TAKES PLACE ONE YEAR AFTER THE EPILOGUE OF NIGHT OF BEGINNINGS
|The Journey Series|
|Preceded by: |
Night of Beginnings
|A Fresh Start||Succeded by: |
The night starts here, the night starts here
Forget your name, forget your fear
You drop a coin into the sea,
And shout out "Please come back to me"
You name your child after your fear,
And tell them "I have brought you here"
-The Night Starts Here, Stars
The warmth of the sun was hard on the cats' backs. The patrol approached a sparkling steam flowing lazily beside a tree. They lapped up the water eagerly, relishing in the way the cool water hit their tongues.
The leader of the patrol, a white tom, looked at the prey they managed to catch. It wasn't as much as most days on Green-leaf, but enough to feed several cats.
"Whitetail," a brown tabby began. "Do you smell that?" He sniffed the air.
The white tom looked to Brackenheart. He took a deep breath of the air, his lung stinging slightly.
"Smoke!" A grey tabby, Ashtail, gasped. He looked to his deputy, fear glistening in his green eyes. "We have to see if it's coming from ThunderClan territory."
Whitetail nodded, looking to the rest of his patrol with consisted of a silver she-cat named Dawneyes and a bright ginger and white tom named Foxclaw.
"Go warn the camp, we must be ready to evacuate." He told the two warriors who nodded, and the two skirted off. "Follow me!" He meowed his orders to the others.
The three cats bounded across the forest, dodging thick, brown trees and stray roots. Brackenheart managed to trip on a rock, and they stopped to help him up. His fur was fluffed up from embarrassment, but they couldn't quit following where the smoke was coming from.
As the made their way through ThunderClan territory, they were nearing the unclaimed territory where rogues reigned from moons before. They could see the smoke billowing up from the area, spreading across the sky.
"It's coming from the territory next to us," Whitetail was relieved. "A Thunderpath divides us, the worse it could do it spread to WindClan territory. But we should still check it out."
They continued on, eyes water as they approached the flaming land. They stopped by the smooth black ground of the Thunderpath, watching the fire intently. Ashtail began to cough, his tail lashing.
"Can we get out of here now? It won't harm us, and this smoke is killing me!" The grey tabby complained.
Whitetail was about to order the cats to head back, but his eyes caught sight of a tree faltering against the flames. His eyes watched it intently, widening once he saw it was breaking apart. It began to to fall to its side, landing on the Thunderpath in an array of sparks and ash.
"No..." Brackenheart whispered from beside Whitetail.
The flames from the fallen, burning tree crept towards the overgrown grass of the ThunderClan side. The flames licked across the plants, setting them ablaze. The fire began to eat away at the greenery at a ravenous pace.
"Run!" Whitetail demanded his Clanmates, whipping around on his paws.
The cats raced across the territory, the flames growing around them. They desperately tried to avoid the extreme heat and smoke approaching them, dodging falling branches and crumbling trees. They finally burst through the brambles encircling the camp, gasping from the polluted air.
To their luck, Dawneyes and Foxclaw managed to warn the cats. Jaystar had grouped them up, ready to escape their camp.
"Go!" The white tom, fur grey with soot and ash, choked out.
Jaystar gazed to his Clanmates, trying to keep calm as he pushed them out of camp. Snowheart was trailing behind, struggling to keep hold of her three kits. To looked to her father with worried eyes, knowing that Goldfeather, her mate, was not here to help. The young tom passed from sickness last moon, leaving Snowheart's kits fatherless.
Whitetail rushed to his kit's aid, helping her by scooping up two of the kits' scruffs into his jaws. He could hear their tiny, confused mews escaping their mouths. He nodded to his white furred daughter, and the two cantered after their Clanmates.
Whitetail's paws hit the ground hard, two tiny bundles trembling in his jaws. Worrying thoughts troubled his mind about the fire, but he tried to push them aside.
They were making good time, for the flames had not yet reach them. Whitetail sadly remembered that the fire would be consuming their camp now, destroying the land they had lived in since birth.
The two cats caught up to the rest. Jaystar uttered out orders as they ran, the blue-grey tom telling them how they had to find somewhere to escape.
ThunderClan was approaching the Thunderpath that cut off ShadowClan and ThunderClan territories from each other. They could see an awestruck ShadowClan leader on the other side, seeing the grey smoke flowing into the sky like storm clouds. The fire was racing across the territory at a quick rate, and Briarstar, the ShadowClan leader beckoned over the cats with her tail.
Jaystar gave her a thankful expression, and the cats rushed over the Thunderpath. There wasn't a single monster in sight. Whitetail suspected they were scared off by the fire like ThunderClan was.
The tan tabby she-cat, Briarstar, gave Jaystar a curious glance with amber eyes. "Where did the fire come from?" She asked them after they were safely across.
The blue-grey leader sighed in response. "The unclaimed territory next to ours. A tree fell and spread the fire across."
She nodded slowly. "Follow me," the she-cat glanced towards Snowheart and her kits. "You have some cats who need to be safe from this fire.
They followed Briarstar across the lush, dark green territory. Whitetail looked around, feeling awkward as if he were trespassing. The ominous, tall pine trees released a strong scent, making Whitetail wrinkle his nose.
A brown tabby approached Briarstar from an opening in the pine trees, glaring at the ThunderClan cats with surprise. "The fire hit ThunderClan territory?" The guard's green eyes widened.
Briarstar nodded. "We're doing them a favor, Clovershade." She turned back to the evacuated Clan. "We welcome you to ShadowClan territory, don't get any ideas. This is done out of generosity."
They nodded slowly, pushing their ways into ShadowClan camp. It was bustling with warriors. Apprentices were playing by the Fresh-kill pile while warriors chatted. A medicine cat padded out from her den beside a tall pine, her apprentice at her heels.
The cats quieted as ThunderClan slowly walked through. Some bristled in alarm, but Briarstar rose her tail, shaking her head softly.
The tan tabby made her way towards a large mound of dirt on the other side of camp, pulling herself on top of it. She scanned around the camp with dark amber eyes.
"Cats of ShadowClan," she announced slowly, her tail flicking back and forth hesitantly. "ThunderClan's territory has gone up in flames. We've taken them in so they don't suffer the same fate."
Murmurs echoed across the Clan. Warriors looked worriedly to each other, thinking ThunderClan would try to take over.
"They are only staying for the night, as the fire should be over by dawn." She ended the meeting, hoping off the mound with a graceful leap.
The ThunderClan cats settled around, exchanged few words with the ShadowClan warriors. The uneasiness passed between the two rival Clans, and the warriors began more frequent, drawn of conversations with each other. Instead of seeming like a trespassing Clan, the moment felt more like a gathering.
Whitetail met up with his mate, a beautiful silver she-cat, Silverleaf. The mates made their way to their daughter and her kits, who were permitted into the nursery with another queen.
The ShadowClan queen chatted with Snowheart eagerly, she told Snowheart how to take entertain her kits when they got older. She stopped her conversation when her kits began to bounce around her paws, begging to play with Snowheart's.
"They're much too small." The dappled grey queen scolded her two offspring. "They aren't as old as you, Volekit and Tallkit."
The two kits moped around, but their ears perked as Whitetail and Silverleaf padded in.
"How are you doing?" Whitetail crept over to Snowheart, peeking at the kits she was grooming.
"They're fine, Whitetail." Snowheart meowed simply. "A bit disturbed, but completely healthy."
The other queen watched the two warriors with careful eyes, keeping her two kits close to her. Her face showed an distrusting expression to the two warriors.
Whitetail caught the queen's glance, and the white tom turned back to Silverleaf. "We should get back to the others." He could sense the queen's unwelcoming attitude.
Silverleaf nodded briefly, giving her daughter a smile. "Get me if you need anything, Snowheart." She meowed.
The white queen rolled her eyes. "They're my kits, Silverleaf." She sighed. "I don't need you treating me like a needy apprentice."
Silverleaf looked hurt, but she turned around, her and Whitetail exiting the den.
As the night passed over, Jaystar readied his Clan to leave. Briarstar padded towards him, blinking the sleep from her eyes.
"Are you sure you don't need to stay until sunhigh?" She asked the tom. "There could still be hot embers in your territory." The leader pointed out.
He shook his head. "ThunderClan is ready to leave, we cannot stay in ShadowClan for longer than needed." His voice held a high authority.
Briarstar shrugged, her ears flattening. "Very well then. I will get two of my warriors escort you out."
Whitetail saw that Jaystar was about to protest, but he decided not to go against Briarstar's words. Two muscular warriors bounded up, and the Clan followed them out into the pine forest.
As they neared the Thunderpath, they could see ash blowing in the wind, causing some warriors to choke. Jaystar gave a nod to his warriors, allowing them to get to the other side.
The two ShadowClan warriors said their goodbyes, and began their departure back to ShadowClan camp.
Whitetail reluctantly went back into his territory. Trees were charred and some had fallen and crumbled all around. Bushes were bare, their leaves burnt away. Their paws grew black with soot as they ambled to their camp.
When they entered their destroyed camp, all hope seemed lost. They inspected the damage, trying to collect all they could to rebuild. Jaystar sighed softly from beside Whitetail, looking to his deputy. Whitetail shook his head, unsure what to do.
As the white tom browsed around, he caught site of a tiny sprout from outside the Tall Tree. The tree was black as night on the side, the outer bark crumbling off in large clumps. But the tiny sprout was bright green, standing out against the ash.
The tom smiled. All hope was not lost, for fire not only brought destruction, but new life.
The scent of ash is fading away. Snowheart noted with the twitch of her nose.
The brambles around them were beginning to regrow, being used to reinforce newly made dens. Tall Tree still stood, charred yet strong. Snowheart felt an odd attachment to it, as if it symbolized the strength of ThunderClan during harsh times. The fire's impacts had succumbed to the beginning of Leaf-fall.
"Snowheart?" She heard a meow, stifling her from her thoughts.
There was a small cat next to her, six moons at the most, pelt glimmering with a constant reminder of what was lost.
He repeated her name again, a questioning look in his glimmering green eyes. She looked at him awkwardly, seeing Goldfeather in him. The older tom had passed now, sickness in his lungs taking his life before he could even see his own kits.
His orange tabby fur slightly brushed against hers, to which she shied away. "Lionkit, go catch up with Featherkit and Rosekit, they're going to be groomed by Bluewhisker before the ceremony."
"But I want to stay with you," he meowed nervously, fearing a negative response. "I don't think they like me very much."
Lionkit looked towards the gathering cats with an apprehensive glance. "When I started taking interest in herbs and stuff..." He shuffled nervously on his small paws. "They made fun of me, calling me a suck-up to Leafbreeze. They want to be the warriors of... Of stories and stuff. Like those that fought against the rogues," he recalled the tales told to him by passing cats of the clan.
Snowheart flattened her ears, embarrassingly remembering how she left the nursery when her kits could eat solid food. The moment nursing was finished, she was done being a mother. She had never witnessed the teasing her kits did to her son.
"Snowheart?" He repeated again with an upset face at her lack of a reply.
The white she-cat nudged him gently with her tail. "Why don't you go over there anyways? It won't matter much when you are apprenticed, they'll be far too busy to mess with you."
He seemed crestfallen, once again denied by his mother. But he gave a reluctant nod, trailing off towards his siblings who were chattering with excitement.
Soft fur brushed against the white of Snowheart, the eyes of Silverleaf met hers. "They're becoming apprentices today, Snowheart." She noted with disappointment in her voice. "The least you could do is hold a conversation with him." Snowheart shot her mother a slightly pestered look.
"Don't give me that face," the she-cat sighed. "Ever since Bluewhisker entered the nursery she's been taking care of those three for you. I'd go in for visits, but you'd be off sneaking into a patrol. They at least needed the attention of their own mother since they are without Goldfeather."
"Why do you question everything I do, Silverleaf?" Snowheart grew annoyed. "They're old enough to fend for themselves now, I have no quarrel with them."
The other she-cat sat down next to the white queen. "A few other warriors would say otherwise. Foxclaw and Lilypetal were chatting about it earlier..."
Before Snowheart could retort, Jaystar had scrambled up to a lower branch of the Tall Tree, he nodded down to Whitetail who stood obediently below. Jaystar let out a loud yowl, signaling the meeting. Snowheart's kits trailed up towards the tree alone. A few passing warriors who took their seat near the tree shot her a cold look, showing their discontent with her treatment of the three.
It's not like I'm hurting them! She wanted to hiss in defense. I wasn't meant to be a queen, I belong hunting and fighting with the rest of my clanmates. She began to feel crestfallen, but her thoughts were disrupted by a second yowl by Jaystar.
"Cats of ThunderClan, today we gather in honor of three kits becoming apprentices. Featherkit, Lionkit, and Rosekit, from now on you will train under the warrior code and be known as Featherpaw, Lionpaw, and Rosepaw." He inspected the warriors around him with hawklike eyes. "Lilypetal," he called, "You shall mentor Featherpaw. Fawnleap, it's about time you get your first apprentice; you will mentor Rosepaw."
The two she-cats bounded from the clearing, touching noses with the cats half their size. Everyone then looked back up expectantly at Jaystar, gazing at the final kit who sat awkwardly in the shadow of the tree.
The grey-furred leader dipped his head slightly. "Due to request from Leafbreeze, Lionpaw will train to be a medicine cat with her as his mentor." He purred loudly.
The medicine cat slinked from her den, yellow eyes gleaming as she made her way towards the ginger apprentice. She pressed her nose against his with pride.
Jaystar leapt down from his place on the branch, bringing the clan meeting to a close.
Snowheart felt relief enter her heart, bringing a strange warmth back into the coldness that crept in since Goldfeather passed. She was finally free to hunt and patrol with her clanmates like before.
But a tremor passed through her pelt with the realization that cats had begun to look at her differently. They saw a she-cat that neglected her kids, that lacked the nurturing presence of a mother. Her closest friends were once Mousetail, Brackenheart, and Goldfeather, but now with moons to grow apart and one of them gone, she felt deeply alone.
Lionpaw peered behind a few brambles into the medicine den, his eyes shone with curiousity, as he had seen it before but never so close. The scents of herbs overwhelmed his senses, drowning out any other thing he might've smelled. He jumped as Leafbreeze crept up behind him, embarassment causing heat to spread across his face.
"I was just-"
"Lionpaw," Leafbreeze let out a small laugh, her brown pelt becoming dim in the tree-covered sunshine. "This is your den now. Remember that."
He smiled, gazing around again with wide eyes. He was still tentative, but not as nervous as before as he continued on throughout the den, inspecting his new surroundings.
"I didn't have time to collect much moss for your nest, as Bluewhisker is quite close to kitting. But I can take you out now, I'm sure your siblings are already out. Maybe we could meet up with them?" She questioned the tom.
The tabby apprentice grimaced a bit at how Featherpaw and Rosepaw would react as he pranced around with his mentor as they trained. "I don't think it'd be great to interrupt their first training session in the hollow..." He trailed off, avoiding her narrowing stare.
"Nonsense! Besides, I'd like to check up on Lilypetal. It's been a while since she's mentored ever since she had kits seasons ago, it'd be great to know how she's faring with the new task." The medicine cat nudged the apprehensive tom back into camp. He reluctantly continued out with wary eyes.
"You need to toughen up a bit, Lionpaw." Leafbreeze murmured. "Your clanmates are your family. They're here to protect you with every last breath."
He glanced back and forth at the sight before him, many conversing cats chattering among each other, some being assigned to patrols while others enjoying a mouse or two by the fresh-kill pile. The orange tabby had never spent so much time outside the nursery or away from the area by the medicine den, as crowds made his heart beat rapidly and his blood turn ice cold.
The dappled brown she-cat continued to lead him across the camp, meowing greetings to fellow warriors, asking a few to keep watch of Bluewhisker while she was gone.
They broke through the exit of camp, pushing through a few overgrown bushes that had sprouted up since the fire moons before. Lionpaw recalled an early Green-leaf full of hazy ash that would sometimes sprout up from fallen branches or charred brambles. It was one of his earliest kithood memories that hadn't yet faded from his mind.
They padded on past the large oaks, coming up to a wide clearing. The training hollow. Lionpaw noted, looking around warily at his new surroundings. The trees seemed to reach to StarClan with leaves of bright green, not yet taken to the beginnings of Leaf-fall. Sunlight was present as the hollow provides an expanse where foliage couldn't cover the sky.
It felt odd to be out of the camp, into an unknown land with scents and sights he'd never experienced before.
A silver she-cat rose from a hunting crouch in surprise. Her companion next to her rose her head as well, giggling at Lionpaw and Leafbreeze standing a few foxlengths away.
A light brown she-cat purred, nodding towards Lilypetal as they ushered their apprentices towards the medicine cats. Featherpaw and Rosepaw bowled over the smaller orange tabby, letting out a few playful hisses and growls as their mentors chatted with Leafbreeze.
Lionpaw pushed them off, ears flattening.
"Oh, lighten up!" Featherpaw crouched down, tail waving with a smirk. "We just learned the proper hunters crouch to catch a mouse. Quiet on the paws, so they can't feel ya comin'!" She leaped into the air, slamming into Lionpaw once again.
The tom grunted impatiently, pushing his sister off again with more force this time. As Featherpaw skidded to her paws, the silver and white she-cat gave him a disappointed glare.
"Stop hitting me!" Lionpaw demanded, getting a few glances from his siblings' mentors as they quieted down.
Rosepaw sighed, rolling her eyes. "We were just trying to play with you, it's not our fault you never want to do anything with us." The brown tabby seemed a bit upset.
Fawnleap padded in front of Rosepaw, resting her tail-tip on her apprentice's shoulder. "Why don't you and Featherpaw go test out that hunter's crouch on some real prey? Lilypetal and I will watch closeby." The two she-cats nodded at her demands, bounding out excitedly, forgetting their altercation with their brother.
Lilypetal muttered something to Leafbreeze, which in turn made the medicine cat sigh a bit. They then followed into the trees where their apprentices had disappeared.
"Why don't we start collecting your bedding?" Leafbreeze mewed softly, giving Lionpaw a soft poke with her claws. "It might be best if we just do herb training in the camp for the next few days..." She trailed off, trudging on towards a tree, green with the fuzz of growing moss.
Lionpaw avoided the fact that staying in the camp appealed to him more than another conversation with his littermates.
She nodded at him to start collecting the moss. He extended his claws awkwardly, more tearing the greenery into shreds rather than tearing it off. Leafbreeze helped him, showing him how to correctly swipe at it for a clean piece. Then they continued back to camp without another word. It finally hit Lionpaw that whatever Lilypetal told Leafbreeze had affected her deeply, and perhaps it'd be best if he never knew.
Snowheart padded alongside Dawneyes and Stripedsun, opening her jaws wider to take in the scents surrounding her. She nearly gagged as the white she-cat inhaled the putrid smell of Thunderpath.
Dawneyes sniffed the ground, raising her head and looking around. "You sure we have to go all the way to the Thunderpath? The territory next to it has been empty for seasons."
Stripedsun flattened her ears, the senior warrior eyeing Dawneyes with a quizzical expression. "Why are you in such a hurry? Didn't get back in time for your sunhigh nap?" She teased.
The silver patched she-cat puffed up with embarassment. "N-no! I just don't think it's worth it, that's all." She smoothed down her chest with a few nervous licks.
"Well I'm leading this patrol, so I say we go," the ginger she-cat mewed. Snowheart nodded respectfully towards her decision, not wanting to receive the same backlash as Dawneyes.
They padded closer towards the Thunderpath, the smell growing stronger, burning Snowheart's eyes. She shook her head slightly, still not daring to let out a single squeak of protest. She felt the need to prove herself again to her clanmates, to make up for their sour attitude towards her actions as a queen.
Suddenly, they broke through the undergrowth, opening up to a large black path. Stripedsun gasped, ushering Snowheart and Dawneyes towards her.
The she-cats gazed at the sight before them. The unclaimed territory, previously harboring leafless, dead trees and dry, cracked ground was now a complete different marvel. The trees were full of dark green leaves, a few falling and dancing around as a gust of wind blew. The ground was covered in soft-looking grass, surrounded by wildflowers that were beginning to close their blossoms for Leaf-fall.
"Looks like other patrols had the same idea as you, Dawneyes." Snowheart finally spoke with wide eyes, astonished at what had become of what was once a wasteland. "No cat must have come down this far, or they would've seen the starts of this."
"It's incredible!" Stripedsun exclaimed, nearing the edge of the forest floor and the Thunderpath. "I would give anything to just see what it has to offer. Jaystar must know about this," she whipped back to face the others. "Think about how much prey it could provide us for Leafbare!"
Dawneyes looked at the land over the border warily. "I dunno, Stripedsun..." She bristled slightly. Snowheart could tell she was beginning to remember something, as her pelt was prickling. "That was, ya know, the rogues territory... What if they're still... there?"
"If they were still there, WindClan would've reported it. Their moor is right beside that, you know." Stripedsun noted with a flick of her ears.
Snowheart's whiskers twitched with uncertainty. "Then wouldn't WindClan want that territory? We might have some competition."
"As if they'd hunt among the trees. Those rabbit-chasers only care about moors and running away from fights." The senior warrior lashed her tail with a sneer. "Besides, our Clan is the biggest now, and with Bluewhisker's kits on the way, we'll need even more prey. Especially since Leafbare will be approaching quicker than ever."
Dawneyes shrugged in agreement. "I guess it's worth a shot. It'd be a hassle to cross the Thunderpath though," she hissed as a monster zipped past, the three pressing their bellies close to the ground to avoid being spotted.
"It'd be worth it for fuller bellies," Stripedsun murmured, turning back to lead her patrol back to camp.
The moon hung bright in the sky, shimmering in the reflection of the puddle that Snowheart eagerly lapped at. She gazed over at Featherpaw and Rosepaw, whispering quietly to themselves about going to their first gathering. Snowheart had overheard from Lilypetal and Fawnleap that their excellence in a hunting patrol had deemed them the acceptance of Jaystar to attend.
Almost a moon since they were just kits. Snowheart pawed the ground under her, gazing at her dim reflection in the puddle. The bright, warmth of relief had soon faded since they were apprentices. She just felt lonely now, exchanging few words every so-often with her own kits, almost none with Lionpaw.
She suddenly felt two bodies at her side, she peered up at two brown toms, smiling with warm eyes.
"You ready to go?" She was asked by Brackenheart, as he licked a few scraps of recently eaten fresh-kill from his jaws. "I'm sure the Clans will have lots to discuss about the unclaimed territory."
Snowheart's eyes brightened, finally having her two friends back by her once more. "Yeah, I see Jaystar's already heading out. Do you know if... If Lionpaw's going?" She asked awkwardly.
Mousetail scratched his ear, blinking a few times. "Not sure," he mewed his response. "Don't know if Leafbreeze will ever take that tom out of camp again. Way too skittish and apparently really cranky when they stray too far," he laughed a bit. "Lilypetal told everyone about how he snapped at his littermates for just playing with him."
The white she-cat looked away from him, face growing hot with slight anger. She may not have cared for them like the Clan would've wanted, but Lionpaw was still her son. "She's going to have to sooner or later! What's a medicine cat that doesn't even know where herbs grow? Or one that's never been to Moontree?" Snowheart hissed furiously at the thought of Lionpaw not even getting to go to his first medicine cat meeting during the new moon.
Brackenheart licked Snowheart's shoulder, eyes softening. "I didn't think Mousetail meant it that way, Snowheart." He reassured her, shooting his brother an icy glare. Mousetail awkwardly turned away.
He got to his paws, head slowly turned across the camp. "Actually, here comes the small tom now. He's following Leafbreeze out the camp," he noted, watching the ginger apprentice trail the medicine cat. "Can hardly believe it myself..." He shook his head with a small laugh.
Snowheart followed his eyes, feeling a bit pleased. "Well, it's about time." She held her head up proudly, starting to follow the swarming cats out the camp.
"Such a new attitude from you, Snowheart." Mousetail smirked, nodding as he passed towards Ashtail and Foxclaw who were left to guard. "As kits, you barely wanted anything to do with them."
The white she-cat bristled. "I cared for them! I just am better suited to be a warrior. Bluewhisker was more than happy to help out with them anyways."
They continued on, dodging low hanging branches and the occasional thorn. Brackenheart sighed, clearing his throat. "Snowheart, the only reason cats worry is just... Thrushleap, you know?"
She glared at him. "What about Thrushleap?" She recalled the older, russet tom ahead that was stumbling about, alone.
The dark brown tabby continued. "He was Blackheart's father, treated her terribly for most of her life. Something about their rogue past- but that's besides the point," he shook his head.
"Blackheart... The one that betrayed ThunderClan for the rogues?" Snowheart thought back to the stories Silverleaf told to her in the nursery. They weren't mentioned much anymore, to avoid the heartache of remembering those lost to the rogues.
He nodded, helping Mousetail get free of a tangle of dying gorse. "They just think if another queen or father treats their kits badly, it's just gonna be another Blackheart. She killed one of your kin, you know! Don't want one of your apprentices doing that..."
She looked down to her paws as they trudged forward, growing closer as the trees thinned out, showing glimpses of Ten Rocks. "They're good cats. Thrushleap shouldn't be blamed for how Blackheart turned out, Silverleaf told me it was the rogues' influence."
"I guess you could say that, but Thrushleap has basically been shunned ever since. Even he won't mention her name," Mousetail butted in, scooting in closer to the other two.
Snowheart didn't bother replying as they broke into the clearing, the waves of sound overwhelming their simple meows. It seemed that only ShadowClan was accompanying ThunderClan at the moment, waiting for the two others to arrive.
Briarstar and Jaystar were sitting below the rock, whispering between each other, avoiding the questions of surrounding cats. Snowheart shrugged away her curiousity at their behavior, making her way towards Mousetail and Brackenheart who had continued on towards a few ShadowClan warriors.
"Volepaw's an amazing apprentice, excellent hunter. Always manages to get the most mice and frogs before Tallpaw, but don't let him hear that!" The group laughed at the joke of a russet tom, boasting about his apprentice.
Snowheart settled herself by Mousetail, rolling her eyes. "I'm guessing he's the mentor, then?" She muttered to him under her breath. Mousetail nodded, rolling his eyes.
"What about you, Brackenheart?" The tom questioned the brown tabby. "We became warriors around the same time. You got your first apprentice yet?"
He seemed taken back by being singled out. He shuffled on his paws, avoiding the ShadowClan warrior's arrogant green eyes. "Uh-ah-well..." Brackenheart swallowed.
"Oh, does Jaystar not trust you yet?" The tom had a false sense of sympathy lingering on his face. The group around him began to chuckle again, eyeing Brackenheart.
"Actually, Jaystar mentioned giving him one of Bluewhisker's kits," Snowheart blurted out. "He always goes on about how great of a warrior Brackenheart is and how he should've had tons of apprentices by now," she tried to stick up for her fellow clanmate.
The russet tom looked at her with a disbelieving glare. "Is that the plump queen talking with Morningdust? Jaystar should know better than to promise unborn kits to warriors. Especially so close to Leafbare... May not live through it." He looked down, flexing his claws with a sigh.
"Let's just go back over towards the others, Snowheart..." Mousetail stood protectively next to his brother. "I can see these fleabrains just want to be hotheated furballs." He nudged Brackenheart's shoulder as they rose to leave the group.
The russet tom snorted. "I've seen you before," he meowed to Snowheart as she got up to leave. "Your pelt sticks out like a sore claw, just like your little deputy over there. Didn't ever catch your name though?"
"That's because I never said it." She hissed in reply to the conceited tom's words, continuing on towards her friends.
"Well, mine's Redpath, if you ever wanted to know!" The russet tom called back to her. "You may know me as Redstar one day though," he and his group rose up in laughter once more.
The three cats settled near Ashtail and Fawnleap, Brackenheart glaring angrily at Snowheart.
"Really? Jaystar thinks I should've had tons of apprentices? He promised me an unborn kit? Come on, Snowheart! No warrior would believe that." The brown tabby slumped down, tail tip twitching restlessly.
"I was just trying to defend you! It was wrong of Redpath to treat you like that. He just seems so full of himself for just having one measly apprentice..." Snowheart grumbled.
Mousetail's whiskers twitched slightly. "Yeah, but Volepaw's like... A prodigy. Every cat in ShadowClan just can't shut their jaws about him. But the weird thing is is that he's just a good hunter. Like yeah, really good, but just a good hunter," he explained. "Featherpaw is an exceptional hunter, but you don't see ThunderClan gloating about her to every cat."
Snowheart narrowed her eyes in confusion. "That's odd..." She glanced back over to Briarstar and Jaystar, who had finally taken their spots on the giant boulder in the middle of the clearing, being joined by the two other leaders who led in their Clans.
The surrounding mews were hushed as the leaders yowled to start the gathering. Snowheart watched uneasily, catching sight of Redpath creeping closer to them from the corner of her eye.
The leaders conversed, but the white she-cat drowned out their voices with the static in her mind. But she suddenly whipped around, catching Redpath right behind her. Brackenheart and Mousetail both hissed quietly, staring at the intruder.
"What do you want?" Snowheart whispered angrily. "The gathering's already started!"
The russet tom flicked his tail towards a group of apprentices. "The orange tabby, is that yours?"
"Your kit. He keeps calling for 'Snowheart' after Volepaw and Tallpaw said a few words to him. Whining about how Leafbreeze left him behind, whatever that means." He chuckled. "As I know most of the names of ThunderClan warriors, Snowheart didn't click with me for anyone. So I'm guessing it's you?"
Snowheart shoved past him, stomping towards the group of apprentices, tormenting Lionpaw in hushed taunts.
"You really shouldn't bring kits to gatherings, you know." Redpath followed after her.
"He's an apprentice, you frog-throat!" She spat quietly at him, trying to avoid disrupting the leaders' conversation.
He seemed surprised, merely shrugging at his mistake. The white warriors shoved past the apprentices, pushing Lionpaw out from their circle around them. She caught sight of what she thought was Volepaw, a mousy brown tom with equally mischievous green eyes as Redpath.
"The kit smelled awful! Like mousebile," he giggled. "He won't even tell us why, just keeps crying for Leaf-whatever and Snowheart!"
Lionpaw pressed against the legs of Snowheart, looking at up at her with a fearful yet curious expression. He was scared of the apprentices, but wondering why she had come to defend him, when she only seemed to want to be away from him. "Leafbreeze showed me every herb in the store... I accidentally got some on my paws, I couldn't get to the stream to wash it off. I wasn't going to lick mousebile off my paws!" He murmured to her.
Snowheart scanned the clearing, catching sight of Leafbreeze's dappled brown fur sitting next to Loudrain and the RiverClan medicine cat, Turtlespots. "She's over there," the white she-cat directed Lionpaw. He scurried off, pushing through the other, much larger apprentices.
"Why is he so tiny?" Volepaw questioned his mentor as Redpath sat down with him. "Is ThunderClan bringing kits to gatherings now?" He seemed bewildered, but the apprentices around them giggled, but were quickly shushed by surrounding warriors.
"He's the medicine cat apprentice. If I see any of you mess with him again, you'll be crowfood." Snowheart growled.
Redpath gained to his paws, shaking his head with a sneering sigh. "I would expect a warrior to know better than to make threats on the night of a truce-"
His beginning of another haughty remark was cut off by more urgent meows from the boulder. Everyone stopped and gazed up to their leaders.
"I don't think it's wise for any Clan to get the territory!" WindClan's leader, Gorsestar, quickly exclaimed. "The rogues were bad enough as it is. They tormented our patrols and took many ThunderClan lives, after all that, you would still claim it?" He turned towards Jaystar, worry deep within his amber eyes.
Jaystar wrapped his tail around his paws, shooting down a glance towards his deputy that looked on from below. "The land is free of rogues, or we would've had more problems with them in the moons after their last attack. If you are not going to put up any fight for it, Gorsestar, ThunderClan will gladly take the land."
"Why don't we give this time, Jaystar?" Briarstar interrupted, the tabby seeming a bit on edge, as Snowheart could see her pelt prickling slightly. "Give it a few moons. New territory would be beneficial to any Clan for the upcoming season, but perhaps we're going into this too soon?"
The grey tom shook his head. "I will give this until the gathering right before Leafbare. Then we will decide. ThunderClan has plenty of mouths to feed, and I won't heasitate to ensure that it happens." He dipped his head, dismissing the gathering as he bounded off from the boulder.
Briarstar leaped towards the ground, stopping him, once again murmuring to him in hushed, barely audible tones.
Cats began to stream away, out into the trees. Redpath even followed his Clan out, his apprentice on his heels, giggling about the incident with Lionpaw. But Snowheart stayed behind, peering at her leader and the curious ShadowClan she-cat.
"While you speak of mouths to feed, it seems you have an excess of warriors..." Snowheart overheard, but the remaining words were a blur to hear as the thundering pawsteps overwhelmed her ears.
"Come on, Snowheart!" She jumped at Mousetail's voice, and nodding quickly, bounding after her friend.
But as she was about to break out of the clearing, Briarstar's final words echoed into her ears.
"You owe a debt to us, Jaystar."
Lionpaw shuffled uncomfortably in his nest, unable to sleep, fearful of the eyes that kept creeping back into his mind. The two sneering ShadowClan toms, a large RiverClan apprentice, two WindClan she-cats. They all were taunting him, calling him 'kit', acting as if he were the smallest mouse in the forest.
Leafbreeze side-glanced at him, organizing a few beech leaves full of juniper berries. "Still thinking about the gathering? I told you to stay near me... I think we may not want to go to another one for a while." She sighed.
"Are you... Are you going to keep me trapped in the camp again?" The orange tabby lifted his head, ears flattening.
"Trapped? Oh, Lionpaw..." Leafbreeze stopped, a beech leaf caught on her claw. "You just seem so nervous every time you step one paw out that clearing," she tore it off softly, spitting it from her mouth.
He perched his head back down on his paws, looking up at his mentor with sorrowful eyes. "But I like coming with you to find herbs. The mint near the stream always smells divine, and the rosemary blooms by the training hollow..." He closed his eyes, reminiscing in the few times he was able to venture out of camp.
"But if any other cat is there besides me, you completely snap. Those ShadowClan appentices called you kit, right? That's only because you keep acting like one! A medicine cat cannot be fearful of others, we are supposed to help others. If you can't learn that then...." She stopped, going back to pushing the juniper into the beech leaves.
"T-then what?" Lionpaw got to his paws, padding slowly towards his mentor. "You won't let me be a medicine cat anymore?" He gasped.
She paused. "Lionpaw, try to get some sleep. Please, just try to keep what I said in mind," she meowed quietly, going deeper into the den, pushing her muzzle into a neat pile of herbs in the hole in the ground. She nosed through it, pulling out tangy leaves.
Lionpaw's nose twitched, breathing in the scent. "Thyme?" He questioned.
"It'll calm you down. So you can at least get in some shut-eye." She smiled, though worry clouded her eyes.
The orange tabby reluctantly began to chew the leaves, easing the edge of his anxiety and thoughts of the gathering's events. Soon his chewing had slowed, and his eyes closed, drawing him into a gentle doze.
The tom flickered open his eyes, expecting to be greeted by Leafbreeze's morning chatter, but was astonished at the landscape around him. The ground was soft, covered in green grass that was surrounded by fog. The sky above was littered with stars, clearer and brighter than anywhere you could see them in the forest.
He gazed around, feeling small in the open land, but not afraid. It was breezy, yet still warm enough to keep chill from entering his bones.
The tabby jumped as a purr rumbled in his ears, he whipped on his paws, once again feeling anxious and fearful. His jaw gaped, eyes widening to the size of boulders.
A large, starry tom with a fluffy, well-groomed coat stared down at him with luminous eyes. A slender cat appeared next to him, settling next to the long-haired tom, whispering something in his ear. Their fur reminded Lionpaw of Silverpelt, beautiful and glimmering. Two she-cats joined them, practically padding in from midair, watching Lionpaw with interest.
"Are you... From StarClan...?" Lionpaw murmured, his voice barely louder than a kit's squeak.
The largest tom inspected the small orange tabby, nodding thoughtfully. "I am Oakstar, young apprentice."
Lionpaw's ears perked. Oakstar? He was the leader before Jaystar... He died in... Suddenly, he gasped in realization. The cats around him seemed to materialize, gaining color, turning from starry figures into pelts of browns and greys.
"We were those lost to the rogues. If you may recall from stories when you were in the nursery, most of these cats were your kin." Oakstar nodded towards a grey tom, a brown tabby, and a brown and white she-cat.
"I am Birchtalon," the brown and white she-cat churred pleasantly. "This is my littermate, Roseleaf," she nodded towards the brown tabby. "She was Silverleaf's mother."
The brown tabby's eyes glimmered, striking Lionpaw with a familiar feeling. She was nearly identical to Rosepaw. Perhaps Silverleaf suggested she be named after her...
"I am Dimfeather," the grey tom lifted a paw without another word. His eyes were solemn, barely showing any emotion on his grave face.
"Why have you come to me?" The orange tabby asked quietly, gazing up towards the late leader.
Oakstar turned back to Lionpaw, breathing in deeply. "The rogues were a mistake, Lionpaw. They should've never been, and they shouldn't be."
The apprentice's whiskers twitched, his eyes narrowing with confusion. "But the rogues were chased out long before I was even born! They would've disbanded by now, or at least be far from here anyways..." His mew held question.
The fluffy brown tom lowered his head, gazing deeply into Lionpaw's green eyes. "The starless Leafbare night will last until the morning sun rises." His words held urgency, as if it were a desperate plea into his ears.
Lionpaw's head whipped around, as the cats dipped their heads, fading from him. His world seemed to spin, unknown white flakes pelting down on him. He heard the stories of Leafbare's seemingly endless snow, but now it seemed more bitter than he could ever imagine. His pelt felt frozen as he became surrounded, the drifts of white frost piling up, swallowing him like a morsel of prey in the mouth of a starving warrior. Cries around him screamed into his ears, piercing his brain until he yowled out for release. Darkness swarmed the sky, seemingly void of stars and endless, covering him along with the excruciating snow.
He sprung up, caterwauling into the sky. But when he opened his eyes, he was back by the den, overheard was covered with lichen and leftover strips of bark, hanging up near a cracked boulder that served as the herb store.
Leafbreeze had scurried to him, panting in fear. "What's wrong? Is the camp being attacked?" Her head whipped around, eyes heavy with sleep but glazed with adrenaline.
The orange tabby buried his muzzle into Leafbreeze's shoulder. "So much snow..." He gasped, unable to breathe properly.
The dappled brown she-cat glared at him, perplexed. "Lionpaw, you've never witnessed Leafbare. How could you have possibly seen-"
"Oakstar, Dimfeather, Roseleaf, B-Birchtalon!" He quickly gasped out.
The medicine cat stopped, staring with empty eyes, she then sat down, glaring towards her paws. "StarClan... StarClan spoke to you. Why? What did they say?" She demanded with an dire mew.
"It was... Something about night... And Leafbare... And..." The words were fading from his mind, just barely there like any other dream he had. Why couldn't he just remember? "The morning sun?" He seemed confused by his own sentence.
"Those were all cats who died during the reign of the rogues," Leafbreeze explained, half thinking out loud to herself. "What could this possibly mean? Are we at threat of them once again?" She shook head. "That doesn't make sense! WindClan would've told us if they had shown up, and they would've done it seasons ago!"
The small tom lowered his head. "Oakstar... The longhaired tom... He said they shouldn't have been, and they shouldn't be? I don't know what that means, but it seems like... Like it's recent."
"We can't do much until morning. Try to sleep again, I'm sure they won't haunt your dreams anymore, little one." She assured her apprentice, licking him softly on the head as he lowered himself back into his nest. The dappled brown she-cat silently turned, shaking her head once again.
Leafbreeze slowly trailed out into the starlight of the glimmering night sky. She stood outside the medicine den, looking up with a pleading expression towards her warrior ancestors. She sighed softly. "Why him...?" Lionpaw heard her murmur as he was lulled back into slumber.
Shadows whisking around him, passing alongside with cheerful meows and hello's as they passed the fresh-kill pile. Lionpaw looked at the remainder of a finch, barely even eaten with just a mere bite on its surface. Despite hunger feeling like badger claws against his stomach, he couldn't bring himself to swallow one morsel more before feeling sick.
The finch's scent mingled with that of Rosepaw. She must've caught it on her hunting trip earlier with Fawnleap and Sagefrost. The tabby shuddered at bit at his first hunting lesson with Leafbreeze.
Even medicine cats must know basic training. She had assured him when he protested. Then he ended up with a face full of dirt trying to chase after a scrawny brown rabbit that raced along the forest floor. Would Leafbreeze actually end his apprenticeship? He couldn't possibly train as a warrior! A warrior that can't even catch a measly morsel of prey? He was done for.
He jumped at the feeling of a gentle tail tip on his shoulder. "I'm proud of you, Lionpaw," he heard the mew of the typically stern, yet now unusually cheerful voice of Leafbreeze. "I was telling Whitetail about it."
The orange tabby turned towards, his eyes catching on the striking white fur of Snowheart's father. His face grew hot, blooding starting to pump in his ears as he flattened them. He then briskly dipped his head towards the deputy.
"She said you practically mastered the hunting crouch," he purred, glancing with a small smile towards the apprentice's mentor.
"He may have not caught that rabbit, but I've never seen such a quiet prowl before!" Leafbreeze admired, inspecting Lionpaw again with a pleased nod.
Whitetail smirked, "You sure he shouldn't be training as a warrior? We could use such talents with the upcoming Leafbare." He gave her a teasing nudge with his shoulder.
Lionpaw prickled a bit, eyes widening. Leafbreeze laughed. "No, you're not going to take my apprentice away even if StarClan themselves deems it so," she padded a step closer towards her tabby apprentice, once again settling her tail-tip on his shoulder. "But I'm sure he'll be willing to help out when it gets chillier."
The small tom nodded rapidly, trying not to disappoint the deputy that stood before him. If I ever manage to catch anything, that is... He thought nervously to himself.
"You two go back to your business, there'll be a Clan meeting soon. But don't worry, your prized hunting crouch will most certainly be mentioned to Jaystar." Whitetail promised with a gentle laugh towards his kin, then with a flick of his ears towards his medicine cat, he bounded towards the leader den.
Leafbreeze mewed a goodbye to their deputy, pressing against her apprentice with another pleasant purr. "He seemed proud."
The orange tabby looked quizzically towards his mentor. "Was it that good?" He asked.
"Oh, yes." The medicine cat said. "Your timid nature makes you extremely quiet. It's as if you're too scared to make noise." Seeing that her reply made the apprentice shrink a bit, looking slightly more ashamed than satisfaction. "But don't worry, it's an advantage."
Wanting to change the subject, Lionpaw looked up into Leafbreeze's flecked yellow eyes. "Did you talk to Jaystar? About, well... You know..."
"Stop beating around the dead mouse, Lionpaw," Leafbreeze sighed, rolling her eyes. "About your dream? Yes. However, there are pressing matters at paw.