As The Crow Flies
My mother's warning lingers in my ears as I slip out of the camp. I can feel Onestar's disapproving amber gaze still on the back of my head. But whatever they say, this is my choice.
"You don't have to find them," they had warned. But I did. I did have to find them. I had to bring Nightcloud and Breezepelt back. It'd been almost six moons, with no sign of the two black warriors. And now it was my turn to find them.
I'm Crowfeather, a warrior of WindClan. My mother is Ashfoot, the deputy of WindClan, under Onestar, who is the leader. I've had two mates, and four children. Leafpool was a ThunderClan cat, a medicine cat, formerly, and we had three children together, two of whom remain in ThunderClan, the third...in StarClan.
Jayfeather and Lionblaze still live with their mother. Hollyleaf has joined StarClan. The only thing I regret about my relationship with Leafpool is the fact that it didn't last longer and that I didn't get to know my children well enough. Afterwards, after coming back to the Clans and dividing, I took Nightcloud as a mate, to prove my loyalty to WindClan and to erase all doubts that I still loved Leafpool. I never should have loved Nightcloud.
She became possessive once she knew I was slipping...possessive over me, over our son, Breezepelt. After the battle, after finding out that Breezepelt was training in the Dark Forest...the two ran away. I don't know who Nightcloud was fighting for in the Great Battle, but I don't think she would fight against her son.
In a way, the past six moons have been relief. No more listening to Breezepelt's snarling and sulking, or Nightcloud's anger and her "protection". I haven't had to worry about being a good father to a kit that...that I never truly wanted. Not during the day, at least. At night, I tossed and turned in my nest, torn with the vision of Breezepelt getting ready to kill Lionblaze, his half-brother. He never could've won that battle, but the thought still haunts me, of him looking vindictively over at the black, thick-pelted body lying at the edge of the ThunderClan camp. Hollyleaf.
The wind from the moors whips my fur, and I fluff up my pelt to block the breeze. The storm clouds are gathering in the sky above my head, the darkness blocking out the sun. Far off in the distance, thunder rumbles. I see the first flash of lightning and give a soft growl of annoyance.
Is it StarClan telling me not to find Nightcloud and Breezepelt? Or just a normal storm? Either way, I resolve to not go back to WindClan. Not until I find them.
A rabbit races across my field of vision, and I instinctively pelt after it. Its pale fur is smoothed down by the wind and one of its ears is recently turn, blood dripping onto the grass around its paws.
With a final burst of energy, I hook my claws into its pelt and drag it toward me. As soon as it lays, limp, at my paws, my stomach knots and my appetite vanishes. Did I take this life for nothing? I begin to wonder, my thoughts swirling around my head like the clouds in the darkening sky above me.
I heave a sigh, raking my claws through the grass. Why is everything so difficult? Why must everything change?
I decide to eat the rabbit, and devour it in a few bites. My ears are perked as I drop my eyes away from my surroundings. I am anyone, anything's prey out here, out in the open, past WindClan's borders.
It's almost sunset, I can just see a sliver of light at the horizon signifying the sinking of the sun. I should find shelter soon, but I don't want to give up. My first day and I've barely made it past WindClan's borders.
As I begin to gather moss and bracken for my nest, I think of Feathertail, Leafpool, Nightcloud...three she-cats, different Clans, different personalities, different lives. Feathertail, my first love, the beautiful RiverClan cat who journeyed with us to the sun-drown place...and never made it back. Feathertail, who died saving the Tribe, who died a warrior's death. Who left me. I get choked up every time I just think of her, of the wonderful kits we could have had...
Snap out of it, Crowfeather! Feathertail's gone, she's dead! Just thinking the word wrenches my heart in two, even though I've told myself over and over that Feathertail's not coming back. I suppose I'll see her in StarClan soon. I'm just hoping that when I do go to join her - in StarClan - that it will be quick.
But part of me is thinking, believing, hoping that I'll die a warrior's death - like she did. So that she'll still love me, and we can be together...forever.
Even though most of me, all of me, is not regretting my love for Leafpool...because it never ended. I still love her, but between her and Feathertail...they're two very different cats. But it's not as though a decision must be made, here, now. Those two she-cats, those two choices, they're not either of the options I've got to face now.
I stare at the glittering white stars against the dark night backdrop, my eyes roaming over all of them as though they're the swirling river, across which she lived...used to live...and wonder which one is her. Which shining, blinking star is her up there, in Silverpelt, and if she's watching me right now.
When I wake up in the morning, my mouth is dry, and I am in desperate need of water. The sun has already risen, dissolving all of the dew that might have remained on the blades of grass.
To make it worse, my muscles are aching and my pads are cut up from the jagged stones that are poking haphazardly out of the grass. The traveling herbs Kestrelflight persuaded me to swallow did nothing to ease my appetite, thirst, or the distance that I'll have to go.
And then it hits me - I don't know how far I have to go. What if I have to go to the Old Territories - or past them? I don't know the distance I'll have to go to find them...and I don't even know if I'll find them or not!
I remind myself, suddenly, abruptly, that I won't be able to go for long without a positive attitude. So, ignoring my thirst, I haul myself to my feet, stretch, give a wide yawn, and pad onward, towards the rising sun.
I will find Nightcloud.
I will find Breezepelt.
I will find my mate and son.
I will bring them back to WindClan.
I will find Feathertail.
Those five thoughts allow me to keep my head as I travel, the five, simple ideas that keep me going. The last one is the one that pleases me the most.
Some say that my love for Feathertail was never as strong as my love for Leafpool, definitely not as strong as my love for Nightcloud...but they're wrong. I know how I feel. I regret nothing about Leafpool and our kits, but everything about Feathertail is so much more...appeasing. Some might say Feathertail was an apprentice-romance...it was, in a way, but that doesn't mean it wasn't real! Feathertail and I could've been together, if only StarClan hadn't condemned Feathertail to her fate - death by saving the Tribe. The Tribe believed it would be Stormfur.
If only it could have been.
I'm traveling away from the Old Territories, I realize. Of course, I don't know where Nightcloud would go...I almost remember nothing before Feathertail's death, so I can't even remember if Nightcloud was alive then...her age...
It's my fourth night when I see the first possible sign of my family.
Two pairs of paw-prints, roughly the same size, padding alongside each other and trailing away from the woods that branch out off on the right. My ears prick for the sound of any noise, sensitive, straining through the whispering of the wind. My nose dips to the ground, snuffling, hoping to detect a trace of their scents.
Not even a stale scent.
Of course, I remind myself, it has been over six moons, it's a miracle of StarClan that these paw-prints are still here after all of this time. Our starry ancestors must approve of this decision - they preserved Nightcloud and Breezepelt's paw-prints.
Two sunrises later, I catch a whiff of scent - faintly WindClan, but very stale, just a vague smell on the wind. Their scents must have changed in the past moons, as they lived as rogues.
The next night, I see her in my dreams. I see all of them, each of her eyes glowing, two pairs of soft eyes, one pair amber, one pair icy blue, and a third pair of hard, cold eyes that melt when they meet mine.
Together, in my dreams, standing, shoulder-to-shoulder, Nightcloud and Leafpool flanking Feathertail like guards. All three have pricked ears, alert senses, light pawsteps. They glide towards me as though they're all - but they can't all be dead! I can't have missed Leafpool - Nightcloud - but then they stop, their paws brushing the grass, and I breathe a sigh of relief.
Nightcloud is the first to touch her nose to my ear tip, twine her tail around mine, our gazes meeting. Her eyes, softening before, harden until they're golden ice. "I've never loved you," Nightcloud says tonelessly, and she tosses her head. Her abrupt movements shock me, almost frighten me, but I am not perturbed by her words. I've heard them all too many times in my dreams back in the WindClan camp.
Leafpool is next, her amber eyes staying warm much longer, our kits coming up to wiggle under me, Lionblaze, Jayfeather, Hollyleaf all kits again, little scraps of fur with bright, glittering eyes. The four step away, my kits growing before my eyes, and after a moment, they cock their heads, their eyes, two pairs of amber, and one each of green and blue, all silent and indifferent. "We don't love you," they hiss, and turn, stalking away just as Nightcloud had done.
Last is Feathertail, and I know that when she winds around me and then steps away, it will wrench my heart more than Leafpool and my kits had done. Because she was my first love, the first one who ever pressed through my hard shell and touched my heart.
Her blue eyes are the color of the clear blue sky on a warm, Greenleaf day, her silvery fur gleaming, well-groomed as usual. Her feathery, plumy tail fluffs up in the misty air, her lean muscles ripple in the gloom. Her eyes stay the brightest, most pleasant, and happiest the longest as she purrs, rubbing her cheek against mine. Our blue eyes meet, and if that moment could be frozen in time - I would live it, over and over again, for the rest of my life.
But it doesn't last.
Nothing as good as this ever does.
As she begins to pad away, two small scraps of fur peek out from behind her paws, both with bright blue eyes the color of the sky before a storm. One has silver-streaked fur on a darker gray pelt, the other is a dark, smoky gray. One tom, one she-cat.
Feathertail turns around once more, and the four of our eyes meet, blue to blue, gaze to gaze.
I never dream of her again.
I've been gone for half a moon, and I'm about to lose hope of ever finding them - of ever returning to WindClan.
Then I smell Nightcloud and Breezpelt. Their scents, different somehow, but still definitely WindClan, wind around a smooth cave with a gently bubbling brook bouncing down the black rock. I know they're here.
I feel a paw with unsheathed claws cuff my ear, and then teeth fastening on my scruff. Another pair of paws rakes my flank, scoring long, deep marks in the side and leaving a trail of blood. My fur begins to clump.
I don't fight them. I go limp.
I know who they are.
They don't know who I am.
"He's almost done," he snarls satisfactorily, his glittering amber eyes shining triumphantly. His mother's matching eyes are brimming with satisfaction.
"One well placed slice, Breeze," she replies, and he raises a paw.
"It's me!" I find myself crying out, suddenly begging them for mercy. "Breezepelt...Nightcloud..."
"Who are you?" Breezepelt asked vindictively, but I could tell he knew who I was. He could detect my weakness under a thick, dark gray pelt.
"Who are Breezpelt and Nightcloud?" Nightcloud sneered. "I don't know who they are. Breeze, proceed."
"With pleasure, Night," Breezepelt stresses the last word.
I feel a searing pain in my throat. Everything goes black.
I wake up, cold, sweat drenching my fur. The shadows cast around the cave in which I sleep rise up, tall, looming.
I see almost nothing - nothing except the shadows, creeping up the walls, dancing wildly with no noise. My head spins, and dizziness overwhelms me.
I wish Leafpool were here...she'd know what to do...
"Who are you?"
I wake up once more with a jolt, my ears pricked, my eyes wide, but I see nothing - except a pair of glowing amber eyes.
I sit, still, hoping that the newcoming cat will move away, will realize that it was just being fooled, a trick of the light, that it never actually saw me.
Because I know it's not Breezepelt...not Nightcloud. Neither of the two of them would speak with such fear in their voices, with such uncertainty, they were confident, fearless cats...and neither of them would separate from the other.
"W-Who are you?" the voice repeats again, and, slowly, I sit up, pressing my back up against the rough, cool stone, feeling it smooth the short, bristly hairs on my back, and I close my eyes.
"I don't know anymore."
"My name is Night," the voice offers.
My eyes flash open.
"N-Night?" I stammer. "Was that...was that always your name?"
I know the answer before the newcomer says it. I can detect her scent, underneath the layers of heather and grass - rabbits and prey...
"What was your name before?"
There is a long pause, the silence as heavy as storm clouds.
"Nightcloud," I repeat softly. "Nightcloud."
"W-Who are you?" she repeats.
"It's me, Nightcloud!"
"Who?" Nightcloud sounds frightened. "Are you another one of those rogues? Are you - are you pretending again?"
"I - no, Nightcloud - it's me."
She doesn't reply. I open my jaws, scenting the air - she's left.
I stumble blindly out into the night. "Nightcloud!" I yell, "Breezepelt!"
But my mate is gone to the night.
I can't give up, I tell myself.
I must have been walking for hours, for I end up in a Twolegplace - a loud, raucous, boisterous place, with cats howling at each other, fighting, screeching.
A pack of cats shoots out onto a Thunderpath, hissing. They're chasing four light-pelted cats through the alley, and though it's the same number of cats on both side, the lighter-pelted ones are fleeing, running as though for their lives.
"Are you another one of those rogues?" The words repeat themselves in my mind. One of those rogues, Nightcloud was talking about, probably the ones that terrorize other cats - loners, kittypets, Clan cats, probably even other rogues.
To save Nightcloud and Breezpelt - these are the cats I have to defeat.
It must have been moons that I sat watching the rogues, learning their tactics. Always attacking in a group...sometimes no more than two though, but never alone. Each patrol-of-sorts had a leader, if I got to them first...the rest of them would dissolve, without a leader.
And never having less cats than those they were attacking. Maybe the same number - but never less.
And then I see them.
Two cats with almost-black pelts, being chased by two others, one tom with a pure-white pelt and a she-cat with reddish-brown fur.
When I joined Breezepelt and Nightcloud, it would be three to two - they would flee.
And I'd be able to return to WindClan with both of them.
Breezepelt and Nightcloud are backed up against a red wall, their tails curled over their backs, hissing defiantly. But both of their pelts were ragged, their eyes desperate, and their vehement protests fading into mumbles.
The white tom raises his paw, snarling, "We'll be rid of you, soon enough."
"No, you won't!" I launched myself on the tom. "Breezepelt, Nightcloud, underbelly-paw-scrape!"
My mate and son register the WindClan attack move, and both go for the she-cat, who screeches, turns tail, and flees. I rake the flank of the tom, while Breezpelt shreds his ears.
The tom ducks away, and shoves Nightcloud up against the wall.
"You'll die - now!" he roars.
I sink my claws into his shoulders, and haul him back. More cats stream out of the alleyway, the reddish-brown she-cat amongst them, a triumphant smirk on her face. I leap on her, my claws slicing her soft nose, and send her skidding away, yowling in pain.
"Keep fighting," I shout to Breezepelt and Nightcloud. One-by-one we send cats spinning away in pain, but more keep coming.
"We always win," the white tom snarls. He and Nightcloud are in the same position, but Breezepelt and I are there with her. Cats back up the white tom, their eyes glittering with triumph and satisfaction.
The tom raises his paw, his hooked claws shining in the dingy light from one of the Twoleg things on the side of the Thunderpath. He scratches the side of Nightcloud's face, and she cringes, batting his paw away.
Breezepelt manages to get in a bite to the tom's ear while he's distracted, but we're shoved back up against the wall.
This is it, I realize.
We're going to die.
There's no way out of this.
No possible way.
I'll die a coward, watching my mate and son die...
The tom's paw is already whistling toward Nightcloud when I make my decision.
I block her.
The cats yowl, turn, and bound away, satisfied with their first kill of the night. Better get the rest of the cats, loners, kittypets, and rogues, to watch the next deaths - it'll be a night in which StarClan's ranks swell tremendously.
Nightcloud is standing over me, her amber eyes concerned, but full of recognition. "It was you," she whispers. I nod, and a tear from Nightcloud's eye lands in my fur.
I'm splayed on my side, my paws stretching towards the Thunderpath, bleeding heavily from my stomach. I can feel my life force seeping out in the blood that stains the sidewalk.
Breezepelt's eyes are emotionless, but his voice is not as he buries his muzzle in my fur. "I'm sorry, Crowfeather."
"No," I croak. "I am."
"For what? I was a horrible son, with rabbit-food for brains, I never...I never helped at all, I was too busy moping and whining, and making everything worse. I should have helped...I should've noticed that you weren't disappointed in me. You were disappointed at my behavior, and I wish I could take it all back," Breezepelt whimpers, his amber eyes brimming.
"I don't have long," I choke. "But Nightcloud - go back to WindClan, please, escape before they come back. They'll kill you, they'll kill you both!"
Nightcloud bows my head. "We'll stay until..."
"Until I die?" I say, attempting a smile. It is only StarClan's will that has kept me alive this long.
"No," Breezepelt mews, stronger. "You'll return with us. I just need...cobwebs...where--"
"Breezpelt. I'm not going back with you. Leave me here for the rats and the crows--"
But StarClan can't keep Feathertail waiting.
And neither can I.
All I have to say...is that I'm sorry.
Sorry for Leafpool, sorry for Breezepelt and Nightcloud.
Sorry for my actions.
Sorry for my deeds.
Sorry for the things I never got to do for my children, ThunderClan and WindClan alike.
Her silvery fur is gleaming with the stars as she steps down from the sky, her eyes gleaming; with sadness, or happiness, I can't even tell.
"It's time, Crowfeather," she mews. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," I tell her. "We're together."
Feathertail and I pad up to the stars for the first - and last - time.