Name of the Game
There was a paw covering hers, a voice in her ears. Indifferent yellow eyes, blinking at her, just managing to mask their concern. Then, the same voice, the same word, the word she distantly remembered as being her name.
She wanted to tell the voice to go away, leave her be; she didn't need him. She didn't need this life; she hated it, and more than anything she wanted it to end. It was hellish, the loveless existence, or at least, the pretence of pretending not to love. Because she felt the poison, the love, for her kits, and maybe even a little for her pair despite his pigheaded arrogance.
But she couldn't do this life, not anymore. It was a weight on her shoulders, and every day it got just a little bit heavier. Some days it became too much; when that happened, she couldn't breathe, couldn't move, didn't want to. She could only feel self-pity and sadness and grief, and slowly it was killing her. She could see it, when she tried- her sleek fur was growing dull, listless, her flesh clung plaintively to her thin bones. Most days she didn't eat. It was too hard, and everything turned to ash and dust in her dry mouth.
"Embertooth, can you hear me?"
Embertooth opened her mouth, gave a reply that was barely more than a puff of stale air.
Sometimes, some days when she tried, she could eat a little. But it was not for her, never for her, and only for the kits that swelled her stomach. When she didn't, she felt cruel, but the world she was going to bring them into was crueller. She felt heartless, at that thought. She didn't want the kits to be raised here, in the heart of the monster's den, to grow up and each be another love-killing beast. That was cruel. But what could she, humble Embertooth, obeyer of the rules, submissive always to the higher power, do? Escape was out of the question. Death seemed impossible. Not with him always watching, questioning her, prodding her with gentle claws.
"Embertooth, please, talk to me." The voice was more desperate. She hadn't responded to it for three, four days now. Hadn't touched the prey placed at her paws since the morning she had decided not to move from her nest. Didn't touch it, didn't want, nor this wretched life she led.
"Embertooth, come with me to the medicine den. She can help you-right? Of course she can, just come with me Embertooth, this way." With gentle coaxing and teeth in her scruff, she somehow managed to lurch to her paws. She didn't know how; one moment, she was sprawled in her nest and the next she was swaying on her feet, muscles trembling and clenching with the effort of remaining upright. The journey to the medicine's den was a blur, a hazy, exhausting blur, but she could feel the Clan's eyes on her. Watching, evaluating, judging- how they loved to judge(in the sense of the term, at least, and without openly admitting it). Big eyes, little eyes, narrowed eyes, all fixated on her pelt and thinking, Embertooth always was weak, Embertooth was always going to fall for the poison, Embertooth...good riddance.
Then she found herself in the dark respite of a sweet-smelling den, on a nice fresh nest of soft moss. There were herbs in her mouth, writhing down her throat, and soft paws on her stomach. The voice of Specklefrost, telling Sparkpaw to shut up and help. The yellow eyes, staring at hers, looking helpless and ever-so-slightly worried.
Don't, Embertooth thought at the eyes. You'll get yourself in trouble and then where will you be? But they held her gaze; it was she who broke it, dropping her eyes down to her paws. Thornstreak watched her for as long as he could, still trying to maintain his icy mask, until a harried medicine cat shooed him away.
Embertooth, watching him stalk away, felt sad for a fleeting moment. She would've wallowed in her grief for longer, but there was a black oblivion fogging her mind, snapping her tether to the waking world and pushing her adrift. She resisted, weakly, until she was lulled away. There was no pain, not anymore, and for that she was relieved.
When the dazed black she-cat woke, she was alone. There was a faint murmur of lowered voices outside the den.
She caught phrases, snippets-
"Depression- it's a symptom of the Taint."
"She has it?"
and instantly wished she hadn't. She wanted to go back to that dark and warm place where she felt nothing and cared for no one. She wanted to go back there for good, and leave behind the troubles of the world and everything it stood for. She didn't want her burden anymore, the weight on her shoulders and the claws around her heart.
The sound of voices grew stronger.
"What can we do about it? Morningstar will want a public execution."
"If she has evidence, she will."
"We can't lie to her, Thornstreak. She'll know. She's not the leader of this Clan for nothing.
The conversation-treason- was interrupted by a despairing silence.
Embertooth felt sick for the sake of the kits she carried. They'd kill her, her and the kits, without a second thought. Because she was a freak.
"If she knows she's carrying kits?"
"It'll only prolong her life... she'll have two, three moons at best if they let her have the kits."
Silently, the to-be queen rose to her paws. She swayed, almost toppled with a curse, but righted herself and took a small step into the gloom of the den. Her eyes roved the depleted inventory of herbs. Tansy, marigold, borage roots, chamomile, thyme, poppy seeds. Embertooth knew what she was looking for; when outright killing was not an option, PureClan resorted to a poison of their own. At last she spotted the dully gleaming berries, half-hidden beneath a wide green leaf. With a trembling paw, she scooped several of the small red spheres towards her. Closing her eyes and quivering on her feet, she paused and told herself she was doing it for the good of her kits, and tried, unsuccessfully, to feel unselfish.
Then she bent and swept the berried inside her mouth with her dry and cracked tongue. After days living with the taste of dust, their acerbic bite was nearly more than she could handle. The sensation reminded her of just how alive she felt, in that moment. She swallowed and waited. It felt like an eon. It took seconds for the berries to wreck their deadly havoc. She fell to the ground, writhed, and unleashed a scream that could barely convey the exact measure of agony she felt. It was everywhere, searing her lungs, seizing her muscles, burning in the pit of her stomach, consuming her unborn kits in an inferno of pain and nausea.
Thornstreak rushed into the den, his perfect mask of composure splintering, breaking, shattering into a thousand irreparable pieces.
"Embertooth!" he cried, and it was the last thing she heard, ringing instant her ears, a cacophony of grief and anger and betrayal. She hadn't meant to hurt him, truly hadn't, but she had been doomed to die at either her paws or Morningstar's. She preferred the former; detested the idea of the latter.
Mwaha, I unleashed my mean streak. Here's hoping I can get it back under control again, hmm?