ƬΉΣ PӨIƧӨПΣD ΛПD ƬΉΣ PЦЯΣ

Her Simple Things

A mouse beside her paw. Sweet-smelling herbs sticking to her fur. Smokepaw's scent in her nose. It was the simple things she felt first; the simple things that brought her back to life.

She ate the mouse, groomed the herbs from her matting pelt, savoured the forest-and-earth scent that belonged uniquely to her favourite tom.

When she was capable of complex things such as listening, talking, questioning, Specklefrost began to grill her for her memories, and patched up the gaps in her mental timeline with a story so impossible, so terrifying and inspiring, that it could not possibly involve her. The medicine cat insisted that it did.

She'd sat down one afternoon- sun-high, if anything was to be judged by the golden light that trickled through the den roof's leafy canopy- and asked the apprentice what she remembered from her 'incident'.

"We went on a raid," Sablepaw replied slowly, sifting through a jumble of memories. Nothing was clear, certain. Everything was so confusing, she wanted to return to her simple things once more.

"And?" Specklefrost prompted.

"We killed some Tainted?" Sablepaw guessed. "Wait, no- maimed. Morningstar wouldn't let us kill them outright if we could help it. She didn't say why." Then she blinked, surprised at herself. For a moment, the petty details had become clear.

"There's more, isn't there?" Specklefrost said, staring into Sablepaw's pale green eyes, willing her to remember.

"I think. Smokepaw and I...we caught a Tainted. Well, he did. I think I just stood there and looked tough. And then…" She paused, remembering Arrah, unwilling to reveal that Embertooth's unlucky, doomed third daughter was not, in fact, dead.

"Then?" Specklefrost asked impatiently.

"Morningstar appeared. She seemed annoyed that I hadn't caught one myself and found a scent trail for me to follow. In the end it lead to a big fat tom. I thought he'd be easy, but he knew how to fight. We tumbled onto the Thunderpath...he trapped me...I saw lights, and I tried to get away...I couldn't."

Sablepaw shuddered. She didn't want to remember anymore, but the words, tasting their freedom, kept flowing.

"I got knocked aside, but the tom...it just ran over him, crushed him...cut him in two. I saw his dead eyes, staring into mine-"

"That's enough," Specklefrost interrupted. "I don't need the gruesome details. Now, I'm going to tell you what happened while you healed."

Sablepaw glanced at what had been the wreck of her body. She was indeed healing; small scars littered her pelt, shiny and new; poultices were plastered at odd individuals over her sides. Her leg was secured between two straight sticks with vines and cobwebs. A ring of flesh encircled where the bone must have poked through the skin.

"You've had a fever, for about a moon or so; you dreamt and slept, and woke sometimes, mumbling nonsense, but you will not remember any of it. Such is the nature of fever. The break in your leg was bad, but it will be healed soon. You've had many small wounds but the minority is healed and you should be training again within the moon."

Sablepaw looked at her leg again, and gave it a testing twitch. There was pain, yes, but in a subtle twinging form. This was not the agony she'd endured before, not the burning sensation the coaxed screams from her throat.

"I have another question," Specklefrost murmured, leaning in and brushing her nose against Sablepaw's ear.

Sablepaw paused, and felt a chill running down her spine. The medicine cat's blue eyes wanted answers, answers that the apprentice could not give.

"Who is Arrah, and why did you keep telling her to run?"

"It must h-have been a dream," Sablepaw stuttered. "I don't know anyone called Arrah. You said I mumbled nonsense, right?"

Specklefrost drew back, twitching her whiskers in agreement. "Of course. How silly of me; for a moment I thought you were fraternizing with the unsanitary kind- the Tainted."

"Never,"Sablepaw growled, lashing her tail, as if just hearing the word evoked her 'hatred'. As if being accused of such vile acts was an offence.

The tabby she-cat nodded her approval. 'That's good. Fever dreams are the oddest things, aren't they? So confusing. Sometimes they make us forget our own loyalties and restraints, but you remember, don't you, Sablepaw? You're a smart one."

Sablepaw sensed the deeper meaning behind the words, and too afraid of her belying voice, she simply nodded in return. The medicine cat heralded her agreement with a small purr and turned away, sweeping some stray leaves back into organised piles.

"That's good. No more fever dreams from you, understand?" she asked, dusting off a small collection of black seeds with her tail.

"I understand," Sablepaw murmured, hunching her shoulders and pressing herself against the moss nest beneath her.

"And Sablepaw?" the medicine cat asked for a final time, turning to stare at her, small traces of concern in her eyes.

"Yes?"

"Do you remember Smokepaw carrying you back from the Twolegplace, and giving you prey?" Specklefrost said.

"Yeah."

"No, you don't."

Sablepaw looked away, twitching an ear to show she'd heard, and stared at the grass tunnel. It lead to the outside world; according to Specklefrost, she hadn't been out there in at least a moon. She focused on that, on the thought of freedom and drinking in fresh, clean air, instead of what Specklefrost could do with the dangerous information she'd gleaned.

When someone finally arrived to escort her outside- a full two days later- it was no one glamorous; only her mentor Meadowmist.

"I caught three Tainted," the white she-cat boasted, as she helped Sablepaw climb from her nest. Her limbs were stiff, and protested bitterly alongside the pain in her leg, but she ignored the discomforts and began to hobble into the tunnel, leaning heavily on the warrior's shoulder.

"And killed another with nothing but your claws," Specklefrost finished sourly. "We know, you've told us ten times over already."

Was there envy in the tabby she-cat's voice? As she hobbled, the apprentice took a moment to wonder if the medicine cat hadn't wanted the path fate dictated she take- fate, or Morningstar? Had she wanted to be a warriors, to destroy PureClan's enemies and provide kits to teach and mentor? She'd never had the choice, but perhaps she didn't want to heal. To cram herself into the small stuffy old den, day after day, sorting bitter-and-sweet herbs for hours on end, treating the wounds of her Clanmates that she thought she should have born...was that the life she would have picked for herself?

No, whispered a voice in her head, ringing with certainty. She has the spirit, the cunning of a warrior. She does not want to be Specklefrost; she wants to be Specklestar, or someone with equal freedom.

"My success deserves to be known," Meadowmist snapped, as she left the den. "How many Tainted did you kill?"

Sablepaw felt Speckelfrost's heated glare, most likely aimed at the pompous white warrior, but she ignored it. It wasn't her problem, after all, and by that point, she'd taught herself not to care about the other cats' welfare.

Sablepaw sighed with relief as they exited the grass tunnel and merged into the bright sunlight. Here the air was warm and a small, stiff breeze held cooling currents.

"It's a relief, isn't? To be out of the cramped den," Meadowmist asked, turning her face to the sunlight, whiskers twitching in pleasure.

Sablepaw inhaled deeply, tasting the scents of the forest that she had missed.

"Such," she replied shortly, slowly lowering herself to the grassy ground in a particularly sunny spot. Nettlepaw padded past and dropped a sparrow at her paws with a small wink.

"Feel better soon," she whispered, before padding away to train with her mentor.

Sablepaw devoured the bird, ignoring the feathers that stuck to her muzzle. After she'd finished, she gave her pelt a quick groom, beginning to feel like a normal cat once more.

It was not long after that, as she lay in the sun contentedly, that cats began to gather in a ring around the center of camp. She pushed herself to her paws, pricking her ears curiously. As she began to limp over, another small group of cats hurried into the clearing. A grey tom lead the group, tail waving proudly above his head. It was Fleetpaw; in the past moon, his shape had filled out, and where previously he had been slim and lanky, he was now burly and muscular, with small scars hiding beneath his soft grey pelt.

The small group of cats pushed their way through the ring into the middle, where they disbanded and left Fleetpaw alone with a shivering white Tainted tom.

"What's happening?" Sablepaw asked Meadowmist, watching avidly as Fleetpaw sank into a predatory crouch.

"It's a part of his assessment. He has picked a captured Tainted and to become a warrior, he must kill it."

Fleetpaw feinted to the right and the Tainted tom flinched, scuttling back a few steps.

He's playing, Sablepaw thought, settling down to enjoy the show.

Next, the grey apprentice leaped into the air, landing squarely on his prey's back. The white tom collapsed, wailing dramatically, before Fleetpaw leaped off again, leaving a series of claws marks on its back.

"Fight me!" Fleetpaw snarled, but his command earned him no more than a whimper. Fleetpaw dashed forwards, displaying his speed-despite his bulk- to the closely watching Morningstar, and rammed his shoulder into the tom's chest. He flew through the air and landed at the edge of the crowd. The cats only hissed at him and prodded him away.

Fleetpaw arched his back and darted forward, seizing the tom by his scruff and shaking his head violently before letting him go. The tom landed with a gasp and staggered to his paws, blood dripping from his back. Shaking, he paused for a moment, seeming to gather his courage before abruptly dropping it as Fleetpaw charged.

Shrieking like an owl, he fled from the apprentice's outstretched claws. The grey tom only increased his speed until he closed his jaws around the tip of the Tainted's tail and yanked. The tom squealed as momentum pulled him into Fleetpaw's claw-tipped embrace.

His paws were a blur; tearing there, dancing here, skating over the white tom's stomach, leaving parallel paths of red blooming in their wake. The tom pulled away away, trying to batter Fleetpaw with feeble blows- the grey tom only laughed and expertly parried.

As the tom raised a paw for another determined strike, Fleetpaw lunged underneath, twisting his body to rake his claws down the tom's already blood-stained stomach. As the apprentice ducked out the other side, shaking blood from his paws, the Tainted dropped to his side and rolled away. Without waiting for Fleetpaw to charge at him again, he pushed himself to his feet, staggering, furiously blinking his eyes, and found himself nose-to-nose with Sablepaw.

She found her lips drawing back in the beginnings of a snarl, ears flat, her own green eyes staring into the tom's stunned blue pair.

That was before the scent reached her nose.

Voila, another chapter pour vous! So, yeah, that's basically what the Tainted are for. Like how the mother cheetahs bring back baby gazelles for their cubs to play with and practice their moves on...

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