Just a quick note before I dive in: Due to how annoyed I get when the chapter numbers don't match up, I am posting both the prologue and the first chapter now. I hope you will enjoy Take Flight, and I thank you in advance for your support!
A scrawny she-cat lay in a shadowed hollow at the base of the tree, twitching damp whiskers against nonexistent raindrops, her fluffy tail curled around the tiny bodies of her two newborn kits. Every so often, she'd lead down to sniff at them, checking their breathing and body temperatures, before her luminous, wary eyes returned to the surroundings, anxiously searching the half-drowned, murky green foliage, waiting.
But for who? Or what?
She didn't have long to wait. Pawsteps, at first indistinguishable from the pitter-pattering rain, slowly came into earshot. The she-cat twitched her ears, eyes flashing expectantly, gazing through the downpour.
"Old friend," she murmured as the broad shoulders of another cat appeared through the misty darkness. "Thank you for coming."
"You knew I couldn't ignore your call," the tom muttered reproachfully. "What—" His voice broke off in a gasp as his gaze fell on the mouse-sized pair curled against the she-cat's belly. "Kits? But… but who? Is it…" His eyes cleared for a moment as he gazed at the kits' fur. "Oh."
"I would rather the father didn't know," the she-cat said quickly, glancing down at her litter. "He… ah… I don't think he would take it well."
"Why not? You know he loves you." The tom's forehead creased and his voice vibrated with confusion.
The tom snorted but didn't otherwise protest. Changing the subject back to more pressing matters, he asked, "Why did you call me here? You know I can't take them back to camp. He'd find them during an attack or a raid."
"I know. That's why I thought… well…" The she-cat hesitated, unsure for the first time that night. How would her friend take her idea?
She didn't need to continue. The tom blinked, his face darkening. "Oh." He looked away, twitching his paws to get some of the wetness off. His rain-slicked fur only presented a clearer view of the fur raised across his shoulders.
"It would be the safest place for them," the she-cat pleaded, but the tom cut her off.
"The Twolegplace is not safe. Scourge rules there, remember?"
"But he never bothered with the areas closest to us," she protested. "There are loners there, too many peace-lovers for him to recruit. His interests lie elsewhere."
"How do you know where his interests lie?" He glanced at the kits. "Do you really think the loners would protect these two? A pair of Clan-born kits wouldn't stand a chance."
"Yes, they would," the she-cat insisted. "They wouldn't turn away kits. They wouldn't dare. Especially, no listen," she meowed impatiently as the tom began to turn away. "Especially if you asked them. They'd listen to you, you know they would."
"This is bigger than a friendly favor. What if I get caught? StarClan, I'm not even supposed to be here, not even supposed to be talking to you! I'm risking my life as a ShadowClan warrior for your frog-brained mistake!"
"I can't keep them!" the she-cat shouted back at him. "What else am I supposed to do? If you have any other ideas, I'm wide open! I ran out of ideas two freaking moons ago!"
He paused, his profile silhouetted against the barely illuminated brush behind him. The she-cat held her breath, not quite letting herself hope, listening to her own voice as it echoed away through the rain. Please… please help…
Finally, he sighed. "They're your kits. If you really want to leave them to die, that's your choice."
She exhaled in relief. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Only you need to convince the loners. They'll listen to you just as much as they would me."
The she-cat bit the inside of her lip. "I'd… I'd really prefer it if you asked them."
"Why?" He said it more like a statement than a question, rolling his eyes and scoffing under his breath.
"Then there's the chance these kits might figure out that I'm their mother. They could convince the loners to tell them somehow. I don't want to take that chance."
The tom appeared to consider her words for a moment, staring at her shrewdly with his head tilted to one side. "You don't want them to come find you? When they're older? You just want to… to send them out as surrogate orphans?"
The she-cat blinked rather rapidly and didn't reply, only bending down to check on her kits again.
After a heartbeat, the tom padded closer, bending to scrutinize the kits further. "What are their names?"
"The black and white she-kit is Ivykit, for the hanging ivy I used to disguise my trail," she replied. Suddenly nervous, she added, "It fits her, doesn't it?"
"Yeah." He glanced questioningly at the tom. "What about him?"
The she-cat hesitated a heartbeat before replying, "Rowankit. For the tree that sheltered me." The tom snorted and she smiled a little. "Yeah, pretty cliché, I know."
"You named them to remember their heritage when you want them to have no memory of you?" The tom stared at her, long and hard. "Are you… positive you don't want them to come back? In the future?" He blinked. "When all this mess is resolved?"
"Who's to say it'll ever be resolved?" the she-cat muttered.
"You didn't answer my question."
The she-cat gave the tom a cool, level stare. For several long heartbeats, there was only the sound of the rain as it spattered against the leaves left over from last Leaffall, dark brown from seasons of decay. Her jaws parted enough for the tom to see the pink of her tongue behind her pale yellow teeth, as though she were struggling to find the right words.
Ivykit shifted at her paws and the she-cat glanced down. Remembering where they were, she hastily scooped up the kit. "You grab Rowankit," she said, her voice muffled by Ivykit's fluffy kit fur. The tom grudgingly complied and together, they set off together toward the Twolegplace. The imprints of their paws were quickly swallowed by the pounding rain.
I blinked four times in quick succession, but the den behind the metal cans remained blurry. Sighing loudly, I glanced over at my brother. Rowankit had been prancing about with his stupid dark green eyes for days, showing off his stupid perfect vision. All the older cats told me my blurry eyesight was perfectly normal, that it would clear up once my eyes lost their blue color. Currently they were sort of aqua-ey, probably on their way to green like Rowankit's, or at least that's what Thalia told me.
Shaking my head vigorously from side to side in the faint hope it would help my vision (it didn't), I glanced around. Thalia, Rowankit's and my elderly foster mother, wasn't there. She never was; she always said it wouldn't do for us to get too attached to her, seeing as she wasn't long for this world anyway. We'd just be causing ourselves unnecessary grief.
But that wasn't exactly true. Her absence just made me cling to her more every time she returned, and when she was gone I missed my real parents even more. I stayed up late sometimes wondering who they were and if they, perhaps, stared up at the same stars, wondering where I was. I wondered if they still loved me.
"Ivykit!" Rowankit's voice broke me out of my reverie. I glanced around, squinting to bring his wide face into better focus. He skidded to a halt, sending a cascade of dust and gravel over my white paws, turning them a pale, brownish gray.
"Ivykit," he panted again, "I have a great idea for an adventure!"
My eyes widened under pinched eyebrows. "Again?" I asked, half incredulous and half wary. I threw in an exasperated eye roll for good measure as I shook loose stones from my paws and muttered, "Haven't you already gotten us into enough trouble?"
Rowankit appeared not to have heard me, though I knew for a fact his ears worked perfectly fine. "You know that abandoned Twoleg den? The really high one? I think we should climb it."
I remained quiet. Two voices battled to be heard in my mind. One sounded like Thalia. Don't do anything dangerous! You'll regret it in the long run! The other imitated Rowankit's breathlessly excited shout. Come on, it'll be fun! What's stopping you?
"Um… how about we go see Toby first?" I suggested, trying to put on a bright smile to cover my indecision.
Rowankit's face fell. "You don't want to?" he asked, crestfallen.
"No!" I cried hurriedly. "I mean… no, I don't not want to go. I want to go! It's just… well, I've been waiting to hear this story he was going to tell me."
"Uh huh." Rowankit raised one eyebrow. "What's it about?"
"Um…" I flicked my tail nervously, stirring up the dust behind me.
Rowankit rolled his eyes as he strolled past me. "You really need to work on your impulsive behavior," he declared, pinning my tail down with one paw.
"Impulsive? What's that?" I struggled around, trying to pull my tail from under his paws. With half his body weight bearing down on it, it was really starting to hurt. I head-butted his shoulder and, unbalanced, he let it slip through his paws. Tucking my tail close to my side, I began to groom the black fur.
Regaining his footing, Rowankit shrugged and began to walk out of the den. I hurried to catch up, drawing level with his shoulder just as he meowed, "I dunno. Thalia told me I was too impulsive yesterday. It sounded just like all the other compliments she gives me, so it should be a good thing. Maybe it's a little like quick-thinking?"
"Oh." I trotted alongside him, pondering his words. Did I think too slowly? Should I think faster? Wasthisfastenough? Maybe that was too fast. I shook my head again to clear it (my vision stayed exactly the same). I thought I might be thinking too hard.
I glanced around just in time to peel away from Rowankit, heading down the alley to Toby's favorite sunny spot. After a couple heartbeats, my brother caught up with me again.
"Ugh, really? I didn't think you actually wanted to come here!" Rowankit rolled his eyes at me and I nosed his shoulder.
"I thought you liked coming here and listening to Toby's stories!"
"Well, I do!" Rowankit scuffed a paw against the ground. "I just… I want to climb the Twoleg den."
I hesitated for a heartbeat. You really need to work on your impulsive behavior. "We can do that afterward, okay?"
"Awesome." He grinned, showing every one of his teeth. "Except…" he stuck a paw in front of my chest, forcing me to pause. "Could you not tell Toby? Or Thalia, if she's there. Or any of their other friends."
"Why?" I asked curiously.
"Um… I want our victory to be a surprise," Rowankit said evasively, shrugging.
I stared shrewdly at him. "We're not supposed to be climbing the den, are we?"
Rowankit shrugged again. "I dunno. Maybe."
"Will Thalia get mad at us?" I glanced ahead and lowered my voice to make sure no one could hear us. Would we get in trouble for talking about it, even if we decided not to go? Or, I supposed, if I decided not to go. Rowankit would want to go whether or not it was allowed.
"Not if she doesn't find out." Rowankit began walking again. "Storytime?" he prompted.
I hesitated a moment, but Rowankit was drawing farther and farther ahead and I didn't want to be left alone in the alley. If Thalia got mad at us for going up the Twoleg den, it was nothing compared with what she'd do if she found out we'd been separated. You never know when some evil cat's going to try to kitnap one of you. Always stay together and watch each other's backs. You're partners, got it? Got it. I dashed after Rowankit.
We rounded the last bend and emerged into Toby's courtyard, as Thalia called it. The ground was weird and uneven underpaw, with small, roughly identical square stones laid out in patterns across the ground. I stepped carefully in only the centers of the stones, remembering acutely the time my paw had gotten painfully stuck in a crack. Thalia told me it was hard to pull out because of the sixth toe on my forepaw.
Five cats lay sprawled around the courtyard, lying on top of dumpsters and the sun-warmed rocks against the opposite wall, warm and sleepy underneath the scraggly vines, browning in the scorching Greenleaf heat. A couple cats on top of the dumpster blinked at Rowankit and me before returning their chins to their paws. I couldn't understand how they could just sleep all the time. What was with these old cats?
"Hello Rowankit, Ivykit. Do you need me for something?" Thalia lay next to Toby, a dark brown tabby tom, her patchy silver tabby fur almost glossy from reflected sunlight. She squinted through pale yellow, almost colorless eyes, trying to see us better. She had almost as bad vision as me, only she said hers wouldn't clear up anytime soon.
"No, we just want a story," Rowankit announced, throwing out his chest. "Right, Ivykit?"
I nodded quickly. "Yeah, a story."
Toby shifted, the bell on his collar tinkling gently. "What kind of story?" he asked in a voice almost as raspy as Thalia's.
Rowankit looked pointedly at me, as though saying with an exaggeratedly open mouth, "Impulsive behavior." Right.
"Um…" Great start, I congratulated myself bitterly.
"Tell them the one about those dogs chasing you," the cat on Toby's other side muttered, turning over to warm his belly.
"Ah, yes, that one," Toby murmured, stretching luxuriously and rolling onto his side. "You see this scar, kits?" He indicated a long, pinkish line extending from his throat to his chest. Rowankit nodded enthusiastically. I smirked; he hadn't wanted to come here in the first place, yet he seemed to be enjoying himself more than me.
"When I was still young," Toby began, but he was cut off by Rowankit.
"Young like us?"
"A bit older," Toby smiled. "Old enough to be attracted to she-cats, if you know what I mean."
"Yeuch," Rowankit muttered, sticking out his tongue.
"Anyway, when I was young and spritely," Toby said again, "I thought I was tough enough to take on a dog. See, there'd been this dog chasing a bunch of us around the Twolegplace. Remember that, Thalia?"
Thalia grunted. "Erm… yeah, I guess I do. Big, brutish thing with this fresh scar along its ear, like someone'd tried to claw it off. It smelled like rotten crow-food."
"Pretty vague memory, indeed," Toby teased.
"Were you attracted to Thalia?" Rowankit interrupted again, looking warily between the two.
Toby laughed. "No, no. I didn't know Thalia back then."
"Good thing, too," Thalia meowed, shooting her friend a half-glare. "If you'd tried anything I would've clawed your ears off."
"I always wondered how the dog got that scar," Toby purred, nosing Thalia. She huffed and turned away, shoving her nose under her paw.
I watched this exchange, my eyes going back and forth between Rowankit and Toby and Thalia. What were they talking about? Couldn't they just get back to the story already?
"Anyway," Toby meowed finally, "This dog was trying to take over the Twolegplace or something. It was a huge beast, must've been four or five tail-lengths high."
"It was just under three," Thalia muttered through her fur.
Toby shrugged. "It was still huge. And made entirely of slobbering teeth—"
"Teeth don't slobber, tongues do."
"—lumps of hard muscle, and battle scars. It terrified the living daylights out of all of us." Toby shook his head reminiscently.
"But it sounds like you were really brave! Why were you scared?" Rowankit interrupted for a third time. I added another tally mark next to the growing list in my mind.
"It's downright stupid to take on something you know you can't beat," Toby said sternly, staring hard at Rowankit. "You're not showing off your bravery by waving your life in front of Death's nose every chance you get and asking it politely if it would like to take a bite."
"But how can you be brave and scared at the same time?" I asked.
"Bravery is nothing without fear, because otherwise you wouldn't be truly brave. True bravery comes when you're terrified but you act anyway. Note that this does not mean you jump off a Twoleg den or something just to prove your bravery. Jumping off a Twoleg den does nothing. Jumping into a battle to save the life of a friend, that's bravery. You see the difference?"
I nodded. Rowankit, sitting beside me, did the same.
"Good. Now, where was I?" Toby thought for a heartbeat, then his expression cleared. "Ah, right." He settled back onto his front, tucking his paws underneath his chest and wrapping his tail around his body. "I was going to start my part in this story.
"Now I knew that dog always hung out near this abandoned dump, so I hid out there to ambush him. I figured I'd be proving myself to the local she-cats, proving I was courageous enough for them. And, sure enough, I found him lying there on a pile of reeking garbage, acting like it was a throne. I crept up as close as I could without vomiting, ready to pounce. I knew there was only one way for me to beat this dog, and it certainly wasn't by stealth. That dumb animal had made its nest right under a streetlamp. No shadows anywhere. I had no choice but to attack."
Rowankit gasped. I nudged him in the ribs to shut him up. Of course he'd ruin the tension at the most climactic moment of the entire story.
"I went at that thing with claws slashing. I bit him several times, and let me tell you, that beast tasted like moon-old crowfood."
"You know what moon-old crowfood tastes like?" Rowankit wrinkled his nose. "Gross!"
"I do now that I've tasted that dog's fur," Toby retorted with a grin. "Anyway, it turned on me and that was when I finally realized how ginormous it was. It must have been two or three times taller than me!"
"It was just less than three tail-lengths tall," Thalia muttered again.
"You can't let me exaggerate just a little bit?" Toby pouted. Thalia didn't reply, except to shift slightly, pushing her muzzle farther under her paw. Toby shrugged and turned back to us. With a quick glance at Thalia he continued his story. "It was a huge dog. Its skin was like a Monster's—so tough I'd barely scratched it. Fear grabbed hold of me and I turned to race away, but I wasn't fast enough.
"Wham!" he shouted suddenly and Rowankit and I jumped. "It threw me sideways with just one of its massive paws. I slammed against a pile of junk and hit my head hard, so hard that when I got up I saw stars and was almost too dizzy to walk. But I knew I had to run. Already that dog was gaining on me and if I didn't get out of there fast I was going to be that dog's next meal. I staggered to my paws and ran like my life depended on it, which, well, it did."
Toby took a deep breath. Was he really so old that merely telling an exciting story lost him his breath? He didn't look so old, just older than our father might be, but still, why would just telling a story tire him out? Wow, I sure hoped I never got that old!
"I managed to find the right alley easily, but running down it was another matter altogether. I almost ran into a wall several times, my head was spinning so badly. I knew I wouldn't be able to climb the fence at the end properly—I'd fall for sure. But it was my only chance at safety so I ran faster and faster, giving myself as much time as I could. And all that time the dog was gaining, gaining, gaining.
"It finally caught up to me at the fence. I'd already fallen off twice, which was enough to convince me I didn't have enough balance to make it to the top. So I turned and tried to dodge around the dog, but it was so big it blocked almost the entire alley. Honest, if it had lain down lengthwise, it could've touched both sides at once. It pinned me down in about three heartbeats with one clawed paw and sank its teeth into my chest, just below my throat." He pressed a paw to his scar.
"But how did you get away?" Rowankit burst out.
"It was a lucky chance, believe me." Toby meowed solemnly. "Just when I'd given up all hope and resigned to my painful death, I heard a battle yowl. I looked up to see the silhouette of a cat on top of the fence. I almost called to him to stop, as he looked about as old as you two, but he leaped down, right onto the dog's shoulders, and somehow managed to penetrate his thick skin. He had these crazy huge claws, you see, big as the dog's I think. It was incredible. That cat finished off the dog in about three heartbeats.
"I got up shakily—I was still dizzy, and I'd lost a lot of blood—just as the cat was prying open the dog's mouth. I don't know what he was after, but I said to him, 'Thank you, sir, for saving my life' He just stood there, staring at me, so I tried again. 'What is your name, sir, if I may ask?' I said. He walked closer to me and said in this cool, smooth voice, 'You can call me Scourge. Someday all of the Twolegplace will hear my name and tremble.' Then he vanished into the shadows.
"I never saw him again after that day. I struggled home, trying to figure out who this kit Scourge thought he was and how in the sky powers he'd finished off that dog so easily. At first I wasn't so sure about his hear my name and tremble thing, but then I thought about his claws and his fearlessness. You kits had better watch out for the one who calls himself Scourge, the slayer of dogs and who knows what else."
Rowankit glanced over at me as Toby's voice petered into silence, his eyes wide. "Do you really think he's still out there?" he asked the older tom.
Toby's eyes flashed in the sunlight. "Oh, he's out there all right. Don't you two ever doubt it for a second. And I owe him my life."
"Thanks for the story, Toby!" I called over my shoulder as Rowankit and I bounded out of the courtyard. It had taken a while for us to finally pull ourselves together after that awesome of a story, but we'd finally managed to say our goodbyes. Thalia had told us to behave ourselves, as usual, and as usual, we didn't pay much attention.
"You're so bad at listening to stories!" I complained as we padded back through the twisting, deserted alleyways. "You always interrupt in the middle!"
Rowankit rolled his eyes and changed the subject. "So, how about climbing that den?" he asked.
I signed exasperatedly. "Okay," I relented. Maybe this would make me more impulsive, anyway. And if Rowankit said I needed to be impulsive then it must be a good thing. Right?
"Great!" Rowankit leaped into the air in excitement. "Come on, it's this way!" He dashed off up the alleyway and, ears flattened and eyes narrowed against the dust he kicked up, I pelted after him.
Hello all! ^^ Thank you so much for reading the first installment of Take Flight! Let me know what you thought of it in a review~
For those of you who are new readers, welcome! I'm Snowfall16 and I really appreciate that you took your time to read this far. The next chapter will hopefully be out in the near future, but if you decide to stick around for it I feel obliged to tell you my uploading schedule isn't exactly the best. For these first few chapters especially, though, I'll do my best to upload them as soon as I can. Review replies will be at the beginning of next chapter if you had a question you'd like answered, whether about the story or about me.
For those of you coming from my previous trilogy, thank you for sticking with me! :) I hope you enjoy this story as much as you did the last three.