|A New Dawn|
|Preceded by: |
|A New Dawn: Blood River||Succeded by: |
A New Dawn: Before the Stars
A dark shape flitted across the rock. A pair of amber eyes shimmered in the darkness, navy shadows engulfing the rest of his body. A torn ear and a long, deep pink scar down his back were the reminders of his latest battle with his son. 'Snakepaw,' he hissed. 'Come out.' The golden eyes glowed with danger, a pool of fire ready to burn. They watched as a long haired apprentice poked his head out between the boulders that secured the clearing. The small tom's dark brown pelt glowed with moonlight, his body bathed in an eerie glow. 'Yes father.'
The older tom crept out of the shadows. 'My son,'he growled. 'I have waited so long for this.'
'For what?' The smaller version of the big tabby cocked his head in curosity.
'For my power to rise. Snakepaw, listen to me.' He circled the cat. 'One day, you will rise to be the greatest leader ShadowClan has ever known. But you must keep one promise.'
'I will be leader? Wow! I'm going to tell all the Clans to keep off our territory because they know ShadowClan is the greatest.' Snakepaw sliced his claws along the stones, as if he was slitting someone's throat. Alarmingly, his youthful face was curled up in a snarl, a sign of ferocity and hunger for the power that may one day come to him. 'So, what do I have to promise, Tigerheart?'
Tigerheart's mouth slipped into a purr. 'You have to do everything I say. If I tell you to kill your mother, you must.'
'But why?' Snakepaw's eyes stretched wide. 'Dewtail is my mother and I love her. I am her only kit.'
'Well, Snakepaw. If you disobey one of my orders, you will be killed.' Tigerheart slid out his claws.
Snakepaw's green eyes were as big as moons. 'I will do everything you order me to,' he whimpered. 'I promise.'
Tigerheart's eyed softened. 'Good. Breezepelt's son, Boulderpaw, is going to help you. Together, the two of you will avenge the Dark Forest. My grandfather was killed by that Firestar! The Place of No Stars will rise again, and you will be just the begining.'
Snakepaw's ears were flat, and his fur fluffed up. 'I don't want to be part of the Dark Forest,' he whispered, scared of his own voice. 'Dewtail told me that the cats were-'
'Silence!' Tigerheart swiped his tail across his son's lips. 'You have promised already, there's no turning back.' He unsheathed his claws.
'But I am dreaming,' Snakepaw croaked. 'You can't hurt me.'
Tigerheart's amber eyes were glazed with red. 'Maybe I can.'
So, did you like that? Tense, huh? Just a note-Boulderpaw is Breezepelt and Heathertail's son, and he has a sister, Duskypaw. Also, Dewtail is Dewkit from Night Whispers, daughter of Kinkfur.
Chapter One- Thoughts
Firekit watched the mouse, his nose twitching with the scent. Its thin pink tail stretched out temptingly before him. He unsheathed his claws and narrowed his yellow eyes. Sunlight filtered through the trees, making Firekit's ginger pelt stand out like a flame in the forest. He had been named after Firestar, and he admired him. He wanted to achieve the greatness that the former leader had. Firekit flexed his claws, watching his prey come nearer and nearer. He was so close to it now that he could see every one of its whiskers. Silently, he drew his paw back, ready to swipe. He pounced.
It was his sister, Mintkit. He opened one eye groggily. 'What?'
'You're disturbing Dovewing!' Mintkit gave him an irritated look.
Firekit flicked his eyes over to the queen. Her two kits, Wolfkit and Frostkit were nestled in her belly. They were only a few days old. Dovewing glared at him. He glared back and rolled into his nest, desperatly trying to get back to his dream. But he couldn't,so he decided to get up and eat. His brother, Bushkit, was eating a sparrow in the shelter of a holly bush, and their mother, mother, Cinderheart, was chatting with Poppyfrost by the fresh kill pile.
Firekit chose a vole and watched Clan life go by. The elders were sunning themselves outside their den, looking content and relaxed. Purdy had died several moons ago, but he didn't remember the former loner very well. The apprentices sat in a huddle by the tree stump, Dewpaw, Amberpaw, Snowpaw, Seedpaw and Lilypaw all enthusiastic about the day ahead. Squirrelflight, the Clan deputy, was assigning patrols for the day, all the warriors clustered round her.
'Hey, Firekit!' Moletooth called from the thorn tunnel, bouncing back from the dawn patrol.
Firekit leapt up to greet his friend. Moletooth had only been a warrior for a moon or so now, but he was still a great playmate to him. Cherryblossom, his sister, was also there to greet her brother; the two were very close. Firekit was running and running across the camp when suddenly two great big balls of fur smacked into him, one pale brown, one tabby grey.
Pain shot through him as he landed awkwardly on his side, his flank unmovable. 'Bushkit, Mintkit!' he moaned, letting the pain ride over him. 'That hurt!'
Instantly, Mintkit was crouching down beside him. 'Sorry,' she apologised sheepishly. 'It was just for fun.'
'But it isn't fun for me, getting injured!' Firekit snapped back.
Bushkit ignored his outburst. 'Want to play mossball?' he asked.
'Can't you see that our brother's hurt?' Mintkit cried. 'I'll take you to Jayfeather. You'll need some dandelion if it's really painful. And stop thinking about the injury.' she added. 'It takes your mind off it.'
Firekit was suprised by his littermate's knowledge of herbs. 'How do you know that?' he asked curiously.
'I like spending my free time with Jayfeather and learning about medicine,' she shrugged. 'Maybe I'll become a medicine cat.'
Firekit leaned on Mintkit and hurried to Jayfeather's den. He tried to stop thinking about the pain, as Minkit had suggested, but all he could focus on was her last words. Maybe I'll become a medicine cat. He had always thought that the three of them would become warriors, and fight all the battles together. Suddenly, fury shot through him. How dare Minkit want to be a medicie cat! Everyone was born to be a fighter, especially him and his littermates. Their father was Lionblaze, one of three, who's power was to go fighting without getting injured.
He voiced his thoughts to Mintkit. Her eyes turned from caring and compassionate to anger. 'You can never say that, Firekit, ever!' she fumed. 'I want to be a great healer, and learn everything! I feel the same way about medicine like you do about battling!.'
Then she dropped Firekit to the floor and left him slumping on the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his sibling running back to the nursery. He let his eyes focus on something else. The sky. Today, it was particularly beautiful, with the fluffly clouds floating about and the sun a watery yellow, beaming down at the camp. However, it wasn't quite as warm as usual, Firekit noticed. Leaf bare is on its way, he thought.
Then, a face loomed over him, green eyes staring down at him. 'Bushkit!' Firekit moaned.
'I'll let you lean on me,' his brother offered. 'I'm strong.' He puffed out his chest. 'Stronger than Lionblaze.'
'Thanks.' Firekit hauled himself off the ground and slumped against Bushkit. Together, they trekked the last few tail-lengths to Jayfeather's den. The grey tabby was there to greet them, his blind blue eyes staring at them. Firekit shivered. For some reason, the medicine cat always gazed at him and his littermates, and it made Firekit feel uncomfortable. Even though he couldn't see, it was almost like he was watching your every step.
'I fell over,' Firekit began.
'It was me and Minkit's fault,' Bushkit cut in. 'We were playing and it got out of hand.'
'Come in, Firekit,' Jayfeather mewed. 'We can talk.'
His opal pupils stared at Flamekit so intensly that Firekit staggered back, making his leg strain even worse than it was already.
Bushkit looked alarmed. 'Will you be alright?'
'I'm fine.' Firekit gasped, and he staggered into the medicine den, still aware of Jayfeather watching his every pawstep.
Chapter Two- The Story
Firekit let himself fall roughly into the spare nest in the den. Jayfeather followed after him, his tail swishing through the brambles. It hurts!' he moaned as the agony in his flank throbbed away.
'Of course it hurts!' the medicine cat retorted, with a slight sharpeness in his tone. 'How did the injury occur?'
'Well, I was running across the clearing to greet Moletooth when suddenly, Mintkit and Bushkit rammed into me,' Firekit explained. He twitched his tail in annoyance. He winced. That made the pain grow again.
Jayfeather sniffed round the sprain, and mewed, 'You'll need some dandelion for that.'
'Mintkit told me so,' he sighed. 'She says she wants to be a medicine cat. But surely everyone is meant to be a warrior? We need fighters, not healers!'
While he was rumaging through his stores, Jayfeather spoke. 'Who's going to heal those wounds after you've been in battle?'
Firekit shuffled his paws, feeling guilty now. Lionblaze had told him that his brother had always wanted to be a warrior, except his blindness meant he had to become a medicine cat. 'Sorry.' he apologised quietly. 'I din't mean to offend you.'
Jayfeather ignored his question. There was a pause, and then he plucked out the yellow leaves that must be dandelion, and asked, 'Firekit, have you or your siblings had any...odd dreams recently?'
He was trying to keep his tone light, but Firekit could tell that there was something more behind his words. 'No,' he replied. 'Except this morning I had a dream where I nearly caught a mouse.'
'Nearly?' Jayfeather looked straight at Firekit. 'What happened?'
'I must've been talking and moving in my sleep, so Mintkit woke me up just as I was about to catch the mouse. I was disturbing Dovewing, aparrently.'
'Chew these.' Jayfeather slid the dandelion across the floor to Firekit. Obediently, he licked it up.
'Yuck!' He swiped his tongue round his muzzle twice before the bitter taste began to fade. He was tempted to spit it out, but he swallowed the plant, knowing that they were for his own good.
'I want you to tell me if the sprain feels worse, okay? It was only small, it wil heal quickly.'Jayfeather instructed.
Firekit nodded and heaved himself out of the den. He was feeling better already. Mintkit ran up to him. 'Sorry,' she said breathlessly. 'I didn't mean to snap at you like that.'
'It's fine.' And Firekit added, 'I should apologise too. I now understand that there are other, more important, positions in the Clan.'
Bushkit scampered up. 'Come on! Let's go listen to the elders' stories. They're in a good mood today, for once. Race you there!'
Firekit took off, feeling a slight twinge where his injury was. Jayfeather's herbs were working miracles already. He saw the camp blurring past him, the rocky walls whizzing past. He pounded ahead of his littermates, and skidded in front of the elders den a few whiskers before them. He crashed inside, seeing Greystripe napping, but the others awake. 'Shhh!' Millie hissed, jerking her ear towards her sleeping mate.
'Oops,' Bushkit mewed. 'Please can you tell us a story? What was the old forest like? Can you tell us about Scourge? And Firestar?'
Firekit looked up at Sandstorm, Dustpelt and Millie with pleading eyes. 'Alright,' Dustpelt chuckled. 'I am going to tell you about Tigerstar's crimes.
'I admired Tigerstar, when I was an apprentice. His warrior name was Tigerclaw, and he was a very big, bulky warrior, about the size of a small fox.'
Firekit gasped. 'That's massive!' he exclaimed.
'Yes,' Sandstorm agreed. 'Before Firestar joined the Clan, he murdered Redtail, the ThunderClan deputy at the time. The only witness was Ravenpaw, his apprentice. Then Firestar came to ThunderClan and found out that Tigerclaw was scaring Ravenpaw and had threatened to kill him!
'So, Firestar sent Ravenpaw off to live with Barley, a loner who lived in WindClan territory.'
'He was happy there,' Dustpelt mewed. 'But then Lionheart died, and Tigerclaw had to become deputy then. So he plotted to murder Bluestar, so he could become leader.'
Mintkit let out a muffled squeak. 'But then Firestar told Bluestar about her deputy, and he was exiled,' Dustpelt continued. 'I am glad I didn't stay with him.'
'Tigerstar launched an attack on ThunderClan, with a bunch of other Rouges, but it failed.' Sandstorm said. 'And then he became leader of ShadowClan, but was killed by Scourge. He was sent to the Place of No Stars, where all the bad cats go.
'And just a few moons before you were born, the Dark Forest cats came down and attacked the Clans. Many died in the process. But he was killed for good, never to be seen again.'
'However, there are some Clan cats who trained with Tigerstar who want the Dark Forest back,' Millie added darkly. 'I doubt it will happen, though.'
The kits stared up at the elders, wide eyed. 'Wow,' Bushkit breathed. 'He was evil.'
'I never really knew him,' Millie confessed. 'But I saw the Dark Forest cats in that battle and I saw how bad he was.'
'Thank you, Sandstorm, Dustpelt, Millie,' Mintkit nodded to each of them politely. 'Let's go play mossball!'
So Firekit left the elders, his mind filled with thoughts of a cat so bad, he was sent to the Place of No Stars.
Chapter Three- Dreamworld
Clouds filtted across the moon like dark shadows. The crescent itself was glimmering yet menacing at the same time. The trees were tall towers of blackness over the sky, blotting out the stars.
Cats, cats of every kind emerged from the forest. Black cats, blue eyed cats, tabby cats, even a few persian cats. They slunk forward to emerge as one shape, one body, one Clan. They rose up from the pits and let their fur be their guidence; it shone with starlight. They stopped in front of four large cats. One was blue-grey, slender and pretty. The other was brown and used to be handsome, one would assume, if it weren't for his crooked jaw. The third feline was a big, ragged furred tom with startling blue eyes and the fourth was a slim, lithe shape, with black and white patches.
The brown one spoke. 'We have come.'He said. 'You have come. We are here to discuss important matters.'
'Is there anything we can do to stop it?' a bright ginger tom asked.
'No.' The blue she-cat's voice was grave. 'We have protected the Clans all our lives, all our existence, but now there is nothing we can do to help.'
'I have seen the darkness!' The small patched tom hissed. 'It is in the heart of my own Clan.' He shook his head. 'I never dreamed it would come to this.'
'Well it has.' The scruffy cat mewed. He looked and the angry sky, searching for answers. 'They are a threat to themselves.'
Chapter Four- The Eyes
'Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath the Highledge for a Clan meeting!'
Mintkit heard Bramblestar's yowl and skidded into camp as quickly as possible. It was time for Seedpaw and Lilypaw to become warriors. Mintkit loved watching the cermonies, knowing that although she could never become one, she could share their joy and happiness.
Firekit bounded up beside her, Bushkit on her other side. 'This is so exciting!' he whispered.
'Yeah!' Firekit agreed. 'We'll be warriors one day. The best. But I'll be better.'
Bushkit let out a squeal of fake annoyance and leapt on his brother, play fighting. Mintkit let her littermates pretend fight, and watched her Clan gather in the clearing.
While Sorreltail and Brackenpaw were fussing over their daughters, Amberpaw, Dewpaw and Snowpaw were moaning. Mintkit flicked her ears towards their chatter, eavesdropping. 'When will we become warriors?' Snowpaw moaned. 'We're just as good as them,' He flicked his tail towards the older apprentices.
'We haven't had our assesments yet,' Amberpaw pointed out. She calms her two rowdier siblings, Mintkit noted. The young she-cat was quiet, but her advice was worth hearing.
The grumpy apprentices' conversation was interrrupted by Bramlestar addressing his Clan. 'I have called a Clan meeting to make two new warriors.' He beckoned Seedpaw and Lilypaw forward, both about to burst with excitement.
Something grey flickered on the edge of Mintkit's vision. It had haunting yellow eyes, and its teeth bared back. Mintkit suppressed a squeal. What was this..thing? Its sunshine eyes rested on her, narrowed and cruel. There was a hint of a smile on the edge of its lips.
Mintkit blinked, praying it was a vision. The eyes were still there, glaring at her. And then, as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone. Mintkit was terrified. What was that in the bushes? 'Mintkit?' Firekit asked. 'Are you OK?'
Mintkit nodded, not wanting to scare her brothers too. She turned back to the cermony, hoping it would cheer her up.
'Seedpaw, Lilypaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend you Claneven at the cost of your life?' Bramblestar asked.
Both cats nodded vigorously. 'The by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Lilypaw, from this moment on, you will be known as Lilydew. StarClan honours your forethought and honesty.' The leader continued.
Lilydew flushed, and licked Bramblestar's shoulder. 'Seedpaw, from this moment on, you will be known as Seedwhisker. StarClan honours your determination and energy.'
The two new warriors stepped down and beamed with pride. 'One day, I'll be up there,' Bushkit vowed.
'So will I.' Firekit agreed.
Mintkit couldn't share their hope. How can I tell them I never want to be a warrior?
'Come on Mintkit, eat up!' Cinderheart encouraged.
Mintkit was too shaken to eat. She had seen terrible things in her dreams. The eyes had come back to haunt her, menacing, bloodthirsty. Sometimes, the edges were tinted with red. She took a small bite of her shrew, swallowed pointedly and said,' Mother, I'm really not hungry.' she said honestly.
'If you don't eat up, Lionblaze says you won't become a good warrior!' Bushkit told her.
'All about warriors,' Mintkit muttered so low, that she doubted anyone heard her. 'No one cares about medicine.'
Stretching and yawning, she mewed to Cinderheart,' I'm going to sleep now. Tiring day.' She wasn't sleepy at all. And she wasn't looking forward to becoming unconscious again. She'd see the eyes.
Chapter Five- Lost
Bushkit squealed as Lionblaze tickled him with a feather. 'Stop! Please!' he giggled. 'It hurts!'
His father dropped the feather and licked his son on the ear. 'ShadowClan will easily beat you if you're weak like that!' he teased.
Bushkit flopped down on the camp floor and huffed. 'I haven't learnt the battle moves yet!' he protested. 'I need to explore. Be outside.' He was easily bored, and loved the nature that surrounded him. Can't we be apprentices already? He looked wistfully over at Amberpaw, Snowpaw and Dewpaw, all tired out from a day's hunting.
Bushkit sighed. Lionblaze seemed to understand what he was thinking. 'Hey, you'll be apprentices in a half moon.' he mewed cheerfully.
But that's ages away! A plan formed in Bushkit's head. A way to be outside and have fun, with no one knowing! He needed his littermates though. He faked a large yawn, and tried to put on his best tired voice. This wasn't hard, since Bushkit hadn't slept well last night.
'I'm going to go have a nap for a bit,' he murmured drowsily. 'Tired.' He yawned as convincingly as possible, and padded into the nursery to see Firekit and Mintkit arguing loudly over a piece of mouse. Dovewing, looking as annoyed as ever, glared at them, like she did every day. Wolfkit and Larkit watched on gleefully, like they wanted to join in.
'Mintkit! Firekit!' Bushkit yowled his greeting, purposely being loud. Dovewing annoyed him terribly. His littermated stopped mid-argument and turned to face him. He walked quickly over to his siblings. 'I've got an idea for us to all have fun!' He whispered, trying to look inconspicious.
Firekit's eyes gleamed. 'Becoming apprenticed early?' he mewed excitedly.
'No silly!' Mintkit teased, cuffing him on the ear gently. 'Bramblestar will never let that happen!'
'I know a way to get into the forest!' Bushkit continued. Just the thought of visiting his territory made a rush of adrenaline shoot through him. 'Through the dirtplace tunnel!' Then we get a head start when we do become 'paws.'
He looked at his siblings expectantly. His brother and sister both nodded vigorously. 'Let's go!' Mintkit squealed.
'Shh!' Firekit snapped. 'We need to be quiet!'
Bushkit lead the way to the dirtplace. 'It should be just here. The elders told me so.' He carefully used his tail to part an overgrown bush. There is was, the stone tunnel! Firekit leapt into the air with excitement and rushed down the passage. 'Hurry, before they notice we're gone!' The ginger kit whisper-shouted.
Bushkit brought up the rear, making sure no one followed them. He scented the air every now and then, but no cats scent was smelt. They were in the forest now. Bushkit loved the way the bracken and twigs crackled like thunder beneath his paws. Satisfying. Both Mintkit and Firekit were as absorbed in this new world as Bushkit was.
'Can you see Sky Oak?' Mintkit squealed. 'Sandstorm told me that you can see it from ShadowClan territory!'
Bushkit's eyes widened. He scanned the treetops, and in the very distance he saw a great towering tree on the horizon. 'I see it, I see it!' he squeaked. Then he reminded himself that a patrol could catch them at any moment, and he shut his mouth.
The kits walked on through the territory. Bushkit took it all in: the smell of the blossom, the way the bark was patterned on the Great Oak, the rush as the wind whipped his pelt and stung his ears. 'This is way better than camp!' Firekit yelled. 'We're having so much fun!
Bushkit watched as a brown leaf spiraled down to the forest floor. He cried out with delight and jumped up to catch it. He speared the leaf on his claws and looked up to see if any more were falling.
'Come here and play!' he called to his siblings. 'It's so fun!' Mintkit and Firekit scampered over, and soon they were all leaping up, hoping to catch a leaf. Bushkit caught one almost every time. 'Wow!' Mintkit exclaimed. 'How do you jump that high?'
Firekit nodded in agreement. 'Yeah, I wish I could.' Suddenly he stiffened. 'I hear a cat!' he hissed worriedly.
Bushkit stopped and froze. He could hear the crackle of the leaf fall leaves under someone's paws. They were close by. Every hair on Bushkit's spine rose in terror. Mintkit scented the air, looking for a clue. 'It's Spiderleg!' she whispered, her eyes wide. 'He's coming this way!'
Now Bushkit could scent the warrior on the wind. He could hear him calling to another cat. Two cats? 'Have you caught anything yet Ivypool?' Spiderleg shouted.
Ivypool's voice echoed in Bushkit's ear. 'Not yet.' The leaves stopped crunching. 'Wait,' the silver tabby mewed. 'I think I smell a cat.'
'WindClan? ShadowClan?' Spiderleg asked angrily. 'We don't like intruders.'
Bushkit looked at his siblings. He was terrified. He tried to tell them telepathically to run. Firekit nodded. 'No, I think it's..ThunderClan scent?'
But Bushkit missed what Ivypool said next. He was dashing through the bushes like there was no tomorrow. Firekit was ahead of him, Mintkit at his heel. Terror gripped him like a fox trap. Where will we go? Where's the way back to camp?
It was all his fault. It took Bushkit a while to muster up the courage to flash a look behind him. He did not recognize their surroundings. No one was following them.
His paws pounded against the ground like the beat of his heart. Thump thump. Thump thump. He dashed through a bush, keeping his sister and his brother as close to him as possible. Thorns scratched his face, and soon blood was dripping ino his eyes, clouding his vision.s
He blinked, and droplets of red fell to the ground, staining the verdant grass like a scar. He carried on running, running and running... His legs did not tire.
Bushkit would've run forever, but then he screeched to a halt just behind Firekit. A rank and vile scent filled his mouth. It was overpowering, like a rotting rat. 'What is that stench?' Mintkit panted in disgust. 'It's horrible.'
'Probably a dead fox round here,' Firekit assured them. 'Nothing to worry about. Remember, mother told us about those fox traps the twolegs put up.'
Though Firekit sounded confident, Bushkit wasn't quite so sure about what lay ahead. Tall, looming pine trees stood in front, unforgiving unlike the oak trees behind. The pine's long claws cast haunting shadows across the foliage like traps, ready to take a cat to its doom.
'Are you sure that this is the right way, Firekit?' Mintkit asked again, quivering. Even Firekit looked a little uncertain now. They had been walking for a long time now. It was just past sunhigh when they left, and now it was begining to darken even more.
Bushkit shivered as the shadows seemed to taunt him. Scared, are you? they seemed to sneer. The tall pines looked even bigger in the dark. Inside, Bushkit knew that they were very, very wrong to be here.
The kits shrieked as an owl swooped down, almost gripping them. It hooted. 'I'm scared,' Firekit confessed. 'Where are we?'
The sun set lower and lower, and the darkness was blacker and blacker. Bushkit couldn't see past his whiskers anymore. Due to his lack of vision, he almost screamed when something wet and slimy touched his paws. Just mud, He told himself. Just a small little bit of mud. He hated the way the slime stuck to his paws, trying to pull him under. Once, he fell into the oozy soil and was now covered in it. 'This is horrible!' Firekit moaned.
In the end, they found their way out of the bog. Bushkit yawned. He hadn't realised how exhausted he was. His eyelids began to droop. 'Let's sleep for a bit.' he muttered drowsily. He slumped down on the nearest tree's roots. Mintkit and Firekit curled up next to him.
At least he had a bit of warmth-and comfort-from his littermates. 'Night.' Firekit yawned.
And as he said those words, Bushkit drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
Chapter Six- The Strangers
'Who are they?'
Mintkit woke to the sound of low voices. She kept still, did not open her eyes. Whoever was near her carried the same horrid scent as the rest of the forest.
'I think they're kits.' A different voice spoke this time. She sounded nicer than the other cat, but shocked and slightly amused. Mintkit felt whiskers brush her fur as the she-cat sniffed her like fresh kill. 'ThunderClan kits.'
'What in StarClan are they doing here?' the tom croaked. He was old, his voice very gruff. 'Kits don't just wander around the forest. Is their mother around, Tawnypelt?'
The cat called Tawnypelt scented the air. Mintkit felt her breath on her tail. She tried not to move. 'No Blackstar,' Tawnypelt replied, sounding slightly confused. 'No other scent at all. Only theirs.'
'Then they must've wandered here on their own,' Blackstar concluded. 'At least they have a little pluck in them.'
'No common sense, more like.' the she-cat retorted. But the insult was light, she clearly thought it funny that three cats had walked aimlessly around the forest. Both of them seem nice. Mintkit thought. Perhaps I should talk to them. Explain why we're here.
She was going to say something, but she didn't. Mintkit heard the snapping of branches as another cat walked up. She didn't like the atmosphere he cast over the other cats. They were...scared of him. Mintkit hated the uneasiness she felt as this cat's scent whirled round her. She didn't know if it was possible, but his scent almost tasted dangerous. Unpleasant.
She brushed that thought aside, and continued to pretend to be unconsious. 'Hello Tigerheart,' Blackstar began warily. 'We found-'
'Shut up!' the new cat snarled. Mintkit heard the crushing of twigs as one of the cats was shoved violently aside.
'Tigerheart!' Tawnypelt growled. 'Don't push me!'
The other tom snorted. 'I'm deputy. I can do what I like.' Despite having her eyes shut, Mintkit could almost sense the deputy's eyes scanning her and her brothers.
Deputy? Suddenly all this began to fit together. The horrible smell. The different territory. The three strange cats. We're in a different Clan! Mintkit screamed internally. Panic began to boil inside her like fire. These warriors were going to kidnap them and make them join their Clan!
Blackstar interrupted her inner pleading by hissing, 'Tigerheart, do you have no respect fot Rowanclaw whatsoever? He was a noble leader, unlike you.'
Tigerheart paused. He was angry. Mintkit could sense the vibes coming off him in waves. With the tension still bubbling, Tigerheart demanded, 'Why are these cats here?'
We don't know,' Blackstar mewed. 'There's no sign of their mother and they seem to be ThunderClan.'
'Probably got here on their own,' Tawnypelt injected. 'Fed up of being in camp I suppose.'
Tigerheart thought for a moment. 'ThunderClan, eh? Then there's only one thing for them. Let Bramblestar have less warriors.' Mintkit visioned slitting the deputy's throat. That made her feel a bit better.
'Tigerheart, no.' Blackstar warned. 'Don't murder them. It's not right.'
Murder? Mintkit finally opened her eyes and let out a long, shrill scream. We can't die, can't die. Let them take me before they take Bushkit and Firekit.
Her eyes snapped open to see three cats looming over her. One was white, with black paws, and looked so incredibly old that his muzzle was turning a light shade of grey. The second cat, the she-cat, was quite pretty, with a tortoiseshell pelt and kind eyes. The last one was the menacing one, his amber eyes tinted red and his dark tabby pelt flashing in the moonlight. His paw dangled in the air; he was about to strike her.
Mintkit whimpered and curled her tail over her eyes. 'Don't kill me.' she pleaded.
The big deputy lowered his paw, and thrust his muzzle in her face. 'What are you doing here?' he demanded.
Mintkit stared back at him with wide eyes. She didn't want to answer him, the cat who had almost killed her. She just shook her head. Tigerheart snorted, annoyed and howled, 'Come on you silly kit, answer me!'
'We got lost,' Mintkit gave in, mewing quietly. 'We just went out for an adventure, then we couldn't find the way back to Mother.'
Blackstar and Tawnypelt looked at each other. 'You're coming with us.' Tigerheart growled. 'Wake up your brothers.'
Chapter Seven- ShadowClan
Firekit didn't like it here.
The ShadowClan camp reeked and was packed with strange cats. Bushkit, Mintkit and himself had been given nests close to Blackstar's den, and Tigerheart 'kept an eye on them'. It was nearly sunrise now and Firekit was worried. Would they be found? Would they be kept prisoner here? Would they be fed?
Just after dawn a cream furred she-cat dropped three scrawny mice at the kits' feet. Bushkit ate his in moments, then moaned, 'I'm hungry.'
The cream warrior purred. 'I'm sorry,' she apologised. 'I know it isn;t very much, but we're on strict orders from Tigerheart.'
Firekit's eyes widened. 'What happened to Blackstar?' he asked. He'd grown to like the grizzly old leader, with a sarcastic sense of humour.
Dawnpelt looked away. 'He...he isn't very well,' she answered at last.
'How many lives does he have left?' Mintkit cocked her head to one side.
'One.' Dawnpelt replied quietly. 'I think so.'
Firekit waited for a patrol all day. He wanted to be rescued. His littermates wanted to be rescued. Help, StarClan! he cried silently. Help me! During one Clan meeting after the dawn patrol came back, Firekit saw Blackstar. Then he understood why Dawnpelt was scared.
His white pelt had turned a sickly shade of yellow, and his eyes looked haunted and old. He spoke with a wheeze and coughed often. His fur lay flat, his long scars weren't a vibrant crimson but an ill shade of pink. He was definetly sick.
Firekit found himself saying in his head, over and over, Don't let Blackstar die. Don't let Blackstar die. He wasn't sure whether it was because he liked the leader, or hated his deputy. Tigerheart made him feel uneasy.
The sun began to sink slowly across the fuchsia sky, the clouds like pink puffs of moss. Firekit waited, waited, and waited some more. No Cinderheart, no Lionblaze.
That was, until twilight. Firekit had been toying a scrap of bracken between his hands for ages, getting bored. Suddenly, he heard a commotion at the camp entrance. All three kits sat up eagerly. Was it their parents? Bushkit's whiskers were twitching impatiently; he didn't rest easily and Mintkit's pale green eyes shone for the first time since they'd got lost.
And then Firekit saw them. His heart leapt. Five cats entered the camp, each one weary with tiredness. At the head of the patrol was Squirrelflight, followed by Cinderheart, Lionblaze,Poppyfrost and Jayfeather. When Tigerheart saw them, he sprinted over to face them. 'Mother!' Bushkit called desperatly.
Their voices were low, but Firekit could just work out what they were saying. 'Three of our kits have gone missing,' Squirrelflight proclaimed. 'And as we followed their scent trail we believe you have them. Where are they?' she demanded.
Tigerheart frowned and mewed, his tone scarily smooth, 'I don't know of any kits. I'm sorry, but-'
At that point, Mintkit wailed, 'Mother! Help us!'
Both Cinderheart and Lionblaze looked at where the noise had come from. Tigerheart snarled and muttered something under his breath. 'It's us!' Bushkit called.
Firekit yowled with triumph and began to make his way towards his parents. 'Come on!' he yelled at his siblings. He felt the ground vibrate as Bushkit and Mintkit followed. He could see the expressions of happiness engraved on his mother and father's faces, like a sunny day after rain.
He was just about to reach them when Firekit was stopped by a strong tail. It was Tigerheart. 'You're not going anywhere,' he spat.
Firekit's heart sank again. He risked a glance behind him. Both Mintkit and Bushkit had been blocked by other big cats. Mintkit looked like she was about to cry. He turned back to Tigerheart.
'We will give you your kits back,' he purred. 'But only if you give us one of your cats in return.' An expression that can only be described as evil slid across his face. Everyone froze. Time seemed to stop still. A cat? Tigerheart would return some kits for a ThunderClan cat? All the emotion drained out of Firekit. It was cruel.
'Where's Blackstar, though?' Jayfeather asked, his blind blue eyes scanning him, clearly as distraught by the ShadowClan deputy's offer. 'He has to approve of your decision.'
'Oh,' Tigerheart dismissed. 'He died just before you came, actually.'
The whole of ShadowClan gasped in shock. Their leader was dead? Firekit felt strong sorrow and sympathy for them. Tigerheart was a horrible cat. 'Can I see him, Tigerheart?' Littlecloud croaked. 'See how he died?'
'No,' Tigerheart snapped. 'And it's Tigerstar now. But, back to the kits. ThunderClan, are you going to pay up?' He cocked his head to one side. 'You get the kits, I get a warrior,' he purred silkily.
Lionblaze stepped forward. 'No!' Mintkit shrieked. 'No!'
'I'll go.' he offered.
Chapter Eight- Poison
Bushkit felt as if his heart had just dropped out of his chest. His father? In ShadowClan? He would turn evil, he would become like Tigerheart. He would never see Bushkit again. Bushkit whimpered, though he was trying to be brave.
Tigerheart smiled as Lionblaze faced him. 'Come.' he said, flicking his tail over to the ShadowClan side. 'You can't keep him forever!' Bushkit screeched at the new leader. 'Just you wait! Lionblaze will never be loyal to you!'
'Littlecloud,' Tigerheart drawled in a bored sort of way. 'Deal with the kit please.'
Bushkit howled as he was dragged away from his sister and his brother by the small medicine cat. 'Just you wait!' He told Tigerheart. 'Just you wait......'
His tail brushed along the ground as Littlecloud held him by the scruff. It was painful. He took in the scene before him. Firekit and Mintkit walking over to Cinderheart, yelling his name, Lionblaze standing next to Tigerheart, his muscles sagging like he was bearing a heavy weight, Squirrelflight struggling to look dignified.
Littlecloud took Bushkit to his den, and plonked him on the floor. 'Are you going to kill me?' Bushkit whispered.
The ShadowClan cat shook his head. 'No. I'm going to look at Blackstar's body. I want to see how he died.' And he began to walk towards the leader's den. For some reason, Bushkit felt a surge of warmth towards thte old cat. Littlecloud walked slowly so he could keep up.
'Will I be able to go back home?' he asked.
Littlecloud nodded. 'Of course,' he mewed. 'Tigerheart just wanted you out of the way for a while.' He sighed.
Bushkit cocked his head to one side. 'Do you like Tigerheart?'
Here, Littlecloud sighed again.and flicked one of his ears. 'He was a good warrior. More than a good warrior,' he corrected himself. 'Then after the Great Battle against the Dark Forest, he changed. As you know, Tigerstar died, and I think Tigerheart wanted...revenge. He was more bitter, more malicious. He wanted to be deputy, then leader. Why, I don't know. Then Rowanclaw died and he became deputy.'
'How did Rowanclaw die?' Bushkit's thoughts were racing fast. 'Did...did Tigerheart murder him?'
He instantly regretted saying that. A look of unease passed across Littlecloud's face. He looked at his paws. 'Sorry,' Bushkit apologised.
'It's fine,' Littlecloud said. 'Just that I think Rowanclaw was murdered as well. He became very sick and ill, and he vomited a lot. And when he died, I looked in his mouth.' Bushkit pulled a face of disgust. 'On his teeth I found a herb I'd never encountered before. It was creamy yellow, not a berry, but a petal of a flower. And I had no idea what it was. I think he might've been poisoned.'
'Did Tigerheart do that? Did he do it to Blackstar too?' Bushkit was worried now.
'That's why I want to see Blackstar's body,' Littlecloud replied grimly. 'It's quite possible.'
Bushkit felt at unease as he entered the leader's den. There was a musky smell about it, and Blackstar's scent was fading fast. No other cat's scent lingered in the air. 'There's no other cat's smell.' Bushkit commented.
'You have a sharp nose,' Littlecloud praised. 'And I agree. Nobody else has been in here since Blackstar passed..'
Bushkit swallowed hard, feeling blood rising in his throat. He felt as though someone was watching him, there. 'It just doesn't feel right in here....' he mewed, voicing his thoughts. 'It feels....' He struggled to express his emotions. 'Dark.'
Littlecloud, meanwhile, had padded over to the corpse on the floor in front of them and opened Blackstar's mouth. Bushkit bounded over to join him. A rank smell filled his mouth. 'That's disgusting.' He recoiled away from the body. 'Is that Blackstar?' he asked, trying not to breath in.
Littlecloud was closely examining Blackstar's fangs and the back of his mouth. 'I think I can see something...' he mewed. 'Bushkit I need your help here.'
Bushkit was confused, but agreed, 'Alright. What do you want me to do?' He had a horrible feeling about this. The smell didn't help either.
'Your paws are smaller than mine. Can you reach in and pluck that yellow think that's sticking out of Blackstar's back teeth?'
He didn't want to, but slowly, Bushkit forced his left front paw off the ground and into the corpse's open mouth. He unsheathed his claws and, making his eyes stay open (Blackstar's yellow teeth weren't a pleasant sight), skewered the small leaf out of his teet. As quickly as he could, he pulled out his paw and laid his finding on the floor.
Littlecloud bent down and examined the petal. After a while, he stood up and mewed, 'It's the same.'
'The same as what?' Bushkit queried, completely puzzled.
'The same herb that I found in Rowanclaw's mouth.' Littlecloud grimaced. 'Not pleasant. And I still have no idea what it is.'
'Can I take it back?' Bushkit wondered. 'My sister, Mintkit, is really interested in medicine.'
'You can take it.' Littlecloud's eyes twinkled.
Bushkit was still confused. Why was the ShadowClan medicine cat telling him all this? About Tigerheart and the strange poison. He asked Littlecloud, 'Why have you told me all this information?'
Littlecloud's gaze bore into his. 'Because I believe you have a destiny, and can do something with it.' he said simply.
And that strange feeling of unease returned to Bushkit's stomach.
Chapter Nine- Home
With the warm bodies curled around her, Mintkit felt like everything was all right, she was in the nursery, Lionblaze outside, with a juicy mouse in his jaws, Cinderheart lying in their nest next to them. But as the milk scent wreathed round her like a ghost she realised it wasn't alright. Lionblaze was in ShadowClan, lead by Tigerstar, and Cinderheart's body lay in the forest, under mounds of earth and snow.
After they had returned to ThunderClan, it all went wrong. A terrible bout if greencough had swept through the camp, killing Cinderheart, Greystripe, Hazeltail, Millie, Spiderleg, Daisy and even Squirrelflight. The new Clan deputy was Thornclaw, and Bramblestar had reportedly lost a life. Mintkit didn't think it was just one.
So much had changed in the past moon, ThunderClan didn't feel like home anymore, and Jayfeather was up to his muzzle in work, caring for the Clan with all his strength. After her mother's death, Mintkit vowed to become a medicine cat, to protect her Clan more fiercely than the leader.
She felt a pang of sadness, thinking of her mother's crisp grey fur, and burrowed deeper into the moss, shivering with cold. Leaf bare had come earlier this year, it was a cold and grey, prey was low, and if a warrior wasn't ill, he or she was starving with hunger. Mintkit had just about slipped off into a sleep when she was woken by short, haking coughs.
It was Blossomfall, her large belly pressing against her nest. She was two moons away from kitting, expecting Toadstep's kits, and Mintkit hated to think what would happen inbetween. Sadness weighed her down like heavy stones, though Wolfkit and Foxkit were doing fine, Dovewing wasn't. Too much grief, she though sadly.
Giving up on sleep, she shook off the moss and pressed her paws gently across the nursery floor, so she glided. Firekit and Bushkit were huddled against each other, they looked so thin, so small, not like six moon old kits should be. Six moons? With all the commotion, she wondered for a second whether Bramblestar had forgotten their apprenticeship. She shook her head, trying to get rid of the though, but it clung to her like a burr. Growling quietly to herself, she slipped out of the den, as silent as a fox.
Mintkit found her paws leading her to the elder's den. It seemed quieter without Millie and Greystripe. She knew the other elders missed them both, but now Brackenfur and Sorreltail had moved in.
She pushed her way through the entrance, and saw all the elders huddled together in one big group, their skinny frames clinging to eachother like a pine tree does to a rock. Sandstorm's eyes were glazed over, her shiny dusty pelt dull.
Mintkit didn't need to say anything, she just slid over and joined the pack, pressing reassuringly against their matted fur. 'I miss them so much,' she mewed sadly.
Sorreltail began to lick her head in a rhythimic motion, like Cinderheart used to. She began to feel sad again, and snuggled closer to her elders. 'So many cats gone,' Dustpelt croaked, his mew rough as bark.
'Nothing lasts forever,' Brackenfur reminded them. 'Not even us. Not even ThunderClan.'
Looking at the elder's wrinkled bodies and grey muzzles, sorrow felt like a burden. She thought about what Brackenfur had said. Worry hit her. Tigerstar was dangerous. She didn't even want to think about the future.
A sharp paw prodded her in the stomach.
'Mintkit!.' A different voice mewed
'Go 'way,' she mumbled, burrowing deeper into her nest.
'Mintkit!' The cat poked her harder. 'Wake up!'
It was Bushkit, leaning over her, fear alight in his eyes. Blinking hard, Mintkit struggled to her paws. 'What's wrong?' A sickly stench filled the nursery, and she coughed violently. It tasted like stale prey, but worse. Looking round the room, she saw Blossomfall retching in the corner. Panic began to rise in her throat like mouse bile, she knew that scent, she knew how deadly it could be. She knew how poorly Blossomfall was. After all, it had happened to her mother. Was it greencough? Or something worse...?
Swallowing back the doubt, she forced herself to remain calm. 'Have you woken Jayfeather?
Firekit nodded. 'I tried, but he just grunted and rolled off to sleep! He's really tired, dealing with the Clan's sickness.'
Mintkit looked at Blossomfall again. She knew that Cinderheart had been doing this before she became seriously ill. She remembered what she had learnt from Jayfeather whilst watching him treat patients. 'Stay here, she ordered her brothers. 'I'll be right back.'
Squeezing out of the nursery (she was so big now!), Mintkit raced across the clearing to the medicine den. She tried to arouse Jayfeather, but he remained still as a hibernating hedgehog. Sighing, she trotted over to the herb store.
There were many gaps were useful herbs could be, everything had shriveled up in leaf bare. She knew now, from her memory, that Blossomfall was feverish. She had watched Jayfeather cure Sandstorm of it once. She began to search for the herbs she needed, running their names and appearance over in her head.
Feverfew...Looks like daisy leaves....Lavender...Sweet purple herb...Squinting in the dark, she saw a musty looking lavender stem and a few crumpled feverfew flowers. She reached up, and grabbed them in her jaws, carrying them carefully so she didn't waste the juice.
Dashing back into the nursery, she saw Bushkit and Firekit leaning over Blossomfall, their shoulders hunched. 'Have you tried waking Dovewing?' Mintkit asked over a mouthful over feverfew and lavender. She was chewing it into a poultice, hoping it would slide down Blossomfall's throat easier. The pregnant queen looked reallt ill, she was panting heavily. 'Pain...' she moaned. 'Oh..pain!' Where's Jayfeather? I need...Toadstep...'
'I'll go into the warriors den and wake up some cats,' Bushkit mewed determindly. 'This is an emergency.'
Mintkit nodded her thanks, and spat out the mash of herbs. 'Eat,' she said gently but firmly to Blossomfall. 'They'll help you. You've got a fever but I can help. I'm almost a medicine cat apprentice.'
'No,' Blossomfall groaned. 'I can't.'
'You must!' Mintkit persisted. 'You have to! Do you want to let your kits die?'
Blossomfall bristled, her neck fur rising. 'They won't die!' she spat. 'They'll be the greatest warriors in the forest!'
'Then eat the herbs,' Mintkit growled, nosing them forward again. Her anxiety and exhaustion was bringing out the worst in her. She padded over to Dovewing, and tried to get her to wake up. The kits squealed, but the grey queen just shifted and turned round.
Mintkit grabbed the nearest bit of moss and began to shred it into tiny pieces, feeling as angry as a fox. Blossomfall was still wailing, but she didn't sound so sick anymore, her scent was a little purer. Hope began to flutter in Mintkit's belly like a butterfly. She wouldn't give up, for Cinderheart's sake. She would watch over Blossomfall like a true medicine cat.
'Is there anything I can do for her now?' Firekit whispered in her ear. 'She isn't going to die?'
'She won't,' Mintkit hissed. 'Not if I can help it. I owe it to our mother. She couldn't survive, but I'll make sure Blossomfall does.'
At moonrise, Mintkit began to tire. She'd fussed over Blossomfall all night, thank StarClan she was sleeping now. The warriors had come, and now Toadstep was curled around her. Leafpool's praise sang in her heart like a song. 'Jayfeather couldn't've done better,' she'd told her.
Mintkit rested her head on her paws, drifting into a doze. Blossomfall didn't moan once, or cry. Her chest rose and fell, rose and fell. Mintkit was woken several moments later by Jayfeather brushing through the entrance. She immedietly arose. 'Why wouldn't you wake up?' she cried. 'She needed you, I needed you! Her kits could die. I've done my best but...'
She trailed off miserably. Jayfeather trained his sightless eyes on her and touched his tail tip to Mintkit's shoulder. 'Leafpool told me how well you did,' he began. 'And just look at Blossomfall. She'll be fine, thanks to you. I'd be honoured to make you my apprentice when the time comes.'
Mintkit stared at him. 'You mean it?' she squeaked. 'You really do?'
Jayfeather nodded, and for once he didn't seem so grumpy. 'You have a gift. You already know all of the herbs. I know you shall be the next ThunderClan medicine cat.'
Mintkit felt more joyful than she had done in moons. Looking up through the interwoven branches of the nursery roof, she could see one star twinkling in the sky. Cinderheart? Is that you? And as if in reply, the star winked back. Mintkit felt closer to her mother than she had done since she was a little kit.
I promised you I wouldn't fail. And I've kept that vow.
Chapter Ten-The Lake
Firepaw followed Thornclaw out of the camp. He was an apprentice at last! And with the Clan deputy as his mentor, he was bound to be better than eryone else. A dry and crinkled leaf fluttered down from the tree. Catching sight of it, Firepaw leapt up and speared the leaf on his claws. He was reminded of the last time he came here, when he and his siblings snuck out of camp. He shuddered. That was a bad memory.
He glanced back to see Bushpaw trotting along next to his mentor, Mousewhisker, looking equally ecstatic. Mintpaw wasn't with them-she'd kept true to her word and was busy with Jayfeather in the medicine den. The Clan had greeted the three new apprentices with half hearted cheers; everyone was tired, and sick, and hungry. But Firepaw didn't really care, he was practically a warrior now.
'Where are we going?' he asked Thornclaw walking a little faster to keep up with his mentor's longer legs.
'Just around the territory,' the deputy replied. 'Round the lake, to the borders, the whole lot.' He twitched his whiskers in a cheerful sort of way.
Firepaw nodded. Then, feeling a rush of energy surge through his paws, he bounded on ahead, feeling the wind slice down his pelt and blow back his ears. It was lovely, for the first time since he was a tiny kit, he felt like he had the world to himself, he was free, free as the doves flying over his head, calling out their songs. He felt as strong as a lion, strong as his father. I owe it to my parents, Firepaw thought fiercely. I'll be the best apprentice.
He skidded to a halt as he realised he'd run too far ahead. He had reached water. It licked hungrily at the shore like fire, burning up the sand, rock and grass. The lake glittered like a smooth, shining moon, and words seem to rise up, out of the waves.
Come to us, Firepaw, it growled. Darker than you will ever know...Fear the blood river....And then, in front of Firepaw's very eyes, red seemed to seep out from the edge of the water, right into the centre, till the whole lake was a pool of sticky, salty blood. Streams filled with the liquid seemed were sucked into the lake. It swarmed over the rocks near where Firepaw was standing, and it began to grab at his paws, trying to swallow him up into the tide of blood...
Thornclaw's voice jolted him back to the present. He looked out over the lake. It was blue again, shimmering and pure. Firepaw allowed himself to breath out. The lake wasn't made of blood after all. Panting, he looked round at his mentor. Thornclaw's eyes were filled with concern. 'Are you alright?'
Firepaw nodded. 'Yes, fine. Just a bit tired.'
Thornclaw dipped his head, seeming to accept Firepaw's explanation. 'Some legs you've got there,' the deputy mewed, sounding impressed. 'You can run really fast.'
'Where did Bushpaw and Mousewhisker go?' Firepaw asked.
'They went to the ShadowClan border,' Thornclaw replied. 'We're near WindClan territory. Can you smell their scent?'
Firepaw inhaled deeply. The wind was blowing towards him, and on the breeze, he picked up a faint trace of rabbits and beaten earth. He looked over the lake to the rolling hills in the distance. He could see light brown and grey shapes moving across the land.
'Yes, I can scent and see them,' Firepaw mewed, answering Thornclaw's sentence.
'WindClan cats are very fast and quick,' Thornclaw added. 'They are also quite small and lithe, whch gives them an advantage in a battle situation. Come on, let's head for the border.'
Firepaw followed Thornclaw, shifting away from the lake. He didn't want to be near it, he was scared the water would turn red again. The scent of the moors was stronger now, almost overpowering. How can cats live without trees for cover? Firepaw wondered. You must get cold being a WindClan cat.
He walked on a little further, then Thornclaw suddenly barked, 'Stop!' and blocked Firepaw with his tail.
Firepaw took several paces back. 'Are we at the border now?' he asked.
His mentor nodded. 'Yes, and you almost walked into WindClan territory.'
Oops. Firepaw made a mental note to remember where the border was next time. By a stream...with a little forest on either side. He didn't want to get eaten by a hungry WindClan warrior. There didn't seem to be much prey on the hills.
Firepaw scented a stronger whiff of WindClan. Thornclaw stiffened. 'A patrol!' he hissed. 'Don't worry, they won't hurt us.'
A black tom and a smaller grey tom were walking along the border. A brown tabby she cat was following behind them, looking miserable. The big tom saw Thornclaw and Firepaw waiting at the border, and dashed up to them. His mew dripped with venom.
'What are you doing here?'
Chapter Eleven-Boulderpaw and Breezepelt
Bushpaw pushed his way through the brambles to see Firepaw and Thornclaw standing beside three WindClan cats. They looked very hostile. Bushpaw shivered. He and Mousewhisker had come over here from the ShadowClan side of the territory, and now he wished they hadn't come in this direction. He padded over to his brother and stuck his chin out.
'What are you doing here?' the big black tom snarled, his lip curling in disgust.
'I'm showing my apprentice the territory,' Thornclaw replied. 'We're not doing any harm.'
The small grey tom, clearly another apprentice, snorted. 'Well we just saw your apprentice cross the border.'
'It was an accident!' Firepaw protested, clearly horrified.
And you're just an apprentice too,' Bushpaw added. How dare this cat accuse them of being small and stupid? He was only a few moons older!
The grey tom bristled. 'I'm eleven moons old,' he spat. 'Nearly a warrior.'
Bushpaw crouched, ready to attack, but Mousewhisker blocked him with his tail. 'Come one, let's go,' he mewed.
'No, you're not going until we teach you a lesson about the border.' He shoved the other apprentice, a small, mousy brown she-cat, forward. 'Say something mean, Duskypaw.'
Duskypaw shook her head. 'They haven't done anything wrong, Breezepelt.'
The black tom snarled, and shoved her again, harder this time. 'You are no daughter of mine. Look at Boulderpaw, your brother. He knows how to deal with cats like these.'
'Breezepelt,' Thornclaw mewed, clearly shocked. 'You shouldn't treat your kits like that.'
'At least Father isn't soft like ThunderClan parents,' Boulderpaw sneered, looking exactly like his father.
Bushpaw let out a mrrow of anger. Lionblaze had been the best dad! He'd played with his kits, and he'd shown them how to do the hunter's crouch. Growling, Bushpaw launched himself at Boulderpaw, feeling satisfaction as his claws dug into flesh, leaving a scar. Boulderpaw jumped, but soon regained his composure. He began to cuff Bushpaw, again and again on the head until he felt dizzy. Bushpaw slumped to the ground, blinked, and latched his teeth into the nearest part of the WindClan apprentice's body.
It turned out to be his tail. Boulderpaw struggled, but Bushpaw was smaller and faster. He leapt onto Boulderpaw's back, and sank his claws in, then rolled off and pinned the grey cat down with one paw, unsheathing his claws. Four small streams of blood trickled down Boulderpaw's neck. Bushpaw panted. 'Not so soft now?'
Boulderpaw growled, got up and stumbled across the border. Bushpaw knew it was petty, but he was pleased to see his enemy limp back to his furious father. 'You were beaten by a cat who's younger than you?' Breezepaw slammed his paw into his son's muzzle, claws unsheathed.
Duskypaw trembled, looking terrified, and crouched down, wrapping her paws tightly round her ears. Bushpaw felt sympathy for this troubled she-cat; it must be hard having a father like Breezepelt. The black tom was still seething with rage. Boulderpaw was lying on the grass, barely moving apart from the rise and fall of his ragged chest.
'Lionblaze was my greatest enemy!' Breezepelt howled. 'How can you be defeated by one of his measly kits?'
Bushpaw snarled again, but Mousewhisker pulled him away. 'You've done enough now,' his mentor mewed. 'Let's get you back to camp.'
Absolutley exhausted, with teeth and claw marks scattered all over his pelt, Bushpaw dragged himself back through the forest. The sound of battle still rang in his ears. He'd defeated Boulderpaw, an older and wiser cat! When he was fighting, he felt as powerful as a tiger, but now he was as tired as a cranky elder.
He hauled himself through the thorn tunnel, leaning on Firepaw for support. His brother dropped him at the entrance to the medicine den, and he slumped down onto the sandy floor. 'Bushpaw?' Mintpaw's voice sounded in his ears.'Bushpaw? What happened?'
'Fight...' Bushpaw replied groggily. He poured out the rest of the story as his sister applied pockets of poultices all over his body. When she'd finished, Jayfeather walked in. 'Excellent work. Mintpaw,' her mentor praised. 'As for you Bushpaw, you'd better stay here for the night.'
Bushpaw grunted his agreement, and curled up into his mossy nest, lined with silky feathers. He drifted off into a fitfull sleep, his dreams filled of Breezepelt and Boulderpaw's faces leering at him.
Chapter Twelve-The Moonpool
Mintpaw woke up for the first time in a few sunrises feeling cold. Bushpaw had been staying in the medicine den, which, despite her distaste of the battle her brother had been involved in, was nice. Bushpaw had curled up next to her and it made her feel less alone. Jayfeather wasn't exactly friendly. But now, Bushpaw and his fox tail had whisked out between the brambles, and he was eager to start training again.
Mintpaw sighed, and rested her head on her paws. She felt isolated here, almost like she was living on the island she'd seen that floated in the middle of the lake. She was alone, she could never take a mate, never have kits, never talk about battles, never really feel like part of the Clan. Did she really want to be a medicine cat for her whole life?
A voice startled Mintpaw from her thoughts. 'Want to turn back?' It was Jayfeather, his voice oddly sympathetic.
'No-it's just I-I feel alone,' she admitted. 'And I will be until I join StarClan.' Jayfeather's lake blue eyes seemed to pry into her head, touching memories she'd forgotten. Mintpaw flinched. 'Stop doing that.'
Jayfeather twitched his whiskers. 'If it makes you feel any better, it's the half moon tonight. You'll get to see the Moonpool. And remember, medicine cats fight with herbs, not claws. Sometimes that is more important than those borders.' And with that, he whisked out of the den, swishing out into the clearing.
Mintpaw barely noticed him leave. The Moonpool! Tonight she would share with StarClan.
By the time the sky was washed pink, Mintpaw was trembling with excitement, her tail quivering like a bush in the wind. She glanced up at the clouds impatiently. One star had peeped out from behind the clouds, shimmering like the surface of a pool of starry water. Mintpaw shifted impatiently from one paw to another, silently hoping that Jayfeather would hurry up so they could get moving. At last the sightless cat came, and beckoned his apprentice with his tail.
The two cats walked along without saying anything to the WindClan silence. It was not an uncomfortable silence, for both felines liked the quiet. Mintpaw breathed in the crisp air, feeling the taste of leaf bare dance across her tongue. She always thought the season tasted like snow and ice, but underneath was the sharpness of it all.
When mentor and apprentice reached the border, Mintpaw found herself staring at three strangers and a cat she recognised. 'Littlecloud!' she yowled joyfully, but then stopped abruptly. The old tabby medicine cat looked much worse for wear compared to when she'd last seen him. During her time in ShadowClan, Mintpaw had liked the kind elderly cat, who seemed wise and clever.
Now, he looked awful, Littlecloud's bones jutted out from underneath his pelt like icicles. His eyes had dulled and there was a hideous bald patch at the end of his tail. Mintpaw drew in her breath sharply. What had happened to the old cat? 'Mintpaw.' Jayfeather nudged her firmly, as if to say, 'Stop staring', but she could sense that concern was hidden underneath her mentor's sternness. 'Say hello to Kestrelflight of WindClan.'
Mintpaw dipped her head in greeting to a young brown tabby with white spots dotting his pelt. Jayfeather turned to the other two cats. 'And Willowshine and Curlpaw.'
The ThunderClan apprentice averted her gaze to a small brown tabby cat and a striking grey she cat. 'Hi,' Mintpaw mewed. Another apprentice! Curlpaw looked a little older than her, but she'd still be a friend. The party of cats began to walk up the slope towards the Moonpool. It was a rocky path, and Mintpaw's chest was heaving by the time they reached the top. The whole time Curlpaw was glaring at her, so the friend idea had turned into rotfood.
'Follow me down carefully,' Jayfeather instructed, as they pushed down through some brambles.
Mintpaw gasped as she walked out of the thorns. There, lying in a scoop of earth was the Moonpool Starlight glimmered off it and Mintpaw swore she saw cats shimmering in the pool. She rushed down the steep slope, feeling the pawprints engraved in the stone. So many cats have come here before us, she thought in wonder. Mintpaw pressed her belly against the stone and gazed into the water. She could see her own reflection staring out at her. The other medicine cats joined her, adapting the same position.
'Mintpaw, is it your wish to enter the mysteries of StarClan as a medicine cat?' Jayfeather asked her once they had all gathered.,
Mintpaw suppresed a squeal. She had been waiting for this moment since she was three moons old, and now it was her. 'Yes,' she replied. 'Yes, it is!'
'Then come forward.' Jayfeather continued. Mintpaw got up and stood next to him. 'Warriors of StarClan, I present you with this apprentice. She has chosen the path of a medicine cat. Grant her your wisdom and insight so that she may understand your ways and heal her Clan in accordance with your will.' He gestured to the Moonpool with a nod of his head. 'Mintpaw, now drink from the water.'
Mintpaw crouched an lapped up some of the liquid. It was like drinking ice, it was cool and crisp and tasted like stars. Resting her head on her paws, Mintpaw closed her eyes tightly, hoping that dreams would come. What would she say when she saw StarClan? Maybe she would see Cinderheart!
She felt her mind drifting away into blackness, and gave into sleep at last.
Minpaw woke by the Moonpool. She glanced round uncertaintly. What was she meant to dream about? Who was meant to be there? Suddenly, cats began to slink out of the shadows. The had stars in their pelts and in their eyes, and the glimmered like silver sunlight. Each cat was young and graceful, and they made no noise. Their paws didn't seem to touch the ground. So this is StarClan! Mintpaw thought excitedly. She searched the crowds with anxious eyes until she found her mother. 'Cinderheart!' she mewed.
The grey she-cat rose up from the crowd and glided towards her daughter. 'Oh, Mintpaw,' she murmured.
Minpaw pressed her muzzle against her mother's. 'I've missed you so much!'
Cinderheart purred. 'So have I. And you and your brothers have been very brave, braver than I have.' Dark shadows flitted across her eyes. 'Did you know that I once tried to be a medicine cat?'
Mintpaw shook her head, her thoughts spinning. 'You did?'
'Yes, because StarClan made me a reincarnation of Cinderpelt, who had always wanted to be a warrior after she crippled her leg. But I became my own person and in the end Cinderpelt's spirit left me and became her own cat in StarClan.' Cinderheart angled her ears towards a smoky grey she-cat that looked exactly like her. 'And now my daughter has followed her path.'
Mintpaw bounced excitedly. 'I know! And I'm doing really well, I know all the herbs already and-'
Cinderheart broke in. Her eyes were serious. 'It's not all about herbs, Mintpaw.'
'I know,' Mintpaw replied. 'We have to believe in StarClan, and interpret prophercies and omens...'She trailed off as she realised that the ranks of StarClan was beginning to fade including her mother. 'What? Why are you leaving me?' There was no reply from the ghostly warriors.
Mintpaw watched as the Moonpool slowly began to turn red, blood red. In fact, the scent of blood began to choke her like mouse bile. The streams turned crimson and scarlet, and the young medicine cat, stiff with fear, began to cry out loud as cats she love appeared in the Moonpool, all drowning in the blood.
Bushpaw, Firepaw, Lionblaze, Bramblestar. Jayfeather, Thornclaw, Sandstorm....Mintpaw ran down, and reached into the blood, trying to pull them out but she grasped only thin air. She couldn't reach them. She let out a wail, as a dark, dangerous voice whispered calmly in her ear. The blood river is coming...Join usssssssss
'No!' Mintpaw cried out loud. 'No! No!'
You can't stop it, the voice jeered. Everything will turn red until the sun strikes. Darkness shall rise again.
Mintpaw whirled round, only to find a huge cat standing next to her. He had a matted tabby coat and huge claws like a tiger. His eyes were tinged with red, and the amber depths were filled with evil. 'Tigerstar...' Mintpaw opened her jaws to scream but the cat wrapped his tail round her muzzle.
Don't scream. There's nothing you can do.
Chapter Thirteen-The Island
Half a moon later, Firepaw bristled with excitement, feeling it surging through his paws and up to the tip of his tail. The Gathering! Tonight! And he was going with his littermates! Bramblestar had announced the cats who would journey to the island at sunhigh, and Firepaw hadn't been able to keep still since.
'Firepaw, can you please stop leaping about like a hyperactive rabbit?' Thornclaw moaned impatiently, striking his paw hard against the mossy floor of the training hollow.
Firepaw tried to stop quivering, but it was impossible. 'Sorry,' he mewed cheerfully. He scraped his claws against the ground, tearing up several clumps of moss. 'I'm just so...excited!'
Thornclaw scowled at him. 'Get on with your hunting. Bushpaw caught two sparrows, and what have you got? Nothing!'
Firepaw had the sense to look guilty. 'I'll concentrate now,' he promised, spying a vole and stalking it neatly. Despite all the exercise, the thought of the Gathering never strayed far from his mind.
* * * * * * * *
Firepaw felt nervous as they stopped at the WindClan border. 'Are you sure we're allowed to cross here?' he asked Thornclaw.
'Of course,' Thornclaw replied. 'We're at peace with one another at the Gathering.'
But Firepaw still felt nervous as the strolled across the purple moors. Were all WindClan cats as horrible as Breezepelt and Boulderpaw? He assumed he would have to find out tonight. He thought of the poor, nervous she-cat, Duskypaw, who was as jumpy as a nervous blackbird. He had sympathised with the apprentice, it couldn't be easy having a father that mean.
'What is that?' Bushpaw asked in disbelief as they passed a twoleg construction.
'They're horses,' a voice behind Firepaw answered.
Firepaw jumped. He hadn't seen the blind cat creeping up behind them like a sneaky fox. Craning his neck, he glanced into the twoleg field. Huge brown animals were eating away the grass, with hooves as large as his head. He shuddered, not wanting to be crushed by the 'horses'. They looked intimidating.
After several more moments of walking, they reached the tree bridge. Mintpaw scented the air. 'RiverClan,' she mewed confidently, then added, 'And WindClan too.'
Firepaw followed his sisters gaze, and saw several shapes walking pompously across the bridge. 'We're the third to arrive,' he noted. 'No sign of the other Clan.'
He watched the older cats leap onto the fallen tree and swerve between the branches until they reached the other side. 'I'll go first,' Firepaw offered.
He sprang up onto the wrinkled back, then immediately regretted it, as he slipped but managed to maintain his balance. 'You have to dig your claws in!' he heard Thornclaw order from behind him.
Slowly, Firepaw made steady progress across the bridge, making sure his claws gripped the soggy bark firmly. Though the water was only a small drop beneath him, it was the middle of leaf bare and the lake was bound to be icy if he fell in.
The bridge was only four or five fox lengths long, and Firepaw landed easily on the other side. The site that greeted him was astounding. There were cats of all shapes and sizes, greeting each other and mingling together. He easily spotted Boulderpaw, who was scowling. Firepaw felt pride as he saw that the scars Bushpaw left him were still healing. 'Mouse brain,' he heard his brother mutter.
Thornclaw had come across the tree bridge, and advised them, 'Don't get into any fights and be polite. Don't get lost either.' Then he left the apprentices to explore on their own.
Firepaw saw elders, warriors, medicine cats and deputies. He ignored Boulderpaw and talked to some friendly WindClan apprentices, who were very eager and talkative. 'We love fresh air,' one of them was saying.
The other nodded vigorously. 'Yes, how can you sleep when you're trapped under the trees?'
Bushpaw shrugged. 'It's our home.'
Firepaw wasn't listening, however. He was watching the dark shapes shifting through the crowd. He recognised the stench instantly. ShadowClan. They scurried through the crowd like dark mice, their tails flicking, ignoring every cat who greeted them. Firepaw watched suspiciously as one tabby apprentice who looked a lot like Tigerstar converse with Boulderpaw, beckon with his tail, then the two cats slinked off into the darkness. 'They're acting strange,' Firepaw said aloud.
'I know,' Mintpaw agreed, who had joined them after chatting with the medicine cats. 'Tigerstar can't be great fun as a leader.'
Firepaw nodded his agreement, not telling his sister that he meant the apprentices and opened his mouth to mention them when he was interrupted by a yowl from the frail tree at the centre of the clearing. 'The Gathering's beginning!' Bushpaw whispered excitedly.
But Firepaw hardly heard him. He was watching the shadowy shape that was staring straight at him from one of the gnarled branches of the tree.
Chapter Fourteen-At The Border
Bushpaw ran out of camp, feeling the sharp and cold claws of the wind scratch his muzzle. His paws froze as he touched the fresh and powdery layer of snow that had fallen down from the white puffs of cloud. His breath billowed out and he shivered as he brushed past another icy bush. Can't leafbare just....end? he thought exasperatedly, scuffing at a large heap of snow.
He was on his way out of camp to find some 'dry, clean moss for the elders,' Mousewhisker'd said. Which is almost an impossible task in this weather, Bushpaw thought angrily. He decided to head for the ShadowClan border, where lying under the pines might be some scrapes of moss. His stomach growled angrily like a grumble of thunder, and he was reminded of how tired he was, how exhausted everyone was. Leafbare has gone on too long, it should be newleaf by now.
It was the day after the Gathering, and Bushpaw was so tired, it was difficult to place one paw in front of the other. Mousewhisker had decided that it was a good day for 'easy and simple tasks'. Such as finding dry moss, Bushpaw regarded drily. He still couldn't shake the image of Tigerstar's eyes from his mind, bloodthirsty and cruel, the way he held himself like he was the greatest cat StarClan had ever known.
He had almost reached the border, and the oaks were being replaced with tall and intimidating pines. Bushpaw scoured the bed of needles, until he found a reasonably large gathering of moss. The elders must be grateful for this. He began to shred the moss. Trekking out in the freezing cold to the ShadowClan border when I'm so tired I can't hunt properly..
He continued to grumble internally, but he stopped as soon as heard a familiar, dangerous and dark voice. 'I assume they're top warriors?'
A female voice replied, anxious and nervous. 'Tigerstar, they're only kits, you see, not even started their warrior training-'
The soft voice was cut off by the loud thwack of a paw hitting pelt. Bushpaw peeked out from where he had hidden behind the tree to see who was there. When he did, he felt like he had been coated in ice. The most feared leader was talking to someone Bushpaw knew. And perhaps that was the worst bit.
Dovewing was lying on the grass like she'd been thrown to the floor my a strong and unkind paw. Tigerstar was leaning over her, his claws digging into her shoulder and his blood amber eyes shining. Bushpaw didn't want to see this kind of cruelty. He wanted to run over, wrestle Tigerstar and tell him to stop hurting a cat he barely knew. But fear rooted him to the spot.
'Tigerstar-' Dovewing choked.
Bushpaw cringed away, seeing the ShadowClan leader's paw squeeze tighter on Dovewing's throat. 'Even if they're kits,' Tigerstar continued as if she hadn't said anything. 'They should still be fierce. Are you telling me you've been training our kits to be soft?'
Bushpaw felt his claws sheath again; he had been digging them into the frozen ground. Tigerstar was Dovewing's mate? Wolfkit and Frostkit were half Clan? The shock of it all made him go numb, and it wasn't the cold. How could Dovewing've ever loved such a brute?
'No, not at all,' Dovewing replied with a squeak due to lack of air. 'They've been playing with Bushpaw, Mintpaw and Firepaw, Lionblaze's kits.'
Tigerstar released the hold on his former mate. 'How interesting,' he purred, then lifted his nose to scent the air. He drew in a long breath, and a look that Bushpaw could only describe as evil passed across his face. 'And one of those little kittens appears to be here now.'
Bushpaw didn't know what he was doing. He turned and began to sprint back home, not wanting to stay there any longer. He swore he heard Lionblaze in his ear, whispering softly, Run, my son, run.
That night, back home. Bushpaw dreamed.
He dreamed that he was running effortlessly through fields as green as a bright leaf, dotted with flowers, their petals open to the moonlit sky. He didn't know where he was, nor did he care. He was dashing through a space filled with belly fur high grasses when he saw a flash of golden fur at the corner of his eye. 'Father!' Bushpaw cried, rushing towards the mirage of Lionblaze.
The great warrior purred. 'Nice to see you.'
A though occured to Bushpaw. 'You aren't...dead, are you? This isn't StarClan?'
'No,' Lionblaze assured him. 'I'm not dead.'
'Good,' Bushpaw mewed. 'How is life in ShadowClan?'
'Fine,' his father replied. He didn't meet his son's eyes. 'Now look, I've got to go now.'
'No!' Bushpaw cried. 'Please don't!'
This time, Lionblaze met his gaze. 'I have to.' His eyes were filled with panic. 'Bushpaw listen to me, you must get away from me, you must start running-.'
But Bushpaw lost the image of his father in a wave of sticky red liquid. Blood. He was drowning in blood. He tried to scream, but he just swallowed a tide of blood. Join me, Tigerstar's words echoed in his ear.
Never, Bushpaw thought determinedly.
Then I'm afraid you're just going to have to drown in the blood river.