Ten Claws Gained

Prologue

Tap. Tap. Tap.

"I beg you, Puabi, let me—" A loud crack was heard, sounding from the woman's cane as it left a scratch on the kneeling woman's temple. A cat ear twitched, a groan sounded from pale lips. A feral hiss was heard from the queen's mouth, slipping past her clenched canines and tightly pressed red lips. She tapped her cane a few times more; three to be exact. If the woman did not rise soon, she would be struck again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The cloaked woman slowly rose from the cold floor, two fingers to the blood that swelled at her fresh wound. Her shaky yellow gaze flickered to the man standing idly by a few cracking vases filled with crumbling flowers. Crumbling. Everything was crumbling. The kingdom, the queen, the mountain and its many caves. She knew that, very soon, the weak support would fall, and what was left of the city of the many generations of the cats would be a mere pile of rubble. A grand pile of rubble, of course; one where the cat-tailed people could come and weep for the once-great and lost ruler of that pile. Eventually, of course, the humans would get their filthy hands on it…

She was broken from her musings, lifting her chin at the sound of the queen's voice. She nearly met her queen's piercing copper gaze, but quickly lowered her eyes back to the woman's tapping cane. "This… half-breed," She flinched; she had spoken the word with such disgust that it was as though she was condemning anything that had come in to contact with the child. Which, indeed, included her. She supposed that what she had done was considered abnormal, and against the law. "will not bring us a utopia. Is this not utopia? Only our kind, with no wars. We are all among like minds here, and our race is still a secret."

"No wars?" she murmured, a frown forming on her pale lips. No, that wasn't right. War was something common with her race; if they weren't, then surely the three warrior families would be gone. Her sister was paranoid, yes, but not to that extent. She was merely a paranoid liar. "Then please explain the constant conflict with the dogs. The mice. The rats. We have only one ally, and we often clash with them as well. Face it, Puabi; this civilization is crumbling, and we can either start fresh with a true utopia, or we can all fall with this… this false sense of peace."

Puabi stood from her throne, staring her younger sister down as she hissed. "I would rather burn the city myself than go outside of this utopia," she said in a low tone. "This city is utopia, and so long as we stay, we will be fine. There are no wars—"

"Lies!" the woman cried, bravely meeting the older woman's gaze. "You say there are none, but I have heard you speak with the warriors! They fight and take countless lives every night before wars even start! This is not utopia! This is Hell!"

A sickening crack was heard, though it barely drew the man's attention as his fiancée was struck across the cheek by her sister. She lay on the ground, tense as she struggled to hide the tremors ravaging her body. "My own sister…" Puabi murmured, glaring the woman down. "This is why no one wanted you as queen. You would betray the entire city. You say you have fallen in love with a human, yes? Very well. Go; run away. Elope. And when you come back, crying because you found a dagger in your back, you will find me waiting for you with a smile and open arms. Now, leave. If you want to abandon your city so much, then go. But I will keep my eyes on you. You need your big sister after all."

She growled, feeling the wound sting her cheek as the queen prodded at it with her wooden cane. She slowly pushed herself to her feet, her pitch-black hair falling in front of her golden eyes. She turned to the brown-haired man with a bitter scowl. "It's time for us to leave," a cheerful tone was in the back of her throat, though she hid it from her sister. "And together, we shall build a true utopia. And when you come to me, sister, you will find me, smiling among my new people, and an 'I told you so.'"

Puabi scoffed, "You have been loitering with the humans too much, Ninbanda," She turned her back to her younger sister, facing her throne with a bitter taste in her mouth that not even her sweet lipstick could cure. Yes, her sister was making her bitter. Her only family left, and even she was falling away from her grasp. No, she couldn't think in such a manner; soon, Ninbanda would come back. She would realize her mistake and stay home. Stay in the mountain, where she was safe. Where everyone was safe. She would leave that human with the parasite growing inside of her as a farewell gift. She would make sure of it. "I suppose that this is goodbye for now. I will send someone to assure me that you have not done anything too foolish in regret."

"I would do the same for you, but I don't want you getting the wrong idea. Farewell, Puabi."

The queen was silent, taking a seat as the black-haired woman left with her fiancé. She watched that woman-no, her sister-leave her small estate, heading for the light outside of the caves. She shut her copper eyes, feeling salty tears burn them. Her dim, creaky, and crumbling home sat around her, empty, save for her and the servants. She rested her cheek on her fist. "…Farewell, Ninbanda." she whispered, her voice cracking in the slightest.