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The Legacy of Brightstar

"Really, Embertooth, it's shameful that you've kept them together this long."

Sablekit woke, the sound of her parents' argument ringing in her ears. Pepperkit stirred and twitched beside her. His paw was thrown casually over her tail. The black she-kit cracked open her eyes; all she could see was her brother's broad back and a slim vault of light above his dark tabby fur. Rolling over onto her other side, she could see the dark shadows where Embertooth and Thornstreak stood. The other nests were empty. A small trail of moss scraps lead to the nursery's entrance.

"They're only kits, For StarClan's sake," her mother hissed, glaring defiantly at her pair. Thornstreak snarled, searched for a suitable retort, and spat one out.

"You let them play with Littlefern's litter. Not just Sablekit with Rainkit and Nettlekit, and Pepperkit with Slatekit and Smokekit, but all six of them together. I should report you to Morningstar."

"And tell her what?" Embertooth snapped, tail lashing furiously. Only Sablekit, it seemed, could discern the fear in her eyes.

"I'd accuse you of carrying the poison. I'd also accuse you of encouraging the poison among the youngest generation. Mostly, treason," Thornstreak growled, pushing his nose into Embertooth's sleek muzzle. "And we both know what that means, don't we darling?" He let the implication, and the mockery of the fond endearment, hang in the air. Embertooth tried to maintain her icy stare; after a few seconds, she broke it and looked away; at the ground, at the thick wooden walls of the nursery- a large, hollow tree stump- at the kits, at anything but her pair.

"Good," Thornstreak said, swiping his tongue roughly over the black she-cat's ear. "I'll be taking Pepperkit with me. He's been coddled by she-cats for long enough. I wouldn't be surprised if you've infected him with the poison."

"You can't!" Embertooth protested. "He's just a kit! I've only just began to feed him solid prey!"

Thornstreak's tuft of a tail twitched. "Pepperkit will stay with me, and I'm going to advise Fussyfur to do the same with his own tom kits," he meowed curtly. Sablekit shut her eyes as he approached the nest. Pepperkit's warmth suddenly lifted away; he protested with a drowsy mumble. Her father began to pad away. Sablekit, confused, and suddenly alone, lurched to her paws. She caught the dark look that Thornstreak shot his pair, Pepperkit swinging from his jaws, before he squeezed out of the entrance. Sablekit took one step forwards to follow- she and Pepperkit went everywhere together, did everything together- but, quick as a flash, her mother's paw was there, holding her back, severing her from her brother.

"Embertoooth..." Sablekit whined, as her mother clamped soft jaws around her scruff and dragged her back to the nest. She was vaguely aware of her mother's methodical movements as she groomed the moss and dust from her pelt, but all she wanted was to go with Pepperkit; it wasn't fair that he got to do stuff with their father while she didn't. The enormity of her situation did not yet dawn on her. She was blinded with all the innocence of a young kit.

At some point, Littlefern shuffled into the nursery, her shoulders stooped. Embertooth paused her mechanical licking and glanced up. The two she-cats shared a look, a sad, knowing look, a look that Sablekit would later realise was illegal.

Only two kits trotted back into the nursery. Smokekit and Slatekit did not follow.

Crookedflower, at sun-down, returned to the nursery. Her look of composure broke as she curled up in her nest; Jaykit, the oldest kit in the nursery, sat by her mother's head and stared, her lovely blue eyes hollow, at the camp through the nursery entrance. Her brother Fleetkit did not come back either. Sablekit turned, opened her mouth, and began to ask her mother where Pepperkit had gone. But one look at her mother's, deep, sad green gaze seemed to tell her everything she needed to know.

That night, the mewls and squeals of kits could be heard coming from the warrior den, until a harsh-voiced cat snapped at them to shut up.

. . .

At first Sablekit missed her brother. But as the days passed, the bond they had once shared grew weaker, ravaged by neglect and disuse. Everyday, she would see him as she sat outside the nursery. He crouched on the other side of camp, beside the warrior den. Sometimes they would exchange a curt nod; the elder's tales filled them with cautions and a sense of discipline and responsibility. They feared, for the sake of encouraging the poison, to do any more than acknowledge each other.

Love, they understood, was forbidden. Whatever they'd had in the past, whatever they had decided to call it- love, kinship, a feeling of family- they both disregarded it. The elders had warned them; it was dangerous to let the poison fester. Love made mouse hearts of them all, and mouse hearts did not make warriors. No one could find reason to dispute their claim. PureClan had lived so long without it, they could not imagine a world where love was openly embraced, where love was not punishable by death. Where cats, instead of being paired without any say in the matter, could chose their own mates, and raise their own kits without fear of an odd-numbered litter. Too many tom kits or too many she-kits did not many in the least. Such a world, a utopia, could surely not exist.

No one dared to try and find it; the risk was great, the fear was greater.

And so PureClan lived, day after day, through one season and the next, silently questioning but never breaking, always adhering to their strict rules. They believed, squashing the private doubts in their hearts, the lies that Morningstar spoon-fed them. Years after Brightstar had passed on, her dark legacy remained to taunt her descendants.

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