Darkness encircled me. Dark tree trunks rose above me, but still I ran. I knew there was no escape, I had tried too many times, knowing there would never be a way out.
My pelt pricked as I felt her gaze on me. “Sandtail,"she called. “Hurry. We don't have much time."
“Why," I asked, waiting for the ginger cat's claws to sink into my neck. The only thing I feared. And she knew that,that she was the only cat who held such power over me.
Fireleaf came out of the shadows, her claws glinting silver in the eerie forest light. “Come, Sandtail," she breathed, her amber eyes glowing.“ I can show you the end to your curse."
“No," I said, knowing that it was a lie. “I don't need you. I am happy as I am!"
She shook her pretty head .“I was like you, young tom, and I was destroyed by the power that I held over others. No, you need freedom. More than anything you have ever needed before." Fireleaf smiled at me, trying to lure me into the forest.
“No," I repeated. “Never. You haunt my dreams, not my life!" I took off running into the dense forest, hoping soon I would wake, free from her for another day. I dreaded the she-cat every night. And the power she held over me was a game to her untrustworthy claws.
I woke in the warriors den,as every day,and sighed softly with relief,knowing she was far from me.At least while the sun shone.
I stretched and began walking.
“Sandtail!"Ivoryfur called,her beautiful fur glowing like moonlight.Her ice-blue eyes shone like crystal.“Come and eat!"
I nodded and padded over to her.I sat,curling my tail over my paws.She went on and on about things she saw on evening patrol,but all I heard was Fireleaf's voice in my ears.You need me.To break the curse.It runs in your blood...
I twitched my ears,trying to clear my head of the cat's horrible voice.I tried to listen to Ivoryfur and enjoy my prey,but the cat who haunted my dreams never left me.I was cursed day or night.
Shadestar hopped onto the rock,calling for a Clan meeting.As the warriors of ShadowClan gathered,all I heard was horror.
“A battle patrol must confront RiverClan of this crime..."he was saying.
No,I thought,Please not me...any cat but me...
Pinepelt calmly watched the faces of his patrol.The deputy's eyes passed over me,as if my obvious fear was not noticed.
I glanced at Wingedpelt.She seeked me out and locked my eyes.Her eyes seem to say What are you?I winced,remembering the countless time I would come with border skirmish wounds and nearly instantly heal,to the healer's eyes.It was more than that.Pain no cat should have to bear,beyond description,only to live to fight another battle,to feel the pain again and again and again...
How many times had I lived in this agony?I had lost count after twenty five...and that had been ages ago.
I looked over the camp befrre me.My paws tingled with fear,my ears flat against my head.Why would this curse not go away!I could already feel the injuries quickly making their way into my pelt,to such pain....I should be dead.So many times,I should be dead.
It's in your blood.Fireleaf whispered.Your father gave the curse to you,and you to your kits.I shuddered.No cat should bear this burden.Rainwatcher,my father,had died when I was young of a disease....but now that I think of it,my earliest memories were of my father's sufferings in the medicine den,the greencough refusing to be helped by herbs.No injury had ever hurt him,so the stories said.
It's in my blood.
Claws raked down my side,making me stagger sideways.Spots appeared in my vision.I could barely stand through dizziness as another pair of claws cut into my back,teeth on my tail.
I lashed back,snagging tufts of fur in my teeth,tasting the metallic blood.Then it all went dark.
I groaned as the blurry form of trees rose up around me.Everything hurt,moving would be agony.But I would live.I always did.
The scent of Fireleaf wreathed about me.“Go away,"I mumbled,but my words were incoherent through pain,dizziness,injury.
Fireleaf laughed gently.“You know this pain well by now,yet still it hurts you.Does it not?"She took my silence as a yes.“I should know.I bore the same curse.It pained me my whole life,and to my dismay,my kits bore the same curse as well,and theirs after them,and now you."
The horror of what the she-cat was suggesting nearly made me pass out from pain and shock.“You're...no kin of mine,"I groaned.Getting up off the ground was too much effort.So I just laid there,hating this horrible she-cat who stood before me.
“Yes,Sandtail,we are kin.And I know how to get rid of the curse.Forever."
“No,"I gasped as the pain intensified.I would wake soon in the Medicine cat's den,and wouldn't have to see this fox-heart again till nightfall.I closed my eyes,giving in to the pain just as Fireleaf whispered something to me I wouldn't forget.
“I can cure you,no pain again.Just ask..."
I opened my eyes as the last traces of pain faded away.Wingedfur looked down at me.“Sandtail?"she said softly as I looked up at her.
“How long was I out?"I asked,standing up and shaking out my pelt.
The medicine cat shrugged.“Larksong and Mouseeyes brought you in and said you had collapsed halfway trrough the battle.You've been here since sunhigh."
I looked at the sky.Almost nightfall.I groaned inwardly.
“Ivoryfur was asking about you,"the medicine cat said softly.
Immediately I headed for the exit.Wingedfur stopped me.
“Sandtail,"she whispered,her voice shaking,“What are you?"She looked at me as if I were a badger or a fox or something.
I swallowed.“I...I have a curse,"I said.I told her the whole story - about Fireleaf meeting me at night,telling me I was different,being made an apprentice,my first battle,the unbearable pain of each individual wound,Fireleaf telling me she could make me normal if I wanted it,my warrior ceremony.I sighed as I finished,telling her Fireleaf's claim to be kin and her last offer to cure me of the horrible curse.
Wingedfur stared at me for a moment,her green eyes watching me closesly.Finally she sighed.“That explains why you are still alive after losing enough blood to kill two cats."She said softly.
“No matter how bad the injury, it always heals."I said, half to myself. “It's horrible. It hurts. And there is no escape."
The medicine cat just shook her head. “Go." I walked out of the den, and something told me I wouldn't see the place again.
I found myself in the forest. “You didn't listen, stupid tom." Fireleaf hissed.
“I don't need you, Fireleaf!" I snarled. “I've told you that before."
She shook her head. “You have doomed your kits to your fate. You will grow old watching them fight the curse themselves, feeling the pain you gave them."
“It isn't that bad," I said, though I knew it was a lie.
The ginger cat's claws scraped along my face. Blood welled,dropping to the forest floor. This, the only place the curse left me. It hurt, but not the pain of the waking world. She showed her fangs.
“You are the only curse that I hate," I yowled at her. “You have taken my whole life, making me fear you!"
“I tried to protect you!" Fireleaf responded, her eyes blazing with anger. “I had to one to help me! I was trying to lift the burden from you! You wouldn't have it from me."
“What even landed you in this hole of darkness?" I asked, turning to run till morning came.
“Trying to lift myself of the curse," she whispered as I walked away. “Because I had to one to cure me."