This is a story for Moon's contest. Enjoy!
I watched as the cats gathered around Butterstar. The cream she-cat's coat shines in the rising moon's light as she calls over all the cats that are coming to the Gathering. I hesitantly join the fringes of the group. Luckily, Sparrowleaf is talking to Tulipdrop, so she doesn't say anything. Sweetpaw, my sister, looks up.
"Hey Featherpaw," she says.
"Hi Sweetpaw," I purr, rubbing my chin against hers. Though we're sisters, we're nothing alike, both in appearances and personality. Sweetpaw is popular and outgoing, while I like to stick to the shadows, though I try to be nice to everyone. She has short, strawberry-gold fur and attractive pale blue eyes; I have long brown tabby fur and dark amber eyes. Despite our differences, we get along great. I don't know what I'd do without her.
"Excited about the Gathering?" she asks, dancing on the tips of her paws. I laugh amusedly.
"I can see you are. You're practically floating. But yes, of course I am! Our first Gathering, and we get to go together."
Sweetpaw links her slim tail through my feathery one. "It's going to be perfect."
As if to deliberately disprove her, Sparrowleaf turns around. Her gold-green eyes, which would be pretty if they weren't so mean-looking, fix on me as she approaches. Her long brown tabby coat swishes lightly. Apart from our eye color, cats always say we look alike. I can't see it, and I hate it when they say that. I do not want to be like her. A good medicine cat she may be, but she's just awful to me. I've never been able to figure out why.
"Featherpaw!" she barks. "Are you really coming to the Gathering tonight?"
"Yes," I falter, not sure why that's a bad thing. Then again, I don't understand half the things she yells at me about.
"So that's it, huh? You just go on out to have a grand time without considering the rest of your clan? What if someone gets hurt while we're away? What if there's an emergency? What if-"
"I couldn't help overhearing," a soft voice interjects. I turn and see my mother, Blueveil, standing behind us. Her large cobalt eyes are kind but firm. "I don't think there's any need for either of you to stay behind. It's a quiet night, no queens are expecting, and if something does happen, I'm sure Stoneskip can handle it." Stoneskip was our retired medicine cat, but he still helped out when he could.
Sparrowleaf is practically shaking with rage, but she doesn't argue. "Very well," she says in a clipped tone. Turning to me, she snaps, "Don't waste your time at the Gathering, don't give away any important information about PebbleClan, and don't get too close with cats from other clans."
"Okay," I say. After she leaves, I shoot a grateful glance at Blueveil, who smiles softly. Giving her a lick on the cheek, I join Sweetpaw and the other apprentices once more as we get ready to go.
Just a Friend:
The moonlight comes into the clearing in silver sheaves, slanting over glossy pelts like a river of water. I glance around the Gathering, taking in all the sights and sounds, identifying the PebbleClan cats by their thicker grayish pelts and muscular builds. Shalepaw, a fellow LightClan apprentice, joins me. Her dark cream pelt accentuates her large eyes, which are the shape and color of almonds. Coupled with her slender figure and charming personality, they maker her a great tom's cat. Which is fine with me, because as a medicine cat apprentice, I have no use for toms anyway.
"I'm going to go talk with Nightowl," Shalepaw announces. I glance after her admiringly as she struts up to our deputy, who also happens to be her mentor. Not that it would make a difference if he wasn't her mentor. Shalepaw can talk to anyone comfortably. She's friendly and fearless, a lethal combination on the social battlefield.
With a small sigh, I glance around the clearing. The two medicine cats, Sparrowleaf and my own mentor, Crystalwing, are huddled together talking. A few feet away from them is a long-furred young she-cat. She must be the new medicine cat apprentice, I realize. Well, there's no one else around. I pad up to her catiously. "Hi."
She turns around and smiles. Up close, she looks like a very pleasant, pretty cat. I think I'll like her. "Hi! I'm Featherpaw. You must be Fernpaw. My mentor," Is it just me, or does her face darken? "has told me a lot about you."
I grin. "Yeah that's me. I guess I'm even more famous then I thought."
"Looks that way," she laughs. "I just started my apprenticeship."
"Well, welcome to the team," I meow. "I've only been an apprentice for two moons, but it's lots of fun." She nods in agreement.
"Featherpaw!" calls Sparrowleaf. Featherpaw's brow furrows. Before I can ask her why, she starts to walk away.
"I have to go right now. See you soon!"
"Bye!" I call. Alone again. Ah well. The Gathering's about to begin anyway. I turn and start making my way towards the front, near where the leaders assemble on the large peaked rocks to adress the clans. Without warning, something hard and furry knocks into me, sending us both sprawling onto the ground.
"Watch it!" I snap without thinking, shoving the cat off me and getting to my paws. When we're face-to-face, I do a double-take. A handsome dark gray tabby tom, olive eyes sparkling with mischief, stares back at me fearlessly.
"Sorry." He doesn't look it, and I tell him so. His grin only gets wider, which infuriates me. "What's your name?" he inquires.
I bush my tail. "Like I'd tell you."
"Hey Fernpaw!" I wince and turn. Featherpaw is gesturing from next to Sparrowleaf and Crystalwing. "Come over here. Butterstar's starting."
I'm about to leave as he says, "Fernpaw. Nice to meet you. I'm Flashpaw."
I pretend not to hear as I make my way towards Featherpaw, but the name sticks with me. Flashpaw.
A New Friend:
Butterstar approaches the top of the rocky peak and scans the Gathering with her steely gray-blue eyes. "I'll begin," she meows. "PebbleClan is doing quite well. We have two new medicine cat apprentices. Sweetpaw," she nods at my sister. "And Featherpaw, who has chosen the important role of being a medicine cat."
Sweetpaw nudges me and I nudge her back, relieved at the distraction from all the eyes fixed on us.
"Other than that, we are enjoying the greenleaf weather and the prey it brings with it. Our kits are growing strong, and everyone in our clan is healthy. Just a warning to you and your clan, Toadstar, some of my patrols have scented a fox near your territory."
The mottled brown tom looked up sharply. "Is that so? Thank you for the information Butterstar." The two leaders regarded each other coolly for an instant before Butterstar stepped back and he took her place. "LightClan will watch out for the fox. We have more than enough warriors to spare," he adds meaningfully. Sweetpaw and I roll our eyes at each other at his bragging. Fernpaw glares at me and I quickly refocus on her leader. Glancing around, Toadstar says, "I think that's all. The Gathering is over."
With that, he scrambles down from the rock-pile, Butterstar at his heels. The two leaders confer with the deputies, Birchwhisper and Nightowl, probably about the scented fox.
Fernpaw turns to me as Sweetpaw goes off to join a dark cream LightClan she-cat. "So, will I see you when we go to the Moonstone tomorrow?"
I nod seriously. "Unless I kill someone with herbs and am not a medicine cat anymore by tomorrow, yes. Which isn't a problem, because I'm not going to kill Flashpaw till next week." Something flickers in her face. "What?"
"Oh, nothing," she says, shaking herself. "You know Flashpaw, huh?"
"Unfortunately," I wink.
"I'll bet," she says. "He seems like a real pain in the neck of a furrball." I nod.
"He is." But despite her oblivion, I detect a charade. She's acting almost like Sweetpaw does when she likes a tom but is playing hard-to-get. I shake it off. She's a medicine cat apprentice. No good medicine cat has ever broken the warrior code just for a mate. My gaze travels around and locks with Sparrowleaf's. Ever.
A Book By Its Cover:
Featherpaw yawns and waves her tail at me. "See you tomorrow Fernpaw," she calls.
"Bye!" I say, trying to tell myself that I am not relieved to be alone. But there's no denying the queer leap my heart gives when I spot Flashpaw's dark gray pelt in the crowd. So what? I think to myself. Admittedly, he is cute. But that's it. He's from a different clan, and to make things worse, I'm a medicine cat. I don't even like him; he seems to think no end of himself.
With a sigh, I turn and find myself facing him once again. I just can't escape the nuinsance. "You again."
He gives me a mockingly hurt look. "Well, that's no way to greet your best friend, is it? Let's try again. You were saying something about how good it was to see me and how great I looked."
I feel my face growing uncomfortably hot. I've never been a social butterfly, but Flashpaw really has a way of getting me tongue-tied. "Excuse me, I need to go to my clan. We're going to leave soon."
He glances towards Toadstar, who is still deep in conversation with the deputies and Butterstar. Dumb leader. Isn't it time to go yet?
"Oh really?" he says, falling into step with me as I head for the edge of the clearing. "I don't think you'll be forced to leave just yet. Besides, we can use this opportunity to get to know one another."
I feel my irritation growing at his falsetto of friendliness. I can tell he's mocking me; he has a smirk on his face. He knows what effect he has on me. Well, no more of this. I raise my head and fix him with a full-on glare. "I'll thank you to keep your bumbling advances to yourself. I do not regret to inform you that I do not like you, and would enjoy this evening much more if you weren't here."
He blinks. "Okay..."
When he makes no move to leave, I snap again. "Go! What do you want?"
With a sigh, he sits down and stares at his paws. "I don't know exactly. I hoped by talking to you I would figure it out. But- never mind."
My curiousity is aroused, but I don't show it. Instead I give a small smile. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lashed out at you like that. I'm just not that good around other cats." As soon as I confess it, I regret it. But he doesn't seem to look down on me for it.
"It's okay. I understand. I was being mean too. How about we start over? You're training to be a medicine cat, huh?"
"Yeah," I say. "Crystalwing's my mentor."
"My mentor is Birchwhisper," he says.
I look up in surprise. "The PebbleClan deputy? Wow. You must be a really good apprentice if they chose her as your mentor."
He shrugs modestly. "I guess. That's what other cats think anyway. But hunting and fighting is just as hard for me as any other cat, really. I just don't show it."
"LightClan, we are leaving!" calls Toadstar. I sigh, somehow dissappointed now that we're actually going to leave. Once glance at Flashpaw tells me he feels the same way, but he quickly hides it.
"Well, see you around Fernpaw," he says nonchalantly. I nod, a bit stung that that's all he says, but then he adds, "You're really cool. Maybe we could meet up some other time."
Too shocked to do anything but nod, I give him a warm smile and hurry over to my clanmates. Spotting a long-furred she-cat near Sparrowleaf, I call, "Bye Featherpaw!"
She looks up from her conversation with her mentor, and to my surprise I think I see tears glimmering in her amber eyes. What could have caused that? But then she pastes a grin on her face and calls, "Bye Fernpaw!"
I follow my clan into the woods, but my thoughts are back in the clearing with my two new friends. Thinking of Flashpaw, I realize that you can't just judge a book by its cover. Maybe that is true for Featherpaw as well. Maybe her life isn't as perfect as it first sounded. Whatever is going on, I know somehow, I'll get caught up into it. Surprisingly, I think I want to.
"Featherpaw!" Sparrowleaf's voice cuts through the quiet of the afternoon. I look up from my pile of herbs as my mentor stalks into our shared den.(Yes, I know, sharing a den with Sparrowleaf. Fun.)
"Yes?" I inquire, stuffing some marigold into a crevice. There's plenty of everything to go around now that it's greenleaf, but soon we will have to start drying and storing herbs in preparation for leaf-bare.
"Can you go out and collect some borage?" she asks.
I glance at the pile of herbs. "Don't we have enough?"
"No! Stop thinking about the now. You have to plan for the future." I stare at her in disbelief. Doesn't she think I know that? It still makes no sense for us to dry out the borage now. It's barely greenleaf.
"I know, I just- Okay," I sigh. I was thinking of resting before our trip to the Moonstone. So much for that idea.?
The camp is relatively still today; the warriors who went to the Gathering last night are resting, and the others are out on patrol or sharing tongues quietly. I head out the entrance. As I pad through the sunny grass, I think back to my training. Borage grows in a field near the river, hidden by bushes and trees. I adjust my course towards it. As I pass by the training hollow, a dip between two grassy hills, I spot Sweetpaw and Flashpaw training. My sister looks up and waves. I wave back, then grin as Flashpaw tackles her.?
Just before I reach the river, I veer off to the side, entering the familiar shaded path between bushes. The heavy smell of herbs sinks over me like a second skin, and I breathe in deeply, enjoying it to the fullest. Then I enter the small field, dotted with dark clumps of catmint, assorted berries bright against the dark of bushes, and there! Borage, its pink and blue flowers glowing against the stems. I gently clip off the ripe plants, careful not to disturb any young, tender shoots.
As I head back, I decide to walk along the river and get some yarrow as well. Just then, an unfamiliar scent reaches my nose. I whirl around. A LightClan cat! On our side of the river! My paws prickle uncomfortably. I can't fight him off; even though medicine cats are supposed to know the basic moves I'm just really bad at it. But there isn't time to get help. And before I can do anything else, he turns and sees me. My blood runs cold. Uh oh.
Wait. Why is he...? The tom runs toward me, joy sparkling in his amber eyes. Then as he gets closer, he skids to a stop, eyes widening in shock. "S-Sparrowleaf?"
"Uh..." I say intelligently. "What? I'm Featherpaw."
He blanches. "W-what?" I wonder if he's even capable of speaking without stammering. "Uh oh," he gasps. Then, without any further ado, he throws himself into the river and makes for the border.
I frown. Something's weird here. Why is a LightClan tom on our territory? And why on earth was he looking for Sparrowleaf?
I rest my head against the side of the smooth, sun-warmed rock and close my eyes, letting the breeze play with my fur. However, as soon as darkness envelopes my senses, an image pops into my head like it's been emblazoned into the backs of my eyelids. I scowl and reopen them, glaring at the grass around me as if it was the one who created the olive-eyed tom. Why can't I get him out of my head?
With a sigh, I pick up the bundle of dock leaves Crystalwing asked me to gather and head back to camp. As I'm passing the PebbleClan border, I pause for a second and gaze into the leafy woods. The river is extremely thin and shallow here, so thin that even a LightClan cat(we hate water) could cross quite comfortably. Giving a small sigh, I turn to move on, when a cat comes padding out of the PebbleClan woods. We both stop in our tracks and stare at each other. My heart starts thumping crazily. It's Flashpaw.
After getting over the initial shock of seeing me, a smile works its way across his face. I want to say that smile annoys me, but the real thing that annoys me is the fact that it doesn't annoy me. It should. I don't like this cat, I tell myself. I don't like him at all. So why am I making my way towards the riverbank? I freeze. He doesn't notice; he's too busy crossing the shallow river.
Instantly I hiss. "What are you doing here? Get out!"
He grins cockily. "Is that any way to treat your best friend?" He's standing close now, his damp fur sticking up in clumps. I try not to think about how adorable this looks.
"You're not my best friend. You're not even my friend. I barely know you! Go away!" I flinch at the harshness of my own words. Even easy-going Flashpaw finally looks taken aback.
"Okay...," he says. "Sorry to bother you." With that, he slowly turns and begins making his way back towards the river.
"Wait!" I call helplessly. He stops immediately.
"I- I didn't mean it, okay? I'm sorry. You just surprised me, that's all, and you can't blame me for wanting to defend my territory."
He grinned. "Nah, I can't. And it's cool. I just wanted to test you and see if you cared enough to stop me and apoligize." His olive-green eyes twinkle. "You passed."
A small smile works its way onto my mouth despite the fact that I don't want it to. "Yeah, well, I'm pretty smart. I can pass anything you throw at me."
"Oh really, Miss Medicine Cat Apprentice?" he teases. "I'll bet you can't perform the duties of a real warrior apprentice."
I laugh in his face. "Yeah right. I can do anything." For a moment he doesn't say anything. He's just stares at me. "What?" I say, feeling self-concious.
"Nothing," he says, shaking his head. "I'll bet you can't catch a fish."
I roll my eyes. "That's not a warrior skill. It's just a fish-headed PebbleClan skill."
"Yeah? Scared, squirrel-breath?"
"That's it, you're on. But if I try it, you have to try to climb a tree and catch a squirrel. In the tree."
His grin vanishes. "Are you sure?" he asks nervously. "I'll bet you don't do that. Can't I collect herbs or something?"
In response, I give a nimble leap and hook my claws into the trunk of the nearest tree. I shoot up and crawl out along a branch, swing down, and let go, landing back on the ground with a thump. "You were saying?"
Flashpaw scowls. "Cheater. Let's see you catch a fish first." We head over to the river.
"This is too shallow," I complain. In the back of my mind I realize Crystalwing will be wondering where I am, but I'm too happy to care. Happy. Flashpaw. Never knew those two could coexist.
Bitterness, Borage, and Betrayal:
"Sparrowleaf?" I say upon entering our shared den. My mentor is sitting with her back to me, and as she turns I see sadness in her eyes. I wonder what she was thinking about. "Do you know a pale gold tabby tom with amber eyes from LightClan?"
She stares at me, apparently speechless. I frown. "Well, do you?"
"I- Who is this tom? Where did you see him? When?"
"Well, I don't know who he is. That's what I was planning to ask you. And I saw him today, by the riverbank. Which I thought was weird, since they hate water. He came up to me and asked if I was you, but when I said I was Featherpaw, he got really scared and swam away. Should I tell Butterstar? I wasn't sure if I should, since he really didn't seem to mean any harm..." I trail off, seeing the look on Sparrowleaf's face. A mixture of terror and pure agony. "What's wrong?"
She sits down heavily, shaking her head. "Nothing. It's just..."
"You know who he is, don't you?" For once, I'm in control of our conversation. But I don't know if I want to be. Sparrowleaf looks so distraught; I'm not used to seeing her like this.
She takes a halting breath. "Yes. I do. I know him very well."
"Who is he?" I snap, narrowing my eyes. She shudders and looks at her paws.
"I never meant to tell you. And now, because of my behavior, you have no love for me at all. You'll detest me for this. But I can't lie anymore. I'm too weak, and it's not worth it. That cat, Rowanowl, is your father, and my mate. I'm sorry Featherpaw."
For a second her words don't sink in. Then a flood of tears come up, blinding my vision. I turn, letting out an unearthly wail, and race out. I keep running, out of the camp, into the woods, till I'm dizzy and disorientated. Finally, exhausted, I collapse by the river, tears coursing down my cheeks.
How could this have happened to me? What did I do to deserve this? Everything, who I was, my very identity, had been robbed of me. Sparrowleaf had broken both the warrior code and the medicine cat code by doing what she had done. How could I be a medicine cat if I wasn't even supposed to be born?
Then another, more chilling thought struck me. Rowanowl himself hadn't been able to tell me and Sparrowleaf apart. What would the other cats think? Somehow, sometime, someone would put two and two together. I was doomed. Next to me, a few borage plants nod their heads. I bare my teeth and claw out the tender shoots, feeling delicate stems and earth squish beneath my paws. I can't help it; I need some way to vent my anger. Besides, I remember bitterly, borage is used to help nursing queens produce more milk. Just the opposite of what Sparrowleaf needed, I'll bet. But she could take care of that just fine, with her knowledge of herbs. No one would ever know that I was hers. No wonder she hated me. She must think I ruined her life. Well, she might not know it or care, but she had ruined mine too. Forever. I was sure of it. Things could never be the same again.
The Best Wrong Path:
"Fernpaw!" Crystalwing sounded irritated. "Come on. We have to meet the others at the Moonstone tonight."
"Right," I say, springing to my paws. I don't know what's wrong with me. A couple days ago, going to the Moonstone was all I talked about, thought about, and looked forward to. But at that moment, all that occupied my mind was an image of a thick-furred dark gray tom, his soaked pelt jutting out in spikes, a playful smile on his face. Oh, and that same tom falling off a tree. I smile at the memory.
Then I shake myself. "Sorry Crystalwing. I'm just-" I was going to say distracted, but she cuts me off.
"Nervous." Her eyes are soft. "I get it. But there's nothing to be afraid of. StarClan doesn't bite. Much." She grins and leads the way out of LightClan's camp. "Now let's go."
I trot after her, pushing my memories of that afternoon out of my head. We travel through LightClan's territory till we reach the border, then sit down and wait. It's a good thing the Moonstone is along our side of the river; otherwise we would have to get our paws wet crossing it each time we went.
Crystalwing's ears prick. "I think they're coming. Featherpaw will be so excited about this, I just know it. Don't you remember how excited you were your first time?" I nod happily and she smiles. Then the two cats emerge. Featherpaw is stalking a few tail-lengths ahead of her mentor. Her tail droops, dragging along the water as she enters the river and begins wading across. Her amber eyes burn with a fury that doesn't match her pleasant face or personality. This is not the Featherpaw I met at the Gathering.
She gets out of the water, shakes out her thick brown fur, and nods curtly at us. A few seconds later, Sparrowleaf follows suit, looking no cheerier then her apprentice. Side by side, with the dark gold more prominent then the green in Sparrowleaf's eyes, making them almost amber, and their wet tabby fur splaying in all directions, they look almost identical. Weird.
Crystalwing glances around awkwardly, then begins a conversation with Sparrowleaf. The two older she-cats pad ahead, leaving me with Featherpaw. I giver her damp fur a lick. "Is something wrong?"
"Everything," she sighs. Then she seems to stop herself. "I can trust you, right Fernpaw?"
I nod slowly. What's going on? "Of course you can Featherpaw. We're medicine cats together, not to mention friends. I promise."
"Thank you." She still looks hesitant. "Fernpaw, what do you think of love?"
"Huh?" I manage, my heart thumping. "What kind of question is that?"
She blushes. "That's not what I mean. I mean, what do you think should happen if say, two cats from different clans," My face goes hot as she says this, "really love each other. Should they betray their clans, or themselves and their hearts? And what if these two cats..." She trails off, shaking her head. "Forget it."
"No, it's okay," I say softly, though I'm really nervous. "It's just... that was a strange scenario. Surely no cat could ever have feelings for another cat from a rival clan. It wouldn't be right."
"Exactly," Featherpaw snarls, suddenly angry. "It's stupid and dumb. Even if you like someone from another clan, it shouldn't ever matter more to you then your own clan. That's disloyalty, and it's being pig-headed and selfish. You only make other cats suffer-" Her voice cracks, but she keeps going. "I wouldn't even talk to a tom from LightClan, no offense to your clan. If I saw a rival warrior on my territory, I'd sound the alarm no matter what he said."
Guilt washes over me in racking waves, and blood pounds in my ears. Instead of commenting on her rant, I say, "Why are you so mad about this Featherpaw?"
She grimaces. "Never mind. Just... forget I said it. But," she adds in a more joking tone, "know that if you ever fall for a PebbleClan tom, not that there are any worth falling for, I will kill you." She laughs. I don't.
Too late, I want to tell her. Now I'm caught in a three-way tangle. My Clan, Featherpaw, and as much as I don't want to admit he holds any importance in my life, Flashpaw. Going down that path, the forbidden romance thing, is wrong, but it sounds like the best wrong path I've ever heard of. Oh, not to mention I'm a medicine cat, so it would be twice the scandal if I fell for any tom, let alone a PebbleClan one. Great. Just great.
The entrance to the Moonstone is so breathtaking, I even stop beating myself up about being so obvious in my conversation with Fernpaw. It's a large, gaping black cave. The inside smells wet and cold, but not in a dank moldy way. More of a- I can't explain it. It's like fire and ice combined, with a touch of stardust. The smell of StarClan.
We all take in a collective gasp, united in our awe of the eerie darkness, even though Sparrowleaf and Crystalwing have been here before. All bonds of enemity dissolve between us(though I still think Sparrowleaf shouldn't be here, since she shouldn't be a medicine cat anymore after what she did), despite my trying to cling to them. Everything else is swallowed into the shadows as we make our way into the cave.
The air is cool, and whispers and breezes surround us, sending chills down my back. That's when I see the Moonstone. I stop so suddenly Fernpaw smashes into me from behind, but I don't budge. Instead, I gawk at the vibrant violet-tinged light-emmiting rock jutting out from the ground. It's made from a crystal-like rock, with smooth surfaces, yet cut unevenly into jagged spears that clump together. I think it looks like a giant paw smashed all the stars together, froze them, and then smashed them into a thousand pieces, and this piece just happened to fall to earth, and became our connecter with StarClan. Hey, it's not that crazy of an idea if you've got an imagination, which I happen to have. A scarily big one.
The others pad up to it slowly and lay down. I do too, folding my paws beneath me and stifling a gasp as I sink onto the freezingly damp rock floor. "Now you touch your nose to the rock," Fernpaw instructs.
I nod and watch the others. Slowly, they stiffen, then relax. They look to be asleep, but Fernpaw shakes her head, indicating that they're not. She then touches her nose to the Moonstone, and instantly the trance comes over her too. Taking a deep breath, I lean forward and tap my nose against the stone. I let out a gasp as an ice-cold chill rockets through my head and down my spine. Then a cold wind wraps around me, and suddenly the Moonstone, the cave, and the other cats spin away.
"Help!" I scream. It takes me a few seconds to realize that the place I'm in, a sunny grass-filled meadow, isn't exactly a torture chamber. A pretty black-and-white she-cat regards me with laughing blue eyes.
"It's okay honey. This is StarClan. We won't hurt you, but look out for Jawstar. He has a nasty temper, and being dead hasn't improved it a bit. Don't worry, he used to be LightClan's leader, so we have nothing to be ashamed of." When I continue staring at her like she's a two-headed freak, she laughs and says, "I guess I should introduce myself. I'm Sunblossom, a former PebbleClan warrior. I lived before you were born, but I still watch over you guys. I'm here because the other members of StarClan figured I would scare you less then someone more 'important'," she rolls her eyes good-naturedly, "though I'm just as important as any cat. However, it appears that didn't work."
I manage to find my voice. "Sorry. It was just weird, suddenly appearing here and seeing you."
"I understand," she says sweetly. Then her face grows more serious. "As much as it pains me, your first visit will not be a carefree one. There are too many problems arising on the horizon for us to give out random, light warnings. Darkness is rising, gathering with each new day. And it is up to you guys, as the link between the clans and us, to protect everyone else from it."
"But how?" I stammer, sounding like a blundering idiot. My voice breaks. "What if we don't really know who we are? What if it's all a lie? What if-" I break off, but Sunblossom has understanding in her eyes.
"I get it Featherpaw. It's hard. But... don't be too harsh on Sparrowleaf. I watched over her, saw her make the mistakes she made, and believe me, you would have to be made of iron to not have done the same things. She was a lot stronger then any other cat, and she protected you for a long time."
I'm silent, not wanting to process any of this, not wanting to accept that fact that Sparrowleaf deserves forgiveness. Sunblossom continues, "That's not the reason I was sent here. You need to-" Suddenly, a lightning bolt crackles between us, throwing me back. The sky itself seems to be splitting, and the ground disintegrating beneath me. My last concious thought is, This is StarClan! Things like this don't happen in StarClan! Then the blackness consumes everything.
I raise my head, a pounding headache blocking out all reasoning, so my panicked thoughts go something like, Help! What just happened? Help! Don't let me die!
Eventually, my eyes come into focus. Fernpaw is struggling to her paws, as is Crystalwing. Sparrowleaf is awake, but she's staring at something in horror, frozen with fear. I follow her gaze, squinting to make out two beady eyes in the darkness. And that's when I see the snake.
Snakes Die, Venom Kills:
Nausea rises in my throat, and I fight the urge to heave, terrified that any movement will spur the snake into action and leave one of my friends, or me, hurt. I can hear my heart thumping so loudly, and briefly I think how funny it is that your heart speeds up when you think it's about to stop beating forever. It's like your heart is trying to make up for all those unlived moons in a few seconds- I cut off my nonsensical thoughts and try to focus on the situation at hand, which is hard, since my ears are still ringing with the explosion that knocked me out of StarClan's hunting grounds and slammed me back into my own body like a boulder in free-fall.
It could have been a few minutes or a couple hours that the four of us stood, locked in place, eyes riveted on the flickering tongue, the black eyes gleaming in the moonlight. Then it struck.
All of us, including me, scream, but one wail rises above the rest. It's Sparrowleaf; she's sprawled on the ground, writhing in agony. Featherpaw stares in shock for a split second, then she pounces.
"No!" I cry, sure she'll be struck too. Without thinking, I dive in after her. The snake hisses and faces us, body swaying in a taunting dance, it's tail twitching maliciously. Suddenly, there is a rumbling sound. I panic, thinking that this world is about to be ripped apart just like StarClan, but then a huge rock comes tumbling out of nowhere and smashes the snake flat.
I blink and turn to see Crystalwing, wincing and rubbing her dirtied shoulder. "There," she pants.
"Thank you!" I say. "That was genius-" She cuts me off, hurrying past to where Featherpaw is curled by her mother's body. My heart twists as I see the obvious pain my friend is in. I can't imagine what she's feeling right now; shock, confusion, betrayal, hurt. The one thing she had to cling to was the fact that her mother was to blame for this, and now the little comfort that was is being torn from her. Featherpaw is stubborn, but she's not heartless. And she can't possibly not feel the pain of seeing a family member like this.
"Mother?" she says in a choked voice. Sparrowleaf's eyes open. They seem brighter somehow; she's always had an intense gaze, but this is difference. They shine the perfect blend of gold and green, colors that speak of summer suns and bright leaves. There's unspeakable joy in them, despite the bright red blood pumping out of her throat.
"You've never called me that before. And..." She broke off temporarily as a shudder racked through her body. Featherpaw whimpered and snuggled closer, their thick tabby fur merging till they appeared as one cat. "-I've never called you daughter. I was so harsh. But I've always loved you. You couldn't have made me prouder, Featherpaw. I love you, just the way you are. You're perfect."
Tears were streaming down Featherpaw's cheeks now. "I love you too," she sobbed. I took a step forward, laying my tail comfortingly against her shoulder, but she didn't seem to notice. Sparrowleaf was convulsing now, her body jerking back and forth as if it had a mind of her own. Then, with one final sigh, she lay still, the bright gold-green eyes closing forever.
"She's gone," I whisper.
Featherpaw threw back her head and wailed to the skies. "Why did you have to take her from me? Why is she gone, when she was never really there for me at all? Is this your revenge?"
Crystalwing stood there helplessly as Featherpaw collapsed in on herself. I curl up tightly against my friend, feeling the sobs racking her ribcage against mine.
"It's okay," I soothe my best friend. "It's going to be okay." Except for the fact that it's not. Snakes die, but venom kills. And it's just robbed Featherpaw of a mother.
Drowning Is When You Can't Breathe:
Like I'm drowning. That's how I feel. I sympathize with anyone who has drowned.(not that my sympathy will do much for them now) It's not the water that kills you. It's the air, the lack of something precious that you need to survive, the terror squeezing your lungs, the lights swimming in front of your vision... the pair of blue eyes staring down at you- That's not right.
"Sweetpaw?" I stammer groggily. A thought flashes through my head. Is she adopted too? I abandon it immediately. She and Blueveil have the same large blue eyes, short fur, and sleek, lithe builds. Blueveil. Another stab of pain runs through my heart as I think of my so-called mother. She lied to me too. My whole life as been a lie. Does she know? I gaze at my sister, who I'll always consider my family. We've gone through too much together for me to think she knew all along and kept it from me. But does she know now? And what does she think? Fernpaw. Crystalwing. They know too, they heard me cry out to Sparrowleaf.
Strangely, her memory hurts me the most. I loved her, I realize, despite everything she did, despite everything I thought she did. She was my mother, and that meant so much to me. My thoughts are getting jumbled now, chasing themselves in circles. If blood relation was so important, how could I know Blueveil had ever truly loved me as her daughter? And did that mean Sweetpaw wouldn't either now? Was all of life in on some kind of cruel joke against me?
With a groan, I lay my head back into the folds of soft grass. "Where am I?"
I smile a bitter smile. "I don't know where that is anymore."
Her face is serious. "Where it's always been. Where I am, where Blueveil is. In PebbleClan, where you'll always belong."
"I've never belonged here. My father, Rowanowl, or whoever he is, is a LightClan cat." I give another groan. "Does everyone know now? Will I be kicked out?"
"Only me," she said. Seeing the questioning look I give her, she explains, "Fernpaw told me as they brought you in. Don't blame her; I asked. I just had to know what happened to get you so upset, I know you don't just faint randomly for no reason."
"I fainted..." Just then, a furry gray head sticks into the den- the apprentices den? the medicine cat's den?- and a tom tumbles in. It's Flashpaw.
"You okay Featherpaw?" he asks worriedly.
"Yeah..." I croak.
He shakes his head slowly. "Man, the clan is screwed. Our medicine cat's gone, and you're sick. Who's gonna-" He lets out a howl of pain as Sweetpaw practically grinds his paw into the ground. "What was that for?" he yelps, licking his paw gingerly, olive eyes wide with innocence.
"For being an insensitive jerk!" Sweetpaw yells. "Sparrowleaf is dead!" I flinch at the word, but she doesn't notice. "Featherpaw is weak and hurt, and all you can think about is- You're a jerk!" Fury shines in her blue eyes. As much as I pity poor Flashpaw, I can't help feeling touched that Sweetpaw still cares for me that much. Sisters are sisters, no matter what kind of crazy things mothers and fathers do.
"Sorry," Flashpaw mutters contritely. He recovers quickly though. "Want to get some fresh-kill?"
"Sure!" Sweetpaw says. "We'll bring you some Featherpaw. Butterstar says you can rest for now." I gulp at the last two words, but the two of them are already out the door. Despite my battered state, I squeeze up a small smile. Could those two actually like each other? Sure, Sweetpaw had looked ready to tear his head off, but Sweetpaw never let her feelings for a tom show in any obvious manner.
With a sigh, I lay back down, fighting back tears. Oh Mother, I think to myself. Why did you have to go? I needed you.
"Featherpaw?" I open my eyes, then shut them tightly again. I don't want to see any of the three cats standing over me. Butterstar, Birchwhisper, and... Blueveil. I turn away, but I feel the pain radiating off my "mother's" pelt.
"Sweetheart, please get up. We have some questions for you." With a sigh, I pull myself to my paws and raise my chin defiantly.
"You're kicking me out, aren't you? Well, go ahead, but before you do, let me just remind you of a few things. I was victimized too you know. I didn't know my parents, and now I never will. My mother and sister aren't who I thought they were. They aren't even really my family. They lied-" My voice cracks, but I keep on going. "to me my whole life, and I don't belong here anymore. I don't belong anywhere. Still," I stiffen with resolve, "I'm going to do the right thing. I'll tell Rowanowl, my father, what happened, and then I'll leave. You don't have to worry. You'll never see me again."
There is complete silence after I finish. Then, Blueveil bursts out crying. "How could you think that Featherpaw?" she chokes out, her cobalt eyes glimmering with hurt. She takes a step towards me, but I back away, pinning myself against the wall. Her jaws open soundlessly, then she looks at the ground. I feel bad that I'm hurting her, but not bad enough to stop. Someone else should know what it feels like, to have everyone and everything turned against you, to have nothing to cling to.
"Featherpaw, we're not kicking you out of the clan," Butterstar says softly. "Tell her Birchwhisper."
The deputy steps forward, her mossy green eyes full of sympathy. "We wanted to ask you when you think you'll be able to travel to the Moonstone."
"The Moonstone? What for?" I wonder if they want StarClan to punish me too, or if there's a special ceremony for medicine cats to be robbed of their rights.
"To recieve your name of course," Butterstar says matter-of-factly, but her gray eyes are shining with pride. I never would have expected to get that look from our leader. "You're going to be PebbleClan's sole and honored medicine cat now."
My graceful reply: "Huh?"
"Fernpaw, wake up!" Crystalwing nudges me gently.
I blink drowsily, as the memories of yesterday come pouring back. Featherpaw. Oh, poor Featherpaw. "What is it?"
"PebbleClan is here." She darts out of the medicine cat den, which we share. "Come on!"
My heartrate speeds up. Has something terrible happened? Or worse, are they going to expose Rowanowl, Featherpaw's father? I race outside, urgency pulsing through my veins, then stop short. It's him. Flashpaw. He hasn't seen me yet; he's talking with Birchwhisper, the PebbleClan deputy and his mentor, if I recall correctly. Of course I recall perfectly, just like I do every word he's ever said to me. Then I catch Featherpaw's eyes. They're sorrowful, but there's hope in them too. Maybe things aren't as bad as they seem.
"Hi Fernpaw," she says. "This is my sister, Sweetpaw." I smile and nod at the strawberry-furred she-cat beside her. Then the smile slips from my mouth. Sweetpaw and Flashpaw's pelts are almost touching, and every few seconds she glances at him with a small smile. She likes him. And I'm sure he likes her too. Who wouldn't, with her pretty blue eyes and glossy pelt?
The ground sways beneath me, and I feel sick to my stomach. Suddenly it doesn't matter what PebbleClan is here to tell LightClan. I have to get out of here. Now.
Turning, I slam into Toadstar and Nightowl, who had been making their way towards the PebbleClan group. Before they can say anything, I dart out of the camp. Brambles tear at my fur and my paws skid on the pine needle-covered forest floor, but it doesn't matter. Nothing matters now.
Before I know it, I'm at the river. The usually comforting sounds of splashing waves instead remind me of the day Flashpaw and I spent playing by its banks. I glance at the tree I dared him to climb, then look down into the water.(which I might've fallen into while fishing) A single tear slides down my cheek and lands with a plop, shattering my reflection. That's how my heart feels. Like it's been dashed into a million pieces.
"Fernpaw?" A voice says from behind me. I whirl, expecting to see Featherpaw, but it's not. It's Flashpaw. I turn away, brushing away the wet trail on my cheek.
"What?" I try desperately to keep from sounding bitter or heartbroken.
"Can I talk to you?" Is that hesitation, or even nervousness in his tone? Flashpaw, the king of cockiness, nervous? I face him. He looks half-scared and half-hopeful, like a kit asking if it can go outside to play. I find myself unable to tear my gaze away from his earnest olive eyes. The sunlight catches glints of gold in them, and wind ripples through his thick boldy-striped gray coat.
"Sure," I say, something warning me not to joke or turn him down. I've never seen this side of him, the more emotional side. It's like a veil has been ripped back, only for me.
"I've been imagining this moment in my head for so long..." he says, half to himself. "But now that it's finally here, I'm so nervous. I don't think this is a good idea. Never mind." He looks miserable.
"No." Surprised at the sudden desperation in my own voice, I push on. "Please, just say it."
He moves to sit beside me, and we both stare at our reflections in the water. I wince at how plain I look compared to him, with my ordinary blue eyes and dappled golden coat. I'm nothing special, yet he makes me feel like I am. How is that even possible?
"You look beautiful today," he says softly, his breath tickling my ear. I gasp and turn to face him, only I didn't anticipate how close he was, and our noses are suddenly pressed together. A burst of electricity runs through me, but I don't pull away, and neither does he. Instead, he presses closer, as if we're one cat, and twines his tail with mine. I can feel his heart beating against mine, his scent pervading my senses like an exotic perfume, and-
"Fernpaw! What are you doing?"
I whirl around. Flashpaw stiffens in shock, his mouth partly open, staring at the brown tabby she-cat gawking back at us from the bushes.
"Featherpaw!" I can't stop the rage from coloring my voice. "Why are you spying on me?"
But my anger pales compared to hers. Pure fury shines in her amber eyes as she snarls back, "You're breaking the warrior code. You're breaking the medicine cat code, and everything your mentor has taught you. But worse, you're breaking your own heart. Can't you see that? Even after what happened to Sparrowleaf- We were supposed to travel to the Moonstone tonight! Recieve our medicine cat's names together! But now we can't, I couldn't bear knowing..." She shakes her head slowly. "It's gone Fernpaw. All your dreams gone. It's over. Our friendship is over. Don't ever speak to me again."
Helplessly, I collapse against Flashpaw. Featherpaw hates me, and pretty soon both clans will too; I'm sure she'll tell everyone. I'm trapped.
I don't go back to camp right away. My heart thuds against my chest as I wander aimlessly around LightClan territory, trying to tame my rampant thoughts and focus. Eventually, I make my way back. Sweetpaw turns to me. "Where were you? We're leaving now."
I barely hear her. My eyes are fixated on Flashpaw. Though the gray tom is back where he belongs, with our PebbleClan patrol, his eyes are far away, latched onto the pretty spotted golden she-cat, who gazes back with equal adoration in her pearly blue eyes. And I thought he liked Sweetpaw, I think to myself bitterly. My poor sister; what did she do to deserve this? It's not her fault that he fell for Fernpaw, but she doesn't know that. I feel almost certain that she and Flashpaw would be a couple if it weren't for this, and another wave of hot rage stirs inside me. Still, I won't tell anyone. I know how that feels, and I wouldn't wish it on any cat, no matter how much they deserved it. Besides, I grew up with Flashpaw, and Fernpaw is, was, my best friend. Those kinds of bonds don't just disappear.
Now what will I do? I wondered helplessly. Could she realy come to the Moonstone tonight, knowing what she had done? Would Starclan even give her her name if she did? And what could I do to make sure everything came out okay? My life was beginning to resemble a hopeless mess, and I didn't know what to do about it. I didn't even know where to start.
"Featherpaw?" Sweetpaw falls into step beside me as we head back to camp. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah..." I sigh and lean against her slightly. It's good to have family, even if- but I don't want to think about that right now. I just want to collapse somewhere and sleep. Unfortunately for me though, life doesn't work that way. Tonight, I have to face my fears and meet with StarClan. Who knows what they'll do to me.
The moonlight shines gently on the rippling blue water of the river, inviting me into its cool embrace, but I don't move. Normally, Crystalwing and Fernpaw would be waiting for me on the other side; they're usually early. Maybe Fernpaw took my warning to heart(not sure if I should feel proud or terrible), but why isn't Crystalwing here yet? She's still got responsibilities still.
With a surpressed sigh, I glide into the water, and instantly feel a little more relaxed. My lenghty brown fur spills out around me, floating on the surface, and my long pawstrokes make small rivulets in the current. Covering the distance quickly, I climb out and shake out my dripping pelt, spraying water everywhere. Then I see them. Fernpaw doesn't meet my gaze, but Crystalwing does, and she looks torn. Knowing I'm part of the reason why, I feel a sudden stab of guilt. All I wanted to do was the right thing, and look where that's gotten me.
"Hey," Crystalwing greets me softly. I mutter a reply, and we fall into step with each other without another word. Fernpaw seems lost in her own thoughts; her blue eyes are wistful and lusterous in the light of the moon, and her dappled coat gleams like a ray of sunlight. I find myself missing her, and all the good times we had, and have to remind myself that what she did was unforgiveable. Or was it?
As always, the bonds of ordinary life seem to fall away as the Moonstone comes into view, and a strange peace settles over me, easing the tension in my shoulders. I can tell all three of us feel it; there's practically an audible sigh of relief as we collapse on the ground and nearly slam our faces against the stone. Instantly, the cold runs through me, and I'm transported away, like all of StarClan has been waiting to snatch me away the instant I got here.
Well, I think as I get up. It's not all of StarClan, but it certainly is more then I'm comfortable with. I'm surrounded by starry cats. Though their outlines are pale and rather faint, their eyes burn with an intensified glow, which makes me feel extremely self-concious as I stand in the midst of their scrutiny.
Before I can speak, they chorus with one voice, "Featherpaw."
"That's me," I squeak weakly, my voice coming out like a young kit's.
A black-and-white she-cat steps out of the crowd, and I recognize Sunblossom. "Featherpaw, StarClan is in trouble. But more on that later. First we have something to tell you."
A tiny gray kit leaps forward, his smoky blue eyes wide with confidence. "You need to stop following the warrior code."
"What?" I say, fighting the urge to burst out laughing. Then, without warning, I'm fighting the urge to burst out crying. Why must such a small, innocent kit be in StarClan already?
The same thoughts are mirrored in Sunblossom's eyes as she wraps her tail around the little furball and pulls him close. "Not exactly Fuzzkit. Featherpaw, we find you an amazing cat. You are going to get your medicine cat name tonight, don't worry. But first, we have some things to tell you."
"Okay," I say weakly, sitting down. I really could use some advice, and what better place to get it from then StarClan?
"My dear, I know you're mad at your mother, and at Fernpaw. But listen, sometimes cats can't control how they feel. You understand what that's like, when anything you do hurts someone. And... if they don't make what seems to be the right choice to us, just because it's not according to the warrior code, well, who are we to judge? Everyone makes mistakes."
I stare at her incredulously. "So you're saying it's okay to break the warrior code?"
Her gaze is steady. "I'm saying that some things are bigger then the warrior code, and we need to keep that in mind while looking at situations. The warrior code is a guide, not a law."
"To a warrior, it is law," I say, holding my head high. Is this cat crazy?
"But you're not a warrior, are you? You are where it counts, but medicine cats have a greater calling. Which brings me to my next point. Featherpaw, look who's here to tell you what you must do to save both the clans."
The ranks part to reveal a long-furred tabby she-cat, her gold-green eyes filled with more warmth then I ever remember. I open my mouth to scream at her, to rage and ask why she got to come here. All that comes out is a cry: "Mother!"
"You two must save the Moonstone. The only advice we can give you is this: dove's eggs and day's reign shall come together once again. Like the brush of a fern, quick as a flash, the sacrifice is made. Only then shall power be, equal, pure, and truly free. Evil flees, upon trembling wings, peace do Feather and Fern bring."
The prophecy rings in my ears as I stagger to my feet and face Featherpaw. She looks like she's just seen a ghost, but there's a peaceful calm on her face that I haven't seen since she found out Sparrowleaf was her mother.
"D-Did you recieve the message?" I ask hesitantly. My heart is still thumping with the excitement of being given my medicine cat's name
"Yeah..." she says. Her face turns to me, grinning eagerly. "I'm a full medicine cat Fernpaw! From now on, you can call me Featherleaf." After my mother, her eyes say, but she doesn't seem to mind.
"That's great!" I say. "And you can call me Fernflight."
Crystalwing watches us celebrate together, then clears her throat quietly. "I believe we have a task to complete."
"Oh yeah." The smiles vanish from our faces as we sit down heavily and face each other. "Dove's eggs..." Featherleaf says, a puzzled look on her face. "What on earth could that be?"
"And day's reign? What is that, the sun?" I muse.
Crytalwing perks up, her blue eyes lighting up with understanding. "Light. Of course. LightClan!"
Featherleaf snorts. "Sheesh, full of yourself much? I doubt only LightClan is involved in this prophecy. In fact-" She breaks off, closing her eyes. "We may be small," she quotes, as if talking to herself. "But we will not be washed away. We are always there, smoothing and improving by the floods of life. Like a dove, we are gentle yet wise. Like the dove's eggs, we are strong yet so fragile." Her eyes fly open. "The Clans! That's it! PebbleClan and LightClan. We need to come together."
"Come together?" I say. "Like, become one clan?"
Crystalwing shakes her head. "It can't be that. StarClan knows that we rely on our separation to survive. But what could that mean, unite? We have Gatherings, but somehow I doubt that's it."
Gatherings. The way Flashpaw and I- No, that can't be it. But... the brush of a fern, quick as a flash? Both our names... in the same sentence, and, as much as I didn't want to admit it, we were united. We were in love.
"Guys," I begin. "I think I know how to save the Clans. But we'll need that." I point to the Moonstone and explain my plan.
Crystalwing sighs and arches her back. "Why is it never easy?"
"Because," Featherleaf says with a smile. "StarClan likes to torment us." With that, we padded over to the Moonstone and got to work.
Butterstar's (Dumb) Choice:
I wave to Crystalwing and Fernflight from across the river. Then we each race towards our clans, footsteps pounding the grass, racing against the night, racing against time.
The prophecy echoes in my ears above the rush of blood and my pounding heart, spurring me to run even faster. I skid into the PebbleClan camp, yowlin my head off to get everyone ready.
"What on earth?" Birchwhisper comes out of the warrior's den. I quail in the deputy's annoyance, but don't stop.
Butterstar comes out of her den, the moonlight turning her thick cream fur to white, and her gray-blue eyes are luminescent orbs. "Featherpaw?"
Though there's really no time, I correct her, "Featherleaf."
"What are you yelling about?" she asks, coming down to stand in front of me. I gulp. Other cats surround us, muttering under their breaths. No one looks too happy.
Just then, Sweetpaw comes to stand beside me, linking her tail with mine. That's when I know I have to go on. "We're calling an emergency Gathering."
"What?" she snaps. "I don't have time for this Featherleaf."
"No, wait! Listen," I plead. "The Moonstone is suffering because- I'm not sure, some kind of evil force. Our connection with StarClan is breaking. We need to go. Now."
My leader seems about to make a crude remark again, but then another cat joins me. Blueveil. She gives me a nod, and I smile back, pressing against her pelt. All is forgiven.
"Butterstar, this is your new medicine cat you're talking to. I'd show her some respect if I were you." Blueveil holds her chin high, her cobalt eyes fixed on her leader determinedly. I can see her legs are trembling, but I'm sure no other cat is able to notice. Sweetpaw grins at me, and I know we're thinking the same thing. Good old Mom. Except I have an embellishment. Looking at the sky, I add, You too Sparrowleaf.
"I understand, Blueveil, but do you know how crazy this is..." She trails off, as if remembering her own story, lost in thought. Then she blinks and nods. "Birchwhisper, assemble the patrol. Lead the way Featherleaf."
I grin. Maybe Butterstar was leader for a reason. She's not so dumb after all.
The noise of talking, grumpy cats reaches my ears as I lead my Clan towards the Gathering. My knees are still weak with relief that Toadstar actually listened to me, though no one is too happy with it. Beside me, Crystalwing instructs Snarlclaw and Bramblethorn, the two toms carrying the Moonstone, to place it in the center of the clearing. While they do so, I run over to Featherleaf, who is standing with her sister.
"How did Butterstar take it?"
Her amber eyes glow in the moonlight. "She's not so dumb."
I grin and click my tail against her shoulder. "Good. Now let's get cracking."
Her face turns serious. "Fernflight... Are you sure you want to do this?" I frown and sigh.
"No. But that's not the question. I have to. Just like Sparrowleaf knew she had to protect you from the truth all your life." I hold my breath, but she doesn't lash out at me. Instead, she nods and presses her cheek to mine.
"Maybe you should tell Flashpaw," she says. "I made sure he came, but it's not fair to just do this without him knowing."
I take a deep breath. "Okay. You're right." But nothing will, or can, make it better. Either way, I'm hurting someone I love terribly. Spotting the tom nearby, I hurry over. "Flashpaw? Can I talk to you?"
He hurriedly pulls himself away and follows me to the outskirts of the woods. His olive eyes are sparkling. "It's Flashgaze now. I'm a warrior. Sweetpaw was really mad, but it's not my fault I'm older then her. Or better."
Suddenly, I know why I'm doing this. I know I'm not imagining the flash of emotion in his eyes when he says the name "Sweetpaw". Nor can I deny that the only reason he isn't with her right now is me. "That's great," I say weakly, feeling my heart deflate even though my mind is saying this just makes it easier.
The smile slips off his mouth. "What's wrong?"
"We can't see each other anymore," I say, taking a step backwards. "We can't lo- like each other. It's over. I'm sorry."
"What?" Disbelief fills his olive eyes. "But Fernpaw-"
"Fernflight," I correct him. "I'm a full medicine cat now. And... You have to agree. Or else our connection with StarClan will shatter."
He shakes his head. "I can't believe you're making me do this. Give you up? I don't care about-"
"Don't say that," I hiss fiercely. "Just... say it's okay."
Flashgaze's shoulders drop suddenly, as if he senses he's lost me for good. My heart aches, and I long to comfort him, but that's not possible. StarClan's call is greater then any tom. "Okay."
Instantly, I hear shrieks of alarm from the Gathering. Flashgaze looks surprised. I sigh. "Let's go see what happened."
This cost me everything. It had better work.
Life Takes You Places:
Everyone freezes as the Moonstone begins to glow with a vibrant purple-blue light. Fernflight emerges and comes to stand beside me. Flashgaze stalks stiff-leggedly out behind her. His eyes widen when he see what's happening, and he goes to sit beside Sweetpaw. I can tell my friend notices this, but she doesn't say anything, despite the obvious hurt that shows in her blue eyes. A shard of sympathy pierces my heart, and I lick her on the cheek. She gives me a small smile.
"He's moved on."
I nod understandingly and turn back. Some cats are leaping back as a thick black smoke coils out of the Moonstone, like poisonous gas. The sounds of something dying come out of it, and I shudder.
Suddenly, a dazzling light shoots forth, and a second later, a gorgeous cream cat and another, smaller brown tabby cat are standing there. "Sparrowleaf," I whisper, gazing at my mother. She nods at me lovingly, before turning to address the rest of the Clans.
"Well done, cats of PebbleClan and LightClan. Particularly, medicine cats."
"What just happened?" asked a wide-eyed Birchwhisper.
Sparrowleaf nodded to the cream she-cat. "If you will, Shinefall."
"I'd be happy to. A dark force of cats, ones you don't need to worry about yet, took over the Moonstone, using it to spy on our communications with you. They also planted the snake there, that killed Sparrowleaf." My mother winces at the memory, as do I. "But you stopped them before they had the chance to escalate a full-scale attack on the Clans. Thank you."
Crystalwing dips her head and lays her tail on Fernflight's flank. We stand together, united. I feel a burst of pride in my Clanmates and friends. I may be PebbleClan's lone medicine cat now, but I'll always have Fernflight as a best friend, and Sweetpaw and Blueveiil for advice.
"I am very proud of all of you as well," Butterstar says after the StarClan cats are gone. "Let's go back to camp."
Toadstar nods his head. "As am I. Come on LightClan."
Padding into my new den, I give a luxurious stretch and whisper a silent thank you. To all of StarClan, but especially Sparrowleaf. She was my mentor, but in a way, she did a pretty good job of being my mother too. I just didn't know it. I owe a lot to her.
Sighing, I sink into my nest. "Sometimes, life takes you places, Featherleaf," I tell myself. "You've just got to sit back and enjoy the ride."
As we prepare to leave the Gathering, I shoot one last glance at Flashgaze over my shoulder. He's talking to Sweetpaw, and my heart thumps painfully in my chest. As if sensing my longing, he looks up, and his kind olive eyes meet mine. Muttering something like, "Just a minute," to Sweetpaw, he runs over.
I watch him approach and give him a small smile. "Hey. Thanks for everything. What you gave up..."
"Was precious. It was you." He touches his nose to my forehead. "I don't care what you say, Fernflight. I'll always love you more then any other cat. You were my first true love."
I can't help it; I mew, "And Sweetpaw?"
His reply satisfies me. "Sweetpaw is amazing, but I can never forget you."
"Are you okay, Fernflight?" asks Crystalwing.
Glancing up at my mentor, I give a wan smile. "I'm fine," I say.
Sympathy shows in her eyes, but thankfully she doesn't push it. I don't think I could handle any questions without breaking down.
Quietly, I curl my tail around my nose and rehash the past events in my mind. We stopped the dark force that was trying to stop the connection with StarClan, but for how long? Surely a force strong enough to manifest itself in a snake and kill Sparrowleaf was strong enough to regain its bearings and attack again?
A shudder runs through me just thinking about it. For now, I think I'll just focus on the good. Featherleaf and I are and will always be best friends. As medicine cats, we don't need to be separated like Flashgaze and I were. We'll be together always, to help each other through life. I'll always have someone to depend on.
And that's what it means to be a medicine cat. Cats think we don't fight, but boy do we fight. We fight, occasionally, against unknown forces trying to destroy the Moonstone, but more importantly, we fight against sicknesses and disease, physical and emotion.
Sure, I may be heartsick for Flashgaze now. But I'll heal. The Clans will heal.
And we'll be ready for anymore trouble that comes our way.
So there it is, a tale of two medicine cat apprentices, who became medicine cats.
But more importantly, they became friends. And sisters.