A Distant Laugh
How could he?
Pikedance never thought her vigil would end like this.
It was supposed to be her special day. She had thought that she would be tired but happy, looking forward to her first night in the warriors den and cats calling her by her new name.
She had thought that her denmates would be beside her; Spruceflower, joking despite her exhaustion, and the never-tired Pebblegrey, looking for a patrol to join with those serious blue eyes of his, followed by Amberfang, who would be teasing the grey tom for being a soulless work-lover. She had thought that Resinflame would be stifling his yawns and arguing with Dunpelt and Cometfrost.
She had not thought that he'd be standing before the Tangleroot.
And she had definitely not thought he'd be there for attacking and maiming his denmates.
Now, instead of laying in the warriors den, Pikedance was sitting on the stones, near the willow tree that was the Tangleroot, hot and flustered, with a hazy emotion, smothering any other feelings, surging up inside her.
Helpless, shameful anger.
How could he?
The pale grey shecat sat hunched over, keeping her eyes firmly in front of her, boring them into the wet bark of the Tangleroot in order not to see Resinflame’s straightened silhouette and his molten red pelt.
Splat. Spalt. Splat.
Droplets of water flew from the brilliant blue cascades, running down the grey, tumbled stones. The ancient willow tree, whose lower half was the dark Tangleroot, divided the cascades running along the rocky cliff wall, making up the stone camp’s northern side.
The water splattered against the huge, dark roots and rough stones, dappling them in designs that Pikedance usually found pleasing.
Now, all they did was remind her of the blood that had sprayed across them only the previous night.
Splat. Spalt. Splat.
Pikedance thought that the noise would drive her insane.
The young warrior uneasily sheathed and unsheathed her claws, eyes flicking around almost fearfully, trying calm herself. There silence, there had been darkness . . . and there had been the quiet ‘splat, spalt, splat’ that rang in the night.
There had been her brother, so malicious, so deadly, and so gleeful, in a way Pikedance had never seen before. Resinflame had seemed like a fiery demon in the night, his molten red and black pelt glowing eerily in the absolute darkness. Wordlessly and quietly, he had suddenly appeared and slammed into Cometfrost with a terrifying accuracy and murder in his eyes. And the first sound to break the ‘splat, spalt, splat’ had been the silver warrior’s scream.
“May all cats old enough to catch their prey gather here before the Tangleroot.”
Resinflame had certainly been able to catch his prey, Pikedance thought, before almost bursting into hysterical laughter, the thought being so grotesque it almost overwhelmed her. It was supposed to be her special day. And it had turned into such a nightmare.
Pikedance made herself quickly look up at Leafstar’s waving, marbled white and cinnamon fur, eyes avoiding her brother’s russet pelt. She could see other cats crowding around the camp, silently watching their leader and the young red warrior. Some of them had wide eyes and others were whispering. Pikedance knew that news spread fast among the cats of Stoneclan, but rarely in its true form.
But she knew the full truth, firsthand. So did Cometfrost.
The white-striped shecat had to stop herself from another nervous giggle.
Leafstar’s pale blue eyes rested on her for a moment before flicking quickly to Pikedance’s mother and father, and then finally refocusing on her brother, who was holding his head high and hiding a grin, holding his leader’s gaze with confidence. Or maybe it was that the tom had nothing to lose anymore.
"Cats of Stoneclan!" The small shecat's voice rang out and echoed among the sound of the rushing water. "We come here in anger and shock, but we gather to met out justice!" Her pale blue eyes were smooth and hard like pebbles.
The leader was so real, so firm, that Pikedance felt herself calm down despite herself. Justice. Not fear, not anger. The spell of her leader's words almost burst in contact with the grey shecat's thoughts and Pikedance nearly giggled again.
No! She told herself, fighting desperately to keep her mind clear, struggling to grab any thought she could to banish the hysteria.
It was supposed to be her special day.
How could he?
Pikedance had expected anger, but instead, a spasm of grief; true, painful grief, momentarily gripped her. It was her moment, her one and only moment of reward and recognition, the day the eyes of her clanmates were on her and she stepped into a new role.
Gone, forever. Never to return. Never to repeat.
Her moment, forever blotted in blood and fear. The memory of her one moment would now never contain her, only blood and outrage. Shame. And her brother.
He had stolen her moment!
The night of Pikedance's warrior ceremony would now always be the night of Resinflame's crime. She felt the bitterness fill her despite herself, a shameful emotion, outrage caused by injury done to herself.
". . . who know not of the events of last night will learn of them." The long-legged grey-and-white shecat had missed the beginning of her leader's speech. Leafstar's words now flew clearly to her once again, and Pikedance, for the first time, turned her gaze onto her brother.
"Yesterday we named new warriors, and they proudly received their names and proceeded to watch over our camp in silence. They divided themselves, chose places on the Tangleroot and the camp, and kept guard." The small shecat, strangely imposing and tall, turned her head to gaze down on the red tom in front of her. "Yet, you, Resinflame! you! you raised claw against your own clanmates, your own denmates! and struck treacherously in the darkness."
The marbled brown-and-white shecat shifted her gaze to Pikedance, pale blue eyes wide and hard as stone. "You attacked Cometfrost, mauling and maiming him. And if Pikedance hadn't raised the alarm, and Pebblegrey and Amberfang hadn't come to his side, you may even have killed him.
"And yet, you still turned against your own denmates and refused to yield. Amberfang, Spruceflower, and Cometfrost are now in the medicine den, and Smallstorm has told me Cometfrost and Amberfang may never return to their warrior duties. Spruceflower will be forever blind in her eye!
"How do you justify your unprovoked attack and it's ferocity!?"
Leafstar's voice rose to a enraged and furious yowl, her blue eyes blazing. A silence spread among the cats, cowed by their usually calm leader's rage. Resinflame hunched over slightly, eyes glaring darkly at her. And Pikedance began to shudder, uninvited sounds and images invading her mind.
Cometfrost's dim face as he leaned towards her in the darkness, his pale green eyes and frosted breath . . .
Her own shrill and terrified shriek that startled the fiery demon latched onto Cometfrost's pelt . . .
Spruceflower's strange keening after the claws pierced her eye and cheek . . .
The terrible look in Pebblegrey's eyes when he lunged at Resinflame, side-by-side with Amberfang . . .
Resinflame raised his head coolly and levelly, the corners of his muzzle twitching. Sunlight played on his red pelt, disappearing in the darker fur of his paws. Like the blood had stained them forever. Or like he had been born with the mark of the murderer.
He sat easily, almost too easily. Amber eyes shone and glittered with a light that may have been mocking or anger. "Quite easily, Leafstar. I can actually justify myself quite easily, if by 'justify' you mean explaining my motive."
Leafstar bared her teeth at the warrior, trembling with fury.
The red tom looked at her. The small shecat didn't speak, but Resinflame twitched his tail and continued his narrative. Pikedance noticed how he slid his claws along the rock."You all gave Cometfrost your favor. You decided the best of the new warriors would mentor Ibexkit, didn't you? I had thought you meant what you said."
The leader's face may have been made of stone. "May I ask what you are implying?"
Resinflame spat, his face contorting into an expression of pure fury for one instant so quick Pikedance thought she imagined it. "You should have me told that by 'best' you meant not most skilled, but . . . the favored." His molten eyes glittered. "I wouldn't have tried then."
"To accuse others of favoritism is the excuse of a poor warrior." Leafstar deadpanned coldly, her tail twitching.
The red warrior sneered. "Well, you can hardly admit to it, can you?" He paused, and jeered, "But I'll still say this; Cometfrost could bask in your favor without trying to. That mouse-brained tom with his mouse-brained ideas; you all made him so soft! He had everycat's approval from the day he was born!
"Poor, strong, brave Cometkit; poor, brave, little fatherless survivor of his litter. Hah! May every mother's mate die before her kits are born! Stoneclan shall be full of great warriors!"
"You monster!" The shriek came from the lean, mottled grey shecat, who thrust her way through the cats, who parted as if to touch her meant death, while Pikedance gaped. The shecat's eyes were crazed with grief and hatred. "How dare you!? How dare you not only maim my only kit, but even sully my mate's memory!?"
Resinflame stared at her defiantly, but he said nothing.
Meanwhile, Petreltail took a breath and closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them, the senior warrior looked calmer, but Pikedance could see the deep, glowing bitterness locked in her gaze, and recoiled with horror. Resinflame, what have you done . . .
"Your own mother now cowers in shame." The mottled shecat's voice was calm but still trembled with emotion. "Your own friends suffer from wounds you inflicted! And tell me now Resinflame, was it worth it!? Was it? Why? Why!?"
Anger rivaling Petreltail's filled Resinflame's eyes and he glowered at her, then lifted his gaze, containing the whole clan in its glare. The red tom suddenly grinned, full dark ecstasy and . . . the barest flicker of pain. "I'd like to see Cometfrost mentor Ibexkit now."
A collective hiss issued from all the surrounding cats. Pikedance stared, dumbfounded. My special day . . . my special day . . . no . . .
Leafstar suddenly pounced down, right in front of the red tom, who flinched. But the leader didn't attack, she just looked straight into his eyes. His tail twitched down between his legs for an instant and Resinflame's eyes avoided her gaze, stumbling back a step. He looked like he was fighting with every fiber of his being not to flee.
"Resinflame, you struck Cometfrost in the darkness. Pikedance and Spruceflower tried to draw you off, but you slashed at Spruceflower's eye and proceeded to shatter Cometfrost's forefoot against the stones, tear his ears, slash at his face and stab at his pawpads, nose and legs, at whch Pikedance ran off to alarm the clan." Petreltail's face went pale.
"Amberfang and Pebblegrey appeared at that moment. Amberfang tried to stop you, but was in turn attacked and hurt as brutally as Cometfrost." Pikedance saw Galecry and Swanclaw begin to shudder uncontrollably, but Leafstar continued, merciless. "In the end you were finally subdued by Pebblegrey and Orangefeather."
Resinflame turned his head towards Leafstar and grinned, but his eyes were set somewhere behind her. "You have to admit, this proves I was a better warrior than Cometfrost."
"Do you deny your blame?"
"Isn't it a bit too late for me to plead innocent?"
Leafstar looked down on her warrior, towering over him despite her smaller stature."Perhaps it is." She finally meowed. "Perhaps for you it really is."
She looked over her clan. "Resinflame, from this day you are no cat of this clan. You have betrayed and denied us as your clanmates, and so we deny you in turn. Be gone, be exiled, be a stranger to us. You may only come back when you lift up kin or kith of those you've hurt. Say what you must and leave!"
The red tom went still; only when Leafstar snarled at him did he start and turn tail, streaking to the entrance, where he paused and briefly searched the faces of the surrounding cats. His molten eyes locked onto Pikedance's for an instance.
She couldn't read his expression.
She wondered if he could read hers.
Then his eyes narrowed and face contorted- in what? grief? anger? hatred?-and he raced away on the Stones. Pebblegrey and Hillbelly stood as if to give chase, but Leafstar stilled them by lifting her tail. They turned to look up at her.
"I also have another announcement to make." The leader's voice was light, almost breezy, as if nothing had happened, yet that only made their coldness sharper. Leafstar turned her eyes, angry but fierce, onto the grey tom before her. Pebblegrey watched his leader silently, and Pikedance suddenly realized she didn't recognize him. The warrior looked focused and cool, eyes as hard as the marbled shecat's.
Leafstar gazed down. "Pebblegrey shall be the mentor of Ibexkit. Pebblegrey, I want you to take a patrol after Resinflame. Dismissed."
Pikedance remained in place, even as her clanmates got up and moved their seperate ways. She stayed silent.
She was forgotten, not important anymore. Just another warrior, just another cat. Because of him.
The long shecat flinched, and got up.