Amongst Poppies and Stars
“Come on, Redpaw!”
“Just a minute,” I whined, blearily opening my eyes. “I’m still trying to wake up.” My dark-pelted friend was grinning as she shifted from paw to paw. She was soaked from the pouring rain, but her sky-blue eyes were as bright as ever. Starpaw’s excitement was nearly contagious, and I couldn’t help but grin despite my sleep deprivation. Last night, Ebonywing had kept me up extra late to further examine me. I was finally deemed fit enough for my warrior ceremony around moonhigh.
“Wash yourself,” insisted Starpaw, “and then we can meet in the Lower Caves.” She bounded away, leaving me to groom myself in the dripping rain, sheltered only slightly by the slight overhang of the apprentices’ den.
“Wassgoinon?” Our younger denmate, Mousepaw, opened one amber eye as I heaved myself into a sitting position.
“Starpaw’s and my warrior ceremony is today!” I murmured, half to myself. Mousepaw didn’t even seem to be listening, he was more focused on getting back to sleep.
“Redpaw!” yowled Starpaw. “Hurry up!”
Muttering about the impatience of some she-cats, I dashed out of the apprentices’ den for the last time and skittered into the first of the Lower Caves, the one just to the left of the medicine den. Through the cool stone walls, the smell of herbs wafted up our noses, causing me to inhale deeply, while Starpaw just cringed and wrinkled her nose distastefully.
The two of us settled down, peering out into the gloom as warriors dashed about. We heard a faint muffled noise from behind us, in time to see one of the elders making the long trek through the rear corridor to get to the dirtplace.
Really, it was quite foolish how far away the elders’ den was from the dirtplace, and then they dragged their stinking feet all through the corridor and tracked smelly goop throughout the place. Once, Mintwhisker even had to leave some of her most precious, most fragrant herbs in the caves to air them out. Icky.
We must have been waiting in the Cave for a long while, for by the time I opened my eyes – I had unknowingly fallen into a doze – Earthstar was standing above us with a faintly amused expression on her face. “Come on, you two,” she said briskly, turning tail and padding out of the cave. Starpaw and I followed her, immediately awake.
“…it is my belief that these apprentices are ready to become warriors,” Earthstar said to the gathering crowd of cats. Starpaw and I shared an excited glance. “Starpaw, Redpaw, please step forward.” We eagerly complied. “Pinefrost has informed me of your progress, Starpaw, and it is my belief that you are ready to become a warrior.” Earthstar’s words echoed her first statement, but the redundancy was part of the ancient tradition spawned by our warrior ancestors. “From this moment on, dear Starpaw, you shall be known as Stargaze.”
“Stargaze! Stargaze! Stargaze!” the Clan cheered. I was the loudest, cheering for my best friend as though she had won some sort of giant race between the Clans, and had brought victory for us.
“Ebonywing has informed me of your progress, Redpaw, and it is my believe that you are ready to become a warrior. From this moment on, dear Redpaw, you shall be known as Redpoppy.”
This time, I was positive Starpaw – no, Stargaze – cheered the loudest. Her voice rose above Mousepaw’s, rose above Mother and Father’s, and Grandfather’s. “Redpoppy!” Stargaze chanted proudly, announcing to the world our friendship. As the newly named warriors – us – padded into the crowd of congratulatory cats, our family members and friends pushed towards us. I spotted my mother, Stormwing, and my father, Galeheart, and Grandmother and Grandfather, Stormwing’s parents, Beeshine and Mothtail. Shadewillow, Stargaze’s only surviving parent, greeted her daughter with a giant grin and a loud purr that we were both sure cats on the other side of the pond could hear.
“Congratulations, you guys!” Bramblepath mewed, padding up to us. The brown tabby was a few moons older than the two of us, but she was like a sister. Never condescending, never bossy, always treating us like equals.
Wetstream followed, with Sunmark close behind. Rainpaw and Nightpaw bounded about behind them, eyes bright with anticipation. Soon, it would be their turn to become warriors.
“So, what are you going to do now that you’re warriors?” Wetstream asked slyly. “I dunno,” Stargaze replied for the both of us. “Redpoppy, fancy a swim in the stream?”
“Is there ever a time I wouldn’t?” I cried incredulously.
The rain had decreased to only a slight drizzle, but we were going to get wet anyway. Most cats hated the rain, hated the water hated the stream. But our Clan was different – we thrived in moisture. Wetstream, Sunmark, Bramblepath, and the apprentices plunged into the snaking stream behind us, eyes alight with enjoyment. “Fish!” Nightpaw let out a half shriek, and pointed with a black paw towards the flash of silver. We all crouched, even though there was no sun that would cast our shadows.
Wetstream and Rainpaw slunk forward. Out of the seven of us, the two of them had the pelts most similar to the color of the water, and therefore the fish would be the most unsuspecting of them. A few instants later, Wetstream straightened triumphantly with a silver carp in her jaws. She tossed it onto the riverbank, where it flopped, then pretty much just…died.
Stargaze glanced up at the sky as the clouds cleared, and then trundled downstream, letting the current carry her gently towards the large pond that served as the middle of all of the Clans’ territories. She paddled her paws, then twirled in the water, a blur of night-colored fur. She let out a screech of delight as the water pulled her this way and that, and she got lost in the current.
“Crazy, crazy, crazy,” scoffed a voice from our left.
SkyClan, those brats that stuck to the trees like birds.
A disdainful looking gray she-cat stood, silhouetted against the trees. Her blue eyes sparkled with malice, and the seven of us scrambled out of the stream and onto our side of the bank.
“Good, you’re getting off of our territory,” sniffed the she-cat, raising her nose into the air.
“It’s not your territory,” Wetstream pointed out logically, while Bramblepath drew in a deep breath, getting ready to let loose an angry torrent of tirades. Her eyes were flaming with anger.
“Just because—” “Whoa there, calm down!”
We all whirled at the new voice. Forestheart, one of the toughest she-cats in the Clan, stood behind us, green eyes slanted against the sudden sun. Her gray pelt shimmered, and she looked particularly muscular, standing there, eyes lazily authoritative, stance casually imposing.
“Bramblepath, return to camp, please, with the apprentices,” Forestheart instructed. Though she wasn’t deputy, she had formerly been one, and was still highly respected. She wasn’t yet elder age but had grown tired of the responsibilities and stress that came with the job. She had resigned, and had become withdrawn and reclusive for about a quarter-moon, before recognizing her mistake and returning to Clan life.
Bramblepath, though deputy and therefore, higher-ranking than Forestheart, just nodded briefly and gestured for the apprentices who – pouting – followed her. It was Sunmark, Wetstream, Stargaze, Forestheart, and I standing there, facing off against the she-cat, who appeared to be a whole battalion by herself.
“Wetstream, take your catch back to camp, please. Sunmark, go get back-up. We never know how…nasty…this might get, and I want to see how well our new warriors do if it comes for a battle,” Forestheart murmured quietly. The two she-cats whisked obediently away without a word.
“If you want a battle,” the SkyClan cat hissed, a strangely bright tone to her voice, “a battle is what you’ll get. SkyClan, forward!”
Cats surged forward from SkyClan’s land, and Stargaze and I let out a yowl of surprise. Even though Forestheart had indirectly warned us what this skirmish might come to, we hadn’t actually envisioned the recklessness and courage of SkyClan – and surely, well, who did this she-cat think she was?
“Pebblepelt,” snarled Forestheart as the she-cat tackled her. The two tumbled in a brawl down the riverbank, while the advancing cats were rapidly cornering Stargaze and me.
“What do we do?” I hissed. Stargaze, though frightened, turned a surprisingly steely gaze to me.
“Why, dear Redpoppy,” she said to me, her eyes roaming back to the amused cats, “we fight these mangy bird-eaters off of our land, and establish the stream as neutral territory once more.”
“Oh, we want more than the stream!” a voice called, but we ignored it and leaped, yowling, claws outstretched, at the oncoming tide of cats.
The front line seemed fairly surprised, and we gave them a multitude of scratches to remember us by before they scrambled across the stream, yowling about the insane fish-faces that we were.
Stargaze dug her claws into the shoulder of a particularly brawny brown tom, while I darted in and nipped at his legs. He scowled, batting at me with a paw, but I resisted his force, latching my claws into his flank to keep from being flung off. This caused him to bellow in pain as Stargaze shredded his ears.
We shared a brief smile as he spun away, muttering furious insults.
Half of the cats at the battle were just milling about. With only three warriors to fight, they didn’t quite know what to do. Forestheart was still engaged in the furious tussle with Pebblepelt, who didn’t seem to be eager to release her opponent any time soon. The she-cats battled on.
“Redpoppy!” howled Stargaze. “Watch out!”
I turned my head – and let out a mixture of noises. Half indignant screech, half squeal of pain, the largest pair of cats I had ever seen bowled me over. A lean, muscular she-cat with golden fur and sparkling amber eyes pinned me down, with one hooked-clawed paw on my chest. Her companion, a thick, broad-shouldered ginger tabby with green eyes, smirked, and raked me over the ear. I raised a feeble paw, but was stunned from the blow.
A night-black shape hurtled towards the she-cat, slamming her into the tom.
“Stargaze?” I yowled, pushing myself up. I caught the flash of blue that confirmed my suspicions, and plunged into the battle once more, beside my friend.
The golden she-cat hissed at us, and darted forward with a clawed swipe. She knocked my forepaws out from under me, sending me crashing onto my belly on the sharp terrain just before the stream merged with the pond.
The tom was advancing on Stargaze, who was standing her ground.
“Goldenleaf,” crowed the tom, drawing my attention to him. I felt a heavy paw slam into my side and send me sprawling towards Stargaze. We collided in a flurry of limbs, both of us muttering curses, and then stood up together, side-by-side, our fur fluffed out and our eyes bright with anger.
I noted that the tom’s call had just been a diversion – which Goldenleaf, my opponent, had evidently planned.
“Nice one, Swiftflame,” she returned, a smile lighting up her face. I hissed. “Aw, does the little apprentice get mad when she’s outsmarted?” cooed Goldenleaf, poking a paw in my direction.
“Shut up!” Stargaze shouted. “You foul little bit of frogdung!”
“Stargaze,” I muttered, “watch your language.”
We shared a silent, half-laugh. It was a sort of inside joke between the two of us. Stargaze, even as an apprentice, had a foul mouth, and because of it, Earthstar had once made her eat herbs just to cleanse her tongue! Stargaze didn’t care who heard her, or what she said, or who heard what she said. She was like a honey badger, Grandfather said.
Our short moment of reminiscence was interrupted as the two SkyClan cats converged on us, hauling us by our scruffs, and flung us around, as though we were leaves. Stargaze managed to land on our feet, but as soon as I hit the ground, my vision went blurry.
“Redpoppy?” Stargaze asked as she raced over to me, bending her face towards the long scratch formulating on my flank. She sniffed it warily, recoiling at the awful stench of blood. “You need to be treated!”
“I’m fine,” I gasped, struggling up. In the flurry of the battle, I hadn’t noticed the other cats from our Clan that had joined us, but it seemed as though all of RiverClan was fighting against all of SkyClan.
“You’re not fine!” Stargaze insisted, her voice edged. “When I say you’re not fine, you are not fine.”
“But I can’t just leave all of our Clanmates!” I wailed. “We’re warriors now, no battle passes without a few scratches! We’re not messengers anymore, we’re fighters. We’re survivors! I am going to survive this scratch without having to go to Mintwhisker, because I will just have wasted my time!”
Stargaze’s voice, normally so full of compassion and kindness, was harsh and deadly. I eyed her warily, as though expecting her to explode at any moment. When Stargaze got angry, she got angry.
“You are going to Mintwhisker,” she muttered, and helped me up, letting me lean against her own bloodstained flank.
“You’re hurt too,” I pointed out between gasps of breath. “So I demand that you see Mintwhisker as well. So there.” My sass at the end did nothing to change Stargaze’s stoic expression as she led me through the trees towards our camp.
I can’t quite remember what happened next, I only recall feeling an awful, searing pain in my head like the lightning that caught trees on fire was scorching my mind. I felt as though heat was rippling across my face, and I was conscious of the scream I let out, a terrible noise filled with raw pain. I crumpled.
Through my haze, I saw Stargaze bend over me, her eyes brimming with tears.
“Come on, Redpoppy,” she whispered, “Red, you can do it.”
Red. Her nickname for me. Just like I called her Star. Starpaw was too much of a mouthful, and Stargaze was even worse. She said the same went for me, Redpaw and Redpoppy.
I felt my eyes closing, and then I was suddenly in the air, seemingly unsupported. But by then, my mind had drawn a blank, and I had sunk into oblivion.
“…probably saved her life…”
“…nasty cut there…”
“What happened?” I asked groggily, sitting up, my ears perked. My tail slapped the mossy nest that I was laying on, and I let out a yawn.
Our medicine cat, Mintwhisker, bent over me, her eyes concerned. “Don't overexert yourself, Redpoppy. You have an awful flank injury, and you could have died if you hadn’t arrived sooner. You’re lucky to have such a spectacular friend like Stargaze.”
“Stargaze?” I inquired. “Where is she?”
“I’m here, Redpoppy,” Stargaze’s quiet voice moved towards me through the gloom of the den. “I thought you were going to die.”
“I didn’t, though,” I murmured, and she smiled weakly.
“I missed you.”
“I missed you too.”
After a moment, she spoke up, her voice a little louder. “So…we’re still best friends?”
“Why wouldn’t we be?” I asked, honestly quite confused.
“Of course we’re friends,” I interrupted. “No matter the distance that separates us, no matter in life, or death. We’re best friends.”
“Forever,” confirmed Stargaze after a moment. We both grinned in unison, and we both echoed her last words.