Lightning Tree glanced at her deputies.
“Frondfeather’s spirit came to me in a dream. He said that some of the Clan cats want to join me to get revenge.”
“That can be arranged,” a striped gray she-cat agrees. “They just need to prove themselves worthy. If they show any signs of loyalty to the Clans, they will be executed.”
“Of course,” a black-and-white tom adds. “The Bloodline does not tolerate weak blood.”
“We know, Shadow,” Lightning Tree snaps. “You’re always saying that, and yet you let your mate take in those two abandoned kits. Who’re you to be talking about weak blood?”
“The Blood Code states that if a queen can take in a lost kit—”
“We all know that! Could we please get back to the meeting?”
“Thank you for your authority, Windstorm,” Lightning Tree says. “Now, we should change their names to match ours. Bird, Leaf, Scorch, Brown, Water, and Storm.”
“Brown sounds like the name of a kittypet,” spoke up Shadow. “We don’t tolerate those.”
“Stop getting sidetracked! His name can be Strike, are you happy now? These Clan cats, as my father always said, go by a set of strict rules. If that is true, then they’ll have no problem living here. Unless they try to start an uprising, obviously.”
“Lightning Tree, what do you think of having a guard following the Clan cats around? That way, if they try something mouse-brained out of camp, the guard can report to us and we can destroy the weak blood.”
“Unless they have shown themselves as weak or rebellious, we should let them stay free. We must give them a chance, and if they fail, they will be punished.”
The two deputies walked off to the entrance. They were supposed to stand guard until Drift and Creek escorted the Clan cats in.
Eventually, the eight cats returned. Shadow was the first out of camp; and Windstorm remained at the bramble tunnel.
Little did they know the newcomers were tougher than they looked.
“Do you want to go hunting?”
I turn and see my former apprentice-turned-rogue, Scorch, behind me. She had just received her warrior name when the war began. However, if the plan to overthrow Lightning Tree worked and Crowstar was killed, ShadowClan would be whole again. But we must act carefully. Any act of rebellion that is spotted means death.
Burn, a dark grayish-brown tom, glares at us. He doesn’t persist, however, and joins his mate, Cloud, by one of the dens. Scorchfire and I head out of camp, where Creek is guarding.
Some time later, we return with two thrushes and a mouse. Dropping the birds in the pile, we settle down for a meal. None of the other cats will eat with us, but we don’t care. We don’t even want their company. As a matter of fact, we’d rather be without them.
The only cat who will even look our way is Stone, a queen who’s quite friendly. She’ll occasionally glance over at us, or sleep near us in the den. There’s no nursery, so the queens have to sleep in the same dens as the fighters. Only Lightning Tree and her deputies share a den. You’re free to pick whichever den you want, as long as it’s not Lightning Tree’s. You can even sleep in the prisoner den if you want.
Drift enters the camp, and the cats nearest to him back away. Drift is seen as an intimidating figure, and is easily angered. However, he simply crosses the camp with Falcon, who had hunted with him. Stone told me that he was her mate.
Hopefully, they’ll see what we’re trying to do and join in. Because right now, we need all the help we can get.
The sound of Lightning Tree’s voice alerts me. The six former Clan cats head to the Boulder for the meeting.
“We have a disloyal cat here with us,” she began. “Night, step forward.”
A thin black tom with green eyes hurried up. I had only seen him once, and that was when we first entered.
“Night, you are being accused of having close contact with one of the newcomers. What did he do again, Creek?”
“He shared prey with Strike. That’s against the Blood Code. No member of the Bloodline can share prey or close space with an untrusted fighter.”
“Exactly right. This infraction is not major, but it requires punishment. You will spend the next day in camp without food or water. Go to the prisoner den.”
“And we have one more thing to address. There is an attack taking place tomorrow. We will be entering the ThunderClan camp. Storm, Leaf, Bird, Scorch, Water, and Strike, this is your chance to prove yourselves.”
“Sleek, Creek, Drift, Falcon, Adder, Thunderclap, Sparrow, Burn, Branch, and Shadow. With me. The rest of you, go with Windstorm. The queens can stay behind in camp, and defend if need be.”
Windstorm looks at her patrol. We fall into step behind her, and head for ThunderClan territory.
Soon enough, we reach the camp. A black tom guards the entrance, but Reed overpowers him easily. Once we enter camp, Feather heads for the nursery. Soon, a gray-and-white she-cat sprints out, carrying a small black kit. Feather attempts to chase her, but is quickly dragged back into the battle. The queen sprints out of camp and doesn’t return. I pursue a golden-furred tom instead.
The fight isn’t that hard. It’s too much for him, however, and he runs to defend the elders. I run to fight a sleek white she-cat, but another cat knocks me aside. I turn to face my attacker, only to realize that it’s Bird.
“Remember that they’re not the enemy,” she says quickly, and takes on the white cat.
I run at Fang, a longhaired russet tom, and bite down on his shoulder. Clawing his underbelly, I attack harder and faster, until I spot the pine-green eyes of death.
“This is considered treason and betrayal, you know that?” I hear the voice, but pay no attention to it. “As the Blood Code states, betrayal means death. Your execution will take place tonight.”
Willowstar calls for her Clan to surrender, and we return to camp. But the horrible truth sinks in:
I am going to die.
The sun is setting when Lightning Tree calls the meeting. I thank StarClan for making my last sunset so beautiful. It’s a shame that this one is my last. I can only hope that the others find a way to overthrow my killer...
“Bloodlines, we gather to discuss an unfortunate event that occurred in the battle. One of our warriors, Storm, has been found guilty of attacking a fellow warrior. This means death. Do you have any last words?”
“Only to say that I know what I did wrong, and that I saw this coming. And Lightning Tree, when you kill me, remember that you are impeding yourself. You are removing one of your forces. That is it, I am ready for death.”
I stand, head high, waiting for the death blow. When I see the black paw raise, I know that the end is coming. There isn’t time to try to block it...
He does, though. Falcon runs up, taking the blow to the throat. Before he dies, he manages:
“Stormwind, make my final act of defiance count.”
I turn and run, not thinking about what to do next. I hear footsteps behind me, but I don’t dare to turn. Only when I’m several fox-lengths up a tree do I look down. The pale pelt of Water is beneath me, and Scorch’s gray pelt is about halfway up the tree. We have no other pursuers.
“The others are back at camp,” Water tells me. “We wanted to protect you. But we can’t stay here.”
“I think we should get back,” my former apprentice agrees, sliding down the tree. We run back to camp, where Falcon’s body is laying in the clearing.
“Come sleep with me,” comes Stone’s whisper. “Night, Burn, and Creek are also in the den. But we need to talk.”
The three of us enter the smallest den, where the small black cat is waiting. Taking our spots, Night begins.
“Since Lightning Tree recruited us, we’ve been putting together a rebellion. Burn, Sleek, Adder, Cloud, and Creek are all a part of it. Falcon was as well. We’ve been trying to recruit more cats in, and we need your help. Burn knows a few types of poisonous plants, and we’re planning to poison Drift with nightshade. There’s a lot of it growing around here. But we must act tonight.”
“How will we be sure that Drift will eat the prey?” Scorch asks.
“Creek is one of his closest friends. Burn can set up the prey and give it to Creek, who’ll give it to Drift. It’s a good setup, and we’ll hide the poisoned prey if necessary. Burn, Creek, Storm, you can set it up.”
We sneak out of camp and into the pine forest. Not much prey is awake, but I eventually manage to catch a mouse. Burn goes off and collects some of the shiny black berries, and prods them down the mouse’s throat. It look like an ordinary mouse, but it’s definitely not. Bringing it back to the den, I hide it under my nest. Then the morning comes.
Creek settles near Drift with the poisoned prey. I watch from my nest, the others close by.
“Here, have the first bite, Drift,” Creek invites. “You were part of the battle, and that leg wound needs attention.”
“Thank you, but I think it’ll be fine. Are you sure you’re not hungry?”
“No, Drift, I’ll eat when you’re done.”
Drift takes a large bite out of the mouse, and Creek looks satisfied. The effect is not immediate, but Drift looks down at the remains of the fresh-kill. Putting the image of the black berries and Creek’s look of superiority together, he knows what’s going on.
“Lightning Tree!” Drift shouts. “Dark shiny berries... in the fresh-kill...Creek did it...poisoned me...get Burn...he might be able to identify...what Creek put...in the food....”
Burn, who had sprinted over at the sound of his name, looked at the mouse.
“Juniper berries!” he announced. “They can be used to give a cat strength! Creek was trying to heal his friend, but it looks like he overdosed the prey! Drift had said to me that he couldn’t stand the taste of herbs, and Creek must’ve overheard, and filled the fresh-kill with the berries! Except he didn’t know the right amount!”
“But surely they wouldn’t kill so quickly?” Lightning Tree questioned.
“In dangerous overdoses, yes, they can.”
Suddenly, Bird ran over. She looked into the remains of the berry-filled mouse.
“That’s nightshade,” she said quietly. “Back when we were Clan cats, we learned about herbs. Creek was trying to kill one of the rebels. Drift was allied with us, and Creek knew. Drift had to die.”
I see Water gape. Scorch widens her eyes at me. Bird would never betray us like that!
“I know she wouldn’t,” Stone says, as though reading my thoughts. “Bird didn’t understand. It’s the other way around. Bird thought that Drift was allied with her, and wanted to get the truth out. But Creek is with us, and Drift is allied with Lightning Tree...”
“Well, it’s time for a double kill today, if what Stone says is true,” Lightning Tree continues. She leaps at Creek, and slashes at his throat. By now, Drift has stopped choking. Creek has fallen, but he hasn’t tried to get back up. Stone looks out in horror at the scene in front of her.
For the second time since moon-high, we sprint out of camp as quickly as possible. Only when we reach a small gorge do we stop. Leaping down the cliffside, we take shelter next to a small river.
A half moon has passed since our run to the gorge. It’s been our home, and no enemy cat has found us. Stone gave birth to three healthy kits, who are doing quite well. The only tom, Swoop, is a brown-and-white tabby. He looks just like some other cat I know, but I just can’t think of who it is.
“I’m going to go hunting,” I say to the group, but I’m stopped by small footsteps behind me.
Fleet, one of the kits, is behind me.
“Can I come with you?” she asks, her black-flecked pelt fluffing up. She has the same cool gray pelt as Stone, except for the black speckles that Falcon had.
“No, I’m sorry. But maybe when you’re a little older?”
Fleet runs off, and I am left to go hunting for the pigeons that nest in the crevices. Fortunately, the birds are quite abundant, and not that hard to find. I come back with three, and I give one to Stone, put one in the pile, and keep the last for myself. The night comes with a rain shower and cloud cover. Fortunately, the caves offer some protection.
I dream that Flightwind is standing in front of me. But he looks different, somehow. He’s smaller and less scarred.
“Flightwind?” I ask.
“Stormwind. You did what we asked you to do. Fernstar is proud, and she couldn’t thank you more for telling the truth about her death. However, that is not the point of our meeting. I must show you something that happened, when I was only an apprentice...”
I can see a russet tom and a white she-cat, sitting near what I recognize as the apprentices’ den.
“Flightpaw,” the she-cat says. “Leafwhisker wants to take you, Stormpaw, and I out for battle training.”
I see a white tom with ginger spots lead a small gray tabby over to the den. My eyes widen as I realize that I am that cat! I watch as my apprentice self crosses the camp with the white cat and Flightpaw.
“Hey, Icepaw, I heard Hawkstar telling Ferntail that our assessment is coming soon,” I see myself saying.
“Awesome! What do you want your name to be?”
“Something fierce, like Storm—”
“Quite enough talk!” Leafwhisker snapped. “We need to get going! Dustpaw, you can come as well. It’s just as good for you to be getting some training.”
The scene faded, only to be replaced by a clearing in the pine forest. All of the cats were still there, although. What was going on?
I suddenly hear a screech.
“Falcon!” Icepaw shrieks. “Take cover!”
The snowy-white apprentice sprints off, only to trip on a branch. Dustpaw runs up and frees her, but that time spent costs him a chance at escape.
The falcon grabs the russet cat and takes off again. The scene fades away again, and I’m back in the clearing with Flightwind.
“I saw myself, and my mentor, and you, and Icewillow!” I wonder where she is at the moment. She wasn’t here when we arrived at Lightning Tree’s camp. My guess is that she ran away somewhere and is living as a rogue.
“Yes. Icewillow was my sister. My only brother, as you saw, was killed by a falcon. Always watch for the falcon’s swoop, Stormwind. It has more meaning to you than to me.”
And on that note, he fades away, leaving me alone.
I have no idea what just happened. Was Flightwind- or Flightpaw- telling me to watch out for birds?Was he predicting my death? I must keep an eye out from now on. This is obviously something serious.
“Cloud and Burn are here!”
I think that that’s Water’s voice. But surely, they wouldn’t have traveled all this way just to see us! I decide that I’m just imagining it, and I go to check on Water.
She turns out to be right. The two cats are indeed on the edge of the cliff. They turn out to be carrying two kits, and I run over to congratulate Cloud. However, she has news for us.
“They need you back,” she says. “But we’re not going. We’re staying here with you to start a rebellion. Sleek, Night, and Adder will arrive tomorrow night. It’s the only thing we can do.”
“Come down. We already have a home here, and Cloud can sleep in that reddish cave over there. Stone is in there, with three new additions to the rebellion. You can meet them.”
“Who’s that?” one of Cloud’s kits asked. He looked like Burn, except for his fluffy white tail.
“Sunset, this is Storm. One of the new arrivals.”
The other kit, a paler version of Burn, has already run off to the nursery. Cloud picked Dusk up and set him down near the second kit. The two kits followed Cloud into the red-stone caves.
“Right after Cloud had her kits, I ran off into the forest to get her some water,” Burn tells me. “I caused a diversion by causing a small rockslide. Cloud ran off to join me, and in the time it took for Lightning Tree to clear the situation, we had run off. Thankfully, our sons were okay, and no cat found us.”
“This is a good spot to hide,” I add. “Our enemies will have trouble getting down the cliffs, and in the time that that takes, we’ll have an advantage over them.”
“Actually, it isn’t,” Cloud calls from the nursery. “They will have the high ground, and will be able to see us more easily.”
“How’re we going to win the war?” Scorch demands.
“Excellent point,” Burn replies. “We send out a patrol of cats, and they hide near the camp. When a cat, that’s not a rebel, comes near, we attack.”
“And if we get caught?”
“If we get caught, Scorch... we’ll have to return. But we’ll wait until the day after tomorrow. After Sleek, Adder, and Night arrive. Otherwise, we might have to return and won’t be here when those three arrive.”
“Storm, Scorch, Bird, and Burn, you’re coming with me,” Night instructed. “We’re hiding in the forest near the camp. Call out if you’re getting attacked.”
The five of us walked quietly to the pine forest. No other cats were around. I take up my position in a small ditch, and wait.
Nothing happens. No calls for help, no sign of a fight. I look around, and there’s nothing to see except trees.
I see a flash of golden fur, and I turn. It’s Sand, a fighter on Lightning Tree’s side. I try and fight, but it’s no use, and I’m quickly overpowered. I call for help, knowing that the others might hear and help me.
They have indeed found me, but by that time Sand has already dragged me into camp. The other cats have formed a circle around us five. There is no escape.
Lightning Tree is sitting in front of us, and I make a note to keep my guard up. I wonder how we’ll get out of this.
“So. What brings you back here?”
I stay completely silent. So do the other four. We know that this’ll work eventually.
“Did you think of returning? If so, you’d be killed on the spot. I trusted you for some time, and you broke that trust. Run away, and I might let you live.”
“I’m warning you! You must tell the truth, or we will execute you!”
I’d rather die as a rebel than live like this.
“This is your final chance!”
And I’m not going to take it.
“Windstorm, take Bird. Shadow, you can do Night. I will kill Burn. You two, go to the prisoner den.”
“Don’t save me,” Bird tells me. “I played my part.”
“I fought hard, and it’s my time to let go,” Night adds, as Shadow moves in for the death blow.
“Tell my mate and sons, Sunset and Ash, that I miss them,” Burn finishes. “Save yourselves, and don’t worry about us.”
“Run!” I shout to Scorch.
We sprint back, not knowing if anyone’s behind us. I jump down into the gorge without thinking, and Scorch follows.
“Where’re the others?” Stone asks, the moment we’ve regained our strength.
“They told us to run... and allowed themselves to be... killed. They sacrificed themselves for us.”
“All of them?” Cloud asks.
“Yes. But Burn fought hard. He was killed by Lightning Tree herself.”
“Even Bird?” Fleet questions. “She would always hang out with me.”
“Yes, Fleet. But Bird was a brave cat, and would fight until the end.”
I feel like I did when we fought against Crowstar. Outnumbered, weak, and unprotected.
“We attack tonight,” Sleek clarifies. “Surround the camp and attack any fleeing cats. The fighters inside will take out as many as possible.”
“And if we need reinforcements, call for help.”
“Very good, Scorch, but what if everyone’s already fighting?”
“Try your best, and if you still need assistance, one of us will run over as soon as possible,” I answer. We’d been going over the plans for a long time now.
“Yes. And if a cat from our side is killed?”
“We sprint and leave the body,” I respond, although quite dully. It’s getting quite boring to constantly recite the plans, although if Sleek heard that, she’d probably claw my eyes out.
“Correct. Let’s take a break, I can see how tired you all are.”
The time for the battle is approaching. When the sun has set, we set off toward the ring of thickets. It’s calmer, which means that most of the cats have gone to sleep. The guard, Sand, is still awake. Water deals with him, and we enter the camp.
We each head into one of the dens. Scorch and I head for the deputies. Windstorm is awake in seconds, but Shadow takes longer. Scorch has him defeated in seconds, and Windstorm runs. She was never a good fighter, however quick her reflexes were. The two of us move on to the main camp, where a battle is breaking loose. The ground seems to shake with the fierce battle.
All of a sudden, the cats stop fighting. The golden brown cat who was attacking me has stopped.
“What is it?”
My supposed attacker flicks her tail. I turn, and what I see is horrifying.
It looks like three whole Clans. Heading straight for us.
As they enter the camp, I see that the leader is none other than Crowstar. Willowstar and Rainstar follow, leading their Clans in.
What happens next is horrific. Everyone is fighting everyone else. It’s a three-way war. I can’t think of anything else to call it.
I just start striking out, not knowing or caring who I hit. Freeing Waterwillow from a black-and-white she-cat, I quickly find my next target.
Crowstar himself. I instantly leap at him, biting down hard. He is the reason that this war exists. And I will be sure to end him.
But then I remember what Bird said, in the attack against ThunderClan.
“Remember that they’re not the enemy.”
That one second of lost concentration is enough. I am taken down immediately, and pinned with force. The time I waste getting up is time for Lightning Tree to move in.
“First time, you survived. The second time is the last time.”
The world fades into blackness for the second time. The last time.
“Lightning Tree was wrong. You are not here for good.”
I look up, and I see Firetail. Looking around, I see all the cats who have died since Crowstar became leader. Fernstar, Blackbird, Bird, and Birchclaw. Even Creek and Falcon have made it here. There’s so sign of Icewillow, so she must be alive. Flightwind has also not made an appearance, which is concerning.
“But who is?”
“Leaf, Flamebird, Palefeather and Strike. Willowstar and Rainstar both lost lives, and Crowstar is dead. Icewillow is alive, and Flightwind is... doing well.”
“ShadowClan’s leader is dead. Their official deputy is also dead. Who will lead now?”
“Crowstar appointed Eagle deputy, but he didn’t believe in StarClan, so we cannot give him lives,” Fernstar explained. “But before he died, he said that you would take over.”
“Me? I’m not fit to lead at all!”
“We know that you aren’t fit to lead ShadowClan. You must lead all of the Clans. The war against Lightning Tree will not end until she herself is dead.”
“You will need your lives, but not a proper leader name. As this will not be a true Clan, you will not be a true Clan leader. As for the deputies, they will be the leaders and deputies of each Clan. This giant Clan is the only way to rival the Bloodline.”
“Your leadership ceremony is about to take place. Prepare yourself.”
Firetail walked forward.
“With this life, I give you forgiveness. Use it to accept the wrongdoings of your Clan mates.” I knew that even if a cat was disloyal, they could be forgiven. I watched as Firetail stepped back into the ring of cats.
Next was Blackbird. The sleek black cat looked beautiful, with the stars in her pelt.
“With this life, I give you protection. Use it to defend your Clan and guard it with your life.”
“With this life, I give you knowledge,” Bird said. “Use it when you know what’s right and you need to prove yourself.”
“With this life, I give you speed. Use it to run from a fight that you cannot win.” This life was Leaf’s. She was always a quick thinker, and could see the best way out of a situation.
Birchclaw ran forward. He looked different, all scars gone. Birchclaw’s eyes seemed to shine with starlight.
“With this life, I give you compassion. Use it to understand the pain of death.”
Next was Strike. Scorch’s brother and Blackbird’s kit, he played a major role in my life. I remember teaching him to climb trees back at the old camp.
“With this life, I give you fairness. Use it to stand up for a cat who is being mistreated.”
A beautiful silver tabby, not one who died during the war, appeared. I recognize my mother, Featherflight.
“With this life, I give you courage. Use it to fight your battles with the strength of a lion.”
The next cat was a small black kit. It was Petalkit, my brother who had been born dead. I never forgot him, and my parents didn’t either.
“With this life, I give you humor. Use it to shine through your darkest night.”
The ninth cat was Fernstar. I feel guilty seeing her, as it was I who knew the truth about her death.
“With this life, I give you faith. Use it to trust those closest to you when your time is up. I hail you by your new role, as leader of the five Clans. You might not be a true leader, but you will fight just as hard.”
The nine cats fade, and I’m left with nothing but my lives, and the pain that seeing these cats brought me. It’s agonizing to see the dead, to know that they were once with you, to relive their deaths.
It hurts twice as much when I realize that I was the one who caused them to die.
“We will follow you.”
“Thank you, Rainstar. Sunstar, Wingstar, and Willowstar have already joined. We are now unified, and we must keep this pact in order to survive.”
A ginger she-cat was looking around.
“Firethorn, what is it?”
“Rogues! A whole bunch of them! On the shore, spying!”
I turn, and sure enough, six or so shapes are moving. What if it’s Lightning Tree? This would be the ideal time to seal the pact.
“I’ll check,” I volunteer. When I see who the cats are, I am shocked.
Redfire and her kits, Icewillow, Hawktail, and Finchsong. All seven of them look just as surprised as I feel.
“I know about Bird and Leaf. Firetail told me, but I know that they’re in a better place now.”
“Tell me everything,” Redfire’s brown tabby kit, who I last remember as Featherkit, says.
“We met a cat named Blaze and her three kits after you left,” I begin. “One of them, Lightning Tree, started to trust me. She explained her past, and how her father was a Clan cat. After putting these facts together, I realized that I was the one who had killed him. Lightning Tree trusted me, but did she really? No, it was all a fake. She attempted to kill me. I barely survived.”
The striped brown she-cat looks amazed.
“Her brother and sister became her deputies. Forming a large ‘Clan’ of rogues, she waged war against all of the Clans. We fought hard, but lost Brownbird, Leafpaw, and Birdpaw in the process. Some of the rogue cats were helping us in secret, but they mostly got killed. One night, we fled. We hid in a gorge for one moon. Then, we decided to attack. During the fight, ThunderClan and RiverClan invaded. Lightning Tree almost killed me, but Crowstar was also killed. I received my lives, and am here to lead you now. I might not have a leader name, but StarClan chose me to command you.”
“Feather, should we join? I was certainly convinced by that.”
“Certainly, Redfire. We should fight back. From what I understand, these cats are tough.”
“We have forgiven you,” Palefeather agrees. “The rest of us will fight by your side.”
“This meeting is closed, then. We are now one Clan.”
We are ready to fight. Now, with our forces, we will fight back and win.
End of book 2! The third book, The Final Strike, is coming out soon! This isn't a signature, but it does contain a link to my profile. Just thought I'd make it: you have the right to control your own life