I'm not my mother.
That, at least, was obvious. Sablefrost stood by Embertooth on a sunlight river bank. She stared at their reflections in rippling water.
She was not her mother, and it was plain to see. Death had restored what life had taken from the older she-cat; she was lithe and sleek and beautiful once more. Her green eyes were wide and gleaming. Her expression was vague and could not be described as happy, but no trace of the agony she felt in the final moments of her life remained. The stiff, frozen mask she had worn after her death had vanished.
Sablefrost herself was small and scrawny, her own black fur dirty, ruffled and unkempt. Her eyes were large too, but they looked confused, rather than glinting with a regal light.
She looked away from the water to meet her mother's gaze.
"You're not me," Embertooth whispered. And how she'd missed that voice, forgotten how soft it could be.
I know, Sablefrost thought, but she couldn't bring herself to speak.
"You're not me. You're not."
What does she want? I can't be her. Doesn't she know that?
"I'm sorry!" she cried, her voice feeble. It sounded pathetic, echoing alongside the smooth cadences her mother possessed. The light faded and the sky grew darker. It was the dark indigo of night, but naked without its usual smattering of stars. Purple clouds shrouded the moon and smothered the horizon.
"You're not me, Sablefrost. Remember you're not me." Her last word echoed louder, bouncing off the jagged stone mountains that surrounded them. It shattered the tranquil surface of the water and silver ripples distorted the reflections. When it stilled again, the mirror-Embertooth's jaws were splayed wide, foam coating her teeth and tongue and muzzle. Her green eyes blazed.
It was only when she heard herself scream that she realized she had locked gazes with her own reflection, not her mother's.
Embertooth vanished, the trees vanished, the sky vanished. So did the river, and finally, the ground she stood on. Everything was black ash.
As she fell, her mother's voice was soothing.
"Remember, sweet, remember how you aren't me."
Sablefrost woke with a start, her flanks heaving. Her head throbbed, her mouth was dry, and several wisps of moss were speared on her claws.
She'd always thought she'd be glad to see her mother again, but the dream had been harrowing and only left her trembling. Her mother was warm and soft, and when she had lived, Sablefrost had rarely heard her use such an insistent, firm tone.
The young warrior shook herself and quickly groomed her rumpled fur. Dreams meant nothing, unless you were a medicine cat with the skills to dissect and divine them.
I could tell Specklefrost...but I don't trust her not to tell Morningstar. I could ask Sparkpaw, but I think she's a little useless. And in the name of StarClan, no, I will not ask Sorrelstorm.
His perpetually tousled pelt and hollow eyes had always fascinated Sablefrost, but she kept a wary distance from the ginger tom. He could save lives, yet she was certain everyone had seen him taking them away. His bright fur was not exactly subtle whenever he tried to sneak out of camp with a kit clamped in his jaws.
She climbed to her paws, a yawn stretching her jaws. Judging by the pale light filtering through the den's roof, it was early morning, and most cats were still asleep. With a curious glance, she saw that Strongclaw's nest was empty and unused. Across the den, Smokefang was not sleeping beside Jayflight. Sablefrost hid a smirk, hoping that the pretty blue-grey she-cat's lonely night had been long and cold.
When she slipped out of the den, the camp was all but deserted; soft snores omitted from the nursery and the apprentice den was quiet. As if summoned by her thoughts, Sorrelstorm skulked on the fringes of the camp beside his den. The bloodied bones of a vole rested at his paws. There was red smeared around his mouth, but he didn't seem to notice; if he did, he didn't care. At least it was only prey's blood. That much she could be happy about. Pinepaw wasn't in sight.
Sablefrost slunk over to the fresh-kill pile. Its name was poorly fitting; the prey had been indeed killed, but not a single piece was fresh. She chose a small brown bird and carried it over to the shade the Speaking Hill cast. With Morningstar in the nursery once more, it was hollow and empty.
Sablefrost pawed away a few clumps of feathers from her meal and took a bite. The flesh was dry and tough, but at least she had food. Others weren't so lucky; others that included those Tainted rogues that had been captured during the last raid- if there were any left at all. If PureClan hadn't killed them, surely starvation or old wounds had. Maybe that was a mercy.
She swallowed her mouthful, and looked up to find dark amber eyes locked with her own. From across the camp, Sorrelstorm was staring at her. Sablefrost awkwardly dipped her head in a silent, distant greeting, but Sorrelstorm didn't move to mimic her- he continued to stare, his shoulders hunched, the fur on his chest matted. She lowered her gaze and took another mouthful of the bird, self-conscious.
Why was the kit-killer so interested in her?
A shadow fell across her pelt, severing the medicine cat's gaze.
"Where's my son?" Morningstar snapped.
Sablefrost raised her head and shrugged, asking, "Why?" as she chewed.
"He hasn't been to see me today," the golden she-cat sniffed. "He always sees me first thing in the morning and brings me the best prey from the fresh-kill pile. I'm hungry, and the sun came up ages ago!"
"You're pregnant," Sablefrost replied lightly, "not invalid. I'm sure it wouldn't hurt you to get your own food for once."
Morningstar glared at her and bared her teeth. "I'm the leader of this Clan, and I have better things to do than trek back and forth across the camp. I shouldn't exhaust myself when the kits are due any day now."
You killed a cat when you were pregnant, once. Or have you forgotten?
"That's why you, Sablefrost, are going to go find him and bring him back to camp. Then, maybe I'll give you back your meal."
The dappled leader hooked a claw into the bird's limp brown wing and dragged it away.
"He's a warrior, not a wayward kit," Sablefrost muttered. "He knows his way around the forest well enough." But she stood up, and trotted out of camp anyway. She was hungry.
I'm not my mother. It was evident; her mother would've never thrown a retort back at her leader. Nor would her father- at heart, he was still Morningstar's brutish thug, the very same tom who had murdered his brother and maimed, tortured and killed any that had not heard of the Warrior Code.
In the shade of the forest, it was cold and damp. Through the leaf awning above, the sky was swollen with dark grey clouds. The taste of rain hovered on the wind.
"Strongclaw?" she called, struggling to remember where she'd last seen him. Somewhere on the path to camp, they'd had a confrontation. He had stalked away, off the main path.
"If I were Strongclaw, where would I be?" she asked herself, warily scenting the air. Probably digging myself a nice, deep, dark hole to go die in. So... not a helpful question.
She reached the spot she'd last seen her pair. His scent was stale, and only led off the path into in the thicket of bushes and trees. Sablefrost called his name again; there was no echoing reply. She hoped if he'd heard, he'd known the exact measure of annoyance she was trying to convey.
She wrinkled her nose and pushed into the foliage, beads of water sinking through her fur to kiss her skin. It must've rained last night, and from the looks of the dark sky, another deluge wasn't far behind.
The black she-cat continued forwards, trotting in the places where the undergrowth was the thinnest, and ploughing through the vegetation when it was at its thickest. Her pair had not broken in the trail well enough. That was obvious when a spindly brown branch lashed her nose and muzzle, as she tripped over a bramble wrapped around her paws.
She fell flat on her face once more, hissing at the thorny tendril. That was when she saw a flash of white-and-tabby vanish over a fallen tree trunk, and the scent of her pair intensified.
"Strongclaw!" she yowled. He didn't answer.
She struggled free of the bramble, hissing where it pricked her leg. After swiping the leaves from her dusty fur, she leapt after him, scrabbling over the mossy wood of the log. Her pair was trotting down a narrow dirt path, ears flat against his head.
He doesn't want to see me, she realized. He doesn't want to talk to me. He doesn't want... me. Her nest was stale, her stomach empty, her mood sour. His standards of care had plummeted, and Sablefrost found that she was disappointed.
"Wait!" she cried sharply. It was the tone Morningstar used when she desired something. It was enough to slow the calico's pace. He swung his head around to glance at her, and his eyes widened. Strongclaw turned and loped back.
"You're bleeding," he said, his voice odd.
"Huh?" Sablefrost, following her pair's gaze, ducked her head and saw the black fur of her foreleg was stained even darker with blood.
"It's nothing... a thorn. Leave it. Hey, leave it!"
Strongclaw was poking at the embedded prickle, frowning. She jerked her leg away and glared at him.
"You have to take it out," he told her patiently. "It'll get infected otherwise."
"How do you kn-" she started to snap, when the sky split above them with a thunderous roar, unleashing a torrent of mixed rain and hail. A fat ball of ice bounced off Sablefrost's skull and she snarled. Another hit her flanks, and icy water pooled in the hollow between her shoulder.
"Make a dash for camp?" she shouted, over the numerous thuds of hail hitting the trees and forest floor.
"It's too open, it'd take too long! Over there!" He shoved her roughly with his nose towards the trunk.
"I'm not sitting in a moldering dead tree for StarClan knows how long with you!" Sablefrost protested. A bead of hail struck the sensitive skin of her nose, and she shut up, crawling into the dank gloom of the hollow tree with a shudder. A sticky thread of spider-web attached itself to the tip of her aloft tail. Beneath her paws, the wood was slick and slimy. The pounding of hail against the trunk was enough to make her flatten her ears.
"Great spot," she told Strongclaw scathingly. She could barely hear her own voice.
"Give me your paw," he said, ignoring her comment. She heaved a sigh—how sad was it that she could no longer get a rise out of the prickly calico warrior?—and shoved her foreleg away from her body.
"Sorry," he muttered apologetically.
She didn't need to ask why because, by the time she'd opened her mouth, he'd already sank his teeth into the thorn and yanked. After a moment of stubborn resistance, the small brown barb came free.
"Ow," the she-cat said reproachfully. "I think I preferred it when you weren't tugging it out of my bleeding flesh."
"If you wanted it to get infected—and ten times more painful—then you could've told me." Strongclaw shrugged in a kind of what-is-there-to-do way.
Sablefrost snatched her paw back and licked the blood from the small cut.
"In the name of all things good, why didn't you go back to camp last night like any normal cat?"
Strongclaw shuffled around, turning his back to her to stare out at the sleet. "I was mad. Angry."
Sablefrost paused. She remembered how his blue eyes had darkened.
"I can't help what you feel," she parroted.
The tom's shoulder hunched. "That makes two of us," he growled, his voice thick with the venom he usually reserved for lesser cats.
Somewhat baffled, the young she-cat stopped talking and resumed the careful grooming of her foreleg.
The other warrior's head swung around. "Tell me, dear pair, what do you feel? Are you as icy as your frozen eyes suggest, or are you a normal, living, breathing, feeling cat?" His muzzle drew closer, until their breaths mingled on the damp air.
"I-I-" She couldn't talk, not when her pair was close enough to taste her words. He was smirking.
"You're not as perfect as the Clan likes to think, are you?" He jabbed a paw at her chest. "You have secrets. Your heart isn't made of ice, and just like the rest of us, you bleed."
He unsheathed his claws, and traced them lightly over the fur of her throat. She couldn't do anything but stare into his eyes, wondering why they were so shadowed. Wondering if her pair was crazed, wondering if her pair would really dare to kill her. Did he hate her that much?
His claws snagged, and it was enough to break the skin. Sablefrost's heart leaped into her mouth, stuttering in panic.
"Don't pretend you're better than anyone else- than me. Morningstar might have shoved you into the sunlight, but the whole Clan can see you're just about to break. You're melting, and everyone can see."
"You might be Morningstar's son," she gasped, "but that doesn't give you a pedigree."
Strongclaw drew his paw away, and licked the dark bead of blood on his claws.
"We're not so different," he murmured.
"We're warriors," Sablefrost whispered, her mouth dry.
"You know that's not what I meant."
"No, no, I don't." She was breathless, her voice low and halting. The tiniest flicker of pain marked the spot where Strongclaw could have torn out her throat.
"Ha." The calico laughed. "I'm the mad one, now? Remember last night, dearest? You were so hysterical I doubt you could remember your own name. Like mother like daughter, I suppose. You're just as mad as she was."
Without thinking, snarling with fury, her unsheathed paw lashed out and she raked her own black claws across his cheek. "Don't say that," she spat. "Ever."
"You're just as weak as your father," he snapped, recoiling, if only for a moment. He shoved his nose into her face again. "Mad and weak. It's a surprise I could ever-"
His eyes widened again, this time in shock. He shut his mouth and drew back an inch. "It's a surprise my mother would ever pair me to you," he amended stiffly.
"You could've done better. Beautiful Jayflight, lovely Nettlecloud. Instead your mother forced you to be paired with the orphaned wreck. She's just as bad as her mother, isn't she? Isn't she!" Her voice had risen to a yowl, and Embertooth's voice washed over her again.
You're not me, she tried to say, but it was pointless; Sablefrost was her mother. Smaller, scrawnier, uglier, but emotionally… just as ruined.
"Your mother wanted to see you back at camp," she informed Strongclaw sourly, before pushing past him and into the hail.
It was cold, but it was not enough to freeze her heart once more. She was melting, crumbling, thawed.
She was her mother, yet worse.
After pelting through the rain, she finally reached camp and burst into the sodden clearing. The sleet was so thick she could barely see, but she struggled into the nursery. She pushed past Redsong, spraying her squealing kits with drops of frigid water.
"Morningstar!" she yowled. "I found your stupid son! He's fine!" The last word hitched in her mouth.
It wasn't true. She'd seen the anguish in his brilliant blue eyes as she'd abandoned him in the log. She'd heard him wail her name, with as much pain as if she'd cut his heart from his chest. She'd left him, but even the endless torrent of the pounding rain could not wash his cry from her ears.
Everyone can thank ShoutFinder for this update, she she reviewed all my chapters and made me want to start writing TPATP again.
Sorry, Hunterwifey, was this supposed to be a fluffy chapter? x.x Oops.
Many thanks to Auri/toffeecakesxox for beta-ing this chapter!
So, what does everyone think of the chapter 30? c: We're 11 reviews away from hitting 400!