Waking up to a dark den in the morning isn't exactly something a lot of cats expect. Usually the sun would be peering through the vines by now in thin rays, right into his eyes and painting a bright picture. Now? It was dark and damp. Perhaps this was another dream. He stands to stretch, but pauses. His paws grace something soft and wet. That's when he hears it. The writhing of small bodies around him, excluding his bed.
The nightshade worked.
Weavermoth gently pushes them to the side, watching the darkness approach on one side and retreat on the other. They had… encased him. The thought sends shivers down his spine, and he has to hold back a scream.
Tentatively, the cat rolls the berries to the entrance, moving alongside them so he wouldn't be consumed. The walls part, worms pulling back into massive piles to the rest of the camp. They fill every nook and cranny, clumping into the dens. The apprentice and kit dens at the base of the canyon are almost completely hidden, though the dens higher up where the elders, leader, warriors, and medicine cats rest seem to be a lot less full, acting as little waterfalls of twisting creatures.
The entire camp is covered in a thick layer of worms, silver glinting in the sunshine. He's going to be sick. He can't see anyone.
At the center of it all is Wormwrithe. A mottled brown she-cat covered in deep, bloodless holes. One of her eyes rolls around in its socket, deep gray and directionless.
"LILLYSTORM!" A voice cries, and Weavermoth can only watch the tom pounce onto her. His paws move before his mind, skidding across the dirt and kicking one of the berries over, following its path as he jumps down the side of the camp, sliding and trying desperately to avoid the worms.
He screams as he tumbles into the both of them, feeling the worms wriggle their way through his fur and into his flesh. It hurts as they burrow, but his only focus right now is hauling Lillystorm to safety and getting rid of Wormwrithe. The worms seem to part away from them, curling upwards and arching over them like a wave. All at once, the layer on the camp reacts, twitching like a sea and curling, beginning their proper assault. Weavermoth can barely hear the screams.
Warriors and apprentices come sprinting out of their dens, charging for the exit while they still can. Sugarbees among them, charges for the medicine cat den and tumbles in. Sagepaw makes a hard turn, a thorn branch gripped in his jaws as he approaches them. Too late.
They're staring down the wave, growing and writhing around Wormwrithe. The layer thins, and Lillystorm lunges at the amalgamation, claws out. It responds by slamming against all of them.
The weight is crushing. Weavermoth can barely breathe through the writhing bodies and tiny wriggling mouths trying their damned hardest to eat him alive. He whimpers, sealing any orifice he may have as much as possible. As quick as they crashed in, like water they recede. He can't even stand, his muscles aching from the impact.
Weavermoth hears screaming from around him and he barely has time to register the way the dirt leaves from under his paws, the way the ground gives in and the light that poked in from between the worms above growing dimmer and dimmer as he falls.
Rolling down the pile of dirt, he remains mostly limp, grunting with each tumble and spin and scratch from stray rocks and clumps littering the pile. He hits the ground hard, head spinning. Weavermoth tries to push himself up, legs shaking with each effort. He falls back to the ground, tired already from this fruitless effort.
“ Are you alright? Hello?! ” Sagepaw shouts in the distance. It echoes.
“ Arrgh- just dandy, Sagepaw!” Lillystorm replies, closer than Sagepaw.
“ Mmrrrmmggh .” Weavermoth grumbles.
His head hurts, his flank is torn, and he can feel the worms wriggling deep inside of him. He really doesn’t want to move, body too heavy and blood draining fast. He hears the quiet pitter patter of paws on stone before a sharp burn digs its way into one of his wounds. Weavermoth feels Sagepaw lace the thorns through each wound, tearing out worm after worm. Blood and gore drip out in thick globules, staining his fur a dark red.
A long moment passes before Weavermoth hauls himself up, coming face to face with Sagepaw doing the same surgery on a sitting, wincing Lillystorm. He’s so happy he can barely make out Lillystorms figure.
“The entrance,” he begins, “Is it blocked up? C-can they get in?”
“Uh, well! From what I can seeee… the dirt all fell in a nice little pile. Soooo… yes!” Sagepaw replies, chipper as ever despite the situation.
“You’re happy.” Weavermoth spits out.
“Uhhh, well, I would rather a depressed cat not operate on me.” Lillystorm barks back. “It’s like, damn, what are they going to do? They’re so focused on being sad that they don’t even realize-”
“Yes, yes, I get it. I get it. ” Weavermoth hisses, bristling up before relaxing. He’s too exhausted to be angry right now.
“Uh- Well-” Sagepaw stammers.
“Listen, if it’ll make you a little happier, I can go take a walk to find the exit. Okay?” Lillystorm offers, standing up despite his wounds. Sagepaw yelps a little bit as he marches off to one of the curling exits. “It’s hard to see, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. If I die down here, be sure they tell my story of how epic and cool I was.”
His words are lighthearted, but have a tinge of exhaustion to it. It makes sense, they were all just drowned by worms and then fell in a sinkhole. None of them were happy. Lillystorm vanishes into a tunnel Weavermoth can barely see. There’s stagnant silence and the sound of footsteps around him, probably Sagepaw.
He takes the moment to investigate his options.
There are a few passages he can make out only by the darkness increasing from dark to complete black. He can see the smooth walls of the cave around him, arcing upwards and jutting downwards with massive stalactites like a hungry dogs jaw. The ground is covered in dirt and rock, disturbed only by the cats and the fall.
“Pssst!” Sagepaw says, which startles Weavermoth half to death.
“What is it?” He says, though it's snappier than he’d like.
“I can just barely see a little beam of light there. Maybe we can dig out or something?” Sagepaw leads Weavermoth, pressing his flank against him. They walk in unison for a moment, and Weavermoth can see it. The thinnest glow of light at the end of the tunnel. With no other choices, they slowly move forward. It’s quiet and still.
The silence is almost suffocating, especially with them moving so slowly and pressed so close as to not slip and fall or get lost in the darkness around them. He can’t breathe. Sagepaw thankfully drums up conversation.
“Uh, so, what got you into wanting to be a medicine cat in the first place?” Sagepaw asks, and Weavermoth is forced to think.
He recalls when he was a kit, slipping into the medicine cat den and playing warriors with his littermates. Batting paws and tackling invisible enemies. He remembers…
Paperflight laughed as the bright orange kit and the brown and gray kit chased each other around her feet, unable to hold back her smile as she spoke to a fellow warrior. What was her name… Hollyfur? Hollyfur, yes. They were speaking about something he didn’t care to understand at the time. Until it began to be more toxic, and the kits had slowed down and stood quietly underneath Paperflight to listen.
“I should be the medicine cat, I think. I’m so close to Eye... and having a fine kit like Weaverkit who’s connected to one of our greats… we would be an unstoppable duo. Sadly, my son Skullspirit is a failure. He is nothing, not even touched.” Hollyfur said.
“He is still your kit, you can’t just… replace him.” Paperflight said back.
“Well, you know, he was so brave. Always getting me gifts from the Fourteen, and leaving behind offerings, but lately he’s been… destroying them. Is that your influence? Are you influencing my baby?”
“You’ve influenced him enough, with that… thing!” Paperflight gestures, and Weaverkits eyes land on a little bag on her side. He can’t see inside. “I can smell the sick on him. This is all your fault, with your irrational worship and gifts. I’ve told you the truth! Countless times-”
“I don’t want the truth. I want to be close and close forever.” Hollyfur cackles, and Paperflight finally seems to notice the kits. She ushers them out and blocks the entrance. He can’t hear another word clearly, but judging by how she was exiled shortly before he became an apprentice… it wasn’t good.
He snaps back to reality, blinking a couple times. That memory was strange to get now of all times.
“I think I was just… put into it.” He finally responds after an uncomfortably long pause. Sagepaw doesn’t seem to notice.
“Do… do you like it?” Sagepaw queries.
“It’s alright. Though without a mentor to finish my training I’m a little bit dead in the water here.” Weavermoth says, laughing nervously to clear the tension. They draw closer and closer to the light ahead finding it difficult to move in the winding and curling caves. It’s a tight squeeze, and the only way they can tell they’re moving forward in the near darkness is by the rock sliding against his flank. He can see stalagmites and stalactites reaching in like a hungry maw illuminated by the light behind them.
"Well, I used to talk to Paperflight a lot about this. I wanted to be a medicine cat, actually. So, uh, if you need any help, don't… be afraid to ask? Yeah." Sagepaw offers, and presses close.
A shadow dances in the low light, and the both of them freeze, sinking in on themselves.
"What's-" Sagepaw gasps, barely above a whisper. Weavermoth hushes him, and moves forward. Keeping himself low, his pawpads silent. An aged voice echoes through the cave walls.
"I know you're there."
They both freeze, until realizing… there's a second cat.
"Alright, alright, I come in peace, or whatever." Lillystorm says in the distance, supposedly walking out. The two approach, staying to the darkness and any cover they can reach.
"How did you get here? Clan cats don't often climb the mountains."
"Well, uh, ysee, I fell in a hole. I just wanna get out and go."
"Please. Go. It's too early for you all to be here, and tell your friends to leave too."
Okay, now that was Sagepaw and Weavermoth. They couldn't even see the elder cat, but he stood beside a cave opening. They see Lillystorm, illuminated in the morning light in beams that breach into the dark rocky cave systems. He peeks around a rock, spots them, and lights up.
"Oh thank god. I thought I'd never find you two. I found the exit!" Lillystorm says proudly, offering up a big smile.
"Yes, so have we." Weavermoth spits out in a low tone, turning to the strange cat. His outline was vague, but he was mostly hairless and sickly, covered in patches of sparse and mottled fur. He was pressed against the wall defensively, and Weavermoth can see his overgrown claws digging into the rock below.
A long, still moment passes, and all three of them step out. Bleeding and injured and enjoying the sunlight while they can.
Overlooking their camp from above on the slope of the mountain, they stand on the ledge of a cave maw, thankfully not too high up. They see the worms writhing, consuming their camp in a silvery blanket, and then they see a clearing by Silverpaw Lake, where there's movement.
Taking off into a sprint, Weavermoth darts down the rocky slope and doesn't even check to see if the others follow. Thankfully, they do. He can hear the pitter patter of their footsteps from behind. It takes a few minutes to reach the group, and by the time they do they're panting and exhausted, wounds red raw and irritated.
"Owlstar!" Weavermoth cries out, spotting the tom amongst the others, tending to himself and others. He looks up, expression tired and in pain.
"Where have you gone? We all thought you three were dead." Owlstar asks, tilting his head. "Come. We need to get you cleaned up."
"We fell. In a hole? I suppose. Ended up in some tunnels, found a weird looking cat in there, too. Like a hidden elder." Weavermoth shakes his head, and walks into the cool water of the lake. It feels like heaven against his wounds, the soothing ripples lapping away at the excess blood.
He sighs in contentment, dipping his face into the water and enjoying it. Weavermoth didn't like water at the best of times, but after the dry caves and getting attacked by worms, he enjoyed the clean feeling. He looks beside him, and sees Sagepaw climbing out of the river and shaking off. He had a lot more fur, and was dripping.
This was a vile, dirty feeling. He can’t help but shake the crawling feeling across his skin, the itching that came from the potential of worms wriggling through him. He remembers Aspenpad, remembers the worms wriggling and curling under his skin and bursting from his stomach and throat. He will never be able to forget, and prays to the Fourteen that he won’t suffer the same fate.
Finally, when he feels at least somewhat decent, he climbs out of the river, and moves to the cats who were supposed to be guarding the front entrance.
"What in the Beyond is wrong with you? Why did you let them in?" He spits at Glassbark, watching her uneasy expression float away and to the side anxiously.
"They didn't come through the front, they fell from the canopy. Like a big blanket. Nearly crushed a lot of us, caught the rest of us way off guard. We had to run." Glassbark hangs her head, sighing quietly. "Not everyone made it."
Weavermoth feels dread build up, only minorly halted by the gray tomcat that strides up beside him.
"Oh, Sagepaw. Thanks for the thorns, by the way. I think we'd all be dead if it weren't for you. They were very effective in helping injured cats." She dips down, and nuzzles Sagepaw on the forehead. He blinks slowly, looking up at Glassbark. They're quiet, and Weavermoth takes this interaction as a sign to leave. Where was Lillystorm and Sugarbees? He hears yelling to his left, and oh. There they are. Lillystorm is arguing against Rosetail, while Sugarbees is… staring directly at Weavermoth.
When caught, she smiles, and looks back to the others concernedly.
"... That's not Sugarbees! I've known her since she was a kit, and she was smaller, not that deep of a ginger, and wasn't-" Rosetail begged desperately.
"What are you talking about? That's Sugarbees! Who else would it be?!" Lillystorm snaps back.
"I don't know! She's just- just a- just a stranger!" Rosetail pauses, and a look flashes across her face. Suddenly, she's storming off to Owlstar.
Lillystorm sighs quietly, gives a cold look to Sugarbees, and walks over.
"I told Rosetail that, uh, me and Sugarbees… broke up. Then she started yelling about that not being Sugarbees either way. It was… Strange." Lillystorm shuffles his paws and leans in a bit. "We were also arguing about, ah… I spotted Sugarbees with Fernstorm. They were getting… cuddly, I suppose."
Weavermoth spots something he's rarely seen in Lillystorms eyes. Sadness. A deep sadness rooted in jealousy and betrayal. He exhales and resigns, pushing his face into the taller tom's neck. It's a stunted attempt at comfort, but an attempt.
"It'll be alright. I guess, uh, things don't always last. You should let her go." Weavermoth suggests, voice flat and uncertain. Is Lillystorm getting warmer?
"Yeah." He spits, full of fire. "Heard loud and clear." He's jealous and upset, Weavermoth thinks. He decides to step back, and give Lillystorm his space.
He stands awkwardly, sopping wet in the gathering of panicked cats, and watches Owlstar leap to his feet, sharing a few words with Driftweed before climbing up the maw.
"Cats of Seerclan! Turn your noses to the lakes maw!" Owlstar shouts, standing upon the maw. The maw was a small archway of rocks, a pseudo leaders rock, a place for prayer, or a nice place to sunbathe on a chilly day. He seems dwarfed by the massive thing, leaning forward.
Everyone gathers at the base, shaking and trying to assemble their shattered clan. At least it's a common interest in them all to listen to their leader. Owlstar begins speaking, golden eyes glinting in the light.
"There is one cat here whose bravery and quick thinking pushed our clan to safety. In recognition of your initiative, Sagepaw, the Great Fourteen have chosen you to step up and join our warriors. Please come forward."
Sagepaw finds himself under the spotlight, shrinking anxiously as Owlstars gaze falls upon him.
"Sagepaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your clan, even at the cost of your life? Do you promise to use your bravery and initiative to lead your fellow cats along?" Owlstar takes a step forward, tail swaying in anticipation.
"I-I do. Yes. Of course!" Sagepaw laughs anxiously, but steps forward regardless. Trying to hold himself tall.
"Good. Then bestowed upon you by Lonely, one of our Great Fourteen, I grant you the title of Sageleaf. For your tenacity." Owlstar grins, but it never reaches his eyes. He glances to his side. Driftweed steps out from underneath the maw, nuzzling him gently.
"Sageleaf! Sageleaf! Sageleaf!" The clan erupts in cheers, though much weaker than they should be. A few cats bump against Sageleaf, cheering him on and comforting him. No one truly celebrates, especially not today. Especially not right now.
"U-um, excuse me? Hello? Hi. Yes?" Sageleaf leans forward, speaking over the shouting. The way Owlstar looks down upon him, annoyed and curious, shuts the crowd up quite quickly. "I'd- uh, oh, fox dung, I'd like to keep working under Driftweed. Please. He has much to teach me."
The wave of satisfaction that falls over Driftweed, and the smug expression he shoots up to Owlstar only seems to piss off the leader further. He sighs, and nods, waving a paw in the air dismissively.
"Yes, fine, fine." He grumbles, hopping off the maw with careful precision. Owlstar vanishes behind the maw, gesturing with his tail for Driftweed and Sageleaf to follow. The two hop off, and Weavermoth feels a tug. To listen and follow and snoop. Obviously, he doesn't. That's his leader. Doesn't make the urge go away. He busies himself by moving around the group.
"Weavermoth!" Someone shouts from behind him. Turning to see, Weavermoth comes face to face with Lillystorm. He seems tired, tail twitching. "I just… I don't want to be alone right now. You know?"
Weavermoth stares incredulously for a moment, before shaking his head and gesturing for Lillystorm to follow.
"Listen. I was thinking. We need to find this thing. The… Wormwrithe. Whatever her name is." Weavermoth says.
"I think her name is Sian. She kept saying it. Siaaannnn. Siaaaaaaaaaannnn . You know?" Lillystorm laughs dryly, staring up ahead and starting into the forest. Each repetition of the strange word makes Weavermoths fur stand on end, each letter rippling like electricity through his body.
"...okay." Weavermoth turns his head away, but follows regardless. He feels something prickle in the air, like a charge of energy. "Listen. Lillystorm. This is serious, and it's going to be very dangerous. We need to find Wormwrithe and shove some nightshade down her throat. Should kill her."
"God. I know what being serious is. You don't need to be a porcupine about it. Yes, yes, dangerous mission. Can I not at least be a little lighthearted in the face of a worm infested walking fucking hive?" Lillystorm bristles, shaking his head. "Sorry for my… language. I know the Great Fourteen look down upon that sort of wording. For kittypets only, I suppose."
Weavermoth looks over sympathetically, and sees how tense Lillystorm really is. Shoulders raised, fur standing on edge, tail flat and low to the ground. His heart pangs at the sight, and he resigns with a huff.
“It’s justified, honestly. Let’s go stop this… worm thing.” Weavermoth says. Lillystorm stares at him tiredly, and smiles.
“That’s the spirit. C’mon.”
The two take off, sprinting through the trees they’ve known their entire life, cringing at the flesh and worms in vile gorish piles everywhere. He can’t help but look as he passes by, shivers crawling up and down his back like ants. One particular thing he notes? He can’t recognize any creature. All he can see are blood and worms and he can’t distinguish from cat or squirrel.
The horror of the situation settles gently in his bones. They were about to feed a living hive of murder worms deathberries. This was the stupidest thing he’s ever done in his life. He feels like an audience is watching him on a stage, laughing at his poor decisions as he ran alongside Lillystorm.
There’s a pause in their adventure, of course. One where they stop by a bush filled with nightshade. It remains untouched by the worms, the bright green leaves shining in the dull atmosphere. Weavermoth scoops some up with his mouth, being extra careful not to break it or swallow it.
The duo reaches the camp after some time, ducking through the regrown entrance and standing on the edge of the canyon they called their camp. It’s full of worms, with not a soul in sight.
The home they’ve grown up in, loved so much, that’s carried generations.
And it’s full of writhing, squealing worms.
Weavermoth can’t move, unable to stop shock from locking his joints right up. His breathing comes up short, body tense as a bowstring. Lillystorm instead backs up, shaking his head and growling. He bats at Weavermoth a couple times, hissing at him.
“Hey, HEY! Snap out of it!”
Something lands on the dirt in front of them. One large paw with claws that are too long, flesh filled with holes and fur melting off. She rises up from the sea, and they get a good look at her.
Shaggy black fur that may have once been long, ugly bloody holes scattered in clusters around her body, worms crawling in and out of where her eyes would be. Her jaw hangs agape, tongue solid and dry and lolling around it. The muscles of her throat and mouth twitch, and they can see the veins pulse through the wounds in her throat.
“ Theeeeeeey loooooooove yoooooooooooou. ”
Her claws dig into the dirt as she drags herself up, each breath coming out as a raspy moan. Weavermoth and Lillystorm keep taking steps back, tails caught between their legs as they begin to flee.
“ Soooo maaany heeeaaaaarttts.... fuuuuullll of looooooove. ”
The second paw hauling up this monster manages to snap Lillystorm out of his trance. In one quick movement, he slams a paw down on her head, pinning her to the ground. Wormwrithe shrieks, and the rest of the worms join in. Weavermoth doesn’t need a shout or a sign to scoop up the deathberries, stuffing them down her throat. She thrashes and pulls back, getting to her feet.
The cat breathes slowly, deadly nightshade lodged into her insides and dripping slowly. The flesh around it burns and bubbles, worms falling from the living hive and shrieking as they burn up into nothing. She gasps, drool and blood dripping from around her teeth and burning the grass below her feet.
A long, painful moment passes as she steps forward once, twice, and topples over. The two cats are left catching their breath, chests heaving. She twitches one final time, and Lillystorm screams, stomping her head over and over again. It takes a few steps before it cracks and crushes into nothing completely, and they’re glad for it.
The worms squeal and squeal and squeal, twitching and writhing before collapsing into nothing but ash. Slowly blowing away in the wind. The little drizzle that began was sure to wash the rest of it away.
Weavermoth and Lillystorm stand in silent shock for about a minute, unable to move, before Weavermoth cracks. He snorts, gasps, and bursts into laughter. Terrified, relieved laughter. Lillystorm giggles upon noticing, and can’t help how he joins in.
The two laugh in triumph, Lillystorm devolving into cheers and whoops. It takes a couple minutes before they can catch their breath, sighing quietly. Weavermoth feels the adrenaline drip off of him like the rainwater, his muscles relaxing one by one, and everything falls back into place.
Lillystorm is standing in front of him, still chuckling quietly. He’s a beacon of sunshine in this hell, warmth beating off of him. Weavermoth stares incredulously at the tomcat, taking in his features. Maybe it's the terror thrumming under his fur, but he feels like he sees more.
His wide smile, toothy and bright. His laugh, a melody of joy. His posture, shoulders relaxed and head held high. Even in a situation where they're both covered in worm blood and mud and sand. They just saved the camp.
The two cats bump against each other, Weavermoth's head burying into Lillystorm's neck as they try to calm down.
"Uh, Weave-" He pauses to swallow. "Weavermoth?"
"Hahaha- yes? What is it?"
They gaze over the camp, and the joy fades.
Ten cat bodies filled with holes and worms scattered over the floor. Kits and apprentices who couldn't get away in an eternal state of pain and horror, faces twisted and mangled.
They can't move.