Making the Rounds
Just wanted to say Rhydderch is pronounced like 'Rutherch'. I think.
The sun rose on a field of devastation.
Not that he'd been there of course; he heard it from the mouth of another, as he so often did. He would remain stoically neutral in this brewing war, he'd decided. It wasn't that he did not hate PureClan- of course he did, as any cat old enough to feel fear did in the city. PureClan and their raids were good for business, and as callous as that sounded, Rhydderch embraced that fact.
When he rose that morning, there was no hint of sunlight. There were no windows in his dank dark cellar den, the only warmth provided by the various feline bodies he shared space with. Where Rhydderch lived, if you wanted the sun, needed it, you had to seek it out yourself. Unless you were, of course, Bayard; the Bayard, the only Bayard. The old tom possessed ownership of the only room in the whole house with a window that wasn't boarded up, completely blackened with grime or hidden behind piles of utterly useless Twoleg trinkets or junk.
Not that Rhydderch had any grounds to complain; his was a position of privilege.
"Brother." Accompanying the words, a paw dug into his ribs.
"Unless you've manifested into an extremely pretty she-cat overnight, Umber, leave me alone," he grunted.
"'Portant day, brother." The poke turned into a heavy shove and Rhydderch was sent sprawling from his nest of old blankets. Of course it was important; Rhydderch was not negligent in the remembrance of important occasions. He stretched his jaws in a wide yawn and shook out his russet fur, the red-brown of drying blood with just a hint of gold.
"Give me the news then," he snapped, rolling to his paws, eyes rapidly adjusting to the gloom.
Umber inclined his head, a shadowed flicker of movement in the darkness. "Why should I, when we have the messenger upstairs?"
Rhydderch pushed past his kin, ignoring the muted background noise of snores and whimpers. He found the steep staircase by memory rather than sight. The wooden steps were something of a commodity in the old house; for one thing, they were hewn from trees themselves, plants that cats themselves could not topple. In places they were worn smooth by contact, but in others you were liable to scrape up a pawful of splinters. The odd bit of architecture clung to the brick wall, sharply climbing. It was awkward to traverse; Rhydderch reserved a special kind of scrabbling, bounding gallop to haul himself up the stairs without slipping. Just as well the dark hid him. Behind him, his large half-brother took the steps one at a time.
The reddish tom nosed the door open, not bothering to nod at the tom who sat wincing beside the door's rusty hinges and their vocal protest.
The hall was deserted; this alone was the one place free from human junk, faeces, bones. Out here the accumulative noise was louder, and it took Rhydderch a few moments to pick out Bayard's voice from the rabble. But there it was, distinctive as always- with the mournful rasp that cut at his ears- raised in loud discussion. Rhydderch did not recognize the other voice, so with confidence he followed the sound.
Bayard was crouched beside the only exit in the house- the grime-covered pane of some translucent Twoleg material. It was normally guarded by a sentry or two, but for now they'd been replaced with a scrawny yellow tom whose ears hung in bloodied tatters.
"Bloodbath," the messenger hissed. "We was lost before we even attacked." His ears were not the only part of his body covered in blood; it clung to him, here and there, matting the fur of his stomach, streaking his spine and ribs.
Bayard snorted obviously. "Obviously," as he turned to face Rhydderch. "Ah, and what took you so long?"
"You sent Umber to fetch me," Rhydderch snorted. "That's why."
Bayard turned his head back to the messenger without another word for the ruddy tom. He was left with the distinct, rather cold feeling that he'd been prematurely dismissed, but despite this he stayed, pressing closer to the battered tom to hear his words.
"They're beasts, those cats, they are," the tom insisted. "Hurt badder than I ever been and they crushed the living breath outta us."
Bayard's mouth twitched; rueful, or gloating, Rhydderch was not sure; the old cat had prophesied the revolt's downfall before it had really even begun, when it was the hint of a whisper in the streets.
"What, so everyone's dead?" he asked, pushing past Bayard. The tom was tiny as he stared down at him, ragged where Rhydderch was sleek, cowed where he was strong. The yellow cat blinked.
"I am the lone survivor," he proclaimed hoarsely. "I with my skills escaped, after the torrid spillage of blood, as those marauding monsters tried their best and failed to catch an' kill me-"
"I think you're lying," Rhydderch interrupted, voice flat. As evidenced by his tone, he was unimpressed. "You fled the battle at the first ounce of pain." He ignored the cringing yellowbelly. He was shaking his head, as if in feeble protest- as if to say, to remind them all, that he was the hero of that battle, that he had not perished and that was a mark of his bravery. Rhydderch ignored him because whatever argument the messenger presented, he would knock it aside with logic of his own.
"So do us a favour," he continued blithely, "and slink back to your pretty little leader and tell her you're a coward." To add a certain air of theatrics to his point Rhydderch bared his teeth, snapped them a little. The messenger scrambled for the grime-dusted opaque pane, pushing his way through with the grace of a dazed hedgehog as the plastic yielded to his slight weight.
"Was that necessary?" Bayard asked dryly, as the pane settled back into place amidst a torrent of unsettled dust.
"She ought to pick better recruits next time."
Here he paused to slick down the ruffled fur on his narrow chest. Umber arrived at last, and was disgruntled to find that the bearer of bad news had abruptly vanished, right under his considerable muzzle.
"Where are you going?" Umber snapped at him.
"I'm going to see for myself," Rhydderch growled back, pushing his way outside.
The dawn air outside was already muggy; unusual, for so early in the new season. Although the horizon was hidden behind the sharp lines of sculptured glass and ugly slabs of hewn grey rock, Rhydderch could feel the storm brewing upon the ridges of the distant hills. It was weather the cats of the city rarely encountered; without any real conviction he wondered if this was what had given PureClan the edge over their second volley of attackers. He doubted it.
"Making the rounds, Ru?"
He startled at a voice in the shadows; immersed in thoughts of PureClan, he hadn't seen the she-cat watching him pass by.
"Andraste," he said, for a moment unsure whether to feel pleased or a little irritated at the interruption. "No, I'm not."
She slunk out of the shadows, coiled her thick-furred body around the base of a crooked lamppost. The soft greys and whites of her pelts melded to the post's dull colours. The look Andraste gave him was mock-disappointed.
"Not chasing me down again, are you, Ru? Remember, I told you not to do that anymore."
In a split-second Rhydderch decided he was happy with the pretty housecat's abrupt appearance. He didn't have a policy of refusing beauty and anyway, his morning could do with a little brightening.
"You're the one who jumped out at me," Rhydderch replied, swaggering a step closer, his pursuit of the battlefield momentarily forgotten, overshadowed by Andraste's sweetly angular face.
Andraste slumped to the pavement, considering the reddish tom with a long look. "I thought you, above all toms, would be the one to mastermind this rebellion, beside that wretch. But she's all alone." She pouted. She-cats loved a hero, Rhydderch knew, and here he was, falling a little short of expectations, once more.
"You know me," he drawled. "Can't leave the ladies. They'd be beside themselves."
"They could have a little freedom. Without you breathing down their necks, making sure the first, last and only things they see each day are the dirty stinking walls around them! Who's kitting this time, hmm? The pretty little grey one, I do believe. She was so rapt with you. So willing to follow you anywhere, she followed you to her own prison."
Annoyed now, Rhydderch heaved a long breath. "It always leads to this, Drasta. I know my life is colourful, but you needn't bring it up every time we talk."
The white of Andraste's sleek belly was stark against the faded pavement. "I know what you'd like from me," the she-cat purred. Her statement, too, was stark. "But you're not getting my kits, Ru, nor are you getting the rest of me."
He grinned. If she'd said that once, she'd said it a hundred times, but he did believe he got a little closer to cracking her with every conversation they held. "Ah, you say that now-"
She was gone before he could finish his sentence, before he could roll out the smooth tones he knew would win her over again. He shrugged, a little put-out- but there were other she-cats in the city, so many more, and he had a site of bloodshed to visit.
He wasn't offended by Drasta's words, really, because they'd been hurled at him so often he'd memorised her insults. They were true, too, he supposed, but it wasn't exactly his fault that she-cats were stupid enough to fall for him.
These were his thoughts, as he strolled along the dimly lit street. He hmmmed musingly; there was not a cat to be seen, but the fear that hung over the city was so palpable and thick, Rhydderch was tempted to cut it to shreds with his claws. Maybe the first sign of feline life he'd encounter would be a trace of PureClan's odd scent, a glint of a narrowed eye, a harsh voice that told him their bloody StarClan would be willing to take his poor tainted soul. Or maybe it would be another pretty queen, and his morning would be better for it.
Aha, Rhydderch thought suddenly, rapidly blinking and pricking his ears. Not a soul to be seen but aye, a voice to be heard. Or two, rather.
"You don't have a plan for this?"
"Well, I didn't plan on being ambushed, so no."
"He'll be all right, won't he? I'll be fine?"
"We'll all be fine and we'll go home to a forest full of rainbows and happy dancing mice," the second voice snapped. "I imagine Iceface is training them as we speak. Now hurry up, you're not going to kit on the Thunderpath."
Here there was a third voice, slurred, indistinct, but growing ever clearer as Rhydderch neared the twist at the end of the road. Quietly, he slipped into the shadows, huddled behind a dustbin.
"Iceface really knows 'ow to treat 'is Clan," the third rasped. The trio of cats rounded the corner; through a slim gap between the bin and the crumbling brick wall, the city tom watched their approach.
A white-and-cream-tabby tom was propped between a black she-cat with a bulging belly and a clearly ruffled ginger cat, perhaps the owner of the angry second voice. The one in the middle was mottled with blood and hobbled, but his apparent pain did nothing to minimise the grin that stretched his muzzle. The black queen had a severe, irritated expression, her eyes a shade of green that was altogether too familiar for Rhydderch. He couldn't place the hue, couldn't seem to recall where he'd seen it before.
"Shut up, you're supposed to be dying," the queen hissed. She too harboured a limp, a kind of hunched walk that spoke of some kind of internal pain. They had an agonizingly slow pace and with every second that passed, he felt his breath grow shallower, sharper, hinged with desperation. All it would take was a glance this way, for a shaft of yellowed sunlight to fall on his pelt and gleam with reddish gold madness.
But they were immersed in their own problems; the apparent looming death of the middle tom and the black she-cat's impending kitting. They didn't see him, didn't spare him a glance that would end his life. They passed by, ducking into the tiny space between one fence and the next a little further down the street.
With his second sigh in the space of a morning, Rhydderch backed out of his hiding spot, shaking the dust from his previously immaculate pelt. It took him a moment to remember where he was supposed to be going: the battlefield, of course. He oriented himself, pointed himself in the direction of the field that had been, until the small hours of today, been peaceful, tranquil, clean.
Upon his arrival, Rhydderch discovered that the battlefield was in all honesty, just a field, and the so-called battle had really just been an ugly brawl. It was clear who the victors had been, and although they were gone now, they had left the remnants of the ambush behind. Grass, smothered in blood, strewn with a medley of fur. Bodies, cracked, broken, depicting such a carnage Rhydderch had never seen in his entire life. He scanned the vacant faces, wondering if he recognised a few, but no; they'd been nobodies, strays and alleycats, those without a position of privilege.
He wondered why he'd wanted so fervently to come here. It wasn't as if he couldn't have gotten a description from the scrawny messenger- it didn't matter how limited his vocabulary was, or if it consisted of mostly a few vulgar profanities. Not that he felt the ugly coward's words could convey the reek in the humid air, or the torrid taste lain thickly over his tongue.
Kicking a lean white she-cat's head aside, he turned to leave. Rhydderch departed the grisly scene. Coiled in his stomach was a cold rolling stone of disgust- not directed at PureClan, but rather, their opposite; at the city cats, crushed so easily by their exhausted enemy. Rhydderch had a word or two, for the city's dearly beloved rebellion leader. Perhaps he'd pay her a visit.
Before long he was back in the myriad of streets, cursing the heavy air rather than, to use Andraste's words, 'the wretch' who'd become the face of feline defense. He hoped it wouldn't be so muggy back at the shamble of house, but this was a wish unlikely to be fulfilled. The heat was liable to seep through the cracks in the mortar, be multiplied in the house's fetid dark interior. Maybe he'd stay out for the day- but then, thinking of present company, he decided against it. He'd been lax, so far, with the forest cats prowling the alleys. So what, if he'd never been caught yet? That did not mean it couldn't happen.
So he stuck to the shadows, the dark spaces in the busy streets. Predominantly, PureClan liked to haunt the quiet places, the areas where terrified cats were more likely to hide. They themselves seemed to hold a certain kind of fear of the street beasts, their sleek metal hides, their screams as they thundered down the streets.
That was his theory.
Someone else apparently had had the same idea: a small figure, idly wandering at the opposite end of the street. A street beast roared past, buffeting the tiny tom towards Rhydderch. He was close enough to see the other cat's mouth open, as if to cry in surprise and fear- but rather, an oddly warbling call reached Rhydderch's ears. It was a name, the undulating repetition of a name, loud enough to make him flinch.
If I can hear him, then so can anyone. It took several lunging bounds for Rhydderch to reach the little ginger tom. His scent was a little acerbic, a little sweet, slightly tainted with a tang of copper and rust. He bore a ridiculous resemblance to a baby bird; pale and awkward and twittering for help.
"Hey," Rhydderch hissed. "Don't you know anything? Shut up."
The tom stared at him, blank, mouth still open, as if to produce another plaintive cry. Still hissing, Rhydderch herded him into someone's unfenced front yard. He jumped at the bigger cat's touch.
"There are bad cats here," he said sternly. "You're going to get yourself killed, along with every other poor cat you attract with your wailing-"
"Excuse me," the ginger kitten piped up, "do you know an Arrah?"
"Yeah, but- what? Wait, why?" A picture of the slim grey she-cat sprung to mind. Of course he knew Arrah, but how did this kitten know her?
At this the strange little tom purred, exceptionally pleased with himself.
Yay! Another chapter, at last! Sorry it's been such a wait, it's just been getting very busy at school ;-; And I'm lazy. I think I was motivated to keep writing this because I had a weird dream where I managed to complete TPATP...so yeah.
Last chapter got a record amount of reviews -32, so far!- so that's made me happy, even if it did take ages. c: It's like my food. Reviews. Yum.
And feel free to tell me if you'd like a special 4000 word chapter for chapter 40...it could possibly be done.