Chapter 8 – Felis

The South-run River bubbled quietly in the dark hours of the morning. Grey clouds had rolled over the moon, casting the forest below into a murky sea of dark grey. A mouse sat on the riverbank, its nose twitching as it sniffed for seeds. It turned quickly as a bush shook. The normal gusts of wind never made such a noise. His small eyes darted back to his nest, where his family lay in wait for his return. Shadows flew by through the undergrowth. They were silent, but he knew they were there.

His small, worm like tail lifted as he prepared to run, but it was too late. A tangle of claws was already upon him, and soon his eyes lay staring upwards on the ground. The predator licked his lips with a thin pink tongue. It was a cat, his brown fur patchy and clumped.

He continued down the bank of the river, his lithe body flowing like the crystal water. The shadows followed, known only to the forest by the glint of an eye, or the growl of an angered mind. They stopped as the moon resurfaced. The cloud drained away on the wind, leaving the silver orb in a swamp of stars. The ground lit up with a dusty glow. The cat stopped, his eyes narrowing angrily.

"Kefa," he whispered, turning to face the bushes. The leaves parted and a large ginger cat stepped forwards. Two more, both white, walked by his side, their huge green eyes showed no emotion, but betrayed something far stranger.

"Nokrat," muttered the ginger tom, as he gave a small dip of his head to the ragged brown cat. Nokrat eyed Kefa carefully. He hated this Felis, and every other like him. He was headstrong, never thought about his actions. It was cats like this that diluted the powerful minds of the forest cats.

"The moon is out, a sign from the Prince," Nokrat hissed. The white cats looked at each other, but Kefa snorted loudly. Nokrat's insides burned.

"You doubt his power?" He yowled at the muscled cat. Kefa stood still, his orange eyes narrowing.

"To doubt him is to doubt everything we believe in," whispered Nokrat, his face twisting with malicious rage. "Maybe I should remind you to respect the rightful King."

The trees swayed and the bushes trembled as Nokrat bared his fangs. He dug his long claws deep into the earth and hissed. The water splashed up against the bank. Birds took flight, their sleep interrupted by the sudden storm. Kefa had fear in his eyes as he backed away, towards the dark bushes. A deathly silence spanned through the air as the white cats fled.

"What are you doing?" screamed Kefa as leaves and dust raised high into the air, taken by the powerful wind.

"It is not I, but the one you doubt. His power shall destroy you," yowled Nokrat, his weak and broken voice carrying as though it was a calm day.

A sound like nothing else tore downwards, its strength striking the ground with an almighty crack. Kefa flew backwards, his tail and limbs splayed outwards. Light filled the woods, if only for a second. The shadows that surrounded them were momentarily revealed. Cats, at last twenty of them, of all shapes and sizes. Their faces contorted as the flash burned into their eyes. A huge rumble, like the most enraged animal roaring into the night sky followed and then, silence.

The storm subsided as quickly as it had come about. Nyne had delivered his message. Kefa lay on the floor, dead. Nokrat smiled. He had been waiting for this day for a long time.

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The two foxes and three cats walked silently onwards. Vulpi had not spoken to Genib since the night before. He was still angry that Genib could have dismissed the evidence, but he was even angrier with himself for doubting it. Later that night, as he slept, he had seen Shadow. It had been the same dream again. Shadow's death, a huge fire and things that he had hoped to have forgotten by now.

The cats were also silent. Pugs never talked around the Rag'an, unless he had to. Drum was hungry, his face was shadowed and he shot angry looks at Pugs for not bringing him any food before they had started moving again. Kyra seemed to be thinking. She had tripped over a few roots and branches as the trotted onwards, a most un-catlike thing to do.

The silence was broken as Pugs sniffed at a small green leaf. It stood alone on a thin branch.

"We are close to the Felis Forest," he said confidently, before walking ahead of the group. As the others followed he told them all, in a smug voice, how he knew.

"That was the everleaf. We use them for boundaries. Once the rest of the stem is stripped of leaves, it acts as a post to mark the outer limits. You're in cat territory now," he gave Vulpi and Genib a warning glance and then turned. The two foxes flattened themselves against the ground.

The air became thick and musty as they walked. Small orbs drifted among the grass. Soft willows hung over them, and the ground became squidgy and moist underfoot. The cats took the lead and watched around as Vulpi and Genib slid along behind them. The wet grass wiped against Vulpi's coat, and soon he was dripping.

The cat's tails whipped into a bush, and Vulpi and Genib sat in silence, their bodies quivering as they held in a deep breath. Pugs reappeared, silently beckoning them forward with a tilt of his small head. Genib moved quickly, but Vulpi stayed. His head became light, and his paws prickled. Something deep in his mind told him to turn left instead, so he did.

He ignored the hissed warnings from Pugs and carried on. He pushed through a thick bush. Its thorny twigs grasped at his coat, but he couldn't feel it. He had glanced the clearing ahead and already it had begun to change. The sun darkened, the air became thick with pollen and stars erupted into the air. Vulpi was having another vision, of the past or the future.

A small fox's head emerged from the line of bushes opposite him, followed by a skinny orange body. Another Rag'an emerged, this one a vix, unlike the male that had arrived first. She whispered to him, but he ignored it. He took five careful steps and stood in the centre of the open space. They began to whisper among themselves. To his left, Vulpi heard a strange noise. It was like a running river, as different sounds flowed over each other.

The two young foxes had started to move away, but the male stopped. His ears twitched and he looked round into the trees. He had heard it too.

Vulpi stepped from the bush and trotted away, towards the sound. He left the two Rag'an arguing quietly. He had to know what the noise was, even if he lost sight of the foxes. He sped up, desperate to find the many sounds. The night was dark, but Vulpi was sure it came from just up ahead. The trees thinned out and Vulpi could see a large spike rising out of the ground.

As it came ever closer, he heard now that the sounds were voices, joining together and yowling there anger at once. Vulpi walked into the clearing, weaving between the cats that scattered the floor. He had never seen so many animals in one place. There were more around him now than even at the pack-meet.

"You will lead us to an unnecessary war!" boomed a large brown cat, his eyes narrowed and his ears flattened threateningly to his head. The other shouted their agreement, all of them facing the rock. Their faces were pointed up, and Vulpi followed their gaze. On the top of the rock stood a magnificent Felis, its fur flowed around it and it stood still under the barrage of yowls and angered voices.

The brown tom glared once more at the cat, then turned and stalked away, deeper into the Felis Forest. Five others followed him, a black male, two brown females, a ginger tom and a small white cat. The cat at the top of the rock watched them go and then swung his head around. His eyelids exploded open, revealing the bright shining eyes that lay beneath. The cats were momentarily silenced. The sky blue orbs glittered and shone in the darkness. Vulpi could hardly breathe. The scene began to dissolve around him, just as the blue-eyed cat started to talk.

"You must see my way of thinking…" he whispered slowly. Every word stabbed at Vulpi like fangs. His voice was so calm, yet hid so much, but Vulpi was too scared to think. As he talked, Vulpi began to realize that he had heard this voice before. He had heard it so many times just a month ago, talking about his family and troubles. It was Shadow.