A warrior's envy of another may not seem like a crime to the most cats I know, but from experience, I know that jealousy is where you begin the downfall to crime.
I have been the murderer before. Out of envy, I was not frightened to bring a close friend to his death.
Regardless, StarClan honored me with a place among them when I died, alone and abandoned.
I know what it feels like to be betrayed, and for your heart to be seized, and wounded beyond repair. I know the pain of living in death, regretting decisions from countless seasons ago. And yet, those short moons were the ones that my life changed in.
Once destined to be a great warrior...I was claimed by bitterness and jealousy.
My name is Emberbird and this is my story.
- - -
It began with Jayheart.
He was my flawless brother. Honeyfall always thought him as better than me. His silver-gray tabby fur, his dark blue eyes, compared to my plain black pelt and green gaze. His calm, detached composition compared to my boisterous, active self. His skill at hunting and fighting compared to my dismal standards.
The newer apprentices always appeared to prefer Jaypaw over his peculiar, energetic sister.
I think Jaypaw loved Silverpaw. I could tell, by the way his dark blue eyes grew clouded and unfocused when he spoke to Silverpaw. How the trio shared fresh-kill, hunted together, fought side by side, shoulder to shoulder.
Worse, I was entirely certain Silverpaw loved him in return.
Duskpaw had always seemed to like Jaypaw, too. She was frequently complimenting him on the tiniest catch. I captured a huge pigeon once, my only great catch. Jaypaw managed a shriveled mouse. It was still my perfect brother who received the attention.
While Jaypaw flirted with Silverpaw and Duskpaw, I was out in the forest, fiercely training.
I was not afraid to wound myself in the process if it meant I would improve and rise above even Jaypaw.
He was better than me at everything, yet as we aged, we still considered each other friends. Despite our frequent disagreements, we were brother and sister. We were kin.
It was my warrior ceremony that turned me against him.
I still remember Beechstar's words. It was the cruel sentence that changed my life.
"StarClan honors your patience and caring."
I still remember seething inside the warriors' den, alone and hoping to be left that way. I remember my sharp disappointment. Patience and caring were not virtues a true warrior would be honored with. Traits like courage and skill.
Jayheart got both.
I got none.
I remember the gathered warriors cheering for us - for Jayheart. What they chanted was "Jayheart! Emberbird! Jayheart! Emberbird!" but I knew that they were cheering only for my flawless, perfect brother. The brother that everyone loved.
I was no more recognized as a lively, boisterous apprentice. All I was recognized as was Jayheart's sister.
I, Emberbird, the unpredictable littermate, was cast aside as if I were no more than a morsel of half-eaten prey.
There was nothing left to live for in the Clan. How was the warrior code of any importance if warriors always were rejected attention and comfort within their Clans, by their own Clanmates?
I found out I had been singled out.
Cast to one side and forgotten.
Abandoned to seethe about my life.
I was never selected to go to a Gathering ever again, whether it was because Beechstar feared me or hated me. Either could be true. I was as unpredictable as everyone believed.
I had been looking forward to warriorhood, but I can see that it is only a deep, bottomless pit now. I'd never stop falling. I could only slow myself down.
Jayheart had wrongfully stolen my life from me, and he would continue wounding my scarred heart if he would not be stopped.
No one would dare to hurt Jayheart. He was loved and respected by every one of my Clanmates. The queens told their kits exaggerated stories about him. He was followed around in camp. Some cats even told him he should be made deputy when Cloudbush died. He'd only been a warrior for two moons. I could do better.
I saw no other choice. I had to stop my brother, before he ripped the soul from my body.
- - -
The night of no moon arrived, and I was tired of waiting. Conveniently, Jayheart was awake, too, when I padded into the clearing. He told me he couldn't sleep.
"We could go for a short walk," I had suggested.
My brother had gazed at me, his silver fur like the moonlight the night lacked, his dark blue eyes mesmerizing. "In the middle of the night?" he had asked.
My opportunity had arrived. No Clanmates were alert and watching my every movement. No admirers were clinging to Jayheart like a burr. We would be alone, and I would kill him in solitude. I'd wash my paws, freeing them of blood, and return to the warriors' den unnoticed.
It was time to stop Jayheart before he committed a deeper betrayal for once and for all.
- - -
We decided to walk by the gorge.
I let my brother speak, but he didn't.
He was silent for an unbearable period of time.
Finally, he had mewed, "I'm so sorry, Emberbird. For everything. I knew you wanted to be the greatest warrior in the Clan."
"I know." I hadn't known he had been pitting me this entire time.
"It must be hard for you," Jayheart had sympathized. "It would be for me, if I were put in your paws."
I had resisted a threatening growl.
I had slowly turned around to face my brother. A desperate snarl had escaped my lips as I finally turned on him. I had been waiting to perform this movement on Jayheart for moons. I wouldn't let this chance slip from my grasp.
I reached him and pinned him to the ground, my paws trembling.
"What are you doing?" Jayheart's demand echoed around the gorge, harsh with shock. "I'm your brother, Emberbird!"
Despite my shaking, I held him firmly to the ground, one forepaw pressed over his throat as a precaution. "You destroyed the life I once had, all stretched out before me," I hissed into his ear.
"I never asked for it!" he had protested. I remember those words as clear as rippling water. They were the words that had nearly made me retreat.
I sprang off my brother with a rumble, crouching as he regained his paw hold on the stone. Before he could attack me, I lashed out with my sheathed paw. I unbalanced him in one swift, coordinated motion.
This wasn't a move Swiftshade had taught me. It was one of my own.
I shoved him over the side of the gorge before he could shriek. I heard him crash against the rock, then roll into the powerful current. I looked, watching my brother's sodden, broken body being swept away by the rushing tide.
- - -
It was unnecessary. I know that for certain now.
Jayheart and I sometimes meet in StarClan's ranks, but when we do, we stand a few tail-lengths apart and stare at each other.
One gaze full of horror and accusation, the other, regret and sorrow.
I have lost my one and only friend to the beast inside of me. The one and only friend who scarred my heart, shattered the life I had dreamed of into scattered fragments, and in the end, who had been murdered by me.
My Clanmates never discovered my crime. All they knew was that a beloved warrior had gone missing. They didn't know the entire story.
They didn't know that Jayheart hadn't merely disappeared. He never would; he had been too loyal to his Clan to ever leave intentionally. They didn't know the truth, and my reasons for committing such an unforgivable crime out.
I hurled myself into the river a moon later and drowned. Finally, when I am among the stars, I am at peace,
My Clanmates didn't know I am a murderer, and will always be among the murderers in StarClan, because of that single, unnecessary death.
They don't know what spurned me was not hatred, or fear.
It was envy.