 

“She found us out,” Rusty hissed quietly. “I had to get rid of her or else she would’ve let the others know we were here.”

 

“Well we are here, what were you thinking?” The splotched tom replied. A few of Leopard’s cats looked over, their ears pricked with curiosity. They didn’t seem to care about the intruders, so long as everyone kept to their own space.

 

“We almost outnumber the cats here. There’s like twelve of us and twenty of them It’s a fair fight. We don’t need surprise,” The ginger tom told him. Frost angled her ears back, her lips pulling back in an irritated growl.

 

“Stop wasting time,” The white molly growled. “Ash, Primrose. She’s right there.”

 

“Fine, fine.” Spirit muttered.

 

Frost unsheathed her claws and dug them into the dirt. Rusty gave his pelt a shake. That rogue guard’s blood wouldn’t be the only blood spilled today. The white molly took charge, she lowered her head and body, lashing her tail tip. Rusty knew that signal, he remembered it from the kittypet battle and training. It was possibly the most important signal of them all. He unsheathed his claws and flattened his ears, waiting for Frost to lead them forward.

 

All at once, the patrol rushed at the gathered cats. Even though they didn’t know the multitude of BloodClan signals, the Forest cats caught on quickly, and as Rusty began to race across the concrete, barrelling towards the cat closest to him. He could hear Sandpaw and Dustpaw’s pawsteps pounding on the earth behind him as he charged towards a pair of calicos, crouched down in the corner, sharing what looked to be an old mouse. The one on the right, who looked smaller yet fatter than her sister let out a screech of alarm. Her eyes widened and she raced off in the opposite direction of Rusty, her tail streaming out behind her. The ginger tom swerved to intercept her, long claws scraping on the pavement as he sprinted at full speed, aiming to bowl her over before she could make it back to the building’s entrance.

The sounds of battle broke out all over the building, as he could hear Primrose and Ash spitting and Orchid yowling in pain. It didn’t take long for the rusted scent of blood to start tainting the air either. The scents and smells just pushed Rusty to run faster. I need to get to her

 

His muscles burned as he closed in on the molly. She screeched in alarm as he took one final leap, landing squarely on her back. He sunk his teeth into her scruff, and scrabbled at her flank with his back legs. Blood welled up in the scratches, and that alone seemed to infuriate her. The calico arched her back and shook herself viciously, hissing and spitting. It only took a second for Rusty to lose his grip and go flying a few fox-lengths away.

The wind rushed out of Rusty’s lungs and the world spun for a moment as his hit the ground, landing flat on his back. The ginger tom froze for a moment before scrambling around onto his belly and whirling on the calico molly. She was quicker though and smacked Rusty across the face as he rose to meet her again. The tom jumped back a pace, avoiding her claws as she swiped again. That was when a strange scent caught his nose. It reminded him of Snowfall, but he wasn’t entirely sure what it was. Why does this cat smell like Snowfall?

 

He had little time to dwell on it though, and fluffed out his fur to look bigger as the molly hissed at him again. She stayed back though, arching her back and scraping her claws on the pavement as she circled him. The calico eyed his collar, fear flashing in her eyes, followed by determination as she prepared herself for another fight. Behind her, Rusty could see Leopard’s cats being swarmed by the group of young cats. Several lay still and a few others were running out the entrance. Everyone’s doing well. This should be over in no time. The calico’s mew brought him back to the fight at hand.

 

“What’s your problem, you bitch?” She snarled, all the iciness of Winter in her mew. “What did we ever do to you, huh?”

 

“You attacked our camp,” Rusty replied. “We’re only defending our Clanmates.”

 

“That justifies attacking a pregnant cat?” The calico accused him.

 

Oh.

 

Why am I the stupidest cat in the city?

 

Rusty backed down, flattening his fur, his jaw hanging open in shock. He was mostly shocked by his own foolishness. I didn’t know. How was I supposed to know anyway? He scented the air. It was obvious that the scent was of kittens, and that’s why it reminded him of Snowfall.

 

“I didn’t know,” He stammered flatly. The tabby jerked his head towards the building’s entrance. “Go then. Don’t bother us again.”

 

“Fair enough.” The calico spat, scurrying towards the entrance, not sparing a look over her shoulder. Rusty winced as she went, and guilt gnawed at his stomach as her ginger splotched tail vanished into the darkness. I’m such a mouse-brain!

 

He sat in the middle of the fight for a few heartbeats, mulling over what happened when a screech of alarm caught his attention. Rusty jerked his head back to see Sandpaw grappling with a sleek tailless tom. Sandpaw was by no means a small cat, but this cat was tearing her to shreds. The pale ginger molly stumbled out of the tom’s grasp, panting and bleeding from a gash across her flank. Only a few seconds passed before they were a wrestling blurr of ginger and black fur. Rusty narrowed his eyes. She may not be my Clanmate but she’s apart of my group, and she’s still on my side.

 

The BloodClan cat sprung into action, racing the couple paces to the aid in the fight. The tailless cat had Sandpaw pinned, and was desperately trying to get to her neck, to give her a killing bite. The ginger molly was crouched low to the ground, and although she was facing away from Rusty, it was obvious she was somewhat trapped. There was no good way out of the situation.

 

Rusty hissed and launched himself at the tailless cat, scoring his claws across their sleek black fur. Blood welled up in the wound, turning his fur spikey and even darker than before. Caught by surprise, the tom lost his footing and stumbled off Sandpaw, his green eyes smoldering with rage. The ginger tom went down with him, clinging to his back and digging his claws into the tom’s chest. The two cats rolled a few paces before the black tom finally kicked him off and scrambled back. Rusty threw himself between the Forest molly and the rogue, spitting, and arching his back, attempting to give Sandpaw time to get herself together. Fear swelled up in the ginger tom’s chest but he forced himself to stand his ground. The tailless cat looked vicious with hardened muscles and heavily nicked ears. He pulled his lips back in a growl, sneering at the two young cats.

 

The rogue cat said nothing but lunged forward, Rusty stepped to the side with ease, half forgetting about Sandpaw behind him. Fox dung! I hope she’s alright. His heart pounded in fear for the Forest tabby. It was too late to do anything other than dodge.

 

However, Sandpaw was perfectly alright, and in fact, she appeared to furious. The fluffy molly slashed her claws across the tom’s cheek, snapping his neck to the side. He paused, shocked by the attack, and Rusty took his chance. The tabby dove forward, digging his teeth into the tom’s throat and before the tom had any time to react to what was happening, he lay still, more red soaking the white patch of fur on his chest. Just as he was pulling back, fighting back the urge to gag at the disgusting taste of blood on his tongue, sharp claws sunk into his shoulders and he was pulled off his paws.

 

Rusty’s back hit the ground hard and he screeched in alarm, paws flailing and hoping to catch onto something. He didn’t though and yowled louder when sharp teeth sunk into his shoulder.

 

His lungs gasped for breath, and for a moment, pure fear took over his mind. His head spun, swirling out of control. This enemy was larger than him, and caught him completely off guard. I’m going to die here.

 

Calm down. Think.

 

The Bloodclan cat snapped back to his senses, the world came back into focus. He had to do something.

Thinking fast, the ginger tabby gathered his hind paws up under himself, as best as he could, aiming to create a base for his next move. Then, he leapt with all his might, as if he was attacking an invisible warrior, painfully wrenching the attacker’s teeth out of his shoulder and stumbling a few paces away.

All thoughts of Sandpaw forgotten, he turned on the cat, his back arched and eyes glittering with fury. Now that the immediate danger had passed, he was angry.

 

The cat wasn’t much bigger than him, with a ticked tabby pelt and bright yellow eyes. Seeing he had escaped, they hissed. Their yellow eyes shone with pure hatred for Rusty.

 

“Silly kittypets,” The cat laughed. “You really think you can take over our town?”

 

Rusty pulled back his lips in a snarl but stopped when he spotted a few of the other trainees creeping up behind him. Frost lead the way, with Strawberry and Ash flanking her. The white molly’s amber eyes shone in the grey lighting. The young cats’ pelts were red with blood, but none of it was theres. Their sharp teeth shone in the darkness, and their lips were still stained with scarlet as well. It appeared that this cat was the only one left. Rusty felt a thrill of pride for his Clan and his Clanmates. This, protecting one another. This is what we’re all about.

 

“We’re not kittypets, dumbass,” Frost spat before launching herself at the tom.

 

He hardly had time to react before the group of trainees was on him. The brown ticked tabby screeched and tried to get free but it wasn’t long before the swarm of trainees made short work of him. Strawberry and Frost leapt onto his back, clawing at his chest and throat with the ferocity of badgers, while Ash and Primrose tackled him, aiming for the throat and face as well. Rusty hardly got more than a few hits in before the cat lay still and lifeless on the concrete, like the rest of his Clanmates. It was a quick battle, but a bloody one indeed.

 

The ginger tabby stepped back out of the fray, panting. As soon as the ticked cat stopped moving the others retreated, letting his body slump down onto the concrete. Rusty stared at it for a moment. He almost wanted to feel bad for the cat- he was just defending his friend after all- but he couldn’t. He felt nothing. These cats hurt my Clanmates, they deserve this. They’ve hurt too many cats in this city, and they messed with the wrong group.

 

Rusty turned away from the lifeless lump of brown fur, stopping to catch his breath, and looking to see where the rest of Forest cats had gone. I hope they didn’t dessert us. If they did, I’m going to track them down and tear their pelts off!

 

The little group of Forest cats hadn’t though, and was watching on in a mix of horror and awe. Sandpaw sat at the front of the group, with Ravenpaw crouched behind her. Longtail looked thoroughly impressed while Dustpaw didn’t really know how to feel. He just watched the ticked tabby with a grim expression.



Now that the battle was over, the building around them was quiet, save for a cricket’s gentle chirp and the cheerful bird song outside. Dull, grey light was beginning to show through the single hole in the roof. The trainees went about their business, oblivious to the little group of Forest observers. The ginger tom spied Primrose adding Leopard’s tooth to her collar, while she and her brother sat beside the mass of mottled yellow and grey fur. Strawberry and Frost were talking up a storm with one another. Rusty smiled warmly, remembering the talk they’d had on the way to visit Smudge. Those two are meant for one another.

Besides them, Dustpaw and Longtail looked rather shell shocked, but both were physically okay. Dusk, Spirit and Orchid all had minor cuts and bruises, but they appeared to be alright as well. It’s already over. Only the gang cats got hurt. Rusty sighed in relief. He didn’t even know he was holding his breath. And even then, most of them just ran off. Only a few bodies layon the concrete. They must have sent their most vicious cats to raid our camp, and let the cowards stay behind. The ginger tom sat down and began to groom his fur, wincing at the bite on his shoulder. It was deep, and had been drug out into more than the pin prick that bites usually were. He frowned, Vesper will have to take a look at that when we get back.

 

Turning to the next order of business, he padded back over to the tailless tom he’d fought with Sandpaw. The cat’s jaws were still thankfully parted in a yowl of rage, and Rusty had little trouble pulling his lower canine from his jaw. At the point, it was somewhat routine, though the excitement of adding another tooth to his collar brought a little light to the ordeal. It was morbid and gross to some extent, but it tied Rusty to his Clan. Like a piece of BloodClan we get to wear around our necks. He thought, as he sat up, canine clutched in his teeth, and began to annoying process of actually getting in wedged in the fabric of his collar.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

The voice made him jump, and then his ears turned hot with embarrassment. He wasn’t sure why, really, but he was mostly startled, as he whirled to see who’d asked him the question.

 

It was Sandpaw, her green eyes narrowed with curiosity. The ginger cat could tell she still wasn’t too sure about him though.

 

“Uh, adding a tooth to my collar,” Rusty replied awkwardly. Oh great, how am I going to explain this one to these Forest cats.

 

“Ew, why?!”

 

Rusty expected that response.

 

He sat back on his haunches, trying his best to not show his annoyance with the molly. Why does she care? We only have to deal with one another for a few more hours at least.

 

“Its just something we do in our Clan.” The tabby told her, eyeing the building’s entrance. He kind of wanted to get one from the rogue as well, but Scourge had warned him to not waste the space on his collar with pointless battles and such.

 

Sandpaw sat back as well. Her expression was less disgusted and more just genuine curiosity. Rusty hadn’t expected that. It made him relax a bit too. Maybe she’s not just trying to be insensitive about my home.

 

"Why?" The tabby asked curiously, her eyes wide as she looked over the other few teeth on his collar.

 

“Well, there’s a few reasons but its to show our strength and to serve a symbol of our rank. We have them to show how many battles we’ve one, but sometimes when loved ones die, we put their teeth on our collars as well, as a way to keep them with us when they’re gone,” He explained. “It's like a way to wear a piece of our Clan on our collars.”

 

Sandpaw nodded, “I guess that makes sense. Sorry, I was just curious.”

 

“Its alright,” He replied with a smile.

 

The pale ginger molly turned to leave, but not before brushing Rusty’s flank with her tail. She smiled, “Thanks for helping me, by the way.”

 

Rusty blinked in surprise.

The two cats stayed like what was probably only a few heartbeats, but felt like an eternity. His pelt felt hot and his ears burned. Yet still, something about her made his heart flutter. This wasn’t a feeling, he wasn’t accustomed too though. Spirit and Ghost often made him feel the same way. He looked over to her, Even if she smells weird, she’s pretty. Her green eyes looked like a pool of bright green grass, on a warm sunny day, and her pale ginger fur was soft and fluffy, and as pleasant to look at as a patch of wildflowers. She wasn’t at all strong or rugged like Ghost was, but he still found himself feeling the same way. Something about the softness of her pale fur made his heart warm, but he shoved the feeling aside and decided to check in on his Clanmates. I couldn’t ever be with her! She’s a Forest cat! And we just met anyway- I have to stop getting all weird around every attractive cat I meet.

 

“Yeah, no probably-” Rusty meowed, deciding to cut the reply short as his mouth sputtered the complete wrong word.

 

Oh fox-dung. I meet a cute molly and completely lose my tongue. Why am I just the worst. Hot embarrassment flooded his pelt as she laughed, and Rusty thought it would be best to take his leave.

The ginger tom rose to his paws and quickly departed, leaving a giggling Sandpaw in the dust. He scampered over to see how Strawberry and the others wanted to go about the fulfilling their promise to the Forest Cats.

The other trainees were milling around, checking the corners of the building to make sure the battle was indeed over. Strawberry and Frost were talking with their pelts pressed closely together. Frost was rasping her tongue over a cut on Strawberry’s cheek, but both cats stopped and awkwardly shuffled away from one another as Rusty trotted up to them.

“Oh hey Rusty,” The lanky tortoiseshell stammered. “How’d it go for you?

 

Rusty shrugged, ignoring the obvious situation between the two mollies, “It went alright. Short and brutal.”

 

“You can say that again,” Frost sighed.

 

“What about you guys?” He asked, desperate to get his mind off the last hour or so. Sandpaw, a battle…. I need a break.

 

“It was alright for us too, I suppose,” Frost meowed, “Ash and Primrose took out Leopard pretty quick. That just made the other cats mad.”

 

“I thought she would’ve been a tough cat to beat,” Rusty thought. He’d been under the impression that they’d had to struggle at least a bit.

 

Frost shook her head, “No, not when over half her forces were taken out. Besides, she was caught completely off guard, and mostly alone.”

 

“That’s fair,” Rusty sighed. “What are we going to do to find that Forest cat’s dad?”

 

Frost sighed, “It’s like finding a mouse bone in the Crow Food place but Sandpaw said she has an idea as to where he went.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“She said that her father would have gone straight, and she heard some cats saying he was heading towards the highway. They said he was told to meet someone there, and they knew about the traitor in his Clan,” Strawberry cut in, her hazel eyes darkening. “Or something like that, she didn’t really go into detail, but it seemed like a cool story. Not so cool if it was actually your family though. I’m glad we don’t have issues like that in BloodClan.”

 

Rusty narrowed his eyes. Traitors in the Clan? Why do Forest cats have issues like that. He thought back to Boulder. No wonder he left. He belonged in the Forest.

 

“Sandpaw!” Frost yowled. The pale ginger molly warily pricked her ears and padded over to see what the BloodClan molly wanted. Dustpaw followed close behind, his tail low with unease. The others began to come over as well. Primrose and Ash stayed behind next to Leopard’s body for a moment longer, probably thinking about how to prove to Scourge that they successfully killed her.

 

“Yes?” Sandpaw asked slowly, sitting down across from the group of BloodClan cats. Longtail and Dusk sat beside her, as well as Ravenpaw and Dustpaw. Rusty noticed how much more shook up Ravenpaw was, at least compared to the others. His dark fur stood on end and his wide blue eyes were fixated on his paws. One by one, they stood up and began to gather around Rusty and the two mollies.

 

“Where do we start looking for your father?” The snow colored molly asked.

 

Sandpaw’s green eyes brightened, as if she was surprised that the city cats kept their end of the deal, “Well, the cat’s we talked to at the border said that he was told to go straight towards the huge Thunderpath that runs through the middle of the city.”

 

“The highway?” Dusk asked quietly.

 

The Forest cats looked confused. Longtail was the first to speak, “What’s a highway?”

“It’s what we call the huge, uh, ‘Thunderpath that runs through the city’” They teased with a dramatic eye roll.

 

“Well, how do we get there?” Longtail asked, curiously turning to Frost and Strawberry. Frost opened her jaws to respond but Dustpaw cut her off. The brown tabby tom’s eyes were narrowed and he looked almost angry as he strode forward, glaring at Rusty.

 

“Wait, these cats have some explaining to do before we go anywhere with them,” Dustpaw snapped, stepping between Sandpaw and Rusty. He glared accusingly at the BloodClan cats.

 

Rusty’s ears flattened at being put on the spot. What did I do this time?

 

“What’s BloodClan? And what did these cats do that what so bad they needed to be murdered?” The Forest tom hissed, “How do we know you won’t tear us apart, just like you did them?”

 

“I’d like to know that too,” Ravenpaw murmured, shrinking back behind his brother.

 

The BloodClan cats looked a bit baffled as to why that was even a question, but Rusty took it upon himself to answer. He remembered Dustpaw’s shock at the situation with the rogue guard and Sandpaw’s confusion about the teeth.   It is my fault for bringing it up anyway.

 

“Well,” Rusty mewed, curling his tail around his paws,. “BloodClan is the name of the group we’re all apart of.”

 

“If you’re a Clan why do you kill cats?” Dustpaw added, “None of the Forest Clans kill others like this- it’s against our code.”

 

Rusty rolled his eyes. Great, more about the warrior code. I’d almost think they worship it over there.

 

“We don’t follow a code. A Clan is just a group of cats. Like a clowder or a gang, like this one,” He told the brown tabby, gesturing to the empty space, which was once home to so many cats. “We call ourselves BloodClan because our bond extends beyond blood. And these cats would have killed us if we hadn’t killed them first. They attacked our camp and tried to hurt us, so we’re only paying them back. Is that a good enough answer?”

 

“I guess.” Dustpaw muttered. “I still don’t like it.”

 

“Then don’t be apart of it.” Rusty meowed, doing his best to keep his tone friendly, or at least neutral. I like Dustpaw, he’s not too bad, and I don’t want to make him mad at me.

 

It took a moment but Dustpaw dipped his head. It seemed like an sign he respectfully accepted the differences between their Clans. The tension between the groups dissipated almost instantly.

 

Frost rose to her paws and flicked her ear, “If you two are done, let’s get a move on.”

 

Without any further words, the snow colored cat lead them out of the alley. Rusty padded along beside her and Spirit, as they streamed through the quiet city streets, single file. The air was brisk and the sky was a pleasant, light pink mixed with hues of blue- promising an equally agreeable day. I just hope its a good sign in regards to Sandpaw’s father. He didn’t want to get close to the pale ginger molly- due to her being a part of an entirely different world, but he still didn’t want to see a family get hurt like that. Not even if they were the worst of cats. He could tell everyone silently agreed, as they walked along, ears pricked and tails waving with anticipation. There wasn’t a star in the sky, but Rusty looked up, and silently whispered to himself.

 

If there’s any dead cats up there, you better bring her father home unharmed.

 

Prayers never get answered, though.

 

Chapter Text

By the time the sun was above them, all the buildings and landmarks looked the exact same. Its warmth hardly chased the chill from Rusty's pelt.

 

He really didn’t know where they were, or even where they were going. He’d never ventured this far into the city and actually had to find his way back. Sure there were training exercises with Ruth, where she’d lead him somewhere and he’d have to find is way back on his own, but there was never anything quite like this.

 

Thankfully, Frost knew where they were headed.

 

The white molly and Dusk had taken up the lead, with Sandpaw at their side. Dusk scouted out ahead and Frost directed them, all while Sandpaw kept her ears and eyes peeled, desperately searching for any sign of her father. Everyone else lagged behind, a drawn out trail that wove its way through the back alleys of the city, sparse and scattered. Longtail padded along a few tail lengths ahead of them, occasionally asking Dusk and Frost questions, while Strawberry, Rusty, Ravenpaw and Dustpaw made up the middle of the patrol. Strawberry chatted with the two Forest toms while Rusty kept to himself, not quite sure if Dustpaw had forgiven him for killing the rogue. Spirit and Orchid kept to themselves, at the back. It was obvious that they were the least interested in finding the Forest cat's father. Anyone could tell Orchid was missing the rest of her Clanmates- especially Otter. Ash and Primrose stayed beside them, looking bored out of their minds. Rusty couldn't blame them. Had the Forest cats not come along, they'd be safely at home and welcomed as full warriors of BloodClan. The BloodClan cats had a promise though and they didn’t intend on breaking it. Rusty and Frost didn’t at least, Spirit didn’t seem too on board still, despite whatever reasoning was thrown his way.

 

He had no idea how on earth they were going to find one cat out of all the ones in the city. Practically every kittypet and rogue they came across ran away the minute they approached. But Frost insisted she knew where they Highway was, and that if Sandpaw’s father made it there, finding him would be easy.

 

But what if he didn’t make it to the Highway?

 

Rusty kept the thought to himself. There was far too much space between the Highway and the Forest’s edge, in which he could have gotten lost, hurt or even killed. There were plenty of dogs, roads to cross and Humans who wouldn’t think twice about hurting a poor, lonely Forest cat. Maybe he got trapped and kept as a kittypet or he got hit by a car or something. I couldn’t ever tell Sandpaw that though…

 

We just have to hope for the best. Rusty told himself. But sometimes the best wasn’t what happened, he thought with a frown. I just hope he’s okay. I’d hate for Sandpaw to have to go through something like that. He sighed, looking towards the pale ginger molly. Not even Forest cats should lose  their families.

 

I wonder what Forest cats think of family. No one in the city really cares, but its still nice to know I have some out there. Scourge seems to think so too. Ravenpaw and Dustpaw said they were brothers but-

 

Suddenly, a shove to his shoulder and a loud meow snapped Rusty out of his train of thought. The ginger tabby jumped and looked over to Strawberry, who was looking on with sparkling green eyes.

 

“Oh don’t worry, he just does that sometimes,” The tortoiseshell purred in amusement. She’d been talking to Dustpaw and Ravenpaw, who were looking towards him with wide, interested eyes. Ravenpaw’s tail waved and he offered a weak smile. What are they mocking me about now? He flattened his ears in embarrassment. Hopefully they didn’t ask a question.

 

“What do I do?” Rusty snapped.

 

“You just space off sometimes, that’s all,” Strawberry said, good naturedly. “Ravenpaw was just asking if we get into fights like that a lot.”

 

Rusty looked over towards the little black tom. He frowned.

 

“I was just wondering,” Ravenpaw meowed quietly, “You all seem very comfortable around death, and you guys have a lot of scars…”

 

The ginger tom smiled, deciding to pick up on the conversation and join in a bit, “We do get into fights quite often but not really any as bad as that one.”

 

Strawberry snorted in disagreement, “There’s been a few that are worse, but we usually win.”

 

“Really?!” Ravenpaw gasped, “I can’t imagine. How many fights have you been in? I’ve only been in one fight before.”

 

“I’ve been in four,” Strawberry meowed proudly, puffing out her chest.

 

Rusty answered, his pelt prickling with anxiety at the question, “I’ve only been in two. But we spend a lot of time play fighting and training for fun.”

 

“I would’ve thought you were in more,” The little Forest cat mused, his white tail tip twitching.

 

“Why’s that?” Rusty asked, a bit confused. Why would I be in anymore than Strawberry?

 

Ravenpaw shrugged, “You just have more scars than anyone else on the patrol.”

 

Oh.

 

Rusty had almost forgotten about the scars across his pelt. They were obvious, yes, more so than the tiny nick on Strawberry’s ear. But to him, they were just apart of him and his appearance, and had faded into the background. The story behind them never really faded though- Rusty just tried to keep it out of his mind. He and Scourge talked about it sometimes, and occasionally one of the younger cats would ask him about it. Of course, he’d glorify it to make him sound like the winner but the real outcome of the whole situation sent shivers down his spine. If that  molly hadn’t been there to protect me, I probably would have died.

 

Seeing Rusty’s reaction, Ravenpaw continued, his ears flattening with discomfort, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s not a bad thing; scars are cool-"

 

“It’s fine, I just didn’t get them from a fight in the city, that’s all,” The ginger tom meowed, silently begging to cut the conversation short. On one paw he wanted to talk about it, yet on the other he did not. Tigerclaw’s glowing amber eyes flashed through his mind. Rusty flexed his claws, and curled up his lip at the memory. He shivered as he thought about the tom’s long claws, and the fact that he had no qualms with attacking a kittypet kitten. I’m glad these Forest cats are nothing like him.

 

“Then where did you get them from?” Ravenpaw asked, then quickly added, “If you don’t mind me asking.”

 

Ravenpaw’s nice, I don’t mind. Rusty decided. I just have to make sure they know I’m not holding a grudge against all of them.

 

Strawberry gave him a look that read You don’t have to tell them if you don’t want to though. Rusty did want to though. He’d gotten past it, and now, with a reinvented mental version of the Forest cats in his head, he didn’t really mind telling it.

 

“I used to live over by the Forest,” The ginger cat meowed slowly, “And I got into a fight with a Forest cat.”

 

Ravenpaw’s eyes grew wide. Dustpaw, who had remained a quiet onlooker up until this point, quickly cut in. Both toms spoke at the same time, their tails beginning to bristle- for completely separate reasons.

 

“Oh my gosh, I’m sorry-” The little black cat gasped apologetically.

 

“Were they ThunderClan?” Dustpaw asked worriedly. His yellow eyes were narrow and puzzled, as if he couldn't quite make sense of this revelation.

 

“I don't keep track of all your Forest Clans, ” The ginger tabby meowed dismissively, "But his name was Tigerclaw, if you'd really like to know."

 

“Tigerclaw!" Ravenpaw whimpered. He turned to his brother, tail curling around his paws, "I told you he was bad news!"

 

What's he so afraid of? That's his clanmate! Rusty thought. If everyone's so afraid of Tigerclaw why even keep the old brute around? Stupid Forest cats..

 

“What happened exactly?” Dustpaw asked, turning to Rusty. He ignored his brother's remark.

 

"He doesn't have to tell you if he doesn't want to," Strawberry suddenly snapped. Her ears lay back and she glared at the Forest toms in defense of her friend.

 

Rusty laid his tail on her flank, "Its okay, I don't mind telling them."

 

Maybe it'll help them understand how cats outside their Clans see them. It'd been so many moons since the attack, the weight of it hardly weighed on Rusty's shoulders anymore. Besides, it's a good story.

 

Strawberry huffed, but remained quiet, stepping off the rest of the toms and resolving to listen on as well.

 

"Well, I used to live at the edge of the Forest and one day I went inside to hunt. I ran into this cat, Greypaw, and he told me about the Forest cats," Rusty started. The rest of the cats looked on with pricked ears.

 

"Then Tigerclaw and two other cats showed up. Tigerclaw wouldn't let me go without a fight and got really angry. He would've killed me if it wasn't for one of the other cats in the patrol. She pulled him off and gave me a chance to run. Even then, I barely made it back to my house," The ginger tom told them.

 

Dustpaw sighed, and pressed his tail to Rusty's shoulder. The ginger tom flinched away, gritting his teeth. He didn't need their sympathy and he didn't blame them anyway. These were not the same cats.

 

"I'm sorry you had that experience, Rusty," The Forest tom murmured, "I can promise you we're not all like that."

 

"I know," Rusty replied, giving the tabby a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, I know that you aren’t the same as him.”

 

“Good,” Dustpaw purred, content with the answer. He took a step back, giving his chest fur a couple licks.

 

Ravenpaw spoke up, his blue eyes wide, “The cat who saved you? What did she look like?”

 

Rusty remembered her well, and thought back fondly to the memory. What a brave warrior, to turn against her own Clanmate to save me. I do wish I got the chance to thank her then and there, but… He brushed off the regret, and answered them, “She was grey and white, with blue eyes.”

 

I wonder if they know her, and what she did for me. If they do, I’d like them to let her know she saved my life.

 

“Mosswhisker?” Ravenpaw asked Dustpaw, “Or maybe Willowpelt?”

 

Dustpaw meowed, “Definitely Mosswhisker. She’s Graypaw’s mentor, so it’d only make sense.”

 

Mosswhisker. Rusty smiled, glad to have finally put a name to the cat who saved him.

 

“True, besides she hates Tigerclaw,” The smaller cat mewed. Rusty frowned. More cats who hate Tigerclaw?!

 

Strawberry seemed to read Rusty’s mind as she jumped back into the conversation “Why does Tigerclaw stay in ThunderClan if everyone hates him?”

 

“Indeed,” the orange cat murmured his agreement, tail flicking in Ravenpaw's direction, “You especially seem afraid of him.”

 

The little black cat's ears lay back and he shuffled his paws. He met no one's eyes and his own became unfocused, as if he was seeing something none of the other cat's could. His flank rose and fell quickly and his fur stood on end. Dustpaw gave him an exhausted look, as if this happened quite often.

 

"Are you okay?" Strawberry began. Rusty's brow furrowed in worry but held his tongue, as not to further upset the little cat.

 

Ravenpaw swallowed then gave a swift nod, "Y-Yeah just. Just Tigerclaw…"

 

"Ravenpaw thinks Tigerclaw murdered our Clan's deputy- Sandpaw's other father," Dustpaw informed them boldly. "Its false. Nothing more than his anxiety. Tigerclaw is one of us as well as ThunderClan's most respected warrior; we have no need to fear our own kin."

 

Rusty said nothing. It sounded more like he was trying to convince himself, instead of the BloodClan cats. Ravenpaw just lowered his head. Dustpaw gave a disbelieving scoff and the group fell silent. Even if Ravenpaw does have anxiety…. Maybe his claims aren't completely unfounded. Rusty had only met Tigerclaw once but if the great tabby cat had no qualms attacking a kitten, maybe him killing one of his own clanmates wouldn't be so far fetched. Maybe I'll talk to him about it later, when Sandpaw and Dustpaw aren't around. It’s like a mystery- one that should be solved quickly, before more cats get hurt. Despite not caring much about the Forest cats, he felt like there was something more there, and that whatever Tigerclaw did, it was hurting these cats. That and it interested him, and the prospect of solving such a mystery added some spice to his life.   He didn't mind either cat but if Dustpaw got that defensive over his Clanmate's death, who knows how Sandpaw would respond to Ravenpaw's accusation, especially when it involved her deceased father.

I can't blame her for being so on edge though . She's a nice cat, she's just lost a lot recently. It gave him more resolve to help find her father.

 

"How far away is this… highway?" Dustpaw suddenly asked.

 

Strawberry, who'd been inching towards the front of the group, answered the Forest tom. "It's just a few streets away and up a hill. Frost says its very dangerous and we'll have to be careful when looking for Runningwind."

 

"It's nothing we can't handle," The black tabby boasted, with a lash of his tail.

 

Strawberry twitched her whiskers, "Even the strongest of warriors is no match against a car, nevermind a whole swarm of them ."

 

"A car?" Ravenpaw squeaked, "What's a car?"

 

"They're the things Humans use to get around the city because they're too lazy to walk. They're colorful and have black paws and then run around on the roads," The tortoiseshell continued, "They usually stay on the roads but even so, they don't care if they squish a cat who happened to be in the way."

 

The little black cat blinked, "We call those Monsters in the Forest."

 

"Why?" Strawberry asked with a tilt of her head. “Surely there’s other Monsters out there in the Forest.”

 

That's a dumb name for them, Rusty thought.

 

"Oh I’ve heard stories of some. But I don't know, that's just what we’ve always called them." He shrugged. "Besides, we don't see them quite as often as you all do, so maybe they're a bit scarier to us."

 

"Understandable," Strawberry mewed, "However they're quite interesting to watch. Humans control them from the inside and I've even seen them tearing them to shreds for no reason!...."

 

Ravenpaw and Dustpaw listened on with wide eyes as Strawberry told them all she'd seen and heard about cars. Rusty ended up tuning out after a few heartbeats, as something different caught his eye.

 

Sandpaw had fallen back a bit, trodding along by herself and mindlessly following Frost and Dusk. Longtail was talking to the two siblings and everyone seemed to have forgotten about her- why they were in the city at all. Rusty felt bad. She was such a nice cat. She looks so… sad.

 

He stole a glance back at Ravenpaw and the others, silently promising to hear the little black cats side of the Tigerclaw situation, before quickening his pace until he was side by side with Sandpaw.

It took a few moments for Sandpaw to realize he was there, her brow was furrowed in thought and her ears were tilted back.

 

Does she even realize I’m here?

 

The ginger tom reached out with a paw and gently tapped her on the shoulder. Her fur was soft beneath his paw pads but he had little time to dwell on it, as she jumped back a pace in surprise.

 

“Oh uh, hey,” The pale molly stammered, obviously caught off guard. She chuckled nervously as if caught in an obvious lie, “What’s up?”

 

“Are you doing okay?” Rusty asked quietly, “You just looked so sad, I wanted to check if you were alright…”

 

Her green eyes darkened and her shoulders slumped, “I’m doing as fine as I can be. Both my fathers dying hardly a season apart and all.”

 

“Don’t say that, we don’t know that your father’s dead,” The BloodClan tom told her, trying to soften his tone and comfort her as best as he could.

 

Sandpaw just sighed, “He might as well be. Who knows where he ended up, or if he’s alive. It’s been a quarter moon after all…”

 

“Frost and the rest of us know this city like the back of our paws. I promise we’ll find him,” Rusty said firmly. I just hope that’s a promise I can keep.

 

Sandpaw gave him a weak smile, her green eyes dull, “Thank you. I appreciate you all taking the time to do this… even after what my Clanmate did to you.”

 

“Oh,” Rusty blinked in surprise,“How’d you know about that?”

 

“I just overheard it when you told Ravenpaw and Dustpaw,” The molly replied with a shrug, “And Ravenpaw’s onto something I’m sure.”

 

Rusty tilted his head, “What do you mean?”

 

“The cat who supposedly killed my father was killed by falling rocks, not by Tigerclaw,” She told him with a flick of her tail. “It was announced at a Gathering. Dustpaw’s just protective of those he loves. He doesn’t want to admit Tigerclaw might not be all he’s chalked up to be, and my dad was his mentor. He wants my dad’s memory to be a blessing from StarClan, not for him to be the victim of murder. I get it but I also I think there’s something fishy going on. Ravenpaw wouldn’t make such great accusations without some sort of basis.”

 

“Do you think Tigerclaw killed your father then?” Rusty asked slowly, praying he wouldn’t upset her. Sandpaw’s muzzle twisted into an unreadable expression. She responded coldly,

 

“All I’m saying is Ravenpaw knows what he saw.”

 

They walked in silence for a moment. Rusty focused on the ground beneath his paws, and the way Dusk’s ears perked up at whatever Longtail was telling them about. He focused back to listen to Strawberry telling Dustpaw to get over his aching paw pads. A purr of amusement rumbled in his throat as he could hear Strawberry make a joke about how cracked paw pads should be the least of his worries. Rusty’s heart ached as he imagined what Sandpaw must be going through. He couldn’t really put himself in her pelt though, as his whole family was alive and well, as far as he knew.

 

We have to find him.

 

“How about we stop to get some food?” He heard Strawberry meow loudly from behind him.

 

Frost tilted her ears back at the molly’s request, waving her tail to halt the patrol. Gradually everyone who was lagging behind, caught up and gathered around into a scattered circle. Rusty padded up to Dusk and Longtail, seeing how the two of them were getting along. Longtail gave him a dubious glare and wiped his paw across his ear dramatically. Dusk rolled their eyes playfully and gave him a shove.

 

“We should get food before we continue. The highway isn’t far from here, so keep your eyes peeled for Runningwind,” Frost instructed them. “Let’s split up into groups of four to cover more ground.We can meet up at the highway when we’re done, since its all open ground up there.”

 

“I’ll go with Sandpaw and Ravenpaw,” Rusty volunteered, anxious for a chance to talk to the little black cat. Sandpaw was nice too, and he felt like there was a lot more to her than met the eye.

 

“I’ll go with Rusty!” Dusk exclaimed, their tail waving.

 

“Would you like to come hunting with me and Frost?” Strawberry offered Dustpaw. The black tabby meowed something quietly. Longtail quickly trotted over to join them, rather then go with the incredibly grumpy Ash, Spirit and Primrose trio.

 

“Let’s go then,” Dusk meowed, gesturing to the two Forest cats and Rusty. They quickly started off out of the alleyway. Ravenpaw cast a glance over his shoulder, back at his brother before trotting after her.

 

Soon, the other groups were far out of sight, as Dusk lead them between the maze of buildings and alleys. Rusty noticed that if he strained his ears he could pick up the distant roar of the highway- a sound he’d only heard a few times before. The highway was an unofficial boundary to BloodClan cats. Anything east of it wasn’t worth the risk that came with crossing it. Sure, there were ways around it and under it, but Scourge made sure everyone knew that the cats and food on the other side were not BloodClan’s problem. Even in the harshest of Winters, they had all they needed on their own side of it.

 

“So where are we going to hunt?” Sandpaw asked, “I could go for a vole right about now.”

 

Rusty twitched his whiskers in amusement. Dusk did as well, as she stopped to sniff the air. Sandpaw frowned, looking between both of them.

 

“What?” She asked.

 

“It’s just… we don’t really eat live prey here,” The ginger tabby told her. She only looked more baffled.

 

“What do you eat then?” Ravenpaw asked, pricking his ears.

 

“Whatever we can find,” Dusk told him with a swish of her tail. “But oftentimes things like mice and rats are poisoned so it's almost better to eat whatever the Humans leave behind.”

 

“Poisoned?!” Sandpaw exclaimed, “Who poisons them?”

 

“Humans do, because they don’t like them and they’re too fast for them to catch,” Dusk said, “That’s what Frost told me at least.”

 

Rusty’s stomach growled as he finally caught whatever Dusk was tracking. It smelled like the long cylinders Humans cooked in little dens by the side of the Road. They hardly ever  gave any to the cats when it was fresh, but this smelled older, and was probably left behind. Hopefully it won’t be a hassle to get to…

 

“Frost’s really smart,” Ravenpaw meowed, “Strawberry too.”

 

Rusty thought back to their little conversation on the way to visit Smudge. I hope Frost likes Strawberry too. They’re perfect for each other. His chest hollowed out for a moment, as he realized there weren’t really any cats in BloodClan he felt anything towards. Except maybe Ghost. Spirit’s become too stuck up recently for me to get along with. Spirit was smart too, but tended to be very opinionated and didn’t like taking no for an answer. While he was nice, sometimes he was insufferable and Rusty could tell he couldn’t get along with the russet tom as anything more than friends.  Ghost on the other paw, was easy to talk to and hold a conversation with. He was funny and strong in his opinions, but not in an obnoxious way like Spirit was. He kept to himself and Rusty was grateful the white tom let him into his little circle.

 

Maybe I do like Ghost more than I care to admit. But does he even care about me as a friend? Sure he talks to me but…

 

Then what about Sandpaw? She’s pretty and nice and from what I’ve seen of her, she’s like my ideal mate. Then again, I haven’t known her for long, and she’s a Forest cat! Even if she’s cool who knows what her supposed Clanmates would do if they found us together… She probably wouldn’t be interested anyway.

 

Rusty shook his head. I need to stop worrying about who I like. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.

 

He followed Dusk as they rounded a corner, leading the little group into a rather enclosed alleyway. Tall, brick buildings towered above them and a tattered chain link fence backed one side of the alley. A deserted street lay on the other side of the fence, and beyond it, a scattering of buildings. The roar of the highway was louder here, yet still distant.

 

Rusty sprung up onto one of the dumpsters, landing easily atop of the plastic. He sunk his claws into steady himself as his nose lead him over the edge. The food is definitely in here.

 

He cautiously steadied himself on the edge before tentatively placing a paw down, letting his eyes adjust to the dark. The stuff in the dumpster was soft beneath his paws. That was one thing Ruth always warned him about: Humans put all sorts of things in dumpsters, and sometimes those things could hurt cats. This one seems safe though.

 

With that in mind, he hopped the rest of the way down, landing easily in the darkness. It reeked of rot and decay, but he paid it little mind. The food he’d scented was fresh and had to be in there somewhere. He sniffed one bag, on top, and found it was definitely not what he was searching for. The next one was equally as bad, but the one beside that, smelled different from the rest, and didn’t appear to be filled with junk.

 

That has to be it.

 

Rusty unsheathed his claws and began to dig, scratching at the bag, until the plastic ripped beneath his paws, exposing a smaller plastic bag with the cylinders of meat inside. He took the smaller bag in his teeth and with a hard tug, pulled it out of the bag. He then sprang up onto the dumpster’s edge once more, looking down at where Dusk and the Forest cats were waiting. Ravenpaw looked interested while Sandpaw’s face showed a mixture of disgust and impatience.

 

“Twolegs store their food in there?” Ravenpaw gasped in surprise as Rusty emerged with the plastic bag filled with food.

 

“Yeah, when they don’t want it anymore,” Dusk told him.

 

The ginger tabby bunched his muscles, landing on the ground beside the tortoiseshell cat and dropping the meat at their paws.

 

“What is it?” Sandpaw asked, giving it a tentative sniff.

 

Dusk shrugged, as they began to tear at the plastic, creating a large enough hole for them to pull one of the cylindrical bits of meat out.

 

Ravenpaw was quick to follow Dusk’s lead and cautiously sniffed the food, before hunger overcame him and he dragged a piece out with a claw. Sandpaw was still standing back a bit, and Rusty’s stomach was growling at the scent of food- even if he wasn’t quite sure what it was. Despite eating Human food so often, none of the BloodClan cats had come up with a name for all the different things they ate. It didn’t really matter to them though. Food was food.

 

“I’m not sure-” Sandpaw started as Ravenpaw pushed a bit towards her.

 

“It’s good, I promise,” The black cat assured her, through a mouthful. Sandpaw looked down at the piece of meat with narrowed, suspicious eyes. She hesitantly tapped it with a paw, earning a snort of amusement from Dusk.

 

Rusty and Dusk had already finished their share and watched on as the Forest cats slowly ate as well. As they sat in awkward silence, Rusty decided maybe now was a good time to ask about Tigerclaw. There was something about the mystery that intrigued him.

 

“So Ravenpaw, why do you think Tigerclaw murdered Sandpaw’s father?” The tom asked cautiously. Ravenpaw’s ears flattened as he was put on the spot.

 

The little black tom’s eyes widened and he stared at his paws, trembling a bit, a bit thrown off by such a direct question. Sandpaw rested her tail on his back, a gesture that here was a safe place to talk, that she knew something was off with her father's passing.

 

“I saw heard him do it, that’s why…” Ravenpaw stammered, looking to Sandpaw. The ginger molly looked angry, but not at her raven colored Clanmate.

 

“What happened?” She meowed, her voice cracking, “Was… was it quick?”

 

Ravenpaw stopped, then shook his head as if dispelling some dark memory, “Yes, it was. Me, your dad and Tigerclaw went on patrol that morning, and remarked Sunningrocks. Oakheart and a few other RiverClan warriors showed up and told us Sunningrocks belonged to them. I got in a fight with a warrior, while Oakheart and him fought, I ran to get help, but then I heard someone following me so I hide. That’s when I heard it. Oakheart yowled his victory, there was a great clatter and then… Tigerclaw said something about how he would make a great deputy, and I heard him ask what he was doing. Then he screamed, and I-I ran.”

 

Sandpaw’s face was twisted with rage, “Tigerclaw will pay for what he’s done.”

 

“They’ll never listen to an apprentice, especially me,” Ravenpaw sighed.

 

“Then we’ll make them listen,” The ginger molly hissed.

 

“So do you think Tigerclaw killed him?” Rusty asked, “I mean it makes sense but how would you know for sure? Maybe another enemy got him.”

 

“They’d all left. There were five of them and three of us,” The little tom looked him in the eyes, “We lost quickly, but they left just as fast as they arrived,”

 

“Why?” The ginger tom mewed, “They won?”

 

Ravenpaw told him pointedly, “Oakheart, their deputy- next in line to be leader- died. They had to scram.”

 

“So there’s no other option,” Sandpaw growled, “Tigerclaw killed my father.”

 

“I suppose so…” Rusty started, “What are you going to do?”

 

The ginger molly rose to her paws, shaking her pelt with new vigor, “I’ll speak to our leader. He may be a respected warrior but surely RiverClan saw something of this. Besides, many of our Clanmates are suspicious of him as it is.”

 

“That’s a good…” The ginger tabby started to respond, but trailed off midway through his sentence as a new scent caught his nose; one he hadn’t smelled in quite a while. Dusk stopped their pacing and scented the air as well. Both BloodClan cats’ hackles rose. The smells of the city were jumbled together, a tangy mixture of gasoline and decay. The stale scents of passing rogues, Cars, crowfood and Humans clung to the alley already, but something new, something close was blowing their way. Dull, aching, like a sprained paw, the wind howling through the alley brought it along as well. A deep, paralyzing fear coursed through Rusty’s veins. He could almost smell the scents of bloodied, large teeth on the wind as well.

 

“Is that a fox?” Ravenpaw whispered.

 

“No…” Dusk murmured, before quickly turning to their friends, pupils blown with fear. “Come on, we have to get up high.”

 

“What is it? Can’t we fight it?” Sandpaw asked, her tail tucking between her legs.

 

“It’s a dog,” The pale tortoiseshell mewed.

 

Get up high.

 

Ruth's warnings rung in his head.  Rusty's paws wanted to stay still. He knew if they stayed out in the open, they'd likely die. Some cats in BloodClan, like Scourge and Ice, had fought dogs and won, but many others didn’t live to tell such tales. Rusty wasn’t about to join the cats who went missing and ended up as dog food, at least not today.

 

We need a plan. Head spinning, Rusty looked to the dumpster. No, if its a big dog it could get up on there and then we’d all become crowfood.

 

“The fence, we have to try to outrun it,” Rusty meowed, ears flattening as he heard barking, getting louder and louder.

 

Dusk nodded quickly, scurrying over the fence and easily slipping under the tattered silver wires, through a hole the dog could definitely follow them through.

 

“It’ll catch us,” Ravenpaw whimpered, “I’ve never seen a dog, but it sounds terrifying.”

 

“We have to trust them,” Sandpaw told him, crouching down and following Dusk through the torn chain link fence. “They know what they’re doing.”

 

We really don’t.

 

Rusty wasn’t about to tell them that.

 

The ginger tom stood, limbs stiff and flame colored pelt on end as the scent of dog washed over his senses. Green eyes locked on the entrance to the alley, and claws unsheathed, He stood guard while the fluffy Sandpaw and Ravenpaw scrambled under the fence. He quickly backed up a pace, as the barks got louder, deafeningly so.

 

“Come on Rusty!” Dusk urged him, once Ravenpaw and Sandpaw were safely on the other side. The tabby wasted no time pressing himself to the ground and quickly pulling himself through the hole. The buildings on the other side were spread out, and he found there was only a single fence between them and a grass slope in the distance. The roar of the highway was louder than ever here.

 

That hill must be it.

 

“That hill is the highway,” Dusk told them all, “We stay together and whatever happens, we go to the highway-”

 

“Run!” Ravenpaw suddenly shrieked. The rest of the cats whirled to find it had found them.

 

There was a bark, louder than the rest, and it was there. Golden pelt bristling and brown eyes locked on the young cats. It bared its teeth and lashed its tail, howling like mad as it began to nose around the hole in the chain link. It growled darkly, and it’s long, sharp teeth caught the sunlight. They looked much scarier in the mouth of the beast, compared to Scourge’s collar.

 

Icy fear flooded Rusty’s veins as he made eye contact with it, hackles standing on end as it began to snarl and bark louder, paws scrabbling at the concrete earth as it stuck its snout beneath the chain link.

 

It can absolutely make it through that hole.

 

The realization made Rusty’s heart stop.

 

Every muscle in Rusty’s body screamed, Run!

 

The cats wasted no time turning tail, and racing towards the grassy slope in the distance, not even bothering to look if the dog was actually following them. Rusty could tell it was though. It’s barked were muffled by the blood pounding in his ears, as long claws scraped the sidewalk and paw pads pounded on concrete. His lungs burned and his muscles ached as the cats flew past buildings and passing Humans, dodging trash and the other clutter in the following alleys. They crossed a street, but no one paused to look for any passing Cars. There was not enough time. There wasn’t even enough time to think.

 

Rusty felt hot breath on his heels, but kept his focus on the hill, wind whipping through his fur. He never dared look back, fearing he’d come face to face with the creature’s sharp teeth. As much as he’d like to think about how nice one of them would look in his collar, he didn’t dare try to face it. His claws were far too dull for that.

 

Soon, they were in the shadow of another building, and the fence separating them from the highway was upon them. It hardly registered when Rusty felt himself bunching his muscles, and springing up on it, alongside Sandpaw and Ravenpaw. He felt the coldness of the metal beneath his paws, and steadied himself for a moment, not even daring to breath before preparing to take off again. They were not safe yet.

 

Then there was a screech.

 

Sandpaw wasn’t next to him.

 

Rusty almost kept running, out of pure instinct but upon realizing the Forest molly had fallen behind, turned back. Ravenpaw did as well, just in time to see Sandpaw’s hind paws slip out from under her and her lithe ginger body began to slip off the fence. It seemed to happen in slow motion, and before Rusty’s instincts could tell him otherwise, he lunged forward and grabbed her scruff. Mouse brained Forest Cats! The dog glared up at him as he pulled the Forest molly out of it’s snapping jaws.

 

She’s lighter than I thought, Rusty found himself thinking. Her silky fur smelled like pine, but not in an unpleasant way. He could smell the wind in her fur and the freshness of a breeze beside a stream. It made him remember the dreams that haunted his youth. She smelled like something else too, in some ways like the dream about the ghostly tortoiseshell.

 

Before he could dwell on Sandpaw any longer, the molly’s claws scratched against the chain link, and she lurched forward, landing clumsily beside Dusk on the concrete. Rusty followed, hitting the ground with a thump . His paw twisted awkwardly beneath his and sharp pain shot up his leg. Lungs gasping for breath, the ginger tom pushed himself onway, as Ravenpaw darted past him, sprinting towards the hill. None of the others paused, as they heard the dog ramming against the chain link, trying its hardest to break through and get them. Rusty hissed in pain as he raced along, injured paw hitting the ground and sending stinging aches up through his bones.

 

We’re not safe yet.

 

The phrase ran through Rusty’s head until his ears were overwhelmed with the scent of gasoline and he felt cool grass beneath his paws. Only then did he slow to a trot, and sit back on his haunches, his chest heaving and aching as he gasped for air. That sprint had taken a lot of out him, and looking around his friends seem to be feeling the same way

The dog’s barks still rung in their ears as the gathered on the grassy hill, Dusk was worriedly licking their chest fur, while Ravenpaw was sitting back a few paces further up the hill, and Sandpaw was sniff around the grass towards the top of the hill.

 

They had seated themselves on the slope leading up to the highway. Tall, cement barriers seperated them from the highway itself, but harsh, cold gusts of air buffeted the young cats, as they came over the walls nd the thunderous roar of racing Cars sounded all around them. The slope itself was made of prickly grass and stretched far into the distance, where it eventually curved and disappeared back into the jungle of buildings.

From here, Rusty could see the hazy skyline, and beyond it, he could imagine the buildings thinning out and giving way to the trees Sandpaw and Ravenpaw called home. However, no matter how much he squinted, he couldn’t see any trees.

 

That’s just how deep we are in the city. Rusty realized, I’m glad our camp isn’t this far in… it seems chaotic.

 

“We made it!” He heard Dusk gasp. The pale tortoiseshell was up on their paws, looking around. Ravenpaw was laying on his side, a few paces further up, blue eyes wide after the ordeal.

 

“What was that?!” The little black tom whimpered, “It was huge!”

 

Rusty padded over to him, sitting down on the short grass. With a twitch of his whiskers, he asked, “Don’t you have dogs in the Forest?”

Ravenpaw shook his head, “When we do, the Twolegs keep them tied up. They’ve never chased us before.”

 

“It’s only happened to me once or twice,” Rusty admitted.

 

“Well, at least you know how to handle it,” The little black cat murmured, “I… I wouldn’t have been able to think that fast.”

 

“Sure you can!” Rusty gave him a friendly push with a paw. The Forest cat blinked up at him, “It's all instincts…”

 

He was going to add something else, before he trailed off, his eyes catching something a bit more worrisome than Ravenpaw’s opinion on his running abilities.

 

Sandpaw had wandered away, and was sniffing at a torn down bit of fence, which ran perpendicular to the highway. She was sniffing it intently, her tail tip flicking with interest.

 

Has she found something?

 

Rusty rose to his paws and began to make his way over to her, curious to see if somehow she’d found something of her father. I’d be surprised if she did. He could be anywhere along this highway, what are the odds that we happened to run to just the right spot?

 

“What did you find?” He called, as he approached the light ginger tabby.

 

“A scent! And some fur!” Sandpaw exclaimed.

 

Rusty came up to peer over her shoulder, finding that there was indeed a bit of brown tabby fur tangled amongst the wires in the fence, as if someone had laid down there and then gotten a chunk ripped out when they stood back up.

 

“He has to be here!” She meowed. He said nothing. There’s so many brown tabby cats in this city, that could be anyone’s fur.

But how many cats come to take a nap alongside the highway? Rusty thought. Maybe there was hope.

 

“Do you smell it too?” Her mew was practically shaking, as she asked Rusty, green eyes brighter than he’d ever seen them.

 

Without waiting for a response, the molly began to trot up the hill, following a scent, Rusty’s dull nose couldn’t quite pick up. He trailed behind, trying his best to figure out how to explain that the fur wasn’t necessarily her father’s.

 

The roar of the highway seemed to fill all of Rusty’s senses as Sandpaw cautiously hopped up onto the cement barrier. His heart almost stopped as she fearlessly leaned forward, jaws parted to pick up a scent.

 

Mouse brained Forest cat! She’s going to get herself killed!

 

Rusty gritted his teeth and jumped up to sit beside her, determined to not let her die too. Even if her parents are in SkyClan or whatever, doesn’t mean she has to join them.

 

He squinted his eyes, the wind of the rushing Cars threatening to send him flying off his perch on the cement barrier. He dug his claws in but it did nothing to  from almost getting knocked off his paws.

 

Sandpaw seemed to be having the same amount of trouble, but her squinted eyes widened and she pointed with a wavering paw.

 

“There!”

 

A horrified expression crossed the young molly's muzzle. She was looking off, further down the highway. It took Rusty a moment to figure out what exactly she was looking at, but when he did his heart dropped.

 

There, partially hidden beneath the shadow of the cement wall was the body of a cat. They were a brown toned tabby with a lean body shape, their long back legs splayed out behind them, as if they had drug themselves forward with their front paws. A trail of dried blood from the first line on the highway confirmed that this cat had been hit. Rusty couldn't tell if they were breathing. The fur on their flank did stir but only when another Car sped by. Their fur was matted and dirty beyond belief, blackened in spots and a rusted red in others. He didn't know how Sandpaw could recognize the cat, as they looked like a limp lump of fur, but she most certainly did. The terror in her voice said it all.

 

"Runningwind!"

 

Rusty almost wished they hadn't found him.

Chapter Text

"Runningwind!"

 

"Sandpaw!" 

 

Rusty yowled a warning. He was frozen, green eyes wide with horror as Sandpaw prepared to jump down onto the road, in order to rescue her likely, already dead family member. 

 

"Sandpaw wait!" Another voice yowled. The cream molly paused and looked over her shoulder, to see Strawberry and Frost racing side by side up the slope. Further down the hill was practically everyone else in the group, huddled together in the grass blanketing the hillside. They looked up at Sandpaw, eyes wide as saucers. 

The ginger molly whirled, her eyes wide as Strawberry sprung atop the wall, landing easily beside the pale tabby, and thrusting out a paw to stop her from jumping forward. 

 

“He’s right there! I have to help him!” Sandpaw told her, her voice trembling. She suddenly looked like a scared kit, crying out for her parents. 

 

Rusty couldn’t take his eyes away from the mangled corpse, which hardly resembled a cat at this point. It looked more like a flattened pile of tabby fur. He winced as another large Car rushed by, ruffling all three cat’s fur. 

 

“We have to be smart about this,” Strawberry mewed quickly, “It wouldn’t be good for anyone for you to jump out there and end up like him.”

 

“He’s alive, I can feel it in my bones,” Sandpaw snapped back, tail lashing. She settled back though, no longer about to leap into traffic. 

 

Strawberry opened her jaws to reply, Rusty met her gaze and shook his head. There’s no way he’s alive. 

 

“Sandpaw…” Strawberry started, resting her tail on the pale ginger cat’s shoulder. 

 

“We still have to get him out there,” The Forest cat mewed, “Even if I’m wrong.” 

 

Rusty stomach churned. No, we really don’t. He’s gone. 

 

“Alright,” The tortoiseshell finally said, “We can do that. But just in case he’s gone, how about you wait up here with Frost.” 

 

The white molly gave her partner an alarmed look before smiling at Sandpaw. She moved closer to Frost, ears and eyes straining to look for any sort of movement as Strawberry and Rusty dropped down onto the concrete. Small pebbles dug into his paws, and the stench of Cars, which was usually akin to a gentle background noise for BloodClan cats, was overpowering. Rusty fought the urge to wrinkle up his nose and run while and slunk along the pavement. 

 

What neither BloodClan cat noticed was there wasn’t a single trace of death scent, like they had smelled at the scene of Flair’s murder. Blood, yes, there was plenty of it, filling the air like a dark cloud. There was sickness as well, another smell Rusty knew from the wounds he’d sported just a few moons ago. But there weren’t any flies buzzing around the sickening scene, and there wasn’t any sort of scent that made the cat’s hackles raise and send them fleeing the shoulder of the road. 

 

Rusty reached him first, and while there was a few feet between the cat and where the Cars were passing, they still threatened to throw him off his paws as he leaned forward and grabbed the cats scruff. Strawberry reached him soon after and took the other side of the cat’s scruff between her teeth. They exchanged a glance and on cue, began to pull the tom away from the stream of passing Cars.  He winced as he tugged and felt the dried blood on the pavement give. Here goes nothing, the tom thought. How am I going to tell Sandpaw he’s gone. This was all for nothing. 

 

They pulled Runningwind against the cement barrier, safe from the deadly, spinning paws of the Cars. Then, the two cats sprung up atop the barrier, holding the tom. Rusty was breathing hard, struggling to keep his grip on the Forest tom. They then landing haphazardly on the prickly grass below. Once there, they took a break. The skinny cat was much heavier than he looked and Rusty’s muscles burned as if he had run all the way to camp and back. Strawberry’s ears were flattened and she looked up at Sandpaw with a frown on her muzzle. Both cats were asking themselves the same question. How do we tell her she was wrong? 

 

Luckily they wouldn’t have to. 

 

Rusty nearly jumped out of his pelt when it happened. It was considerably quieter now that they were on the other side of the Highway, and now, if he really strained, he could hear a faint heartbeat rattling deep within his ear fur. He frowned. 

 

Strawberry didn’t seem to hear it though. Her ears were angled back, towards where Ravenpaw and the others were gathered, further down the slope. 

 

“Well, what do we want to tell Sandpaw?” She murmured, looking down at the pitiful lump of fur. 

 

“Sandpaw?” A deep, raspy mew emanated from the tom’s throat. It sounded more like an autumn wind than a meow really. 

 

“Holy shit!” Strawberry exclaimed, “There’s no way…”

 

“He’s alive,” Rusty breathed. We won’t have to tell Sandpaw after all. 

 

His tortoiseshell friend was grinning with delight and the ginger molly trotted up, her ears pricked warily. Rusty realized how tired she looked, how droopy her ears were and how dull her pelt looked. Of course, he’d never seen her any other way, but he could imagine her green eyes bright and full of life. There was a glimmer of that version of her, as she approached and gave her father a sniff. 

 

“We need to get him some prey or something,” She announced, a proud smile on her muzzle, “Water as well.” 

 

“I can go try to find some live prey,” Strawberry offered with a wave of her tail. Before anyone could object, she was bounding off down the slope, with Frost haring after her. The two mollies paused at where the rest of the patrol was gathered, before themselves and Dustpaw continued off, quickly disappearing into the sea of buildings. Without Frost beside him, Rusty began to feel very awkward. He gave Runningwind a sniff, scenting nothing more than Highway and the sweet scent of an infection- a small he knew well from his own past. Both of his back legs were bent at an awkward angle, which made Rusty’s stomach flip with unease. It’d take a miracle for him to stay alive. 

 

Sandpaw made her way over to him through the grass, hesitantly approached her father, giving him a sniff before settling down next to him. She gave Rusty a grateful smile, but her pale green eyes were wild and unfocused. She must be going through a lot right now. 

The ginger molly began to rasp her tongue across Runningwind's dingy fur. Ravenpaw padded up the slope to join her and very quickly, Rusty began to feel even more out of place. He shuffled his paws awkwardly, not really sure what else he could do to help anyway.

 

“Be honest, do you think he’ll make it?” Rusty heard Sandpaw murmur to Ravenpaw as the ginger tom began to turn away from the Forest Cats. 

 

Ravenpaw’s quiet voice was difficult to hear over the constant roar of the highway, “If we can get him back to Spottedleaf, I think he will. He does already have a paw in StarClan though…”

 

StarClan, Rusty’s pelt bristled a bit. He decided to take his leave and padded back down the slope, through the prickly grass, to wear Dusk, Longtail and Orchid were sitting. Orchid sat a bit further away from the group, watching the Forest cats with a twitching tail. 

 

“Rusty!” Dusk purred as they spotted him approaching, “Come sit with us.”

 

Rusty gladly did, settling himself beside the thin tortoiseshell. He flicked an ear. 

 

“How’s he doing?” Longtail asked, eyeing Rusty with unease. 

 

“He’s alive, which is better than we were expecting,” The ginger tabby mewed, “It looks like he’s dehydrated and something’s wrong with his back legs.” 

 

The chocolate tom sighed, “I hope Strawberry and Dustpaw come back soon. They said they were going to get him some water and prey.” 

 

“We need to get him home,” Dusk meowed firmly, “He’s not going to get any better out here. You said your healer knew what to do?”

 

“Yeah, but I have no idea how to get him back to the Forest,” Longtail admitted, “It was difficult enough getting here ourselves, nevermind with a half dead adult.” 

 

“We’ll figure out a way,” The tortoiseshell assured him. He didn’t look so convinced. Rusty wasn’t sure he was either and the three cats fell into a worried silence, as Sandpaw and Ravenpaw remained the only two moving figures on the hillside. 

 

“Are you okay, Rusty?” Dusk finally asked, “You’re being really quiet.”

 

“Just tired,” The ginger tom told her. It was true. I just wish I was back home, with the rest of the Clan. Sandpaw and them needed help, but I didn’t realize how long it would take. His ears grew hot as he momentarily thought of curling up in his nest beside Ghost. It’s not just him, I miss the rest of my friends. And Scourge. 

 

“Where did Spirit and the others go?” Rusty asked after a moment, trying to get his mind off the handsome white tom back at home. 

 

Dusk lashed their tail, oblivious to Rusty’s silent embarrassment, “They left! Spirit said it was a lost cause, and that Ash and Primrose needed to get home, to become full warriors.” 

 

What’s gotten into him? Spirit had almost done a complete 180 from when Rusty first met him, and saved him from drowning. He’d become distant and snobby, and Rusty frequently found himself dreading the days they had to train together.  

 

“Cowards,” Longtail muttered, “We didn’t need them anyway.”

 

Dusk just sighed. Rusty rested his tail on their flank. We’re all exhausted and grumpy. 

 

They remained that way for several more hours, until the sun was dipping below the horizon and the chilly night air began to ruffle their fur. Strawberry, Frost and Dustpaw arrived after it was dark, with a pigeon, a mouse and a ball of cloth, soaked in water between them. The group of three didn’t make an effort to move, even when the moon rose above them, flooding the hillside in a silvery glow. Rusty didn’t want to intrude, but curiosity was killing him. He desperately wanted to know what was going on up there. Soon the sound of Cars began to die down, as the Humans inside them began to retreat into their dens. The silence was only broken by the gentle song of crickets, along with the occasional siren and barking dog. Orchid had fallen asleep, her head resting on her paws and Dusk looked to be just as weary. Longtail’s eyes were narrowed and he watched his Clanmates solemnly, almost guiltily. What’s he thinking about? Why doesn’t he want to go see him? Rusty frowned. There’s something weird going on with these Forest cats… 

 

“Should we go check on them?” Rusty finally meowed, breaking the silence. It was getting to be unbearable. 

 

“If you want,” Longtail said, rather blankly. “I’ll stay here with Orchid.”

 

Dusk rose to their paws, “Suit yourself. I’m going to stretch my legs.” 

 

The two cats began to make their way up to where Sandpaw and the others were. Rusty feared the worse, but as the group came into better focus, he found that everything seemed to be fine. Runningwind was laid out on his side, and his eyes gleamed in the darkness- a proud exclamation that he was in fact, not dead. Sandpaw sat beside him, with the water soaked cloth. Strawberry and Frost were sitting together, while Ravenpaw and Dustpaw were sat beside Sandpaw and Runningwind. 

 

“Rusty! Come here!” Strawberry spotted them first, and she waved her tail cheerfully. 

 

“Yes, come sit with us!” Frost added, waving a paw at her sibling. 

 

Rusty smiled, not feeling as out of place, and sat down next to Strawberry. The prickly grass dug into his paw pads. 

 

“You’re Rusty?” Runningwind mewed. His voice didn’t sound as undead as earlier, and had a warmth to it, which Rusty could appreciate. It made him relaxed and tilt his ears forward as the older tom continued, “Sandpaw’s been telling me about you all evening.”

 

Sandpaw flattened her ears. 

 

“No I haven’t!” she protested. 

 

Runningwind gave her a teasing wink. Dustpaw purred in amusement. Rusty blinked. What does that mean?

 

“And you are?” The brown tabby asked Dusk, who was closest to him, beside Rusty. 

 

“Dusk,” They replied with a respectful dip of the head. 

 

“Are you Frost’s sister?” Runningwind asked, “You look a lot like her.” 

 

Dusk winced and flicked their tail, “Sibling, but yeah.” 

 

The Forest tom nodded and gave them a friendly smile , “My apologies. My mate was the same. Even if older cats thought he was crazy, he always stayed true to himself. You should too, Dusk.” 

 

The tortoiseshell blinked, somewhat taken aback. 

Sandpaw rested her tail on Runningwind’s shoulder. Her expression softened, as did Dustpaw’s. Rusty’s heart warmed, I’m so glad he’s alright. Sandpaw deserves to have a happy family. Or at least as happy as it can be, with a murderer on the loose. 

 

“You don’t have to talk about him, if you don’t want to,” Sandpaw said quietly.

 

“No, I want to!”Runningwind snapped, “Redtail… he was a good cat.” 

 

Redtail. 

 

A chill went up Rusty’s spine. Everything snapped back into focus, and he was forcefully yanked out of his tired state, as if someone had roughly pulled him up by the scruff. That name was all too familiar. It felt like a strike to his stomach, and he could almost hear the ghostly tom laughing from wherever ghost cats usually hung out. 

 

This can’t be real. 

 

“Er… Rusty, are you alright?” Ravenpaw asked. He could tell everyone was staring at him, but their figures were distorted and their voices sounded muffled, as if they were speaking to him from the end of a long alleyway. 

 

“I’m fine,” The tom stammered lamely. The words felt like vomit on his tongue. “Bad hairball, I’ll be back in a minute.” 

 

He felt their eyes on his back as he rose to shakey paws and stumbled away, almost tripping over the torn bit of chain link, and ducking behind a clump of dry brush to catch his breath. 

 

There’s no way! That was just a weird dream. 

 

It makes sense though. Too much sense almost. Redtail would have to be like Dusk or Ruth to have Sandpaw. In my dream, he said he was a deputy, and Ravenpaw said that earlier too. Am I going crazy? I must be. There’s no way any of their stories are real… is there? 

 

The ginger tabby was so lost in his thoughts, he didn’t even hear pawsteps approaching, and didn’t even notice Strawberry until she popped her head around the thorny leaves. He jumped, fur bristling as her cheery meow shook him from his thoughts

 

“Hey, are you alright?” The tortoiseshell green eyes glowed in the darkness, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

 

Rusty hesitated. Should I tell her? What if she thinks I’m crazy too? But she’s my friend, surely she’ll believe me- or at least have some kind of advice. 

 

“Honestly,” He started, unsteadily. “I think I may have.”

 

She sat down with a frown, curling her tail around her paws, “What do you mean?”

 

“I had this dream, a few weeks ago, right before Leopard’s cats attacked,” Rusty started to explain, his hackles rising as he recalled the memory, “This tortoiseshell cat told me I had to help his family or something…”

 

“What does that have to do with Runningwind?” Strawberry tilted her head, confusion clouding her gaze. 

 

“The cat told me his name was Redtail, and that he was dead, but someone in ThunderClan killed him,” The ginger tom continued. This sounds so stupid! “Listen, I know it sounds stupid, but I feel like there’s something more to it- and it fits with what Runningwind was telling us about his mate.”

 

“Well,” The tortoiseshell rested her tail on Rusty’s shoulder, “I’m not sure I believe in ghosts and all that, but I believe you, and maybe there is something more to your dream. It’s definitely weird.” 

 

“You don’t think I’m crazy?” Rusty mewed, relief washing through his veins. 

 

“Of course not!” Strawberry assured him, “I don’t really know how to help you. Sandpaw and them are probably better to talk to about it. They seem to be very, very certain their view of the afterlife.”

 

“You’re right, I just don’t think I’ll get a chance to talk to Sandpaw alone,” He meowed. 

 

“I’m sure, if its meant to be, you’ll find an opportunity to,” The tortoiseshell smiled and gave him a playful shove. “If you’re feeling better, let’s go back to the others.” 

 

“Yeah,” Rusty murmured under his breath as he followed his friend back across the hillside.  I’m glad Strawberry’s my friend. Anyone else would probably call me a mouse-brain for thinking a ghost visited me in my dreams. 

 

When they got back, they found their little group gathered around Runningwind and Dustpaw. Runningwind had a foreleg over Dustpaw's shoulder, and the younger tabby was holding him up and he pulled himself along with his other paws, wincing everytime his back legs stumbled forward. Rusty's stomach turned as he watched. That looks so painful. Sandpaw's right, he must be really strong… 

 

"You're back," Frost purred as they two friends rejoined the group. "Feeling better, Rusty?"

 

No. Not really.

 

"Uh, yeah," He replied. 

 

"Good, We're going to start making our way back to the Forest," The white molly mewed, "Ravenpaw thought this was the best way and if we go straight across the city, we can make it there by sunrise." 

 

“Sunrise? Really?!” Strawberry meowed, beaming at the other molly. 

 

“If we hurry,” Frost told her. Rusty began to feel very out of place. The two mollies glowed like angels in one another’s presence. 

 

“Come on, let’s go catch up to them,” Strawberry purred, motioning for the two other cats to follow. Rusty did, hurrying to walk alongside Sandpaw, who was trailing behind her father and friends. Dusk was with them as well, leading the way with Longtail. The two were immersed in a conversation, and Rusty thought it would be best not to bother them. He was content with talking to Sandpaw and the others anyway. 

 

“You sure you’re doing okay, Rusty?” Sandpaw murmured. She didn’t look at him, and was far too intensely trained on watching Runningwind and Dustpaw make their way along the shabby chainlink fence. They must be looking for a hole to go through, since there’s no way Runningwind is getting over the top of it. 

 

“Oh, yeah I’m fine,” Rusty told her. 

 

“You seemed really shook up about my dad,” She meowed slowly. “What’s that about?”

 

For a moment, he really considered telling her. He wanted to, deep down, to explain everything and ask for her advice, but when he opened his mouth to tell her, the words just wouldn’t come. I can’t go around telling cats I’ve spoken with their dead family members! That sounds crazy. Telling Strawberry was bad enough. 

 

“It wasn’t about your dad,” He replied lamely. “Something else. Don’t worry about it.”

Sandpaw frowned, seeing through his obvious lie, “Whatever you say.” 

 

“What’s gotten into those two?” The ginger molly muttered after a minute, eyeing Longtail and Dusk, who were happily chattering together at the head of the patrol. 

 

“Who knows,” The ginger tom said, “Dusk doesn’t have many friends in our Clan. I’m glad sh-they’ve finally found someone to talk to.” 

 

“Too bad Longtail can’t hang out with them after we get back. Longtail’s kind of the same way,” Sandpaw said with a laugh. “His mentor and another respected warrior used to hang out with him, but I don’t think they’re on the best of terms anymore. So he just hangs out with us, even though he’s got a few moons on us.”

 

“Oh really? He doesn’t look too much older than you,” Rusty said. He honestly couldn’t care less about the chocolate tabby’s social life, but something about talking with Sandpaw made warmth fill him from his nose to his tail tip. 

 

“Yeah, he completed his training before us though,” Sandpaw told him. “I think he’s about 15 moons old and we’re closer to 11.” 

 

Rusty smiled, “You’re only a moon older than me.” 

 

“Huh, that’s cool,” Sandpaw smiled back. 

 

They padded after the patrol, as Dusk and Longtail lead them under a fence, Runningwind and Dustpaw close behind, and once again, they were out in the city. The fur on Rusty’s spine stood up as he heard a dog barking in the distance. There’s no way we’re able to outrun a dog with Runningwind here. We’d have to fight it. Despite his fears about dogs, he did think a larger tooth would look nice on his collar. Like Scourge’s.

 

Sandpaw and Rusty waited their turn and soon slipped under as well, shrouded in the shadows of the towering buildings around them. The streets were barren and quiet, as the moon hung high in the sky above them. 

 

“So what’s it like, training to be a warrior?” The ginger tabby asked, feeling much more comfortable and at home with cement under his paws

 

“Probably a lot different than living out here,” Sandpaw mewed with a twitch of her whiskers, “We spend a lot of time hunting for our Clanmates, checking the borders and learning fighting moves.”

 

“Oh, well not too different then. We do all of those things too,” Rusty purred in amusement, “But we don’t really have borders to check. Every cats comes and goes as they please, and as long as other city cats don’t bother us, we don’t bother them.” 

 

“You just let them live on your land?” The pale tabby asked inquisitively. 

 

Rusty shrugged, “Yeah. There’s enough food to go around, for the most part.” 

 

“Strange,” She observed. “It’s apart of our code to keep our land to ourselves. ‘Code 14: Boundaries must be checked and marked daily, challenge all trespassing cats.’.” 

 

“You have a code? What’s the point of a code?” The ginger tom asked, doing his best not to sound condescending. Why have a written code when we have our instincts and each other to keep us safe?

 

“It’s our tradition, we’ve always had a code. It’s what makes us a Clan, and keeps us all happy,” Sandpaw explained. 

 

“To be honest you guys don’t sound any happier than us,” Rusty frowned. There’s a literal murder mystery happening in your group? How does any cat sleep at night?

 

Sandpaw furrowed her brow, clearly following his train of though, “Well, when every cat follows it, it keeps us happy.”

 

“What are some of the things in it that separate it from what a cat would normally do?” Rusty asked. 

 

“There’s our Gatherings, how we choose our leadership and ranks, stuff about our names,” Sandpaw shrugged, “Just things like that.” 

 

“Interesting,” Rusty said. I suppose it makes sense, if a bunch of cats want to live so complexly. Our rules seem simple compared to theirs. I wonder why they make things so complicated. 

 

“How do you guys live without a code? Or any set of rules?” Sandpaw asked suddenly. She tilted her head curiously at Rusty. 

“We have unspoken rules, and traditions but we haven’t been around for too long, so I suppose there’s no need,” He told her. “Everyone knows how we do things in the Clan and they’ll teach their kits how we do things. If the future generations don’t like it, they’ll figure out better ways, and make changes.”

 

“I suppose that makes sense, but it seems odd living without tradition or any sort of guidance,” The Forest molly said. “We always have our ancestors to rely on.”

 

“I think, for us, it’s more beneficial to rely on ourselves and one another,” Rusty said cautiously. Sandpaw gave him a curiously look and a nod of agreement, or approval. The BloodClan tom couldn’t be sure which. 

 

They made slow progress throughout the night. But by the time the sun was rising above the skyline, there wasn’t much skyline at all. The city around them began to thin out, making way for quiet neighborhoods and much more greenary. Things began to be less grey and damp, and more colorful and lively. A few kittypets gave them curious looks as they passed by along the sidewalk, but it only took a glare from Strawberry or Dustpaw to send them back over their wooden fences. 

 

Strange to think I used to be one of those kittypets. Rusty thought, puffing his chest out with pride. 

 

Rusty couldn’t help but feel a sharp prick of disappointment as, at last, they reached the edge of the houses, and were standing on the edge of the Forest. Unease tugged at his fur, making him want to turn tail and run away from the menacing undergrowth and cheerful birdsong. The patrol stood on the other side of a ditch, which separated them from the Road, which ran off into the distance. On the other side of it was a marsh, the same marshy wasteland Rusty had gone to find Boulder in. I wonder how he’s doing, and if they took him back. 

Warm, golden light washed over them as the sky turned shades of pale blue and pink, and Rusty purred at the warmth on his firey fur. He stood his ground, padding up to the head of the patrol, while Dustpaw and the other Forest cats clustered around Runningwind, who sat back on the ground. There was a bright shine to his eyes as he lay down in the grass. Ravenpaw and Sandpaw were both purring in the sunlight, clearly glad to be back in their home. Rusty wished he could feel the same comfort they did, but something felt… off about these woods. He couldn’t put a paw on it, but knew he’d be much more comfortable back in camp, surrounded with buildings and his Clanmates.



“Now what?” Frost meowed, turning to the Forest cats. 

 

“We’ll wait for a patrol,” Dustpaw said. “The dawn patrol should be along shortly-”

 

Just as he finished his sentence, there was a great yowl, and several cats burst forth from the undergrowth. Rusty’s hackles stood on end and he hardly had time to unsheath his claws before a dark tabby sprung at him. 

Rusty leaped to meet him mid air as snarls and screeches of battle broke out around him. He sunk his teeth into the tom’s shoulder, slamming him to the ground and digging his claws into his black and brown fur. The tom let out a howl, and scrabbled with his backlegs, pulling up chunks of orange tabby fur in his wake. Rusty grimaced as blood filled his mouth and searing pain scorched across his flank as the tom flailed his claws, tearing through the BloodClan cat’s thin skin. 

 

Rusty growled and slashed his claws across the tom’s nose, as they rolled a few paces away from the other fighting cats before suddenly, the weight of the tom was lifted. Rusty stumbled to his paws, adrenaline still rushing through his veins and ears still flattened as he surveyed what happened. 

 

Longtail had grabbed the dark tabby by the scruff and pulled him away from Rusty. His lips were pulled back in a distasteful growl as he dropped the tom a few paces away. Several of the other Forest cats were doing the same to their attackers. Rusty hissed again as the three parties separated and glared at one another with cautious and distrust. 

 

The dark tabby blinked as he whirled on Longtail. For a moment, Rusty was ready to jump in an aid the Forest tom, but the tabby quickly sheathed his paws and recognition lit in his yellow eyes. 

 

“Longtail? What in StarClan’s name are you doing out here?” An oddly familiar meow sounded in the ferns nearby. Out, paced a familiar looking dark tabby cat. Rusty growled, stepping between Dusk and the dark tabby. He remembered those piercing yellow eyes, though it would seem they didn’t remember him. The sleek tom looked over the group, his eyes lingering on Runningwind, widening with surprise and then turning to look at the BloodClan warriors. His slim muzzle turned up in a sneer, “And fraternizing with rogues? I would expect better of my apprentice.” 

 

“They helped us find our missing Clanmate, Darkstripe,” Longtail replied. There was a nervous edge to his voice but he held his head up high. 

 

Darkstripe. Rusty narrowed his eyes. It had been moons since his encounter with the Forest cats, but he wouldn’t ever forget Darkstripe or Tigerclaw. I’m just glad I got a few hits in on him. 

 

Rusty surveyed the other cats in the group, clearly they were from the same Clan as Sandpaw and her companions. There was Darkstripe, whose dark tabby fur was matted with blood, a silver tortoiseshell with a noticeably red tail, a solid white tom and a blue-grey molly, whose eyes were dull and shoulders slumped. 

 

“Runningwind?” The blue-grey molly asked slowly. Her blue eyes grew wide, though there was something distant to them. It made Rusty shift from paw to paw. “They helped you find Runningwind?” 

 

What on Earth is going on here? 

 

“Yes, Bluestar!” Sandpaw jumped forward. “They helped us! And look! Spottedleaf will fix him up and he’ll be fine.”  

 

“Yes, I see…” The molly, Bluestar meowed quietly. She then turned to look at the rest of the BloodClan cats. Strawberry cast Rusty a concerned look, but kept her jaws closed. 

 

“Runningwind…” The blue-grey molly repeated again. Her lifeless eyes flashed with sympathy and then anger. “We’ve been worried sick about you four! How dare you go off by yourselves.”

 

Sandpaw blinked and flattened her ears, her face falling, “But-”

 

“You’re all lucky your mentors will deal with you instead of myself,” She snarled, “Tick duty for a moon at least! And as for you, Longtail, you’ll be thankful if I don’t revoke your name. We were going to send a patrol! Runningwind needed real warriors to rescue him, not a group of ragtag rogues and apprentices.” 

 

“But we did rescue him!” Sandpaw protested. Ravenpaw cowered back and Dustpaw rested a tail on her shoulder- a sign to leave it. It was taking everything in Rusty’s power to not step forward and whack the irrational molly on the nose. 

 

Bluestar ignored her, and flicked her tail whisking back into the bushes, “Come along. We’re going back to camp.” 

 

Out of seemingly nowhere, a pang of hatred pierced through Rusty, as sharp as a thorn, he was taken aback a bit. Something about the blue-grey molly irked him. How can she say that about her Clanmates?! So what if they didn’t get permission, it was obvious no one else was going to help him. They should be made warriors for what they did. 

 

“Sorry, Sandpaw,” The white tom meowed quietly, before following Bluestar back into the bushes. 

 

Dustpaw sighed, helping Runningwind to his paws. The brown tom meowed, “It was good to meet you all.” before disappearing into the undergrowth as well. 

 

“Good luck,” Rusty said, padding over to Sandpaw. The pale ginger molly was sat on the ground, her shoulders slumped in defeat. 

 

“It’ll be okay. Thanks though… for everything,” She sighed. 

 

“Of course,” He stammered, taking one last moment to breath in her scent. It had become less unpleasant to him. “Will I see you around?”

 

“Maybe,” She meowed with a sad chuckle, before rising to her paws and heading after the fading scents of her Clanmates. 

 

“May StarClan light your path, Rusty.” 

 

The ginger tom blinked, as she smiled at him, before turning. When her tail tip disappeared between the ferns and brambles, a small hole opened up in his heart. It seemed that much quieter without the Forest cats. 

 

“Come on, Rusty.” Strawberry’s meow came from somewhere behind him. “Let’s go home.” 

Chapter Text

A cacophony of yowling welcomed the young cats home. It could be heard from a few tree-lengths down the road, and set every cat’s fur on end. 

 

“Is there a fight?” Frost asked, worriedly. She paused, scenting the air. 

 

“Only one way to find out,” Strawberry told her, “It’s probably nothing.” 

 

Rusty wasn’t so sure, but picked up the pace, until he was leading the patrol, as they hurriedly made their way down the street. As he scrambled under the hole in the chain link fence, he unsheathed his claws, preparing to charge into a fray of flying teeth and claws. 

 

Strawberry and Orchid flanked him as he peered down the eerily still alley. The scent of blood hit his nose but there wasn’t any fighting. In fact, most cats seemed to be sitting around, gathered at the base of the dumpster. Anxiety gnawed at his stomach as he and his friends made their way closer. 

 

What’s going on here? 

 

Rusty slunk between his Clanmates, settling towards the back and peering between the shoulders of Snowfall and Ash. In the center of camp, he could see Jasmine, Maple, Cocoa, Harley and Jet, all older cats, save for the small calico who stood out like a sore paw pad against the older, fiercer warriors. Cocoa already had a scratch on their flank, likely the source of the blood Rusty smelled earlier. Every cat’s fur was fluffed up and their eyes slitted as they glared at Scourge, Bone and Brick, who were sitting on top of the dumpster, looking oddly calm. Rusty met Scourge’s eyes for a moment, and the black tom gave him a slight nod, acknowledging his and his friend’s return. 

 

“Ridiculous!” Jasmine’s cold yowl echoed throughout the camp, drawing Rusty’s attention away from his leader and back to the situation at hand- whatever it was.  

 

“You don’t give a shit that either of them are dead!” Maple added with a growl. “I’m sick of you not caring about us!”

 

“How was I supposed to stop them from dying? Do you think I control the Cars? What about the poision the Humans put out?” Scourge demanded, his tail thumping ominously against the dumpster’s lid. 

 

“We need better rules!” Jasmine insisted. “Kits need to know what safe to drink and what’s not!” 

 

“Then speak to their parents about it, not me,” Scourge hissed. 

 

“You’re not listening!” Harley cried in desperation, unsheathing her claws. “Kits are orphaned because of you!”

 

What happened while we were away? Rusty wanted to ask, but with only a few cats speaking, everyone would hear his mouse-brained question. 

 

“Let’s take a moment to calm down,” Bone meowed calmly. Scourge flicked an ear, but let the bicolor tom speak. “Getting angry and bringing out our claws is getting us nowhere. We are listening, what do you expect us to do though?”

 

Jasmine opened her jaws, clearing forcing the fur on her spine to stay flat, but Maple stepped forward instead, “Us, the mollies of the Clan, feel like there isn’t enough help from the Clan in raising our kits. Leaf was going out to get them fresh kill when she got hit. Riley clearly wasn’t told about the poison. There’s a lot that goes into raising kits, especially by yourself.” 

 

“Are you asking we help you parent your children?” Scourge meowed, a sneer to her tone. 

 

Looking around, Rusty found that neither Leaf nor Riley were in the crowd. He didn’t know either cat well, Leaf was far too busy with her five kits to speak to him, and Riley was much closer with other cats but it still felt a bit emptier without them there. His heart sank, and a guilt clawed across his heart. I wish I was here when it happened, I would have gone hunting for Leaf. Maybe there was something I could have done. Instead I was off running around town with some stupid Forest molly I’m never going to see again...

 

Maple shook her head, “No, we would just like a bit more help than what we’re getting.” 

 

“How do you want me to help?” The black tom asked. 

 

“Kits and queens are already fed first,” Brick added. 

 

“I know!” the tortoiseshell replied, taking up her position as spokesman in the group. “Leaf didn’t have enough though. She had the largest litter out of all of us, and never got any more than me or Harley! It’s mouse-brained! Cats who don’t contribute shouldn’t get all this prey to themselves! They hardly work for it!” 

 

Suddenly, another angry yowl sounded at the edge of the crowd. Rusty’s eyes widened as Ice stepped forward, shouldering Minty and Dawn out of her way. Minty didn’t seem to mind though; she looked just as angry as the rest of them. 

 

“This is a load of fox dung and you know it,” The white molly snarled. “What was Scourge supposed to do? Stop Leaf from leaving? No one even knew she was gone anyway. You guys are grieving and want someone to blame.” 

 

Rusty blinked, a bit taken aback at the molly’s words. It’s true, but did she have to say it like that? 

 

“Maybe we are,” Jasmine hissed, rounding on the muscular cat. Ice stood her ground, glaring at the tuxedo molly, before flattening her ears. Jet and Cocoa looking between each other uncertainty flashing in their eyes. Scourge said nothing. 

 

“You’re making baseless claims against our leader, the cat who brought us all together and has been keeping us safe and well fed for years,” Ice spat. She flexed her claws. “Let’s settle them.” 

 

“Are you suggesting we fight this out?” Jasmine growled. “You know who will win.”

 

“I do,” Ice meowed boldly. Then with a screech, she launched herself at the higher ranking molly. 

 

The rest of the party scattered, dissipating back into the crowd and those at the edge of the circle leaped back. Rusty noted Ice and Jasmine were matched in size and strength, though it looked like Ice had been through many more fights than Jasmine, as evidenced by the deep scars on her back. I wouldn’t want to be in that fight! 

 

The Clan seemed to be holding its breath, watching as the two rolled across the dusty concrete, locked together with claws and teeth. Scourge watched silently, following the two mollies with his eyes, but making no move to stop them, even with the metallic scent of blood filled the air, making everyone’s noses wrinkle in disgust. 

 

Jasmine twisted away first, stumbling back away from Ice. The tuxedo molly was bleeding heavily from a gash on her back leg and a nick in her ear. Ice had a bite wound on her shoulder, but otherwise, her pelt was clean. Rusty was impressed. So that’s where Ghost gets it from. 

 

Rusty raised his head, trying to spot the solid white tom in the crowd. He quickly found him on the other side, where Ice had come from, sitting beside Lilian, Micah and Sniff. He tried to catch his eye, excited to see his friend, but the other tom was too focused on the fight. 

 

Jasmine sprung at Ice again, aiming to get beneath her, but Ice easily stepped aside, batting an unsheathed claw at Jasmine’s head. She growled and launched upwards, grabbing Ice’s shoulders, and shoving her to the ground. The two rolled a few paces before a pained yowl sounded, and Jasmine floundered away from Ice, this time with another cut across her muzzle. 

 

Ice stood over her, arching her back, until Jasmine backed away. With a final hiss, Ice turned and lashed her tail, going back to sit by Minty. Jasmine didn’t move to follow her. 

 

“Now that that’s settled,” Scourge’s high pitched meow broke the stunned silence of the clearing. “If any other cat is dissatisfied with my leadership they are welcome to leave. Disloyalty will not be tolerated.” 

 

No one twitched a whisker. It seemed whatever conflict had occurred, was now settled. Rusty relaxed and flattened his fur, which he hadn’t realized was puffed out at all. 

 

“Good,” He meowed, approvingly. “We have happier matters to discuss. Ash, Primrose, please come forward.” 

 

Oh right! I’m surprised they didn't get promoted right when they got home but maybe Scourge wanted everyone to be here. 

 

The silver siblings looked at one another in surprise before stepping out from their place a few paces ahead of Rusty. Their fluffy tails waved high in excitement. 

 

“You have completed the task presented to you, and passed your assessment with flying colors.” Scourge meowed, “Brick and Samuel both agree you are ready and we welcome you as full warriors of BloodClan.” 

“Ash! Primrose!” Samuel, a small ticked tabby, and Primrose’s instructor, started the chant. The rest of the Clan quickly joined in and Rusty called out his Clanmate’s names a few times. 

 

Once the clamour quieted down, Scourge nodded to Raven, who was seated at the base of the dumpster. “Raven also has news for us.”

 

The silky furred molly stepped forward into the clearing, as Ash and Primrose went back to their spots, beaming with pride. 

 

“I am expecting kits and will be moving my nest to be closer with my fellow queens,” She meowed quickly, shuffling her paws. “I’m entrusting Jasmine with my trainee, Spirit. I know she will teach him well. That is all.”

 

With that, Raven retreated back to her position, a few of the cats around her offering their congratulations. 

 

“This meeting is dismissed. All of you, make sure Raven has enough food,” Scourge meowed, before leaping off the dumpster. Rusty wasn’t sure if that last part was meant to be sarcastic or an actual request. 

 

As cats began to go back to their business, Rusty turned back to Strawberry, who was with Frost and Dusk, a bit further behind him. I have to speak with Ruth and Scourge about everything too. He looked over to where Ghost and Lilian were talking, and considered joining them. Ghost looked over, giving him a small smile (or a smirk, Rusty couldn’t be sure), before he and Lilian turned away, padding after Micah, Tess and Micah’s kittens. 

 

“Huh, I wouldn’t have expected Raven to have kits,” Strawberry observed as Rusty padded up to her. “She doesn’t seem the type.” 

 

“Well, she is pretty introverted. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has a mate outside the Clan,” Frost meowed. The two mollies quieted as they heard their friend approaching. 

 

“Will you guys come with me to talk to Scourge? I want to let him know we’re back, and what happened,” Rusty asked, once he was sure everyone was done talking. 

 

“Why?” Dusk tilted her head, “I’m sure Spirit told him what happened.” 

 

“I don’t know if Spirit gave him a good account of what happened,” Strawberry growled. “That tom’s become untrustworthy and he seems to have something against everyone here. I don’t like it.” 

 

“Don’t talk about your Clanmate like that!” Dusk protested. Rusty agreed, but knew it was best to not speak out against Spirit. He’ll get over himself eventually. 

 

Strawberry shrugged, “I’m just saying, there’s something off about him. He’s hiding something.” 

 

“Don’t worry about Spirit, his problems aren’t our business,” Frost gave her friend a reassuring blink before turning to Rusty, “But yes, we will come with you. I bet, your instructors will want to know too” 

 

“It’s only the responsible thing to do,” Dusk agreed with a small nod. 

 

“Thanks,” Rusty purred, as they began to make their way back over to the dumpster. 

 

Scourge was with Bone, Brick and William, all of which gave the four young cats wary glances as they approached. Scourge’s face was expressionless, but his tail gave a small twitch. Bone and Brick were crouched close to the ground, while William shuffled his paws nervously, as if he was afraid of Rusty and his friends. The ginger tabby looked between then with unease. What happened while we were gone? Every cat seems to have fleas in their fur. 

 

“The prodigal son returns,” Brick growled quietly, glaring daggers into Rusty. The older cat had a look in his eyes that made Rusty’s flame colored fur stand on end. He glanced away, keeping his tail low. 

 

“Rusty, just who I was looking for,” Scourge meowed flatly. There was a hint of disapproval in his mew. Rusty didn’t like it and guilt wormed its way through his stomach again. Why did we have to help them? Scourge probably thinks we let the whole Clan down!

 

“Just throw them out and be done with it,” Brick hissed, his ginger tail lashing. 

 

Strawberry gasped, “Throw us out! But-”

 

“You’re not getting thrown out,” Scourge interrupted with a growl. “But you all better have a very good explanation for what happened.” 

 

“We do,” Rusty assured him. Scourge said nothing, but swiftly retreated into his den, motioning for the other cats to follow him. Strawberry and Rusty exchanged uneasy glances before ducking under the dumpster, with Frost and Dusk close behind. 

 

Scourge lay down and the four trainees sat down across from him. Bone remained outside while Brick padded off with a lashing tail. Rusty swallowed thickly and sat down, pressing his tail to Strawberry’s. The moment he sat down, a wave of exhaustion washed over him, and he fought back a yawn. Trekking halfway across the city and back had taken a lot out of all of them. 

 

“Spirit filled me in on why you all didn’t come back with the rest of them,” Scourge started. Distrust flavored his mew, “He said you would rather help a group of Forest cats than your Clanmates. Is that true?”

 

“No, that’s not what happened. Not at all,” Frost protested.

 

“We helped them because they helped us,” Rusty added, “We needed extra paws to attack Leopard, and they needed help. So we helped them in exchange for them helping us.” 

 

Scourge didn’t look convinced, “Why? You are BloodClan cats. You didn’t need extra paws.” 

 

“We did though,” Rusty continued, steadily meeting his brother’s gaze. He wanted to shrink away under it but he forced his posture to remain straight. “They ambushed Ash and Primrose and there were so many of them. We were taught that cats of BloodClan are resourceful and do what they must to get what they need. We did just that. I don’t understand why everyone’s upset…” 

 

He trailed off, afraid he said too much. The tabby tom swallowed thickly before continuing. The words tasted sour on his tongue before he’d even said them. 

 

“They were a resource. That’s all,” He said firmly, taking a deep breath. “We weren’t friends with them or anything like that. It was just a favor, to get them out of our city and to get rid of our enemies.” 

 

He could feel Strawberry’s fur rise but she said nothing. He didn’t want to look at her, or any of his friends. His stomach turned his unease, then satisfaction as Scourge looked pleased with that answer. Rusty held his chin up high. Deep down, he knew it wasn’t true. It hurt to say. But realistically who’s trust do I really need? Sandpaw or Scourge’s? I’m never going to see Sandpaw again… Scourge needs to trust me. And it’s not totally untrue. I shouldn’t have gotten caught up in fleeting feelings for a molly I’ll never see again. My Clanmates need me. 

 

“I see. Forgive me for doubting you, it's just while you were gone, several cats have been acting rather… untrustworthy,” Scourge’s gaze drifted back to the camp outside. Jasmine and Maple were talking in hushed voices around an opened can of fish. Spirit was glaring at Dusk and Otter. Their tails were lashing as they eyed the dumpster. 

 

He doesn’t trust Spirit either. Rusty realized with a shock. I doubt Spirit will make it to being a full warrior at this rate.

 

“That’s that then. Your training will continue as usual,” Scourge flicked his white tipped tail. “See that you don’t miss anymore time training. I’m sure you’ve missed a lot.”

 

“We won’t,” Strawberry meowed, quickly rising to her paws. 

 

Rusty could feel Scourge’s icy blue glare on his back as he left, padding out into the camp. Angry grey clouds drifted across the sky, turning the camp and dull grey. He could scent rain on the chilly breeze. 

 

Dusk was stiff as they left the den, padding across camp and ducking into one of the dens. The other trainees quietly followed until they were out of earshot. Their tortoiseshell tail was fluffed out to twice it’s usual size. Rusty knew exactly why, and his heart dropped as they turned to him. Hurt shone in their wide amber gaze. 

 

“How could you say that! I thought they were our friends!” They hissed, unsheathing their claws. Strawberry said nothing, but flattened her ears.

 

“Dusk, I know, they are! They still are,” Rusty tried to assure them. 

 

“We needed to be honest and you spoke for all of us,” Strawberry added. 

 

The ginger tabby looked for Frost for help but she said nothing, “We also needed Scourge to trust us. It wasn’t totally false. And it’s not like we’re ever going to see them again.”

 

“Whatever,” Dusk growled, “That was a shitty thing to say and you know it.”

 

“I do,” Rusty ducked his head, shame prickling his pelt. What else was I supposed to do!

 

“Good,” Dusk glared at him, lashing their tail, “I’m going hunting. Don’t come with me.”

 

With that, they ducked back out of the den, leaving him with Strawberry and Frost. Both mollies looked saddened more than angry. 

 

“They’ll come around eventually,” Frost meowed quietly. “I understand why you said the things you said. You… You don’t just think they were a resource though, do you?” 

 

“No,” Rusty told her, “I don’t. I just don’t like being on Scourge’s bad side.” 

 

“None of us do.” 

 

Rusty curled up in a nest in the den, from the scent of it, it was once Lilian’s. Should I really care that much about Scourge’s approval? I should, right? He’s my leader and my brother. My Clanmates needed me and I wasn’t here for them. I won’t ever make that mistake again.  

A light drizzle had started up outside. 

 

Chapter Text

Alright I bet you guys have noticed I haven't updated this since like September. 

I'm going to discontinue it. My writing style and my vision for this story has changed too much for me to keep updating this version of it. So this version is going to be discontinued for now. Im working and have to do adult duties but this story will be back! It will be reuploaded as a work and this one will stay here. I also have a couple other stories that are in the works ;) 

Thanks for everyone who's read and commented! I love and appreciate every single one of you <3