bellicosity - noun - the inclination to start quarrels, fights, or wars.
On the first evening of green-leaf, the battle ceased. WaveClan cats have fur too hot and heavy to fight in the heat, or so declared Ivystar, leader of BreezeClan.
The young leader appeared to be proud of his clan, proud that they had defeated such a fierce adversary. He watched them celebrate their victory from the mound of stones where he gave his announcements. Despite not being much older than several of the warriors, he already felt a disconnect from them.
He missed being deputy, just a little bit. Now, with a new name and nine lives, there was this veil preventing him from interacting with the others. Ivystar wondered if the leader before him ever had this problem.
"Are you thinking about Lionstar again?" The low rumble of his mate's purrs made him turn his head. Ivystar instantly relaxed at the sight of the sandy tom adjusting himself so that he was pressed right up him.
Ivystar murmured, "You caught me. I keep thinking about what she would do in our situation."
His mate responded, "I'm certain that she would be proud of you. Your memory will be kept alive through nursery tales as the leader who defeated WaveClan!"
Ivystar chuckled, "Thanks, Dustclaw. You always know how to cheer me up."
Dustclaw flicked his tail, "I mean it. Lionstar believed in you to no end, and she chose you as her deputy because there was no better choice in the whole clan."
Ivystar purred gently, nuzzling Dustclaw's cheek.
The two were content to stay there for the rest of the night, and likely would have, were it not for the sudden sound of claws attempting to climb up the rocks next to them.
Dustclaw looked over the edge, then drew his head back just before his head smacked into the one that was approaching. With what appeared to be a ton a strength, the BreezeClan medicine cat threw herself onto the rocks, nearly knocking the other two off of it.
"Fireflower?" Ivystar asked, tilting his head curiously, looking at the she-cat with concern. Her green eyes were wide with panic, and her ginger tail was completely fluffed up, "What's the matter?"
She paused, sucking in a breath of air, then whispered, "Ivystar... Can you come to the medicine den? I've had... I've had a sign."
Ivystar and Dustclaw exchanged glances. A sign from StarClan, and right after a battle too? It was enough to make the dark grey leader feel unnerved. He got to his paws, then followed Fireflower down the rocks, across camp, and into the den. A few cats whispered amongst themselves, but Ivystar tried to ignore them.
When the two were safe inside, Fireflower whispered, "BreezeClan is in danger."
Ivystar blinked, "Danger? But we just won a battle!"
The she-cat's white fur bristled, "It's what the sign said! Do... Do you not believe me?! I'm your medicine cat!"
"I believe you!" Ivystar responded hurriedly, "It's merely a surprise, is all."
Fireflower mewed, "According to the sign... the clan will be destroyed from the inside by a blackened cat, and no matter how quick we are, we can't stop it."
Ivystar flicked his tail, "I see... That's very concerning. Did StarClan say anything else on the matter?"
Fireflower shook her head, "That was all. What do we do, Ivystar? One of our own is going to slaughter us!"
"Not if I have anything to say about that," Ivystar replied firmly, "I will defend this clan with everything, even if it takes all nine of my lives to do it."
"Ivystar..." Fireflower began.
The leader nodded, "I know. I know. Now, what will we do about this sign? A blackened cat, you're certain?"
Fireflower responded, "Of course I am!"
Ivystar peered out through the gaps in the hanging lichen. One cat stood out among the celebrating clan, a young, black furred warrior named Swiftflight. Time and time again, he had proven to be reckless, impulsive, and aggressive. Could this be the cat the sign spoke of?
"You think that it's him?" Fireflower asked, evidently following his gaze, "What are you going to do about it?"
Ivystar continued to watch him, his eyes narrowed in thought. Something in his heart told him that maybe this wasn't the right desicion, but sense prevailed. There was nobody else in the clan that it could potentially refer to. Swiftflight was going to destroy BreezeClan.
"The right thing," Ivystar responded, "That's what I'm going to do."
The wood mouse nibbled on an acorn, completely unaware of the young apprentice that was about to pounce. From the bushes, a little brown tabby was deep in the hunting crouch keeping a close eye on the creature.
All of a sudden, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted something moving in the bracken up ahead. Curiosity got the better of her, and she made a move towards the dark shape, completely forgetting about the mouse, which scampered off into the undergrowth.
“Dawnpaw!” Her mentor meowed, climbing out of a nearby bush, “What happened there? You almost had that mouse.” The tabby bowed her head, “I’m s-sorry, Stormleaf. I saw something moving around and got… interested in that instead of my prey.”
Stormleaf sighed, “I hope this teaches you a lesson. In the future, please stay focused on your prey.”
Dawnpaw meowed, “Hey, Stormleaf? Do you think that that could have been… Swiftflight?”
“Have you been listening to the elders again?” Stormleaf responded, “You don’t have to bother with pleasing old Hareleap. He’s a mouse-brained fool.”
Dawnpaw flicked her tail, “What if it was him, though? We have to tell Ivystar! He needs to do something if… if that monster is on our territory!”
Stormleaf snapped, “It was probably just your imagination. Let’s get back to camp. Ivy star has enough to worry about as it is, considering all the border skirmishes. He has no need for your tall tales.”
Dawnpaw pouted, but kept her head low as she followed her mentor back to camp. A few times, she opened her mouth to try and ask the muscular she-cat a question, she was shushed by a flick to the face from her tail.
However, as they approached the camp, Stormleaf stopped stone still. Dawnpaw paused behind her, her heart hammering suddenly.
Stormleaf hushed her again, and this time, Dawnpaw had the sense to remain silent. She lifted her nose into the air, then recoiled.
Her mentor murmured back, “I’m going to scout ahead. You stay here and don’t make any noise, okay?”
Dawnpaw nodded and crouched by a bush, waiting in silence, as her mentor padded ahead. After a few minutes, the white dappled she-cat had returned. Her eyes looked haunted and shaken.
She shook herself, “I’m fine. WaveClan… WaveClan had a patrol waiting at the border to ambush us.”
Dawnpaw growled, “What cowards! Is anyone… is anyone…”
Stormleaf sighed, “I don’t know. I just got the bare minimum from Fireflower. She was too busy trying to treat everyone’s wounds to talk.”
Dawnpaw shivered, “This… This must be all Swiftflight’s fault! He’s going to tear apart BreezeClan!”
Stormleaf rolled her eyes, “I literally just told you that it was WaveClan’s fault. Are you listening at all?”
“He must be working with them!” Dawnpaw insisted, “I told you, we have to do something about him! Ivystar should have killed him when he had the chance.”
Stormleaf seemed to be ignoring her now, “Come on, let’s get back to camp and see if we can do anything to help. Whatever you do, don’t go spreading your childish fantasies, especially not to Ivystar.”
Dawnpaw padded after Stormleaf into camp, trying to ignore the screams that reached her ears almost instantly. The worst wails came from the medicine cat den, where she could see Fireflower racing back and forth with herbs in her mouth, but many cats were seated in various places, licking their wounds.
Swiftflight… I won’t let you hurt my clanmates ever again! I’ll kill you myself if I have to! ...I swear it.
“What’s wrong with you now, eh? Got a tick in your pelt or something?”
Hareleap continued to grumble despite his denmate’s protest, shifting around in his nest. No matter what he did, he just couldn’t get completely comfortable.
“For StarClan’s sake, sit still!” hissed another elder, “I can’t nap if you’re going to spend the whole time fidgeting!”
A voice from the back of the den mumbled, “None of us should be sleeping right now. The Clan’s been attacked! This isn’t the time to be selfish, Smokeheart.”
Smokeheart glared, but didn’t say anything else.
Hareleap continued to struggle. He wondered for a moment if his bones had become so brittle that he was incapable of being comfortable in his nest.
From the nest across from him, he heard a hiss, “Hareleap, you’re driving me mad. Please, just lie still, I’m begging you.” “I’m stiff and sore, Poppytail,” Hareleap retorted, “Do you want me to suffer, hm?”
Poppytail flicked her ear irritably, “All I’m saying is… Can you do it quieter? For my sake, if not for Smokeheart and Magpiepelt?”
Smokeheart lifted his head hopefully.
Hareleap scowled and lay down, resting his chin on his paws. He still hurt, but he supposed that his pain was nothing compared to the warriors of BreezeClan. From his position, he could peer through the bracken and see the injured warriors outside, licking their wounds and pressing cobwebs to their bleeding cuts. And of course, he could hear the haunting howls that came from the medicine cat den, as Fireflower worked tirelessly to save those who were horrifically injured. A bad taste formed in Hareleap’s mouth. This was after a mere border skirmish! What had WaveClan been up to since the last battle? Deep down, it frightened him to think about.
“BreezeClan will need strong warriors to come out on top of this,” Hareleap murmured.
Smokeheart responded haughtily, “We have strong warriors!”
Magpiepelt flicked her tail, “He means stronger than the ones we have now.”
Hareleap glanced outside again. Of the apprentices, Pinepaw and Badgerpaw showed promise, but would that be enough? Patchpaw had proven to be better at hunting, and as Dawnpaw ran across the camp with herbs in her mouth to give to the warriors, Hareleap forgot for a long moment that her mentor was Stormleaf, not Fireflower.
Maybe he’d mention it to the medicine cat, the next time that he saw her. She hadn’t taken on an apprentice since her last one passed away from greencough, an understandable decision.
Under his breath, he murmured, “Please, StarClan. Give our warriors strength so that they may serve our Clan. Help them as best you can, where we cannot.”
“Old sap,” Poppytail mumbled into her mossy nest.
Hareleap glared at her, then turned his head again to look out at the camp. All any of them could do now, was sit and wait.
Noisily, a light brown tabby tossed a thrush onto the fresh kill pile. It hadn’t been a plentiful hunting patrol. The pile had depleted entirely since the morning, and it seemed that only the kits and elders had been fed, judging by the hungry looking apprentices.
“Minnowheart!” While the leader’s shout hadn’t been directed at them, they still turned their head towards the conversation.
Beechstar’s muscles rippled as she jumped down from her den, hurrying to the deputy, “How was that patrol?”
Minnowheart dipped her head, “Not well. WaveClan’s hunting grounds seem to be drying up. Dusktail caught a nice thrush, but that was it.”
Beechstar glanced at the tabby, then back to Minnowheart, “That will have to do for now, I suppose. These are hard times for our Clan, and BreezeClan pressing at our borders is no help.”
Dusktail quickly piped up, “I can go hunting again! I’m sure that there’s still some prey to be caught out there.”
Beechstar exchanged glances with her mate. After a moment, Minnowheart flicked her tail in agreement, “I suppose that it wouldn’t be unhelpful. Do you want to take an apprentice with you? Say… Cornpaw?”
Dusktail nodded, “Sure, I would appreciate any extra help.”
Minnowheart called out for the golden apprentice, who ceased staring hungrily at the fresh kill pile and skittered up to the three others.
He nervously asked, “I-Is there a problem?”
Beechstar shook her head, “You and Dusktail are going hunting at… the old farm house. We don’t usually risk it, but we need the prey now.”
Dusktail bowed their head, “I understand. C’mon, Cornpaw.”
The two left camp, running down the beaten dirt path towards the old farm house. Rats frequented the building, making it a dangerous place for the Clan to hunt. Still, desperate times called for desperate measures, Dusktail supposed.
They and Cornpaw made good time, considering the distance they were from the camp. Dusktail turned to the small apprentice and mewed, “You hunt around the perimeter, and I’ll tackle what’s inside.”
Cornpaw stiffened, “B-But Dusktail! The… The rats are… The rats are inside!”
“I’ll be okay. Maybe I can even catch one to feed our Clan with,” they promised, right before venturing inside.
The farm house was dark. It used to belong to twolegs, before being abandoned. The ground was cold and hard, like cracked rocks, but much smoother. The walls were coated in ivy and brambles. And, luckily for them, the scent of prey was fresh in the air. Dusktail dropped into a hunting crouch, looking around the nest.
Over in one of the corners, nibbling on a seed, was a vole. Dusktail slunk forwards, ready to punch on the tiny rodent, when a scream pierced the air. The understandably frightened vole ran into a hole in the wall, while Dusktail whipped around and dashed outside. The voice could have only belonged to Cornpaw.
Please, StarClan. Don’t take him from us!
They burst out of the nest to see Cornpaw backed against the outer wall, while a grey tabby she-cat sat a distance away, holding a mouse in her teeth. Dusktail leapt down, snarling at the strange cat, “Give me one good reason not to kill you this instant.”
Cornpaw choked out, “S-She stole my mouse!”
The she-cat gently placed the mouse back down, a noticeable chunk missing from the flesh. She purred, “It was a messy catch.”
Dusktail growled, “Do you want to die, fox-dung?!”
“Hmph, you threaten me?” she responded, cocking her head, “I’ve come here to help you, you know.”
Dusktail hissed, “You’re on WaveClan soil, you assaulted this apprentice and stole his prey, and you claim to be here to help?! I’ve never heard such ludicrous words in my life!”
Cornpaw stammered, “W-Who are you, anyways?”
“I’m…” the tabby began, “I am a rouge. I normally don’t interfere with clan life, as I have no interest in it, but when it threatens my own well-being… Push comes to shove, as they say.”
Dusktail scoffed, “What reason do we have to listen to you?”
She mewed, “Because I can help you. Recently, BreezeClan has been trespassing on my territory, as well as yours, and stealing any prey that they find.”
Cornpaw gasped, “They’ve what?!”
“You heard me,” replied the rouge.
Dusktail snarled, “Those fox-hearts! We’re starving!”
Cornpaw looked over at them, alarmed.
“You’re coming back to our camp with us,” Dusktail told the grey tabby, “Beechstar needs to hear what you have to say, without question.”
The tabby nodded, “I understand. Shall we go now, or do you wish to continue hunting first?”
As if I’d trust you to wait on your own… Does she think I’m a fool?
Dusktail lashed their tail, “No… All the prey was probably scared away by the racket we made. We’re going back this instant.” They hoped that the sharp tone in their voice was understood by the rogue.
The three cats walked back to camp, Cornpaw and the rogue in front, with Dusktail staying behind to keep an eye on her. They simply couldn’t bring themself to trust the she-cat.
As they passed into camp, Cornpaw mewed, “Hey… I never got your name.”
“That’s right, you never told us,” Dusktail added suspiciously.
The she-cat replied smoothly, “Apologies. My name is Juniper.”
Cornpaw mewed, “A-A pleasure to meet you!”
Dusktail rolled their eyes. They wondered for a moment what Beechstar would do when she found out. Would she believe Juniper’s story? If so, then an ambush patrol was likely to lurk at the border and wait for a passing patrol.
The idea scared them, just a little bit.