The Chaos Kingdom is a labyrinth of order and turmoil. It is a masterpiece - seas crashing against marble-white beaches, emerald-green forests, and towering snow-capped peaks. The Chaos Kingdom has flourished for millennia, but there have been twists in time when it dwindled to ashes. Perhaps it was war, or plague, or the “fire of the sky”. But the Chaos Kingdom has not known any danger in centuries…or so it seems.
It is the calm before the storm.
SPIRAL - long-furred black she-cat with a white tail-tip
PANTHER - black she-cat
ARCTIC - pale silver tom with dark amber eyes
JASMINE - snowy-white she-cat with a fawn-tipped tail
OTTER - brown she-cat
MIRAGE - small, snowy-white tom with amber eyes
FALLEN - dark gray she-cat with an orange flash on her chest
WILLOW - gray she-cat with green eyes
FLAME - orange tabby tom with a white underside
VIRIDIAN - black-and-white she-cat
WISP - mottled gray tabby she-cat
SOLIS DEN Edit
from highest rank to lowest
DAWN - long-furred pale ginger tabby she-cat
HORIZON - sleek golden-and-white tabby tom
SUNFLOWER - ginger she-cat with green eyes
RUSTLE - dark reddish-ginger tom with a white muzzle and paws
WHISPER - snowy-white tom
LARK - brown-and-white tabby she-cat with golden eyes
PARADISE - bright-furred orange tabby tom
MAPLE - dark ginger she-cat with white flecks and blue eyes
HIBISCUS - dark ginger-and-white tom
RAINBOW - light brown she-cat with white splashes, flecked with ginger
HYACINTH - light brown she-cat with dark blue eyes
MYSTERY - fluffy silver tom with golden eyes
MIRACLE - silver she-cat with green eyes
FIREY - dark ginger she-cat with a white belly, tail-tip, paws, and muzzle
BRAMBLE - tan tabby she-cat; pale blue eyes
WAVE - silver she-cat with green eyes
STREAM - gray-and-white tabby she-cat with green eyes
LYNX - spiky-furred black she-cat with tufted white ears and ice-blue eyes
LILY - white-pointed cream-colored she-cat (mother to Paradise’s kits: Dahlia, a white-pointed cream-colored she-kit, and
HAWK - sleek black tom with ice-blue eyes
MIST - silver-and-black tabby she-cat
BLUE - broad-shouldered dark blue-gray she-cat w
FLOWER - white she-cat with one green eye and one blue eye
Dusk cascaded through the Chaos Kingdom, plaguing the sky with indigo and copper. It was as if the clouds had caught fire; they danced in the sky, golden and blood-red and bone-white, carried by the wind.
The long-furred cat swiftly ascended the cliffside, flickering from stone spire to spire. At the clifftop, snowflakes swept across a crowd of dens in rose bushes. The blood-red roses had not yet fallen, though it was the season of snow, but its scattered petals fluttered in the breeze.
They padded through the stones, toward the den beside the cliff. Roses should not have been blooming at the peak of Shadow Mountain, but it was told that these were not regular rose bushes. The predecessors of the Chaos Kingdom had been spent here in the snow. Their tears had fallen upon the stone, and these rose bushes sprang from the tears.
I certainly don’t believe that mousebrain’s nursery tale.
But this was where the royalty of the Chaos Kingdom presided, at the peak of the mountain the kingdom was laid around. They could see ice-blue and bone-white tundra, the bright golden and orange of the desert, the emerald-green and white of forests crested with snow. Whales glided, dreamlike, through the sky-blue seas circling the kingdom.
It wasn’t too bad of a scenerey, but it reminded them of their past.
They shook their head. Be quick, be quiet. Their father’s encouragement drifted into their thoughts.
“You will be proud of me when I return to dawn, I promise,” they whispered, twitching their tail across the stone. Their breath billowed in the mist as they spoke.
They had reached the den nearest to the cliff edge. They passed the den and glanced down the cliff face to see a crown of stone spires rising from the mountainside. Perfect, they thought. They could see another idea flowering, a dangerous idea. One less than a fifty-fifty chance of succeeding.
An insane laugh escaped them and resounded through the stone canyon beyond the dens where the royalty of the Chaos Kingdom slept.
They stopped. No! they reminded themselves. Be quick, be quiet. They turned to narrow their eyes at the den before them. It was the tallest of the bushes sprawled across the cliff top. Azule must be sleeping inside this very den, they thought contemptuously. Royalty slept before sunset and rose before dawn; this was customary, as they had discovered - they didn't see why.
The leader of the Chaos Kingdom, asleep before the sun dips below the horizon! They laughed again, but softly.
“Hey!” snapped a young tom.
Their pelt spiked in panic as they turned to stare at the young tom. WHy can't I tell myself when to and when not to laugh? They took a step back, glancing at Azule’s den with the corner of their eye. Should I flee? Father won't be pleased with me. He told me this is my chance, and I have to use it.
The young tom stood on the stones, his sleek black pelt specked with snow. “Who are you?” he demanded, prowling forward with a frown on his muzzle.
Onyx, they thought, reflecting on when they had shared a den with him years before. They studied him. If he didn’t recognize them - they could somehow force him to cooperate. They’d go to any length to complete their mission.
Instead of responding his demand, they thrust their muzzle forward toward Onyx’s. He stepped back in surprise as they snarled, “Tell them Azule is dead and her blood is on these stones. Tell them Carmine murdered her at this very den. Tell them Azule’s reign is over, and it is time for another to begin. Turn the royalty against one another.”
Onyx stared at them, shocked into quiet.
“Do it!” they snapped. They had dealt with mousebrains before, but not one like Onyx.
“But - ” the sleek black tom stammered as he careened back, “but she’s asleep! Azule isn’t dead, she can’t be. Carmine wouldn’t murder her; he’s loyal to her, and he’s in the Council, at the other side of the mountain.”
The rage returned to his dark amber eyes. “Unlike you,” he hissed. “Why are you here? You don’t scare me. I’ll call me denmates to drive you out. I’ll - “
“Oh, I can see how I scare you.”
He stepped back toward the rose bushes. “The Council comes at nightfall. They’ll find you here, if royalty doesn’t.”
“The Council doesn’t scare me at all. If the ten of them come, this skirmish could be fair.” They laughed madly again. “And the foolish, selfish royals? They’re sleeping in their dens. You can’t call for them to come.” Their claws slid out.
“I can!” he flared, but they were talking over him already.
“Do it,” they repeated in a soft hiss. “Don’t tell them I was here. Don’t tell them I’m behind the chaos.” They glared at Onyx until he glanced away, his ear flicking in discomfort.
“And if I refuse?” He spoke in a squeak. “If I tell them you’re behind this?”
They drew their paw over the ear. “Oh, of course you won’t.” They spoke calmly, but there was menace in their dark eyes. He wouldn't dare. “I can see your discomfort. I can see your fear. You’re too frightened to tell them about me, coward.”
The sun dipped below the sea, plunging the sky into shades of dark blue. “Get out of my sight” they snapped at Onyx. “You heard me. Don’t tell them I was behind this.”
The sleek black tom fled in terror.
- - - -
They circled the rose bush once, took a deep breath, and slipped inside.
The silver-furred she-cat was curled in the den, her snowy-white tail wandering across the stone. I practiced, they encouraged themselves as they paced forward. I can do this.
“Azule?” they called, touching her shoulder with their tail-tip.
The silver-furred she-cat leaped to her paws. “Who’s there?” she snarled. Her sky-blue eyes rested on them as they stopped. “Ah. Messenger of Solis. What brings you here tonight?” Her tail curled up as she yawned.
“There was a fox at the stone spires,” they offered, slightly too quickly. This was my idea; it has to succeed. Why shouldn't Azule care about a fox?
Azule’s ears pricked when they spoke. She narrowed her eyes curiously at them. “A fox at the stone spires,” she repeated. “When was this? Why couldn’t you tell me this before sunset? You came at dawn, after all.”
“Around midday,” they improvised, dipping their head respectfully. “You were discussing the northern floods with Carmine then, and you returned to your den before sunset. I didn’t have a chance to talk to you.”
“Ah.” Azule nodded thoughtfully. “Bring me to the spires.”
They dipped their head, casting their eagerness aside. I must do this. They strolled from Azule’s den, waving their tail from side to side, trying hard to look casual.
The sky was dark indigo, but at the sea, golden and red where the sun had set. Dark clouds circled the moon. “Beautiful,” they sighed, then stopped at the cliff edge. “Why don’t we spare a moment or two to admire the sunset?” they asked, thinking quickly. “You decide, of course.”
Accept, they willed her.
Azule tilted her head, her eyes narrowed, before she nodded and crouched down beside them. “The Chaos Kingdom is a masterpiece,” she murmured. She stared up at the stars. “My mother told me a story about how the stars came to be, when I was younger. She told me - ”
They whirled and pinned her to the stone as she was speaking, travelling through her memories.
“What is this?” Azule howled in fury, her eyes bright with shock and anger.
Determination won against their hesitance. “I’m sorry,” they snarled into her ear, surprised to find what they were saying was true. “But this is for the best.” They stopped to rephrase. “This is for Father. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be - ”
They pushed her over the edge of the cliff.
With a screech of rage and fear, Azule smashed into the stone spires, and her screech was sliced away. The echo rebounded from one side of the stone canyon to another.
- - - -
When they turned back, Onyx was standing beside the rose bush he’d disappeared into, his sleek black ears twitching and horror in his dark amber eyes.
“You did it!” he whispered, backing away from her. When they tilted their head questioningly at him, he continued breathlessly, “I - I didn’t tell them. I - I will, I promise, but - but - ”
“But?” they hissed, their tail curling.
Onyx shook his head in terror. “I’ll do it.”
They nodded, a smile curving their muzzle. Father, I promised I would succeed, and I did. An ember of pride sparked inside them, but it was soon trampled by their exhaustion. Their smile turned into a sigh. With a slight, mocking dip of their head to Onyx, they turned to leave.
“But who - who are you?” Onyx burst before they could dash down Shadow Mountain. “I’ve seen you here, I’m sure of it. But I don’t know your name yet..”
The long-furred cat didn’t turn their head. “I’m royalty.”
“Yes - yes.” But there was incredulity and disbelief in his stammer. “Why are you doing this? If you’re royalty, why murder Azule and turn your family against one another?”
“It’s what I am meant to do.”
“Are you acting by yourself?” The sleek tom’s dark amber eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Or are you in a - a community or society conspiring to bring down the Chaos Kingdom?”
They tipped their head to one side. “Why should I tell you?”
“The disorder will reach your shelter.” Onyx trembled as they glared at him with poison in their eyes. “You’ll find trouble wherever you hide.”
The smile returned to their muzzle. Onyx doesn’t understand me at all, they thought with a snicker. “Oh, don’t worry. I won’t be hiding from the trouble.” Their claws slid out. “I’ll be the troublemaker.”
They withdrew. Stars twinkled in the night sky; dark storm clouds circled ahead. “There’ll be a storm tonight. I thought so,” they murmured to themselves, then added to Onyx, “Run along. I’ll be returning to my so-called society.”
- - - -
They reached the hideout at dawn, as the sun climbed into the sky and turned the orange and scarlet of the desert canyon amber. An ink-black river spiraled through the canyon. On its riverbanks danced a campfire, kept inside a circle of night-black stones like obsidian. Beside the campfire was a small cave in the canyon with brambles dangling over the cave’s mouth.
They descended into the canyon. The stones and sand were ice-cold beneath their paws, despite the campfire nearby. They crouched at the edge of the circle of stones and flickered the embers drifting in the wind aside. Father should be here, they thought, shivering, glancing around the canyon. They were to “rest” beside the bonfire until their father came to accompany them inside. He thinks I should be supervised inside our hideout at all times, they thought with a spark of anger.
"You’ll find trouble wherever you hide," Onyx had told them; perhaps it was true, despite them denying it before. They sighed. “No,” they whispered to the campfire before them. “I won’t be hiding in this canyon of yours; Father, my world is not your world.”
“Is it not?”
They whirled, their muzzle curling back in a snarl. A sleek, dark brown tabby tom stood beside the cave, his head lifted in a challenge. There was a splash of snow-white around his eye; his tail-tip was light brown. His eyes were as dark as poisoned honey. “So is Azule dead?”
Their snarl turned into a nightmarish smile, and they nodded, dipping their head. “Yes, Father, I did as you told.” Do you still doubt me? they challenged. I’ve accomplished your task, Father. I’ve earned my freedom.
"I’m proud of you.” He tipped his head to one side. “Come. There is a bonfire inside our hideout.”
It wasn't much of a compliment, but they found themselves wondering. Is this true, Father? Are you really? What if you’re faking?In the corner of the cave was their nest of stones and black sand. The bonfire brought light to the cave; usually, one candle hung from each wall, but these had been replaced with the hides of hares in the two days they had been at Shadow Mountain. They nestled themselves into their nest.
Their father returned from a smaller cave with two small hares. “This one is for you.” He placed one beside their nest and sank his teeth into the second of their hares. “When you finish, we will discuss what will we do.”
“What we will do?” They tilted their head. Another task?
“Yes,” their father answered, crouching down beside them as he finished the rabbit. “So I’m assuming the Council believes one of their own murdered Azule?”
“Yes, they do. I - I told them Carmine murdered her.”
Onyx told them... He promised he would; he knows I would come for him if he didn’t. They faced their father, reflecting on what he’d told them. Be quick. Be quiet.
Father, I can do this task. Whatever you throw at me.
A smile curved their muzzle, and confidence dawned inside them.
They stepped from their nest and onto the stone. “Tell me what to do.”
Chapter One Edit
Mirage crouched, curling his claws around the long birch branch, and leaped, his paws reaching for the stone spire. The wind whistled in his ears as he curled himself inwards and smashed into the spire with a crash. He toppled back to the base of the tree, fuming with pain and anger, his shoulder aching. He couldn't concentrate. His dream was occupying his mind.
Five days, he'd dreamed. You have five days. The blood roses will fall, and your kingdom will fall with them. Chaos is rising.
"No," Mirage snarled at the stone spire. "I won’t let this happen." It can't happen! The Chaos Kingdom has stood here forever!
”May I ask, what can’t happen?” someone behind him demanded icily.
His mentor, trainer - whichever the royalty called her. Her sleek pelt was as dark as midnight, but her ice-blue eyes were as bright and cold as ever. Panther wasn’t terrible, but her personality was too close to Mirage’s.
And he wasn’t delighted to see her.
“Ah.” He leaned against the spire, his muzzle curling into a tight smile that didn’t look like his. “I was thinking about your assessment. I won’t let you down, I promise.”
Panther tipped her head to one side, her ice-blue eyes never wandering from Mirage as she circled him, bottlebrush tail held high. Unconvinced, she grumbled. “I see. I suppose you came here to practice this move, too, haven’t you?”
Mirage nodded, dipping his head to stare at the stone. He'd already realized what was coming; it was all he could do to stop himself from sighing.
Panther shouldered past him, padding toward the silver birch. She crouched and sprang onto a branch slightly above her triangular head. Her tail curled around the bough to steady herself as she leaped, again, ascending the birch tree. In seconds she was perched on one of the highest branches, towering above the stone spire.
"Be careful." Mirage couldn't stop himself.
Panther's ear pricked, but she didn't look at him. "It's your third moon as a trainee," she called down sternly; even from where he stood, fox-lengths below her, Mirage could see the disapproval in her ice-blue eyes. "I would have thought you had enough time to master climbing. There’s no reason you should be worried.”
"I have, but - " Mirage's objection rose to a shout as Panther crouched and leaped from the tree. Her shadow flickered over Mirage, turning his snowy-white pelt to ashen gray, before she curled herself into a whirl of night-black.
Just as she was about to slam into the spire, like Mirage had done, Panther unfolded. Her paws struck the stone spire and she flipped off, landing on her forepaws. Her ice-blue eyes flashed triumphantly. “Your turn.”
Such a show-off. Mirage choked back another heavy sigh, despite knowing Panther was a mentor, and therefore it was her responsibility to “show off”. Perhaps it wasn’t unusual she was always ready to prove herself; Azule had performed the ceremony that made her a mentor three moves ago. Mirage hadn’t missed the doubt in the dictator’s sapphire-blue eyes.
“It’s hard,” he stalled. When he moved away from her, the pain in his shoulder stopped him.
“Soft-hearted trainees,” Panther mused. More sharply, she told him, “Mirage, you should appreciate your training. I won’t be sympathizing with you.“ She lifted her bottlebrush tail and said, “Pain makes you tougher - “
”- mistakes make you wiser,“ Mirage finished, rolling his amber eyes. “You sound like my mother, Jasmine. She tells me to be tougher, be stronger, be quicker. Every single day.”
“It’s nearly sunset. I’m not staying here until nightfall.”
”Hmmm.” Mirage’s claws sank into the silvery-white trunk of the birch tree. “Once.” The pain in his shoulder no longer lingered there. He snaked up the tree, brushing the trunk with his white tail.
“Higher,” Panther reminded him when he was halfway up the tree.
I don’t have time for this! But Mirage dipped his head and continued ascending. ”High enough?” he called, tilting his head down.
Panther was as small as a blackbird beneath him. He heard her say, “Fine, I suppose. Now show me what you can do!”
Mirage stepped onto a branch, cursing as it shook beneath him. The stone spire was tail-lengths below. Clenching his teeth, he whispered a prayer to the moon and stars and hurled himself from the branch, falling headfirst toward the stone.
The spire he was reaching for was a fox-length away. Mirage folded himself in, closing his eyes, his ears pricked for the crash of bones against stone. Perhaps his spine would snap. He couldn’t understand why Panther had decided to teach him this so early.
His eyes still closed, Mirage uncurled himself, but too late. His hind paw smashed into the stone, and he shouted out in pain. But he managed to push off the spire. He landed on the stone beside Panther, cursing.
The sleek black she-cat smiled tightly, as if she’d be scolded if she laughed too hard. “If Jasmine heard what you just said - ”
”She’d hurl herself from the cliff.” Mirage flinched as he set his paw down on the stone. “It looks like I, ah - twisted my paw.”
Panther nosed at it. “You haven’t,” she informed the snowy-white tom. ”You might have, if you’d pushed off the spire any later, but no. The pain won’t stay for long.” She drew back, her ice-blue eyes on him.
Mirage flicked his tail. “Is this enough for today?” he asked.
Panther rolled her eyes. “Very well, Mirage,” she grumbled. “If Arctic doesn’t see you at the Lightning-Struck Oak before sunset, he’ll be after my blood.” The sun was nearly at the horizon. ”And yours.”
- - - -
The Lightning-Struck Oak had been a tall, towering tree, rising above the sparse silver birches like their queen, with a crown of acorns. That is, until one night, lightning arced through the sky, smashing into the oak. It was a sign from the Realm of Stars - the fire of the sky will turn the kingdom to ashes. And in a century, fire would roar from the sky, burning everything - and everyone - to ashes.
It would be thousands of years before the Chaos Kingdom recovered.
Perhaps the tale was, after all, a tale, but now that Mirage thought about it, he couldn't count how many nights he hadn't slept, instead crouching at the cliff's edge, his eyes turned toward the Realm of Stars. He'd wondered when the fire of the sky would return. In a way, it had already.
The blood roses will fall, and your kingdom will fall with them. The melodious, yet menacing whisper. Chaos is rising.
You have five days to change your fate.
But those five days would become four, then three, then two, then one. And every night, Mirage's nightmare would return to haunt him.
- - - -
"Mirage. Tardy again."
Mirage slowed and stopped. Standing beside the Lightning-Struck Oak was a tall, sleek tom, his white-tipped silver fur shivering. His amber eyes were dark with resentment. Mirage had never been fond of Arctic.
Arctic beckoned with his long, slender tail. "Come on inside." There was a cold edge to his casual tone.