“WHAT DO YOU MEAN they’re not here?”
“They’re not here.” Kendra repeated, patiently. Nyssa bristled at her soothing tone and huffed. It didn’t help that they were camping out in the dusty and smoky ruins instead of secure in their own camp. It also didn’t help that Slateheart hovered over her shoulder and watched her every move like a hawk.
Nyssa wasn’t sure what to do about the SwiftClan tom. Cresimen and the Serpentine had driven out SwiftClan thirty moons ago, but it wasn’t until ten moons ago that they truly stopped appearing. That was when SwiftClan stopped being the rebel forces that tried to drive the Serpentine out and Nyssa’s Mistakes took over.
“You mean to tell me that Skye and Reese told you guys to come back here but never came back themselves?”
“Yes.” Kendra said, only for about the fifth time.
Nyssa groaned and buried her head into her paws. With her Second unconscious and still recovering from his wound—a hideous gash in his side that will probably scar—and her Third out in the middle of nowhere with Skye, Nyssa was alone in leading the Mistakes. She couldn’t do without her spies.
“Where did they say they were going?” Nyssa glanced at the brown she-cat again.
“They said they were rescuing you,” Kendra explained. “But…I see you already got rescued.”
“I didn’t need a rescue.” Nyssa grumbled, but she knew that wasn’t true. She had set up her plan around SwiftClan rescuing her because she knew she would never be able to walk out of the Elite camp alive after entering. Kendra was glancing at Slateheart, who had yet to be introduced to the Elites.
“That’s the Forgotten tom—Slateheart,” Nyssa decided she might as well indulge in her cats’ curiosity. She needed to stay in their good graces while Rowan and Reese weren’t here to help her. “How are Rowan and Arya?”
Kendra was her temporary Second. Nyssa didn’t know the brown she-cat that well but she was a worthy rebel and worked hard. She and Myra were always Nyssa’s favorite picks for cats on difficult missions. The two, Nyssa suspected, were also mates, but they had yet to announce such a thing.
“Adel is treating to both of them. She requests that you monitor Arya’s cresimen, however, because she’s not sure how much she’s supposed to give the Elite.” Kendra shifts, her yellow eyes searching something behind Nyssa. The dark gray she-cat smelled the scent of Myra.
“I’ll come by and check,” Nyssa decided. “Thanks.”
Kendra’s eyes darted to her Leader’s in one surprised motion. Nyssa was a little bit shocked at herself. She didn’t realize she was going to thank Kendra for her help; Nyssa tended to forget about being grateful to others.
“You’re a really big help,” she told the brown she-cat gruffly, “I really appreciate you stepping in as Second.”
Kendra just smiled. “No problem; I’m glad to be of help. Myra needs to talk to me—can I go?”
Nyssa waved her off. She sat outside her makeshift den and watched her cats go through the motions of the day. Kendra and Myra were talking near the entrance, the two purring and Kendra rested her head briefly on Myra’s shoulder, as if taking in her comfort. Nyssa felt a tug in her heart that told her not to let harm come to the two young lovers. She had already ruined one fairytale, but she could save others.
Across from Nyssa were Vera and Carter. Vera, the one-eyed she-cat, was smiling at the young tom and she seemed more comfortable than she had been when Nyssa had returned with Slateheart. The dark gray she-cat was glad that no harm had come to the timid but sweet she-cat. She had lost her eye to cresimen and had been fearful of the world since.
Carter was a sweet tom too, Nyssa reflected, and he was an obvious choice in helping Vera out of her trauma.
Adel was in the den next to Nyssa, treating to Rowan and Arya. Nyssa hesitated before turning her paws towards the den, only to crash into Slateheart. She had forgotten (no pun intended) he was there.
“It’s a very peaceful community for a group of rebels.” Slateheart mused. “You do a good job in preserving these cats’ innocence.”
“They’re tough fighters when you ask them to fight, but most of the work is done by me, Rowan, and Reese,” Nyssa admitted, “we haven’t really rebelled against the Elites yet. We’re not strong enough to do anything.”
“Then what have you been doing?” The tabby gray tom frowns.
“Looking for you,” Nyssa shrugged. “Avoiding death.”
She didn’t want for him to open up another conversation. She wasn’t really too sure why he was following her like a dog. He could be resting or even better, he could be making sure the camp was safe from Elites with that abnormal power he had, but instead, Slateheart had been doggedly following Nyssa ever since they found SwiftClan gone.
Gone. A pang hit Nyssa in the heart. She had wanted to see her parents so badly it hurt. She didn’t know what she would do when she saw them—maybe yell and scream at them for not trying harder to get her back—but Nyssa wanted to see them. And then she wanted Shadowstar to drag his Clan back and fight for the Mistakes.
She was tired of fighting a losing battle for SwiftClan.
Nyssa also missed Reese terribly. The dark gray she-cat knew the pale she-cat didn’t really think much of her since Nyssa was always rude and pushed her away, but Nyssa wanted the comfort of her Third. She ducked into Adel’s medicine den and saw Arya first, curled up in her nest, breathing deeply. At least the black and white Elite was settled, Nyssa reflected.
“Nyssa,” Adel dipped her head. “I’ve given her about two leaves, one less than what the Elites usually get—at least, according to what Reese had told me. I’ll try to wean her off slowly but I don’t know how the other tom did it.”
“That’s fine,” Nyssa nodded. “Thanks.”
Again, there was that look of surprise. Nyssa pushed away her slight annoyance and focused on the other cat lying in the medicine den. Rowan was sprawled on his side, his wound an angry red on the side that was facing up. He was still unconscious and Nyssa found herself wanting to go forward to touch her nose to his to make sure he was okay. She settled for giving Adel a brisk nod of thanks again before backing out. There was nothing she could do for Rowan right now.
“Can you stop following me?” Nyssa asked irritably as she crashed into Slateheart on her way out. “Aren’t you tired or something? Or go outside and make sure none of the Elites know we’re here.”
“We’re very vulnerable here,” Slateheart reflected. “They must know about these ruins since they now know where your old camp was.”
“Thank you for your brilliant observation,” Nyssa grounded out. “Go outside and make sure the Elites don’t find us here.”
The SwiftClan tom gazed at her with those strange, glowing eyes. Nyssa felt uncomfortable under that stare, as it reminded her of when she had found a pool to see her own reflection and found that her amber eyes really did glow now.
They weren’t as brilliant of a color as Slateheart’s, but…still. Nyssa didn’t like how abnormal they looked now.
“I don’t know these areas very well,” Slateheart always had that no-nonsense look on his face and Nyssa felt like wiping it off. “Also, you haven’t introduced me to any of your cats.”
“Jealous? Miffed?” Nyssa taunted, “You’re not special, Slateheart. Get over it.”
“I meant something to you when you tried to break me out of prison,” the SwiftClan tom reasoned, as if this was the best thing he could think of to say. Nyssa snorted. He really was clueless to how she operated. Did he still expect her to be a pretty little princess?
Nyssa decided to get into his face and show him she was boss. “I wanted to find you because I wanted to find SwiftClan. Seeing that you have no ability to find them, you’ve really wasted my time. Now the next best thing you can do is actually to find Elites and make sure they stay away.”
A thought crossed her mind. “Actually, if you can track Elites, can’t you find Skye?”
“Skye?” Slateheart repeated.
“The light gray tom you helped earlier?” Nyssa stared at him. “You know the one with the white splashes on his pelt? The one with the pale she-cat?”
Nyssa’s nose flared and she wasted no time in shoving him over. Other cats in the camp watched curiously but didn’t interfere. “Call her that again and I’ll cut out your tongue.”
Slateheart looked up at her from where he was on the ground. Nyssa felt a rush of heat at the intensity of his gaze. “I’m sorry,” he said, as he picked himself up, “I didn’t know how to refer to her. I had to make sure we were talking about the same cat.”
“What other pale she-cat do you know who was at the Elite camp?” Nyssa grumbled. “Whatever. Can you find her companion? His name is Skye and he’s an Elite.”
“He is not,” Slateheart frowned. “I would have known if he was.” There was a glint of malice in his eyes that made Nyssa shiver. She could hear the rest of the context: and I would have killed him.
“He’s an Elite.” Nyssa confirmed. His ear flicked but Nyssa snapped. “You don’t touch a hair on him. I just need to know where the two of them are. I need to make sure they’re okay.” I need to find Reese.
Slateheart looked confused. “I can’t track him. He doesn’t radiate power like the Elites do. And my power isn’t long distance. I can’t even feel the Elites at their camp right now. It only works in a close range.”
Nyssa sorted this information in her head. Skye must have lost his power already by withdrawing from the cresimen. “But you can sense Arya, correct?”
“The black and white she-cat in the medicine den?” Slateheart clarified. Nyssa nodded and Slateheart said. “Yes, I can sense her.”
It was strange how it worked for him, Nyssa thought. She had been given a second dose of cresimen that had nearly killed her but had also changed her slightly. But Nyssa couldn’t do what Slateheart could do. No…instead, she felt something else stir in her gut. Nyssa tried to ignore it.
“Why?” Slateheart was looking at her for answers again. “Why do you call them both Elites yet one of them has no power?”
“He’s been withdrawing from cresimen for a long time,” Nyssa admitted. “Now that I think of it, I’ve never seen him use his ability. I think he lost is a long time ago. Arya was beginning the process of stopping cresimen but she withdrew too quickly so she fainted.”
“I see,” Slateheart dipped his head. “I’ll go outside and keep watch. I’m sorry to have been a bother to you.”
As he began to stroll outside, Nyssa felt panic seize her. She hadn’t really meant for him to go away; something in her pulled to him. Perhaps it was the fact that he was like her; he knew what it was to struggle with this strange, forming power within.
“Wait,” Nyssa panted as she bounded over to catch up.
Slateheart glanced at her expectantly but didn’t stop for her. He kept going until he was seated outside. “I thought you wanted me to stop following you. Now you’re following me.”
Nyssa blushed. “I know, I know. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t need company.”
The gray tom stared and stared at her. She met his gaze evenly, wondering why she felt such a deep pull in her gut. “I won’t be lonely out here.” Slateheart said. “I’ll be fine. You should tend to your cats. I think the injured one will be waking up soon.”
“How do you know that?” The words jumped out of Nyssa’s mouth.
Slateheart smiled slightly—a small, secretive smile for himself. “I just do.”
Nyssa wanted to try to drag the reason out of him but she was interrupted as Myra ran outside and crashed into Nyssa. The calico she-cat stumbled and Slateheart caught her, easing her into a standing position. “Sorry,” Myra gasped out, her amber eyes flashing. “I was looking for you, Nyssa.”
“What’s wrong?” The dark gray she-cat was instantly alert. She berated herself mentally for getting distracted with Slateheart. She blamed the tom.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Myra reassured her, after seeing her seize up in panic. “Rowan woke up.”
Nyssa’s joy was muffled by the fact that Slateheart had a smirk plastered on his face and he was stifling a laugh. Nyssa quickly thanked Myra to get her back in camp and turned on Slateheart. “How did you know?” She demanded.
Slateheart rolled his eyes. “You’d think after all of my demonstrations you’d have an idea on how I knew.”
“What else can you do?” Nyssa was curious now. “You have so much power.”
“That’s it,” Slateheart shrugged. “It’s not that much considering how much they drugged me for it. I wonder what they really wanted to get out of giving multiple doses to someone who already rejected the drug.”
“What was your Mistake mark?” Nyssa ran her eyes over his pelt and found nothing out of the ordinary.
“My eyes were green,” he explained, “they turned gray at first but after I began to develop powers they glowed.”
It was interesting, Nyssa reflected, how each cat was affected differently. Rowan had a similar mark, where his right eye turned to a murky yellow while his right eye retained the natural brilliance of his normal eye color.
She nodded her head along, unsure what to say now. Slateheart didn’t need to ask what her Mistake mark was because she wore it on her skin every day. He could see her piecing together what he saw in all the cats here—marks everywhere. Nyssa had long ago decided that she wouldn’t be ashamed of her scars but with this SwiftClan tom now, Nyssa felt self-conscious for once.
His eyes seemed to soften as he took her in. “Go see to your friend,” Slateheart said softly. “I’ll keep watch.”
“Thank you,” Nyssa said for the third time that day. She didn’t know why she felt the need to show her appreciation. Slateheart owed her after all.
He just smiled slightly and Nyssa left it at that. She could still feel the tug in her gut as she walked back but she ignored it this time. She wasn’t sure why she felt such a pull to the SwiftClan tom. She didn’t even like him that much.
True to Myra’s word, Rowan was awake and sitting up when Nyssa entered the den. He was talking softly with Adel and she was rubbing a salve into his side while he gritted his teeth against the pain.
He looked up as she entered and one green, one yellow eye clashed with amber eyes. Rowan looked relatively the same—Nyssa didn’t know why she expected him to change in the span of one day—but he had a weary, exhausted look that dragged him down.
His eyes looked over her as well and Nyssa was uncomfortably reminded of the time she accused him of debasing Reese with his eyes and mind. She shook that thought away mentally and said meekly. “Hi.”
“Hey,” Rowan nodded to her, a jerk of his head. “Your eyes glow.”
Never one to miss anything, Nyssa mused, though it was hard to miss her glowing eyes. “Benefits of getting drugged twice.” She replied.
Alarm flashed in Rowan’s eyes. “They fed you cresimen again?” She could read the question in his eyes. When? Where? Why wasn’t anyone there to stop it?
Nyssa just nodded stiffly. She quickly gave the russet brown tom a run-down of what had happened in the day he was kidnapped. “Did they get physical with you?” She ran her eyes over him again and found nothing amiss except for his wound which Nyssa had assumed he got in battle.
“No,” Rowan shrugged. “I was out for most of it. Getting your side torn out makes it quite hard to stay awake.”
Nyssa’s whiskers twitched. “I’m glad you’re okay.” She said earnestly. She found that she really meant it. Nyssa had once prided herself in thinking that she would be able to move on without remorse if one of her friends died but after yesterday and today, Nyssa wasn’t ready to lose her best friends.
Rowan’s eyes softened. “Thanks. I’m glad you’re all right too. We need you, Nyssa.”
“No,” Nyssa shook her head. “I need you.”
She was surprised that the words even came out of her mouth. Rowan had a half-smile on his face. “Took you long enough to realize that,” he snorted. “So Reese and Skye aren’t coming back?”
“They’ll be back,” Nyssa said fiercely. “I just don’t know where they are.”
But now that Rowan was well on his way to recovering, Nyssa didn’t have to shoulder the leadership position alone. She visibly relaxed and suddenly felt the weight of her exhaustion. She hadn’t slept in two days and she wasn’t quite sure how she was functioning.
“Go sleep, Nyssa,” Rowan instantly noted her exhaustion. “I’m assuming you haven’t began hatching some crazy new scheme yet.”
“No,” she mumbled, “not yet.”
“Get some rest,” said the russet brown tom. “You can tell me more about what happened tomorrow.”
Nyssa wanted to argue but her paws backed her out of the den and into her own. Nyssa didn’t make it very far before she collapsed, sleep washing over her. The dark gray she-cat welcomed the peace that came with the darkness.