• Exodus
    Maria lay on her back on the single cot in her tent. Her clan was growing tired of the oppressive human laws and rulings. She looked up at the ceiling and sighed heavily. Why do the humans have to try and rule over everything? I’m going to take my clan out of here and find a place where we can live in peace! she thought, sitting up at the sound of footsteps that stopped outside the door to her tent.
    “Lady Bloodstone?” the person outside her tent asked.
    “Can I help you?” she answered, getting up and opening the flap of her tent. There was a black furred cat demon standing outside her tent wearing the clothes of a messenger.
    “Milady, the humans request an audience with you. My guess is that they wish to force some ridiculous law upon us again,” the cat demon said, bowing to his clanmaster. Maria shook her head, shoved the messenger aside, and walked out of her tent into the morning sun. “Milady?”
    “Tell that I’ll have nothing to do with them, I have something far more important to deal with,” she snapped, walking away from him. She was headed toward the only place she could get any privacy at all; her private section in the Great Library in the city of Aurora. Maria Bloodstone’s clan’s camp was just outside the city walls, and because of this they were subject to some of the most unjust laws in all of Illinara.
    She walked though the small city of tents bordering the outside of the city walls of Aurora. She walked up to the gate and was approached by a pair of cat demons dressed as guards of the human city. They stopped her and asked for a pair of gold coins to gain access to the interior of the city.
    “What!? My clan and I have been coming and going though this gate for years! Why do we have to pay to enter?” she growled, grabbing the nearest guard by his neck and squeezed it tightly. He hammered on her wrist and forearm, trying desperately to force her to let go of him. “Stop squirming, you’re only wasting your energy,” the red haired, tawny furred cat demon hissed. The guard stopped struggling and lay still on the ground, his neck firmly locked in Maria’s paw.
    “Maria, I’m only following orders. We’ve been assigned by the Grand Council to tax you and your clan, I’m sorry,” the second guard said, taking a leather pouch from his belt. “Maria, please just give me the money,” he said, holding the open pouch out to her.
    Maria’s grip tightened and made the cat demon she was holding onto grunt in pain. She drew her arm back, and, with all the strength she could muster, she threw the armored guard at the cat demon that was offering the tax pouch to her. She defiantly strode past them and entered the city unhindered.
    Once inside she headed directly to the Grand Council chamber instead of going to the library. She shoved a pair of guards aside and kicked the door in. The Grand Council was silenced instantly upon hearing the bang created by the wooden doors exploding inward and hitting the stone walls behind them.
    “Lady Bloodstone! I—We were expecting you,” the Grand Master of the council said, standing and welcoming her.
    “Lord Reilen, you may dispense with the pleasantries! I’m not here to chat with you!” Maria shouted, drawing her sword and pointing its tip at him. She was standing in the middle of the empty floor where the subject normally stood and pointing her sword at the Grand Master of the Grand Council.
    “Maria! You know weapons are not permitted here!” Lord Isaac Reilen snapped, pointing at her. A pair of armored guards approached her, but she brought her sword down in a sweeping arc and sheathed it. “That’s better, now then I believe that you are here to pass the newest law of Aurora, the taxation of vagrant residents that live in the streets or in shantytowns outside the city’s walls,” he said, diving right into business.
    “NO! I will not pass that unjust law! My people are already being taxed to the point where we can barely afford food along with the outrageous taxes you’ve placed upon it all. Speaking of outrageous taxes, I was entering the city to come and speak with you when I was stopped by a pair of guards and they demanded that I pay them two gold pieces to gain access to the city. That tax law was passed without my consent! I never would have voted for it in the first place though!
    “My clan and I came to Aurora seeking shelter away from the war, but you insist on taxing us until we’ll be forced to fight on the warfront to make any money at all! I will not stand for it! My clan and I are leaving!” she hissed, the anger rising in her voice. She turned to stomp out, but she was stopped by a pair of guards. “Get out of my way!” she growled, but the guards refused to move. They were humans, and humans were arrogant to say the least.
    “Maria, I’m sorry, but you cannot leave until you vote on the new law,” Isaac said, drawing a soft chortle from the rest of the council. The cat demon turned and hissed loudly at Isaac then reached into her cloak. She pulled a long silver knife from a hidden pocket and threw it at him. She turned on her heel and left without seeing whether or not the knife hit its mark. When the tawny cat demon was about halfway to the door she heard something clang onto the floor.
    She stopped and turned around to see that Isaac was unhurt and her knife was lying harmlessly on the floor. I don’t have time to kill him, I need to get back to my clan before he orders them executed, she thought, turning once more and finally leaving despite everyone calling her name and trying to make her stop.
    Once outside the council chamber she immediately broke into a run and made her way back to where her clan was camping. She raced past the sentries without identifying herself and jumped onto the tree-stump from which she gave speeches. One of the other cat demons approached her and asked what she was going to do. She explained that a ‘town’ meeting was to be called and she would tell everyone then. The other cat demon nodded and called a meeting.
    Everyone dropped what they were doing and gathered in the assembly area around Maria’s tree stump. She waited until everyone had gathered around her before she began speaking to the assembled cat demons.
    “My clanmates! We have been subjected to another tax, one that will empty our pockets for sure. We are going to be taxed for living outside the city walls!” she explained loudly. The others shouted opinions, but she raised her paws into the air to call for silence. “I will not allow this to happen! As of today, the Bloodstone clan will begin its exodus to find a new place to call home! Begin packing your things. Effective immediately, you are forbidden to enter the city! I will not have our coffers drained before we begin our traveling. If you must enter the city, you are to speak with me first, and I will assign a pair of guards to accompany you. However, if your reason for leaving is deemed pointless or unnecessary, you will not be granted permission.
    “We will cobble together a list of necessary items for you to have in addition to what you obviously need to bring along. I also ask that you do not allow you children or kittens near the gate as they may be kidnapped in an attempt to keep us here for taxation purposes. And please, everyone, be very careful. I don’t want us to meet the same tragedy that befell Alexander Moonwind’s clan to befall us. Go!” Maria explained. She stepped off her stump and everyone began to disperse from the assembly area.
    “Mommy, is Maria going to make everyone go away?” a frightened kitten asked its mother.
    “No, I know that Maria is doing this for the good of our clan, a least I hope she is,” the child’s mother asked, looking at Maria over the rims of her glasses. She nodded and headed back to her own tent to do some thinking. Her mind didn’t wander as it once had when she had a spare moment.
    Is this the right thing to do? I mean in light of the number of taxes that the Grand Council has thrust upon us, I feel that we should leave, but if we do, then what’s to stop them from putting heavier taxes on others in the city. On the other paw, they may be doing this to drive us away and save Aurora’s image. Isaac Reilen is becoming corrupted by power, that much I can tell. He’d never have forced things like this upon us if his idiot brother weren’t the ruler of Aurora, she thought, throwing open the flap of her tent and collapsing into her cot. It bowed slightly at the suddenly applied weight, but bounced back quickly.
    The red haired cat demon rolled onto her side and tried to get some sleep, but she had too many things on her mind to even think about sleeping. She sighed and rolled onto her back and began thinking about how they were going to get away from the city without being harassed too much by the city’s troops.
    The flap of her tent burst inward and a black furred cat demon stood in her doorway with his sword in hand. “Milady, please forgive my interruption, but there’s something that you have to see!” he said urgently, grabbing Maria’s paw and helping her to stand. He towed her outside and she twisted his shoulder out of its socket before he let go of her paw.
    “What’s so damn important!?” she asked in a low growl. He answered by pointing with his uninjured arm toward a group of humans that was walking though the camp collecting money from everyone and beating anyone that didn’t give in. She watched in horror as a mother’s child was stripped from her paws when she wasn’t able to pay them. The humans tossed the screaming kitten around like a child’s play thing. Maria drew her sword and hissed in rage.
    She ran toward the humans and stabbed one in his back, through his heart, and out his chest. He dropped the kitten and she discarded her sword to catch the child. When the kitten fell into her arms, she noticed its heart wasn’t beating and it wasn’t breathing; the child was dead from the way the humans had treated it. She placed the child on the ground and pulled her sword from the human’s back.
    “You’re going to pay for this!” the tawny cat demon hissed, lunging and digging her claws into the human’s stomach. She scaled his chest and raked her long claws across his face then drove her knife into his left eye and out the back of his head. The human toppled backward and she leaned on the pommel of her sword as she landed, stabbing his heart and stopping it from beating. The last human began to turn to run, but he found he was surrounded by a ring of angry cat demons with swords and spears in hand.
    “I’m called Maria Bloodstone for a very good reason,” the tawny red haired cat demon hissed, placing a foot on the head human’s forehead and pulling her knife out by the ring attached to its end. “It because I don’t mind the sight of blood running from an opponent’s open wound; you might say I enjoy it, but that’s not true,” she explained slowly walking toward the tax collector. He shied away from her and into one of the upraised spears.
    “You…you’ll never get away with this! The Grand Council will imprison you!” he cried, getting prodded back toward the center of the ring of cat demons. Maria smirked evilly at him.
    “I don’t care what the Grand Council says anymore. I’m though listening to them. Now, hold still so I can kill you quickly,” she said, but the human drew his own sword and attacked her. They never listen! she thought, blocking an overhand slice and stabbing him in the knee with her knife. He dropped to his knees and she sliced his head off. His body dropped to the ground motionlessly and Maria sheathed her longsword and knife.
    She turned to the grieving mother and placed a paw on her shoulder. She looked up at her clanmaster with tear filled eyes and blinked back her tears.
    “Maria, please I don’t want to live here anymore! If I have another child, I don’t want it to be killed by the humans,” she sobbed softly, looking up at Maria.
    “Don’t worry, Kali, we’re going to get out of here and find a safe placed to live,” she said, walking back to her stump. She got up on it and didn’t even need to call a gathering because everyone had followed her. She raised her paws to call for silence and had to wait but a single moment.
    “Everyone, because of this attack, I will be posting more guards around our camp. Guards are not to allow anyone past from the city. If a human comes, you are to kill them or drive them off. If a traitorous cat demon approaches, you are to drive them away, but spare their life unless they wish to fight then show them no mercy.
    “Again, I ask that you be careful at all times. I don’t want anyone to get hurt at all. I don’t want to lose any of my clanmates or any of the kittens that will eventually take our place,” Maria said, looking out over the crowd of cat demons that surrounded her. She had tears running down her cheeks from her amber eyes. She was mourning the loss of the Kali’s kitten. “I also ask that you do not forget what the humans did to Kali’s kitten! Keep you children and kittens away from the humans!” she added, knowing that she was fanning the flames of hatred.
    The crowd of cat demons shouted in anger against the humans and Maria sighed as she stepped down from her stump. My work is complete for now. Now I just have to lead them out of the living hell, she thought, walking away from the group of cat demons. One of the more reliable cat demons was calling out guard duty and other orders that needed to be filled. She sighed and took a seat under an oak tree that had been there since she was a kitten herself.
    There was a group of cat demons erecting a marquis tent for her to sit under and receive requests to enter the city. She grumbled to herself for her own foolishness, but that mattered little as it would allow her to keep an eye on those who had entered the city to retrieve supplies. She got to her feet and headed over to the construction site to aid the cat demons in putting up the tent.
    As they worked, there was little chatter among them other than asking for a hammer or a stake every now and then. Maria was lost in her own thoughts while they worked, but she multitasked better than anyone could have even asked for. After the final tent stake was pounded in she took a seat at the small desk that her clanmates had brought out for her to work at.
    “Lady Bloodstone?” a young woman with three kittens asked, standing in front of the desk and desk and keeping track of all her kittens at the same time.
    “What can I do to help you?” Maria asked, watching as one of the kittens disappeared under her desk.
    “I’d like to travel into the city. I need to get some cloth so I can sew some traveling clothes for my kitten…oh no! Where did he go? Alan! Where are you?” she explained, but was forced to break off because her kitten had disappeared.
    “Are you looking for this?” the tawny cat demon asked, picking up a small calico kitten and placing him on the top of her desk. “As for your request, you may go, but your kittens must stay here. I don’t want any harm to befall them. I suggest you leave them with someone you trust, like your mate, or you may leave them here once the pen had been constructed,” she added, gesturing to rectangular playpen that was being constructed off to her left.
    “Yes, thank you, Lady Bloodstone,” the other cat demon said, bowing slightly. She told her child off for running off like that and headed back to her tent to leave her kittens with her mate. Maria signaled a pair of guards to follow and escort her to the city to ensure that she didn’t get hurt at all.
    Maria’s day went on like that until around sunset when a group of her clanmates was chased back to the camp. She then refused to allow anyone to leave except small squads of guards to go out on a patrol of a set area. At sundown she increased the guard around the camp to ensure that no one got in or out without being noticed. Not even the few thieves in the clan left unnoticed, although they weren’t stopped, seeing as they’d be leaving at dawn with or without them.
    Maria went back to her tent and paused outside the flap. She looked up at star-filled sky overhead and offered a prayer to the goddess, Terra, that they would have a safe journey to their new home. She prayed for guidance and hoped that they would be able to find a place where no one would ever bother her clan again.
    * * *
    The next morning arrived with a heavy rain that left a heavy fog and the ground saturated to the point that it was in danger of turning to mud. Maria stepped out of her tent to find that half the camp was partially dismantled. At first she thought it was the human’s doing, but then she reminded herself that they were going to travel to a new land.
    “Maria! You’re finally awake! You overslept,” a guard said as he approached. Normally she would have scolded him for not calling her ‘Lady Bloodstone’, but she was too tired to really care.
    “Marin, when did all this start?” she asked, looking up at a group of approaching carpenters. She nodded at them and gestured to her tent then held up one finger. “I’ll be right back,” she said to the guard who nodded and planted the butt of his spear in the ground while she waited for her.
    Maria went back into her tent to dress and grab her things; longsword, knife, etc. She came back out and gave the carpenters the go-ahead before she resumed her conversation with Marin. “Well?” she asked him. He took a bit to come back to reality, but snapped back before she was forced to hit him.
    “Oh! This all started right at sunrise, when it was still raining. Some of the tents suffered minor damage from getting caught in the wind as they were dismantled, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little sewing. The guards are a little tired after their extended shifts, but they’ll get over it. Maria, I think you made the right choice in having us move away from Aurora,” he explained, smiling at her.
    “Did anyone leave last night without my permission?” she asked, smiling in return at Marin.
    “Just the trio of thieves that leave every night. They came back this morning, just before dawn. They all asked to see you; I they think might want to ask your opinion on some of the things they stole. One of them sounded concerned, I think you may want to see him first. Her name is Alexandra, she has two children, Alice and Kari,” he said, looking out over what was left of the campsite.
    “Lexi? I wonder what she got her paws on this time.” Maria thought aloud.
    “Dunno, but she claims that you have to see it before she does anything else with it,” Marin answered, pulling the butt of his spear from the soft ground and walking away.
    “Lady Bloodstone, what do you want done with your tent once we take it down?” one of the carpenters asked.
    “Roll it up and ready it for travel. I want to get us out of here under the cover of the fog if we can,” she said, walking toward Alexandra’s tent. The thieves of her clan were considered to have some importance among the entire clan, getting them rare supplies and giving them those that needed them most first. She had faith in her thieves, faith that they wouldn’t fail the clan.
    She arrived outside the thief’s tent and brushed her paw though the wind chime that had been set up as a doorbell. There was a pause before Alexandra answered. She pulled the flap aside and allowed Maria entry to her tent.
    “What is it that you wanted to show me?” she asked. The thief pulled a tube of parchment from her within her storage chest and handed it to Maria. She unrolled it and looked through it. There were three sheets of paper total; one was a map, one was a list of some kind, and the last one was written in a language she didn’t understand.
    “Where did you get these?” she asked, looking over the map. It was a very complete map to say the least. It showed all the territories and cities that were in Illinara, but there was a section labeled The Glass Desert that was completely uninhabited. She sighed and decided that was going to be where they were going to live. She was sure that there was an oasis or something that they could live near.
    “I got them last night. That list contains how much gold our clan is claimed to owe to the king. It shows that we owe much more than the entire clan put together. I think that they’re trying to tax every last coin out of us in hopes that they’ll get to jail you and the thieves of this clan. They want us to die here, or to be slain as we fight them off when they attack us.”
    “Are you sure, Lexi? If what you say is true, then we’ll be getting out of here not a moment too soon,” Maria said, nodding to her and looking over her tent. “You packed yet?”
    “Yes, Milady. I just have to take my tent down and I’ll be ready to leave,” she answered, nodding to her clanmaster.
    “All right, I hope to see you on the trail. Hey, where are your kittens?”
    “They’re playing with some of the others, don’t worry.”
    “All right, I’ll see you later then, I have to make sure that no one and nothing is forgotten,” the tawny cat demon said, getting up and taking the map with her. Alexandra nodded and called for her children to come back in. As Maria walked out the tent flap a tawny cat demon and a calico cat demon ran past her into the tent.
    She headed back out to the gathering area and called a quick meeting. Everyone gathered quickly because they knew that they were going to be leaving soon and they had to listen for any information Maria was going to give them. She drew her sword and gestured widely with it.
    “Everyone, I want to get us out of here before the fog lifts. If we can leave before the fog is gone, we can escape without the humans noticing us unless they have scouts or spies out here. I want reports from every guard every fifteen minutes. I’ll send Marin around to inform them when we’re ready to leave,” she explained. “The Bloodstone clan shall not be looked down upon by any of the other clans anymore!” she shouted, drawing a massive cheer from everyone. She stepped off her stump and gestured to everyone that they needed to get back to packing.

    An hour later they were ready to go. One human had been sighted, but a skilled archer had put an arrow in the human’s eye and they left the human for dead. The fog wasn’t very heavy by the time they left, but it was enough that it would at least hinder human efforts to follow them.
    Maria led everyone off the open grass field that they had come to call home and into the darkness of the forest. She sent several of the clan’s best trackers and hunters out a head as scouts. She didn’t want any surprises waiting in the forest for them. With all the children in their number, she was concerned for their safety as well as that of her clan.
    The forest was saturated with a heavy fog that reduced visibility to almost zero. Every few hundred meters they paused to allow any stragglers to catch up with the rest of the group. More than once they had sent a scout back to find a missing child who was usually found sitting alone and crying. Maria had taught the children to stay in one place and to make as much noise as they could to aid in finding them when they were lost. She had been taught that as a child herself, so she was never lost for long, even on the darkest of nights.
    One of the forward scouts reported back with some disturbing news. There was a river ahead and that it was wide and deep with a very swift current, making it impossible to make it across without finding a bridge, short of building one. There was a bridge, but it was watched by the humans like a hawk demon might watch the habits of its prey before picking the perfect moment to dive and make the kill.
    Maria weighed the options and decided that it would be best to build a bridge and make a way to pass instead of attacking the guards at the human bridge. She picked the best swimmers and the best woodworkers to aid her in building the bridge. They didn’t know where they were headed, but it was necessary that they cross the river.
    When they reached the river, Maria cursed the scout that had brought her the information, because there was one thing he forgot to mention, the river was indeed wide and swift, but it was also thirty meters below the edge of an overhung cliff. She sat down on the edge of the cliff and dangled her feet over its edge while she thought. There has to be a way across. I could get my best archer to shoot an arrow and rope across then I could go across with another rope and we could make a bridge out of suspended planks. I think I’ll have to get the carpenters and woodworkers to make the planks though, she thought, looking back at her concerned clanmates.
    “All right, I have an idea, but we’ll have to work together to make it work right. First, I need the very best archer in the clan to shoot an arrow with a robe tired to it into one of the trees across the canyon,” she ordered, getting up and digging though a pack of some extra gear that had been packed. In there were things like extra rope, extra bandages, and general supplies as well.
    Mark, the clan’s best archer, stepped forward and allowed Maria to tie a very long piece of rope to the arrow. He drew it back on his greatbow and fired it. The arrow sailed through the air and sank into a rather unfortunate oak tree. Dead leaves were knocked from the tree’s branches as the arrow hit. Maria tied the other end of the rope to a tree on the near side of the cliff and crawled out on it with another length of rope gripped in her teeth.
    She waved to her clanmates and began crossing the canyon. Her arms were growing tired, but she knew what she was doing was going to save her clan, and that gave her the strength to keep going. Once on the other side of the canyon, Maria looked back at everyone and waved to them; several waved back, but that didn’t give her much hope. She tied the other end of the rope to a nearby tree and made her way back across the canyon. By the time she reached the side which her clan was on, she was very tired.
    She collapsed on the ground and lay there for a few moments before she felt herself being lifted from the ground and carried to something much softer than the hard rock of the cliff’s plateau. She opened her amber eyes and looked up into the bright green of the afternoon canopy. She squinted and rubbed her eyes before she sat up.

    “Lady Bloodstone!” a woman’s voice said from her left side. She looked toward the source of the sound and smiled when she saw Alexandra and her children keeping watch for her. “You’re awake, do you feel all right?” she asked, placing a paw on her clanmaster’s forehead.
    “Yes, I’m fine, Lexi. Say, how is the bridge coming?” Maria said, looking toward the cliff. She sighed as cool breeze filled the forest, carrying the scents of the forest with it. She took a deep breath, knowing that it would be the last one for a long time. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a single stone. It round and sort of a grayish green, the stone was a reminder of her home near Aurora.
    “They’ll be done in an hour, Milady,” she said, slapping Alice’s paw as she reached for the stone Maria was holding. As her clanmaster began to stand she placed a paw on her shoulder. “Milady, please, you’ve had a rough day. If you die before we get to wherever you’re leading us…say, Milady, where are you taking us?” Alexandra asked, gently guiding her clanmaster back to her bed.
    “We’re going to The Glass Desert. There’s an oasis there that we can live near. The ground should be all right for farming, at least near the water,” she answered. The other cat demon was shocked into silence, so Maria got to her feet and left. She snapped a limb off a tree and used it as a walking stick.
    She stepped out of Alexandra’s tent into the afternoon sun and found her clanmates hard at work on the bridge that was going to carry them across the Adder’s Spine River. She watched as the wood cutters quickly felled the trees then cut them into usable sections. After that the carpenters split them into boards and gave them to the woodworkers who hung the planks and built the bridge.
    Good work everyone… she thought, smiling at everyone as they worked. She turned to leave and walked into a young cat demon with a child in her arms. Sadly, it even happens in our clan. A young couple mates without thinking of the consequences… Maria thought, looking down at her.
    “Is there something wrong, Milady?” the young cat demon asked. Maria realized that she was staring too long and shook her head in answer. The young cat demon began to leave, but Maria called out to her.
    “Child, what’s your name?”
    “Vander,” the young mother answered.
    “Not him, you,” the clanmaster corrected.
    “Oh, sorry, Milady. My name is May,” she answered, giggling nervously. Maria laughed softly and nodded to May and pet Vander between his ears before she left. I guess I don’t know everyone in the clan as I once had, but I don’t really mind at all… she thought, sighing softly as she headed back to her tent, feeling better than she had after she’d awoken in Alexandra’s in tent.
    As she reached her tent, she knew that she should either send out patrols or set look outs around the campsite. Sadly, she had to admit, she was afraid of humans, not more than dying, but it was certainly high on her list. She turned back around and called out to Marin, the captain of the small group of trained fighters her clan had.
    “Yes, Maria?” he asked. Coming from anyone but him, she would have snapped, but she didn’t mind Marin at all, as she had a liking for him.
    “Get some patrols ready, I want this area kept under guard. The human’s won’t hesitate to attack if they find this campsite. They’ll destroy the bridge and kill as many of our clan as they can, that’s for certain,” she explained, drawing a look of concern from the black cat demon. Marin was old, but not so old as to be senile and useless. He was only a few years older than Maria, and she was about 35. Marin was 42, old by his clan’s standards, but the life expectancy was much beyond 40 anyway.
    “All right, but we did post guards around after you collapsed. We feared that an attack would end up taking your life as you rested,” he said sheepishly. She giggled and nodded.
    “Increase the guard, I don’t want anything to go unnoticed,” she said, turning her back to him and walking into her tent.
    “Yes, Milady.”

    Maria awoke to shouting outside. She sat up and gasped as she looked out the flap of her tent. There was a human standing with his back to her and a young cat demon sobbing on her knees in front of him. Maria slowly got to her feet and drew her longsword. She began creeping toward the human, but as he brought his arm back to attack the young girl, she broke into a run and rammed her sword into the small of his back and out of the middle of his chest.
    “Run!” Maria screamed at the younger cat demon. The girl was frozen with fear though and couldn’t even move. The human twisted around and wrenched Maria’s sword for her paws. He rounded on her and tried to swing wildly at her, but the sword driven into his back finally got the better of him and he fell forward, dead. The tawny cat demon retrieved her longsword and helped the younger cat demon to stand.
    “Milady, thank you!” the young cat demon cried, staggering to her feet unsteadily. It seemed like her near-death experience had turned her legs to gelatin. Maria shook her head and looked around. Her camp was mostly intact, but there were a number of humans wreaking havoc still.
    She searched the camp carefully and killed any humans she came across until she found Marin laying on his back with an arrow in his chest. She ran over to him and knelt, his pulse was weak, but it was there. The older cat demon opened his eyes and looked at Maria as if she were an angel of some kind.
    “Maria, I’m sorry I let this happen,” he said, looking up at her.
    “Marin, this isn’t your fault. You fought hard by the looks of it.”
    “I killed 15 humans, before they shot me.”
    “Marin, shhhh, you need to save your energy. Do you know what happened to Alexandra and her kittens?” the tawny cat demon asked the dark grey one. He shook his head. “All right, you just rest here, try to save what little energy you have left,” she said, dragging him over to rest against a large tree. Sadly, the clanmaster didn’t have any bandages to put a temporary covering on his wound.
    “Marin, try to save your strength, I’d hate to lose you,” she said, turning her back and searching the camp for any other survivors of the guard. She found a small group fighting with a number of humans, far too many for her to really do any good at all. She drew her sword and joined in anyway, knowing that she may not come out alive.
    “M-Maria Bloodstone!” one of the humans shouted shakily, drawing his sword back to slice her head off. The cat demon ducked and slit the human’s wrist with her sword. One of the guards ran up and drove his pike into the human’s back with cruel grimace on his face. He looked back at Maria and nodded. She smiled and led a counterattack against the humans that were attacking her and her clan.
    The fighting lasted for several hours, eventually falling to the cat demons because they had superior numbers of able warriors. The humans were driven back against the cliff, away from the bridge and some jumped into the river below, rather than being executed by Maria or one of her clanmates. There were a number of executions, the Bloodstone clan wasn’t about let the humans go for their merciless attack on their clan.
    The bridge was finished several hours later, minor damage had been done to it during the fighting, but nothing that was irreparable. The entire clan, or what was left of it, began to pack up camp while others dug graves and buried the dead. Many kittens were orphaned because of the fighting and they were relocated to new families that were more than happy to have them. Over half the clan’s adults had been killed in the fighting or mercilessly executed by the humans in their ambush.
    Alexandra was still alive, but she had been blinded in her right eye by an arrow. Her kittens were scared to death of her for the time being because she had bandages wrapped around her head and over her right eye. Her tawny fur was stained crimson on her right side. She looked a bit like a zombie, but she was still alive.
    Maria had gotten off with a notch in her right ear and a cut that ran from the tip to the base of her left ear. Her left ear had been stitched shut and gauze had been wadded into her ear to prevent it from filling with blood. Maria had racked up a number of kills, proving to both her clanmates and her enemies that she wasn’t afraid to fight at all.
    Marin was dead; the arrow in his chest had taken his life when the healer had pulled it out. The arrow had gone into his ribs and into his heart, the only thing keeping his heart from failing was the arrow filling the hole in his heart. Maria dug his grave personally. She buried his spear with him to allow him to fight and kill any humans he met in his afterlife.
    They began to cross the bridge after Maria had backfilled the grave. She marked it with one of the human swords and said a short prayer for him. She heard the others calling out to her and sighed heavily. This was the battlefield of the Adder’s Spine River, the bloodiest conflict her clan ever had. Tears poured down her cheeks as old memories flooded back to her. She looked down at Marin’s grave and shed a tear for him before she crossed the bridge to her decimated clan.

    The travel to the Glass Desert went more smoothly from the battle of the Adder’s Spine onward. The battle had a minor positive effect of reducing the number of cat demons in her clan and allowing them to move more swiftly. As they neared the Glass Desert, they began to see less and less trees. That meant less and less cover from both the air and the ground.
    Watches were posted to keep track of what was going on and give early warning of intruders. They needed to keep watch because they didn’t want to have any more of the clan to be killed. As the camp went up for the night everyone was uneasy. They lived in constant fear of another attack on their clan.
    As everyone lay down to rest for the night an eerie silence fell over the entire camp. Nothing came from the watches and the moon rose high into the sky, bathing the camp in a faint blue light. The rest of the clan slept peacefully for another night and they left their minds to wander for the night in dreamland.
    In the morning that all changed, an eagle demon was spotted flying in the air high above the Glass Desert. The archer with a cloak and hood the same color as the sand in the glass desert stepped forward and drew his bow back. Maria grabbed his wrist and glared at him. “If you shoot that scout, we’re going to be killed,” she hissed, taking the arrow from his bow.
    “Milady, I’m sorry if I’m speaking out of turn, but what if he sees us? We’re as good as dead to begin with!” the archer snapped, twisting free of the female cat demon’s grip. He defiantly pulled another arrow from his quiver and drew his bow back once more. He loosed the arrow and it sailed upward. The tawny cat demon drove her right fist into his nose and threw him to the ground.
    The arrow sailed upward and fell short of the eagle demon, but it was more than enough to grab his attention. He looked down and searched the grasslands and the edge of the Glass Desert that was backed up to it. He cried out in anger and dove down to meet the intruding cat demons.
    As he dove, the cat demons scattered, fearing an attack. The eagle demon spread his wings and slowed his descent to a speed that wouldn’t kill him. He landed and looked around. He was ready to lash out with razor-sharp talons at anyone who was going to attack him.
    “I demand to speak to your clanmaster!” he shouted, looking around them with keep eyes. The archer tried to keep Maria back, but she punched him again and stepped forward.
    “I am the master of this clan,” she said fearlessly, standing before the eagle demon.
    “I see; what are you and your clan doing here? This is Lord Hyrain’s domain!”
    “Please, we were driven from Aurora by the humans there and we’ve been hassled and harassed by them ever since. My clan is down to half its proper size because of an attack by those filthy humans.”
    “I see, and who might you be?”
    “I’m Maria Bloodstone, clanmaster of the Bloodstone clan.”
    “Maria Bloodstone? I see. I met your father during the clan wars, he was an honorable cat,” the winged demon said, smiling slightly at her. “Where are you headed to in the Glass Desert?”
    “To the oasis in its center.”
    “Very well, if you will allow me, Milady, I wish to be your guide. I assure you that I can lead you there in half the time it would take you to search the desert.”
    “Please allow me some time to speak with my clan, as you may not win their trust so easily,” she said, bowing to him.
    “Go ahead, I have nothing but time; after all, I’m a day-scout.” With the Maria turned on her heel and gathered by decimated clan around her. Some were angry and others were afraid, but all listened no matter what.
    “My clanmates!” she began, raising her paws over her head to call for silence. “We have a guide for our trip to the oasis. He is an eagle demon and knew my father, Orion Bloodstone, as well as many of your parents did. He seems trustworthy, so I am going with him. Those that wish to follow may, and those that wish to stay, you may, but be warned, the humans will be searching this area. If we go into the desert we’ll be safe.” May of the other cat demons began to protest, but at the mention of human scouts searching the desert they changed their minds. “Get ready then, we go in five minutes,” she said, dismissing them.
    “Maria!” Alexandra called, waving from the back of the crowd. The tawny cat demon weaved through the crowd to her injured friend and her children. “Maria, what were you thinking? An eagle demon? They’ve been known to turn for no reason at all! I’m sorry, but I cannot trust him,” the thief explained, looking up at her clanmaster.
    “Lexi, I’m not asking you to trust him, I’m asking you to trust my judgment,” she answered, looking into Alexandra’s good eye.
    “I…I trust your judgment, Milady. Please, lead us to safety,” she said, picking her kittens up and heading back to the other thieves in the clan. They had an unspoken guild that had thrived near Aurora, but now it was falling into disarray, with only Alexandra to guide them through the darkness.

    The clan set out following the eagle demon’s lead, and in turn, Maria’s. As they traveled deeper into the desert they began to see less and less plant-life and more and more sand. They reached the oasis, but only after having to stop for a sandstorm that had caused them to lose sight of their eagle demon guide. After the storm had cleared, they continued, arriving at the oasis five days after arriving at the desert.
    Their secluded hide-away was little more than a collection of tents to begin with, but after several years, the oasis looked more like a small town on par with that of the human mining town of Dawn, near the mountains. They lived in peace for many years, until Maria Bloodstone passed away from heat exhaustion in her old age. Alexandra was appointed as the new clanmaster, but the Bloodstone clan name was stuck permanently.