A Day of Firsts

Sablekit was three moons old when Morningstar announced her impending kitting. The whole Clan celebrated, by means of a feast; the season of plenty and prey had treated them well. The kits grew plump and sleek, as did the mice and the voles. The birds were tender and juicy, the rabbits fat and tasting of the moors and the wind.

Two moons, however, was a long time to wait, for a kit. Jaykit had already left the nursery- she was Jaypaw now- and there was a sad lack in playmates for the rest of the she-kits. To say the least, they were sick of each other and the lack of interesting company. The elder's tales were not enough to sustain them. After a while the old cats simply began to repeat themselves in various forms:

Do not fall in love.

The poison is bad- do not fall in love.

Love is a mouseheart's weapon; do not fall in love.

To fall in love is to guarantee your death.

Beware, young kits. Do not fall in love.

Suffice to say, the young toms and females alike were truly terrified of the poison 'love' and all it stood for. All they had heard was the horror stories, the age-old lies, warnings and cautions. Had they been told the true nature of love itself, perhaps they would realize the whole of PureClan was a scam. Yet there was none to oppose them, no rebellious warriors or resistors among them. Those sorts of cats had been driven off and killed, a long, long time ago. So the kits were raised and saw nothing, heard nothing, and felt nothing but the lies they had been preached.

A moon before Morningstar was due to kit, Sablekit experienced her first warrior ceremony. The leader's belly was visible swollen, but her eyes betrayed none of the softness or love of expectant mothers. They were merely golden orbs, tawny, soulless pits that glinted as she called out the apprentice's names in a hard, cold voice.

"Sleetpaw, Swanpaw, step forwards," she said, standing tall on the grassy knoll that was commonly called 'The Speaking Hill'. It wasn't a hill, as such, and it was nowhere near as large, but it served its purpose well.

The two apprentices shuffled forwards a few paces, a healthy berth between them.

"Do you promise to uphold and protect the warrior code, and to help protect PureClan from the invasion of the poison formerly known as love?" Morningstar asked. There was only one answer here, and she knew it; under penalty of death, no cat could say no.

"We do," the two said in unison. At least, the to-be queen smiled, but it was a small, sharp thing.

"Then, Sleetpaw, under the eyes of StarClan I present you with your warrior name. The Clan honours your quest to evade the poison. You shall be known as Sleetclaw. Serve us well."

Sleetclaw dipped his head and backed into the crowd. There was no chanting, or licking the leader's shoulder as the previous custom dictated; all of that, unnatural rowdiness and sentiments of love, the senior warriors called it, was forbidden.

"And Swanpaw. Under the eyes of StarClan I present you with your warrior name. The Clan honours your quest to evade the poison. Discard your old name: you are now Swanpath."

The new warrior nodded, and slipped back into the mass of seated cats.

"You have already received your pair: StarClan have approved the match between Sleetclaw and Swanpath." Here, at least, the Clan cheered; new pairs meant new kits, and new kits meant a new generation to continue the fight against the poison.

That was also the day that Sablekit saw her first Tainted.

Several warriors- Thornstreak included- returned to camp, shortly after sun-high, dragging a mottled brown tom after them. Sablekit had been halfheartedly dabbing at a scrap of old moss when a cluster of excited, ragged shrieks interrupted her brooding boredom. Half the Clan was gathered around the camp entrance. They were jeering, hissing, snarling insults at the limp shape Coldbone was restraining. Some reached out and jabbed at its thin brown pelt, only to recoil in horror and disgust, as if they could feel the poison writhing beneath its skin, and smell it oozing from its very pores. The black she-kit crept closer, green eyes wide with fascination and a small portion of fear.

The Tainted was not particular impressive. He was a mere rogue, thin and starved, caught in the wrong place at entirely the wrong time. Bright red slashes stretched from his stomach to his flank; drying blood clung to her father's claws. His stomach heaved with shallow, rapid breaths. The captive's ears were flattened against the back of his head. In fear, his eyes were closed, but he flinched at every sound, every jape and growl.

Sablekit was too excited to be afraid, or to even pity the rogue- it was a real, live, Tainted!

Morningstar hurried from her den, face twisted with hate and malignant expression of glee. Her pair Sedgewing trotted behind her, his creamy pelt ruffled and his dark blue gaze fixed on the poisoned rogue.

The perfectly cloudless blue day was also Sablekit's first execution.

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