|Brightening Stars||Succeded by: |
"Is it your wish to give up the name of a warrior, and go join the elders?"
"Your Clan honors you and all of the service you have given us. I call upon StarClan to give you many moons of rest."
"Stonetail! Stonetail! Stonetail!"
The light gray tom limped towards Ivypool and Halfleg, who beckoned him to their den. "We've already made a nest for you," mewed Halfleg kindly. She turned around to Pebblestar.
"Pebblestar! I--my legs are all better now...and I was wondering...could I get my old name back?"
Pebblestar smiled. "Of course, Rosepetal." Rosepetal beamed, and beckoned Stonetail. "I'm not sure how this shall work," he mewed. "I want to wait for a signal from StarClan to appoint my deputy. But there is the matter of my mate, Stormflight. She must be--be buried." It wasn't rain rolling down Pebblestar's cheeks. He padded towards the dark gray she-cat lying, frozen, in the medicine den, sheltered fromt he torrential rain.
"I didn't want her to go," he whispered, as Rainsong neared him. "Why, Stormflight? You gave up your life in an act of bravery, to save me. I shall always honor that...but if you hadn't, you'd still be alive. I have so many more lives to live, Stormflight. You needn't have died for me. I would have died in a heartbeat for you, with all of my lives. I now have seven at my expense...you had none."
Suddenly, a white shape burst into the camp. It was Smallfern.
"Killer's dead, Killer's dead!" she shouted. "Rock and Flame have gone with BloodClan, and they've all left, and Strike is the new leader of ShadowClan!" Her voice was filled with happiness, and she sought out Rainsong...only to find her bent over a dark pelt with her father at her side, Smallfern could figure out the worst.
"Congratulations," mewed Appleleaf tightly. "We have two dead warriors, and we're rid of Killer and BloodClan. Hooray.""
Smallfern cowered. "We suffered losses too," she said. "Swiftnose and Tawnyfur were killed."
Rainsong looked up, as Mossheart said scathingly, "You were fighting with BloodClan, so why should we care?"
"Tawnyfur saved my life," Rainsong said quietly.
"Would you rather not have me here?" growled Rainsong. "Would you rather I be dead, like Claw, or Swiftnose, or Tawnyfur? Like Pinewillow, Twilightstar, or Stormflight? Like Blackpelt?"
Mossheart flinched at the mention of his former mentor.
"Like Firepelt?" added Rainsong. Mossheart laid down, and put his chin on his paws.
"No," he whispered. Rainsong sniffled, and buried her head in her mother's fur.
"Rainsong. Pebblestar. I have to dress her pelt," Littlewing said, nudging away her leader and the warrior. "I'm sorry."
"I don't want to leave her!" cried Rainsong, sticking close to her mother's pelt. "I don't want her to go! She might still be alive!"
"She's not," said Littlewing softly. "I'm sorry, Rainsong."
"You're wrong!" Rainsong hid her face in her mother's dark gray fur, letting her scent wash over her for the last time. "Don't change her."
Littlewing looked helplessly at Pebblestar, who was staring at his mate in unimagineable grief. "Come on, Rainsong," he appealed. "Let's go hunt."
"It's going to be okay, Rainsong," mewed a tiny voice. The sniffling warrior turned to see Wolfkit sitting next to her, staring up at her with wide eyes. "I know what it feels like, but it'll get better. If you just have a friend to help you. You helped me get through it. I'll help you. I promise."
"Come on, Rainsong." Rainsong tore her gaze away from Wolfkit, and followed her father.
"Who will be the new deputy?" asked Smokebreeze.
A blanket of silence settled over the air, the rain continuing to pour. Pebblestar lifted his face to the cold drops, and sighed as a single, solitary bird began to sing. Lightning flashed.
"It's an omen!" yowled the leader. He looked towards his daughter. "You will be the new deputy of ThunderClan."
"Shadefrost! Blackbird! Sunwing! Shadefrost! Blackbird! Sunwing!"
The three warriors beamed, and they were watched by Featherpaw, Snowpaw, and Wolfpaw. Adderkit, Frogpelt and Shortleap's son, was bounding towards them excitedly.
Rosepetal had passed, leaving Ivypool and Stonetail alone in the elders' den, though soon after they were joined by the seniormost warrior, Owlstorm. Littlewing had been the full medicine cat for three mons, since a vicious battle with WindClan in which Nightfire had been killed. Pebblestar had lost three more lives, leaving him with four left. Rainsong could remember with a shudder the horrendous fight with invading rats, the time when RiverClan had tried to set fire to the ThunderClan camp, and when WindClan and RiverClan teamed together in a battle near the lake.
"Rainsong!" called Shadefrost. "Want to go hunting?"
"Alone?" replied Rainsong. "Or with a patrol?"
"Alone," Shadefrost mewed happily.
"Just let me assemble another patrol," directed Rainsong. "Flamefur, take Thrushleaf, Moonshadow, and Snowpaw near the ShadowClan border to hunt."
"Will do!" Flamefur responded cheerfully. The whole Clan was in high spirits, after a warm leaf-bare, and a lush new-leaf.
Rainsong followed Shadefrost towards the Sky Oak.
"So what's up?" she inquired. Shadefrost grinned.
"I-I wanted to...um...ask you something."
"Um...I...." Rainsong smiled. She already knew what he was asking.
No troubles were on the horizon three moons later, and Rainsong was beaming in happiness. She and Shadefrost had just taken a walk in the forest while the sun set, taking an occasional hunt, and bringing back three starlings.
Pebblestar was training with Wolfpaw, and Moonshadow was perfecting Featherpaw's hunting crouch, while Snowpaw was showing Breezeclaw an attack move he had learned from Fernfur. Appleleaf was sharing tongues with Thrushleaf, and Adderkit was bouncing around his father, begging him to show him how to hunt.
Flowertail smiled. "I'm expecting kits again," she whispered to Smokebreeze. The whole Clan perked up.
"That's great!" cried Smokebreeze.
"Kits?" asked Pebblestar, padding into the camp. "Who?"
"Me," replied Flowertail ruefully. "I was planning it to be a secret...but I guess it's out now!"
"What do you think of names?" asked Smokebreeze excitedly. "Come on, I want to talk to you!" The two strolled away, and Appleleaf padded over to Thrushleaf.
The sandy gray warrior grinned. "That's great."
"More kits!" yowled Adderkit. "I'll finally have playmates!"
"You read our minds," mewed Thrushleaf, purring.
Littlewing rushed over. "Do I hear a small black kit shouting about kits?"
"Yes, yes! Appleleaf and Flowertail!"
"That's great," remarked Littlewing.
Adderkit perked up. "I'm gonna go get Frogpelt a mouse!" He bounced away.
Rainsong padded over to Littlewing, and the two entered the medicine den.
"Flowertail and Appleleaf aren't the only ones expecting," Littlewing mewed unexpectedly. Rainsong looked down at herself in surprise.
"Me? I don't think so, Littlewing, I must just be eating--"
"No, no, Rainsong. I can't--I'm not--it's me."
"But Littlewing! It's against the warrior code!"
"I know, but now there's no way to stop it," Littlewing cried in a hushed voice. "I--I don't know what to do!"
"You don't have an apprentice," Rainsong said frantically. "And your kits will be born at the same time as Appleleaf's and Flowertail's, so they can't be your apprentice, so you can't just quit, and...oh, what are we going to do?"
"We?" sniffed Littlewing.
"I'll...I'll take the kits as my own," replied Rainsong bravely. "I'll tell Shadefrost. It'll be our secret."
"Who're they with? It can't be anyone in ThunderClan, can it?"
"No. No. It's...It's Willowstorm."
"Yes," Littlewing said in a small voice.
"No matter," Rainsong said briskly. "I'll go tell Shadefrost. Just...try and stay out of everyone's way...you don't want them to see you."
"Shadefrost! Come--come for a walk with me."
The dark tortoiseshell came trotting up to his mate. "Yes?"
"Let's go for a walk."
"What is it, Rainsong?"
"Littlewing's expecting kits. I told her I'd take them...and call them as my own."
Shadefrost's muscles rippled underneath his glossy fur, and he was already bigger than Rainsong. He bounded away through the forest, and Rainsong could barely keep up to him.
"Why?" he shouted. "Why'd you do that?"
"Aren't you happy?" Rainsong cried. "We'll have kits!"
"Why should I be?" Shadefrost growled, rounding on the older she-cat. "They aren't ours. She's breaking the warrior code. Tell her we won't take them."
"We'd be breaking the warrior code by not helping kits in need," retorted Rainsong, sticking out her chin so she could stare him in the eyes.
"I can't. I won't. We've been mates for three moons, Rainsong, but if you keep them...we won't be mates anymore." Shadefrost turned on his heel, and ran away from the camp.
Rainsong sighed in despair, and raced up a tree. She stretched her claws, shredding the bark, and yowled furiously. Why did Shadefrost have to be so difficult? Why couldn't he just accept that they could take Littlewing's kits and be done with it? What difference did it make that they weren't hers? If he didn't care that much about her...didn't he see that she didn't care about the kits, she just wanted to help her friends? Didn't he realize that that was what would make her happy?
"Their names...Bramblekit....Ashkit....and Firekit. All she-cats."
"Those are beautiful names," purred Littlewing, sidling into the medicine den. "And Appleleaf?"
"Leafkit for the ginger tabby, and Lilykit for the tortoiseshell."
"Those are great names as well. I'm sure all of your kits will grow up to be strong and healthy."
"You're looking rather plump as well," mewed Flowertail slyly. Littlewing looked down at her extended belly.
"Of course not! I'm a medicine cat." Littlewing's smile was a little too big for the queens to believe her. Quickly as she could, the medicine cat slipped out of the den, and hurried towards Rainsong.
"I think I'm going to have my kits soon," she hissed. "I can feel it. Grab some herbs from my den and come into the forest with me."
Rainsong nodded concisely. "What do you want me to get?"
"Wet moss and a stick. Borage as well..."
Rainsong nodded again, and whisked towards the medicine den. She glanced around the den, sniffing, and then snatched a few leaves and drew out into the sunlight. Littlewing had already gone into the forest, but Rainsong could follow her scent. The trail led her towards a hollowed out tree, and she stood outside, guarding it.
"Done," panted Littlewing. One kit lay near her, its breathing slow and its voice shrill and high. "It's a she-cat. Sandkit."
Littlewing grasped the small bundle with her teeth, and hurried towards the camp.
"Wait. Littlewing, stop. There's something I need to tell you."
"Shadefrost doesn't want the kit," Rainsong said quickly. "He says it isn't ours, and he's not going to pretend it's his. We're going to have to make up a story."
"We found her by the border," invented Littlewing. "Far away...and her pelt looked like sand, so we took the liberty to name her, but she looked so poor, that we just had to take her, and it's part of the warrior code, and--"
"I'll tell the story. You babble when you're nervous," Rainsong mewed, cutting across the medicine cat, who gave a small smile. Rainsong picked up the kit, and Littlewing grabbed a mouthful of moss and the borage, and together they trotted into the camp.
"Pebble-thtar!" mumbled Rainsong, speaking around Sandkit's fur. "We found her by the northern border. We couldn't jutht leave her there, th-the would have been eaten by foxeth."
"Not so fast," said a voice. "She's rightfully ours."
"What are you doing here?" cried Littlewing. "Go away! Get out! You can't have her!"
"We can, Littlewing. And we will."
A gray tom padded into the camp, followed by a tortoiseshell, a cream she-cat, and a ginger tom.
Littlewing flattened her ears. "Don't take her, Willowstorm!"
"You know these cats?" Pebblestar asked, slipping out of his den. "How...you're on...how do you know them so well?"
"Gatherings," replied Littlewing at the same time Willowstorm said,
"We're...we were mates."
If Pebblestar was surprised, he didn't show it. He sat down, stared Littlewing straight in the eye, and mewed, "Please explain."
Littlewing turned helplessly to Willowstorm, who shot her a look, and began to speak. Sandkit wriggled in Rainsong's jaws, and she set the kit down slowly. It blindly stumbled towards the nursery, drawn by the scent of Appleleaf and Flowertail's milk.
"Littlewing and I met during a Gathering...one night. I could tell...that, even though she was a medicine cat, the boundaries of the warrior code could not contain us. I loved Littlewing. I could only hope she would feel the same towards me."
Littlewing took up the story, unaware of the tortoiseshell's furious glare. "I did. I didn't really know of his existence until, one day, when I was collecting herbs, a moon after Nightfire's death. He saw me by the border, by the stream, where I was washing deathberry juice off of my paws. I had accidentally stepped on one, and he saw me, and I saw him, and I knew...instantly...that I--"
"You have no right!" With a yowl of rage, the tortoiseshell launched herself towards Littlewing, and scratched the medicine cat. Littlewing screeched in pain, and tried to heave the tortoiseshell off of her.
"Featherleaf!" shouted Willowstorm. "Featherleaf, get off of her!" Featherleaf stepped off of Littlewing for a moment, just enough time to hiss at Willowstorm,
"What about Tigerkit? She's the only one that deserves you, besides me. This unworthy medicine cat--" Featherleaf spat out the title as though it were mouse bile "--has no claim to you...and that kit of hers is nothing but a half-Clan cat who deserves to be drenched in blood and tossed to foxes."
"I'd never let anything that shares my blood get eaten by foxes," snarled Willowstorm. "But if that's how you think of me, and Littlewing, than you don't deserve a mate. You don't deserve your own kit, if you'd throw her to the foxes as soon as look at her."
Featherleaf shrieked in anger, and scored her claws across Littlewing's flank. The medicine cat had suffered too many injuries already to do anything but give a feeble wail.
"Stop! In StarClan's name, stop!"
A pale gray tom rushed into the camp, evidently following the trail of scent left by his own Clanmates. "Redstar is dead. And I am the new WindClan leader."
"Shrewclaw?" Featherleaf's disbelieving snort was cut short by Willowstorm's hiss for silence.
"And the new deputy?" Willowstorm asked tensely. Shrewclaw, soon to be Shrewstar, closed his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Willowstorm. You were my most esteemed warrior. But...but I knew of your betrayal, I tried to warn you to stop, because I knew...I wanted you to be my deputy." Shrewclaw truly sounded hurt and betrayed. "But I'm sorry. I've come here to say something else. The new deputy of WindClan...will be Sandwhisker."
"She's a kittypet," sneered Featherleaf, giving Littlewing a final bite on the foreleg, before padding up to her leader. "I thought you'd have more sesne, brother."
"This is my decision, Featherleaf."
Featherleaf was at a loss for words, and she stood their shaking, disheveled, and annoyed, before bounding, yelling, out of the camp.
"You've made an enemy in WindClan today," mewed Shrewclaw solemnly. "I'll try and get some sense into her."
"Good luck!" Pebblestar called.
"Thank you." And Shrewclaw signaled for the rest of his Clan to follow him, as they padded out of the ThunderClan camp.
"What's going to happen to me?"
"You broke the warrior code, Littlewing."
"I can't be medicine cat anymore. But I've got no apprentice! The Clan's going to die, and it'll be all my fault!"
"Hush, Littlewing." Orchidtail wrapped her tail around her daughter's shoulders, and led her towards the nursery, where Appleleaf and Flowertail were talking in low tones, while Adderkit, Bramblekit, Ashkit, Leafkit, and Firekit were play-fighting in the puddles.
Rainsong was sitting near Mossheart, staring out at the camp.
"You and Shadefrost broke up, eh?" smirked Mossheart, though not unkindly.
"Yeah. I guess he just...wasn't for me."
"Shame. He seemed like a nice cat. Guess you never know. I mean, look at my sister. She just betrayed the Clan. Seems like the whole of ThunderClan is...slipping," Mossheart remarked, gesturing with his tail.
"Shadefrost's no longer my mate, Oakpaw or Goosefoot or whatever her name is left us...Littlewing got a mate and had a kit. I see what you mean."
"Yeah. Guess the only enemy now is...ourselves."
"Yup," Rainsong mewed. "No more Killer, Darkstar seems like a diplomatic leader, and Ashtail'll be a great deputy. Always thought she'd be good at that stuff."
"Don't know if you heard," Mossheart said abruptly, "Smallfern had kits."
"Really! That's great. When'd you learn that?" Rainsong inquired.
"Last Gathering. Their names are Eaglekit and Hawkkit."
"Who is the father?"
"Darkpelt," replied Mossheart, tilting his head to the side. "There are only two toms in ThunderClan, you realize that."
"Darkpelt, Darkstar, and Cinderfoot. I count three."
Mossheart rolled his eyes. "But Cinderfoot can't have kits. So, technically, there are only two toms, able to have kits. Darkstar's the only tom that can have a mate that doesn't."
"Is Eaglekit or Hawkkit a tom?"
"I don't know," Mossheart said with a shrug. "Didn't ask."
"Their elders still alive?"
"Smallears is. Brokentail passed away."
"He was a nice cat. I remember when they captured me...idiots, only obtained me until sunhigh, and they killed Firepelt for it, but he was the first of normal ShadowClan to realize I was there except for Smallfern and Cinderfoot."
"That's like...half the Clan. Seriously. We should donate some of our own cats."
"The ones that like battles...I dunno."
"My dad, Breezeclaw. Smokebreeze. Uh...Shadefrost? Me."
"You'd want to be ShadowClan, Mossheart? Really? They eat frogs, for StarClan's sake," Rainsong laughed.
"Frogs wouldn't be so bad," joked Mossheart. "I know what could be worse."
"Nothing is worse than frogs," Rainsong replied, skepticism glimmering in her eyes. "Nothing."
"Oh, StarClan, Mossheart! That's disgusting."
"Well," began Mossheart. "When we fight, we're technically--"
The two laughed. Rainsong flicked Mossheart with her tail, and he batted at her paw. The warriors began to tussle, and Pebblestar chortled as he came out of his den.
"Now, now, you two," he quipped.
The two broke apart, giggling.
If Shadefrost isn't for me...thought Raisong, Is Mossheart?
"Your name will be Wolftail."
Snowstrike and Featherheart were cheering for the new warrior. Shadefrost sat, unblinking, next to Sunwing, who was emanating pride as though the new warriors were her own kits.
Lilypaw was the medicine cat, and was learning all she needed to know from Scorchwing, who had spent a long time in Nightfire's care.
Every kit was now a warrior. Ivypool, though the oldest cat in ThunderClan, was the only remaining elder, Stonetail having died from a lump in his stomach that never got better, and Owlstorm having perished to greencough, that also caused Breezeclaw to pass, and made Pebblestar lose one of his lives. He only had three left.
Mossheart grinned. "Hey...Rainsong, look at Shadefrost."
The dark warrior was already lecturing Adderpaw, his new apprentice. "...your tail straight..." he mewed, giving Rainsong and Mossheart a brief glance.
"Rainsong....I know you wanted to be with Shadefrost," began Mossheart. "But he's just..."
"Okay, okay, I'm not going to take a mate," Rainsong blurted. "I'm sorry, Mossheart. But I think...I think Blackbird and you...."
"Blackbird?" Mossheart half-shouted, and the black she-cat turned around.
"Nothing," called Mossheart, and said in a whisper to Rainsong, "I'm like...a million moons older than her!"
"I...I was older than Shadefrost," Rainsong mumbled. "But look how that turned out."
"Hey, look at Scorchwing and Weaselnose! He was a warrior when she was a kit, but look at them now! Featherheart and Snowstrike...."
"Great names, you know," Mossheart joked. Littlewing was padding grimly away from the nursery.
Sandkit had disappeared moons before, but the former medicine cat still longed for her kit. Rainsong and Mossheart could hear their denmate yowling at the lake, her voice echoing all the way to RiverClan.
"She wants her back you know," Rainsong said quietly to Mossheart. He nodded.
"Yeah. If...if she hadn't had Sandkit, you and Shadefrost would still be together, Lilypaw would have a real mentor, and...everything would be all right. Nothing would be wrong, we wouldn't have any enemies in other Clans. Mark my words, the next battle's gonna be with WindClan. Featherleaf's going to influence them. Poor Willowstorm, as well. Lost the deputyship, but hey--he broke the warrior code! Next thing you know, he'll be joining us to be with his mate."
"We're not mates anymore," hissed Littlewing, swinging her head around to glare at her littermate. "And we won't ever be again!"
Mossheart lowered his voice. "At the last Gathering, I heard that Honeybird, yeah, that cat you were talking with at like, your first Gathering...she had Hazelclaw's kits. Birchkit and Brindlekit, a she-cat and a tom."
"Why didn't he die already?" Rainsong replied in mock fury. "He killed me, and he's older than Pebblestar and Owlstorm and all them!"
"Oh, he's dead," Mossheart assured her. "Heard Honeybird wailing about it a few sunrises ago."
"He killed me, he did."
"You came bck to life though," Mossheart contradicted.
The two trailed off into silence. "Birchkit and Brindlekit are Birchpaw and Brindlepaw now."
"Why are we gossiping about the other Clans? We should be hunting!" Rainsong replied. "Come on, we've almost never hunted together."
Together, they bounded out of camp.
As they ran through the trees, Rainsong smiled. "I bet Smallfern's kits are apprentices."
"Yeah," agreed Mossheart. "Eaglepaw and Hawkpaw. Strong names, y'know."
"ShadowClan is so small these days," remarked Rainsong.
Rainsong gracefully scaled a tree, scaring a squirrel right into Mossheart's paws. He killed it, than scratched earth over it.
With a flick of his tail, Mossheart pointed out a singing blackbird, and hooked it out of its startled flight with a gleaming claw.
"Thanks. Vole towards the lake."
"I'll get it." Sure enough, when Rainsong came trotting back, she carried two limp voles in her mouth, and buried them with Mossheart's prey.
"Ivypool wanted a shrew, she said the other day," remembered Mossheart. "I told her I'd catch her one."
"Not if I catch it first!" They split up, Rainsong tracking one towards the Sky Oak.
Barely moving her paws, Rainsong crept closer to the small animal, which was nibbling on a tiny nut. A twig cracked.
The rodent sat up, alarmed, but Rainsong gave it no time to think. She pounced, feeling her paw graze its spine, but something furry rammed into her side.
She spun around to face her attacker, only to find...a laughing Mossheart.
"Quick! It's getting away!" Rainsong snapped, annoyed that he had ruined her almost catch. They sprinted after the frightened rodent, and, in the end, Mossheart was able to grab it by the tail and sink his teeth into its neck.
"Come on, let's go back to camp."
The two warriors picked up their prey, and trooped back to the camp.
"Nice day for hunting," remarked Pebblestar.
"Yeah," replied Mossheart, which seemed to become his favorite reply.
"Yeah," agreed Rainsong.
"That's great! When?"
"Soon. I just checked with Lilypaw."
Sunwing purred, and rubbed her muzzle against her mate's. Bramblepaw and Adderpaw giggled.
"Ooh," joked Bramblepaw, and hopped off to tell her sisters. "Ashpaw! Firepaw!"
Flowertail was speaking in low tones with Frogpelt and Appleleaf. Appleleaf nodded.
"I'm barely younger than you. I think it's time both of us retired," Appleleaf agreed. '"I'm just sorry I never got to have more kits. It's great, feeling the pride in watching them become warriors, and apprentices."
Flowertail smiled. "We'll tell Ivypool first. Then I'll speak with Pebblestar about it. Smokebreeze told me a few days ago that he would like to retire as well. And Thrushleaf's older than you, so he's probably thinking about it as well. There are so many of us senior warriors that just don't want to fight anymore. I"ll always keep hunting, however."
Appleleaf nodded shortly. "I'm going to go tell Thrushleaf. If he wants to stay a warrior, I don't want to hold him back...but I don't want him to feel rushed by me."
Flowertail's eyes sparkled. She turned to Frogpelt. "We have so many senior warriors. Why, soon, the senior warriors will be cats like Moonshadow or Fernfur!"
"Pinewillow should have joined them," Flowertail mewed, her head down. "He was my brother, you know, from another litter. Rosepetal was my mother. I remember my uncle, Toadstep. Oh, the jokes he used to tell to us kits. He could always make me laugh, and Cherryheart too. Molefall as well. Oh, and Sunsong, Pebblestar's mother, she and Molefall were like bees to honey to each other. Such times, I remember."
Rainsong sat close to the elders, with Mossheart by her side. She was spending increased amounts of time with the dark brown tom, and ThunderClan was expecting them to announce that they were mates any day now. But that wasn't what Rainsong wanted. All she wanted in Mossheart was a friend.
"Listen to them ramble," joked Mossheart. "Soon we'll be in the elders' den."
"Not me," replied Rainsong. "I might be leader, I can't be an elder! And besides, Fernfur and Moonshadow are no where near being senior warriors, no offense. Those queens are crazy. They're the youngest queens, besides, you know, Scorchwing, but...they're still young! I'm sure Smokebreeze and Weaselnose'll knock some sense into them. They can't retire now. And besides, Pebblestar probably won't allow it."
"Some time it'll be you making those decisions," remarked Mossheart, shaking his head.
Rainsong chuckled. "Hopefully not soon. He's got, what, five lives left?" she lied.
"Please. He doesn't have that many, and you know it. I'm not gonna tell the whole Clan, Rainsong, for StarClan's sake. You can trust me."
"I know," laughed Rainsong. "Okay, okay, he's got three. I'm just worried that some rogue's going to attack us again, or some rogue party, and we're all going to get torn apart."
"That will never happen. With Pebblestar or you as leader. I'll be your first supporter."
"I'm sure you will," agreed Rainsong. "Mossheart, deputy of ThunderClan."
"You want to give up your position already?" Pebblestar asked, coming up behind the two, his voice amused. Rainsong started.
"No, of course not! Father!"
"I was joking, I was joking," Pebblestar defended himself, cheerfulness in his eyes. "You two are both coming to the Gathering tonight."
"Great," mewed Rainsong. "Who else?"
"Lilypaw, Appleleaf, Breezeclaw, Thrushleaf, Weaselnose, Smokebreeze, Flamefur, Fernfur, Leafpaw, Orchidtail, Ashpaw, Shadefrost, Adderpaw, Blackbird, Sunwing, Bramblepaw, Wolftail, Snowstrike, and Featherheart," recited Pebblestar. "And whichever elders and queens want to come too."
Pebblestar shook his head. "She didn't cope well with the criticism last time."
Poor Littlewing, thought Rainsong. Poor, poor Littlewing.
The Gathering was just breaking up, when Rainsong heard a rustle.
Everyone else was chatting merrily, Shadefrost introducing Adderpaw to the RiverClan apprentices Whisppaw and Starlingpaw, and Ashpaw and Bramblepaw calling for Firepaw, who was standing by Rainsong, trying to tell her that they were going off to see Birchpaw and Brindlepaw.
"I'm here, I'm here," panted Firepaw, bounding away from her mentor, just hearing her sisters' summons. "Let's go."
Leafpaw was chatting with Hawkpaw and Eaglepaw, Smallfern's kits.
Rainsong saw a flash of fur in the bushes of the island, accompanied by an annoyed hiss. A dark shape slunk towards the tree that all of the leaders sat on, and Rainsong watched it through narrowed eyes.
Unconsciously, she moved towards Waterstar, ready to point out the shape, but the old she-cat moved away, talking with her medicine cat. Rainsong turned, spying Minnowfoot as the closest cat with authority, and moved towards him.
"Minnowfoot," the deputy growled. She flicked her ears towards the silver shape that was stealthily climbing up the back of the tree, and the RiverClan deputy nodded, gesturing for Rainsong to go to the right, while he cornered the cat from the left.
"Go," he whispered, and they slipped away.
"Clans!" yowled a new, unfamiliar voice.
They were too late.
The chattering cats instinctively looked up towards the tree, where a beautiful silver she-cat was sitting on one of the middle branches, her proud, well-shaped head sitting neatly on lithe shoulders. Her green eyes sparkled mischievously.
"Who are you?" demanded Pebblestar. "And what do you want?"
"What I want," spat the she-cat. "Is to destroy you. Your Clan, Pebblestar of ThunderClan, first. I'll start by destroying everything you love, every cat that matters to you, and then move on to the destruction of your Clan. Your elders, your kits, your camp. And then, I will conquer the forest. As to who I am..."
The cats waited.
"I am called Luna."
"Why do you want to destroy us?" In Rainsong's opinion, the leaders probably thought this was some neglected apprentice that no leader wanted to shame in front of their Clan, and weren't taking the cat seriously. Rainsong knew better...Luna meant what she said.
"Because, you piece of fox-dung, you should not have lived. If not for my father, you would not be here to rule this mangy Clan. I will soon put right my father's mistake," hissed Luna.
"And who is your father?" asked Darkstar.
"My father...is Sol."
"Sol?" Pebblestar asked blankly, and Waterstar gave him a scathing look.
"My grandmother was leader of RiverClan during that time," Waterstar replied. "Sol caused so much trouble....brought destruction upon the Clans, we should banish her!"
"I won't go without a fight," snarled Luna, unsheathing her claws. "So you best not try."
"Then we will fight you," Pebblestar growled. Shrewstar nodded, and Darkstar agreed. Waterstar narrowed her eyes at the rogue.
Luna leaped down from the tree, and prowled around the island, hissing at cats who came close to her. "Can you really? Will you be able to, all four Clans, team up together to drive out one rogue? Really, what harm can I do?"
"She's contradicting herself," Rainsong muttered to Sandwhisker. The WindClan deputy gave a short nod.
"Surely a patrol could drive me out," drawled Luna. She sat down on the opposite side of the island, and licked her paw.
"Do you want to see?" Breezeclaw threatened, leaping to his feet. Fernfur bristled, and held out his tail to stop Leafpaw from leaping onto the rogue.
Luna snorted. "Yeah. Right."
Pebblestar hissed. He slowly flicked his tail, and the other leaders nodded to their warriors. All cats were about to attack the rogue, when she made a running leap, and hurled herself into the lake. The warriors crowded through the brush, staring, owl-like towards the rippling water, waiting for a silver head to bob to the surface.
Rainsong spotted a wrinkle in the water, and followed the small waves to see a strong shape propelling herself towards ThunderClan land.
"She's going towards ThunderClan," yowled Rainsong, pointing with her tail. Two RiverClan cats darted forward, put Waterstar limped towards them, shouting.
"Don't!" she rasped when her voice cracked. "We can catch her...we can..." She broke off in a cough, and Brownpelt hurried over to her, a dark brown she-cat with bushy fur. Hazelclaw glared out over the lake, then swung his head over to give the ThunderClan deputy a killing stare. Rainsong met his gaze evenly, and forced the RiverClan warrior to be the first to look away.
"We won't catch her in the next few sunrises," called Lionstream, hearding her apprentice away from the water. "But we can drive her out before the next moon. We'll do it!"
Roars of approval swept through the Clans. "We will!" "We'll drive her out!" Choruses and chimes, and jeers towards Luna rippled through the cats like waves.
"ThunderClan! Let's go home...see if we can catch that slippery rogue," added Pebblestar. "Come on."
ThunderClan bounded away, with tails dragging on the ground. Rainsong wove among the cats to get to her father, and had to run to keep up to his long strides.
"What's going on? Father, is ThunderClan really going to...dissipate?"
Pebblestar took a deep breath. "No. We will fight that rogue. One cat shouldn't be able to do any harm. Especially if she doesn't believe in StarClan."
"How do you know she doesn't believe in StarClan?"
"Because I knew her father."
"Yes, yes, I did," Pebblestar replied shortly,as they raced towards the ThunderClan camp, the rest of the warriors struggling to keep up.
Rainsong longed to ask her father why he had lied about not knowing Sol, but the elders were lagging behind. She hurried over to Ivypool and Orchidtail, and ushered them along.
The two elders dragged themselves toward the camp, and Rainsong was able to get them to quietly settle into their dens, and stayed with the worrisome she-cats until they began to snore.
"You've grown up so fast," remarked Rainsong. "Now, all of you, your assessments are all taking place now, so try not to bump into each other. I know you're excited, but this will determine whether you will be a warrior or not."
The five apprentices nodded eagerly. Bramblepaw was almost bouncing on her paws, and Sunwing laid a gentle tail on her back to calm her first apprentice. The warrior was not much older than an apprentice herself, and had started training at almost half the apprentice age, but was experienced with all of the ability and knowledge.
Shadefrost was sitting, his expression unscrutable aas he stared at Rainsong, listening to the instructions. Mossheart was sitting close to Rainsong, while Sunwing was right next to Shadefrost. Fernfur was noding understandingly.
"Got it," Fernfur said, beckoning Leafpaw. "So we tell them to catch whatever we want? Whatever they can?"
"Not quite," Rainsong managed. "You have to...what you need to do is just...watch them as they do what they can. They'll just hunt. No fighting, and you'll just be following them, but in concealment. All of you apprentices--meet us back here at sunhigh."
Rainsong felt a bit bad, seeing as Firepaw, the she-cat who so resembled her own former mentor, in spirit and coat, was her second apprentice, and Leafpaw was Fernfur's first aprentice.
"Yup. Firepaw, Bramblepaw, Ashpaw, Leafpaw, and Adderpaw--good luck. Firepaw go towards the lake," Rainsong directed.
"Bramblepaw, to the left," Sunwing instructed with a nod.
"Ashpaw, right," Mossheart ordered.
"Leafpaw, back towards the gorge," Fernfur added.
"And Adderpaw--past the gorge," Shadefrost added with finality. The apprentices whisked off, Adderpaw chatting to Leafpaw, who maintained his silence.
Rainsong slunk after her apprentice, who was creeping towards the lake, visibly heading towards the Sky Oak, where prey would be rich because of the fallen acorns and nuts.
Within moments, the dark ginger she-cat had snagged a bird, and was scarping dry earth over it. Rainsong crept after her, and within moments, she had gotten two squirrels. The sun was no where near its highest point when Firepaw had gotten five pieces of fresh-kill in all.
Rainsong was awed. She was sitting in a tree, watching Firepaw stalk a shrew, when a sudden chorus of yowls swept through the forest.
"Stop!" wailed a voice, and Rainsong could identify it as Bramblepaw's. "Don't hurt him!"
"She won't hurt me," hissed another voice, Adderpaw. "Get her!"
"She's going towards the camp!" yowled Ashpaw, and her dark pelt hurtled into Rainsong's point of view. "It's Luna!"
"Luna!" Rainsong dropped out of the tree, landing on all four paws, and Firepaw was already racing past her.
"This is going to be a great assessment," she cried. "We can fight, too!"
"What should I do? No!" A frightened voice screeched in pain, and Rainsong ran through the names of the apprentices in her head. Adderpaw and Bramblepaw were attempting to fight, and Ashpaw and Firepaw were giving chase. Lilypaw was in the camp...that left Leafpaw.
"Don't hurt me!"
"I won't hurt you. Your death will be painless."
"Your's won't!" Rainsong launched herself towards the silver she-cat, clawing her flank furiously. "Leafpaw--go!"
Leafpaw was torn. Leave his deputy to possibly perish under the claws of the rogue, or stay and fight, even through his fear.
Leafpaw chose the latter, jumping onto Luna and biting down hard on her ear. Luna barely flinched as she flung off the apprentice with a paw.
She smirked, but her eyes widened in pain when she felt Rainsong's claws snag in her tail and pull, hard.
"Let go of me," snarled Luna, and swiped her tail across Rainsong's face, making Rainsong's old scars sting. The rogue was able to wriggle out of Rainsong's grasp, and hare away, her almost white pelt somehow blending into the undergrowth.
Leafpaw whimpered. One of his ears was split right down the middle, and his flank was bleeding heavily.
"Let's get you home," whispered Rainsong. "We can't go after her."
When Leafpaw spoke, his voice was faint. "W-Will I be a warrior?"
Rainsong smiled. "I'm sure you will.
Brambleheart, Ashflight, Fireberry, Addernose, and Leafstrike had been warriors for moons, and, meanwhile, Pebblestar had lost more lives...he wouldn't tell Rainsong, but she knew he was on either his last, or his second to last. He didn't have much more time, and Rainsong was trying not to think about having to become leader.
Breezeclaw had joined his mate, and the ancient Ivypool in the elders' den.
"We're all growing up," murmured Mossheart to Rainsong. "We're almost senior warriors, Fernfur and Moonshadow definitely are..."
"Yeah," agreed Rainsong. "I'm worried about Ivypool. I'm...not to be disrespectful or anything, but...she's really old. She's the only surviving cat since the Great Battle, and that was forever ago."
"Mmhmm." Mossheart grunted, and shot a side-long glance towards Blackbird, who was grooming her paws and staring hopefully at Mossheart.
"Oh, go on," Rainsong said with a smile. "She wants you more. You don't have to hang around with me. I was planning on taking a walk, anyhow."
Mossheart bounded happily off towards Blackbird, who sprang to her feet and purred. Rainsong smiled slightly again, and padded out through the thorn barrier, towards the stream at the WindClan border. Settling down on her side of the stream and staring at the setting sun, Rainsong tilted her head. A few whispers rippled through the moor in which WindClan made their home, and soon three she-cats emerged, arguing.
Rainsong recognized one as Hawkfeather, her first WindClan friend, the other as Heathernose, the sister of Hawkfeather, and the third and final one Honeybird, the sister of the first two, the mother of Birchpaw and Brindlepaw, and the mate of Hazelclaw. Rainsong stared in dislike at the third.
"I hate you!" yowled Honeybird, jumping away from her sisters and running toward Rainsong, though the ThunderClan cat was sure the insult wasn't directed at her, she muttered,
"Trust me. The feeling's mutual."
Wishing to avoid further detection, Rainsong turned and trotted back towards the camp. She stopped when she heard voices.
"Yes...Shadefrost...I-I'm having kits." It was a voice Rainsong recognized.
A voice...strangely accented, but now with the same twang as that of ThunderClan...
Rainsong let out a furious yowl. She saw Shadefrost's pelt burst out of the trees, Sunwing close behind him, but the deputy didn't care as she raced through the trees, her muscles rippling beneath her glossy fur, her eyes wild with anger and her ears flat to her head.
Having kits with another she-cat.
Didn't he know how much he meant to her? Did she mean anything to him?
Rainsong didn't reply, but kept running, her claws sinking into the somewhat soggy earth, ripping through the soil, her mind reeling as she imagined every leaf as Shadefrost's face...she sliced through it with her claws, her teeth gritted and fire coursing through her.
With a loud screech, Rainsong tripped over a root, and tumbled into darkness, going head over paws as she rolled down a long, dark tunnel. She came to a halt, stood up, and gave herself a few dignified licks, before turning to move backward in the darkness.
"Don't," whispered a voice in her ear, and a ghostly cat materialized next to her. "Follow me."
The ginger and white tom hurried through the rest of the tunnel, guiding the ThunderClan cat with a tail on her shoulder. A burst of light up ahead, and, once again, they were in the glowing cavern, the glowing cavern in which Tiger had abandoned her...where Jayfeather confessed his love for her...how trivial all of that seemed now, compared to Shadefrost's betrayal.
Three familiar pelts were waiting for her next to the underground stream, and Rainsong leaped lightly over it, landing on feather-light paws next to the Three.
"Hi Dovewing. It's great to see you. All of you. I was...I was worried you had abandoned me," Rainsong confessed.
Dovewing purred. "We'll never leave you, Rainsong."
Jayfeather grunted. Lionblaze nodded, his eyes warm.
Dovewing's eyes found Fallen Leaves and glowed. "Thank you, Fallen Leaves, for guiding her here. We needed to speak to her."
"Why couldn't you come talk to me?"
"StarClan has forbidden it," mewed Lionblaze, while Jayfeather mumbled something that sounded like,
"Luna's a huge threat--" Jayfeather began.
"We know," intervened Rainsong. "We've experienced her first hand, thanks."
"Anyway," continued Jayfeather, as though nothing had happened, "I wanted--we wanted--to tell you that...she's not going to stop at the other Clans. She's going to kill every last one of you."
"Encouraging," Rainsong said sarcastically.
"Rainsong! Rainsong, where are you!?"
"Hide me," whispered Rainsong. "I can't talk to him, I'll kill him!"
"You won't," assured Dovewing. "It's not in your future."
The dark tortoiseshell tom entered the cavern, and Rainsong hissed.
"Get away from me!" she spat. "I hate you!"
"No! I won't!" Rainsong's voice grew hysterical.
"Rainsong--Sunwing and I--"
"Are mates! You don't care about me! Go away! I hate you!"
"No--they're not mine!"
"I don't ca--that's so likely," Rainsong replied, laughing derisively. "Because I should totally believe what you say when you're purring and cuddling with Sunwing every night in the warrior's den, I may be deputy, but that doesn't mean I--"
"I know. Rainsong, I'm sorry! They aren't my kits, she's not my mate anymore, she's really--"
"I don't want to be associated with more half-Clan kits! Don't tell me who the father is!"
"Whispstripe," whispered Shadefrost, and Rainsong lashed out with unsheathed claws. "Stop, stop!"
"I heard something," hissed Shadefrost. A shallow rushing was reaching their ears, and suddenly, water came crashing through the cave. Shadefrost pushed Rainsong over, towards the ledge that Rock had occupied moons before. Together they crouched, watching the stream overflow and water swirl through the cave, rising, but not coming near their safe spot. Rainsong settled down, trying to blink away the tears that sprang to her eyes.
She felt the rasp of a tongue on her ear, and looked to see Shadefrost, with sadness in his eyes, reassuring her. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "Really. I was stupid."
Rainsong gave a watery purr, closed her eyes, and fell asleep to Shadefrost's gentle voice in her ear, just like old times.
Just like old times.
Rainsong woke to the gentle patter of rain, and blearily blinked open her eyes.
She was lying in the warriors' den.
So last night had been a dream...or had it?
Her pelt was soaking wet, water pooling around her in the moss and bracken, and she was the only warrior in the center of the den, Weaselnose, Thrushleaf, Scorchwing, Appleleaf, and Smokebreeze, as well as Flamefur, Moonshadow, and Fernfur, the seniormost warriors, had rolled away from her, trying to avoid the streams of water pooling from her fur.
The only cat touching her, with cold, spiked fur, was Shadefrost, his tortoiseshell flank slowly rising and falling in time to the deputy's. Rainsong sighed contentedly, wondering how she had gotten out of the cave and back into camp. Next to her, Shadefrost shivered, and Rainsong carefully stood up, stretching, before padding out of the den, carefully avoiding stepping on anyone's tail.
Pebblestar was sitting on the ledge outside his den, his head bowed. Rainsong padded up to him, and gently nuzzled his shoulder. He looked up, his blue eyes dull.
"Pebblestar? What's wrong?" Rainsong asked carefully, and Pebblestar shrugged his muscular shoulders, and turne away, lifting his face to the rain, just like he had after the storm that had killed Stormflight.
"I...I was just thinking," Pebblestar mewed quietly. "About...your mother. And you. And my own parents. The rest of my family..."
"Sunsong and Molefall? Cloudsong and Weedfur?" Pebblestar nodded sadly.
"And Firepelt," he added softly.
"I miss her," Rainsong replied, her voice dropping. "But every time...every time I look at Fireberry...all I can see is Firepelt. As though they were mother and daughter."
"Pebblestar...is something on your mind?"
Pebblestar looked at his paws. "Well..."
"Yes," confirmed Pebblestar. "It's that rogue, Luna."
"What about her?"
"I feel like she's...like she's listening in on everything we say, everything we do, and some of the other Clans have had reports...fresh-kill, bloodied and trashed, left on their borders, crow-food spilled inside their borders, every one. They've been accusing us, as you know, but...we've had the trouble too. And it's no Clan scent I know. I'm almost positive it's Luna."
"Then suggest it!" Rainsong encouraged. "Tell the other leaders what you think!"
"Waterstar won't believe me."
"Well, Waterstar's old...she's slipping. She's older than you by moons. She's just not as loyal...not as willing to give up her lives."
"Rainsong...it's time I told you something."
"Those three...Brambleheart, Ashflight, and Fireberry? Not all of them are Flowertail's."
"They aren't?" Rainsong replied in a low voicie. "Then whose are they?"
"Ashflight and Brambleheart are Flowertail's. But Fireberry..."
Pebblestar closed his eyes. "Firepelt's."
"Why didn't she tell me?"
The first feeling Rainsong recognized was hurt. Despite Dovewing, Lionblaze, and Jayfeather's condemnation about how she could never be friends with Firepelt, the two had almost become like littlermates; Rainsong trusted the ginger warrior.
Pebblestar opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a chorus of yowls and screeches. "We didn't know!" wailed one voice, while others pleaded. Pebblestar leapt up, and hurried over to where Moonshadow, Shadefrost, and Shortleap were herding five cats.
"What are these cats doing in our camp?" demanded the leader, leaping into the gorge.
"They claim to be SkyClan," Shortleap growled contemptuously, prodding one of the cats, who winced. She was a dark gray she-cat, with blue eyes, and she was leading a black she-cat, a black tom, a brown-gray tabby tom, and a small gray and white cat who could only have been an apprentice.
"Please," begged the dark gray she-cat. "Please, we need your help. We are SkyClan, we swear it by StarClan, one of your former leaders, Firestar, he restored us. He helped us come to be! I wasn't even a kit then, but the queens have told me, and now I'm leader. My name is Plumstar. We are SkyClan, and we do need your help."
"What's wrong?" Pebblestar inquired sharply. Plumstar looked desperate, so the ThunderClan leader added hastily, "Sit down, sit down."
The cats sat gratefully, while Plumstar began to tell her story.
"It was many, many moons ago, when Firestar came with his mate, Sandstorm...he rebuilt SkyClan, and StarClan showed us a leader, and a medicine cat; Leafstar and Echosong. I am the only the third leader of SkyClan, second only to Cherrystar, who was the mate of Leafstar's deputy. But anyways...we are in desperate trouble. Foxes have invaded our territory. Before I was born, we had been able to fight off rats, but that was with our strongest leader, and first, and our strongest, most fierce deputy. Then Cherrystar got the deputyship after the death of her mate, and she became leader, making me her deputy. It's been barely a season since we died, and I can't keep us out of trouble. Foxes came, and now they won't leave, and we already lost two of our warriors; Rownheart and Paleberry."
The apprentice bowed his head, tearing up, and Rainsong realized that one of those cats must be either his littermate, one of his parents, or maybe even a former mentor.
"We need your help," repeated Plumstar. Rainsong took a deep breath. These cats had come so sudden...they were begging for help that ThunderClan might not be able to give, what with the threat of Luna hanging over them...
Pebblestar looked at the she-cat, her desperate eyes pleading.
"Rainsong, Little--Lilypaw," Pebblestar said in a constricted voice. "Come with me."
The three retreated a ways away, where no cat could hear them, and Rainsong could detect Plumstar introducing her patrol--Birdfeather, Rockleap, Mossflash, and Cloudpaw, the apprentice.
"Should we help them?" Pebblestar asked in a low voice. Rainsong pondered the question, whereas Lilypaw said straight away,
"Of course. We must help a Clan in need."
"Agreed," Rainsong added after a moment. "They need us."
"But what about Luna?"
"We'll leave enough cats. Only a patrol will go and help them, Plumstar said that Firestar and Sandstorm were the only cats to hlep them rebuild the whole Clan. Surely they can't need so many of us to help them fight of foxes...one cat did that a long time ago, remember Hollyleaf?" Rainsong reminded her leader. Lilypaw looked interested.
"She fought off two foxes, saving your father, Pebblestar, and your aunt. Remember? I know you can...the elders must have told you! We can do this!"
Pebblestar nodded. "We'll help them. I'll send a patrol to leave tomorrow at sunhigh. I don't know how far away though...these cats looked tired, worn, and hungry. We might not be able to leave so quickly...but leaf-bare has been over for moons, so we're safe from that threat...we just need them, and us, to recuperate. We'll be fine afterwards."
Rainsong nodded. "Who will go?"
"We need a cat with medicine cat experiences," Pebblestar said. "That could imply Appleleaf, but I was thinking more along the lines of Scorchwing. She was there for a long time, so definitely her. Smokebreeze as well. He's an experienced warrior, and I want Blackbird and Shadefrost too. Also Ashflight. And," added Pebblestar cautiously. "You."
Rainsong looked surprised. "Me?"
"You," repeated Rainsong. "You have the experience. Shortleap can be stand-in deputy."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," insisted Pebblestar, "Now go tell the others. Shadefrost and Blackbird and the like."
Rainsong nodded and hurried off. Ivypool and Orchidtail were stiffly creating a nesting area for Plumstar and her cats, which could have been done by the apprentices, except for the minor exception that the Clan was lacking in that department.
"Be prepared by sunhigh tomorrow. We don't know when we're going to leave," Rainsong told the five other cats quietly, and they nodded.
"'Course," Shadefrost said, and entwined his tail with hers. Rainsong gave him a brief smile, before pulling away and going to address Scorchwing.
"We're going to save SkyClan!" Scorchwing practically sang, hurrying over to Weaselnose. "I'm going to help save them from foxes!"
"That's great," mewed Weaselnose. He stepped back from his mate, turned, gave a somewhat hesitant look over his shoulder, and trotted over to the fresh-kill pile, moving to sit next to Shortleap, who was glaring at Smokebreeze.
"Toms," muttered Rainsong to Scorchwing, and she giggled. Rainsong padded, with Scorchwing at her side, towards the SkyClan cats, bringing two rabbits and a shrew for the group of seven to share.
"Thank you," Plumstar said graciously, dipping her head and tearing into the rabbit. Her four Clanmates dug in next to her, and before Rainsong and Scorchwing had a chance to eat, only bones remained. Rainsong swept them away, and went to get a few more pieces of fresh-kill.
"We don't have any apprentices, Cloudpaw," Rainsong mewed kindly. "But you can sleep in their den if you want."
Cloudpaw quickly shook his head, his eyes wide. "B-But...th-th-thank y-you," he stammered, pressing close to Plumstar. "I-I-I'm okay!"
Mossflash patted him soothingly on the shoulder. Birdfeather and Rockleap were conversing quietly, and Cloudpaw was beginning to calm down.
"So what kind of things have been happening?" Rainsong inquired, biting into a mouse, hoping that there wouldn't be too many breaks in the conversation for her to fill.
"Well," began Plumstar hesitantly. "I-It began a long time ago, many moons, and I remember it clearly. One cat had been taking fresh-kill from foxes, and bringing the kill into camp, and for a while we warriors followed him. Then...then the foxes attacked, for the first time, and...and...it was terrible. We lost no cats but the cat who was leading them in...he...he was, well...he had helped Leafstar, and he's the namesake of Harryheart, but that's not his real name."
"Well? What is his real name?" prompted Rainsong, swallowing a tough bit of mouse.
Plumstar took a deep breath. "Sol."
"Hasn't he done enough damage?" Rainsong asked furiously.
Plumstar nodded glumly. "It's all because we refused him a warrior name during Leafstar's time...she was going to give him one, but he had to have apprenticeship first. He's just way too emotional."
Rainsong gave a small laugh, and Plumstar gave her a sidelong grin.
"So what's SkyClan like?" Rainsong questioned. "How...different is it from here...from us?"
"Well...we live in a gorge, kind of like this, I guess, and we've grown. Cherrystar's kits have helped us grow, being some of the most loyal warriors, and Leafstar's own kits are great as well. Harryheart and Fireflare are always the first to volunteer for patrols, despite their seniority. Stormbird always volunteers to help our medicine cat, and we all work together. Until the foxes came. But that's...that's...we can't be too...well...I just want to forget about it. Plus...I was supposed to preform many elders' ceremonies before I left. Birdfeather didn't exactly ask to come on this journey," confessed the leader.
"It's all right. Whose your deputy?"
"Honeywillow," replied Plumstar. "I know I can trust her, because...well, Sandywing was the one who was the first to stop, but a while back, when Leafstar was leader, she caught some of the apprentices, including Honeywillow...and myself, taking food from an old Twoleg. Honeywillow kept taking though, and I admired her rebelliousnes, but then she stopped, so she could be trusted. Our medicine cat is Fernshine, Frecklewish's apprentice, and her apprentice is Owlpaw."
"Tell me more," begged Rainsong.
Plumstar smiled. "We have two queens, a few elders, two apprentices...the queens are Spottedflower and Swallowsong, both Cherrystar's beautiful daughters, many of our elders have died from the fox attacks, Willowbird, Rabbitleap, Creekfeather...well...and...well...Owlpaw and Cloudpaw are our apprentices. We have...a good portion of warriors, our fair share."
"That's great," Rainsong replied, fluffing up her fur against a brisk breeze that rippled through the camp.
"Rainsong!" The deputy turned. "What are you doing?"
"Talking to these cats," Rainsong told Shadefrost. "They're very interesting, not much different from us, in fact..."
"Great," said Shadefrost. "Do you want to go hunting? I thought we could take Leafstrike and Wolftail. You know...I want to see Leafstrike's abilities, and you haven't talked to Wolftail in a while, so I thought..."
"Of course! Do you want to come with us," Rainsong added to Plumstar. She shook her head.
"I don't think I'd be very welcome."
Rainsong glared at Shadefrost, who shrugged. "You can come if you want."
Plumstar still shook her head. "I think we're good."
Leafstrike and Wolftail trotted over as Shadefrost called their names, and together, the foru set out to hunt.
"So...why are we all hunting together?" Wolftail asked. Leafstrike seemed to panic, his green eyes flashing with anxiety.
"Is this an assessment? Because I didn't really pass my other one? Because the only thing I did was shove Luna off of you, I didn't even fight her?" Leafstrike's voice had risen to a wail as he finished. "Noo! I know I failed, I was foolish thinking about names while I hunted, I knew I should have been more concentrated, Fernfur probably told you, right? I could see him, hear his breathing get heavier as he watched his first apprentice fail!"
"Hush, Leafstrike!" Rainsong half-shouted exasperatedly. "This isn't an assessment, I just want to see you hunt!"
"So!? I don't deserve to be a warrior! You're testing me, you're making me Leafpaw again!"
"You deserve to be a warrior," Wolftail added fiercely. Shadefrost nodded.
"Your name will always be Leafstrike," Shadefrost hissed. "Because you were able to strike out, and save Rainsong!"
"I could have died without you," Rainsong murmured, resting her tail on the shaking warrior's shoulder. "It's all right. No need to get hysterical."
"Now that all the prey's scared away," Wolftail said briskly, "I think we better go towards the Sky Oak."
"Yup," Shadefrost said, brightening.
"Hey," Rainsong intervened good-naturedly. "What about the hierarchy? I'm the oldest, and deputy, I should be leader of this patrol."
"I suggested it," Wolftail and Shadefrost said at the same time.
"You're younger than me," replied Shadefrost defensively.
"I'm the oldest," protested Rainsong. "I should lead, and I'm deputy!"
"Let me lead," Leafstrike said quietly, sniffling. "I want to show you what I can do."
"Let him," interrupted Rainsong. Leafstrike gave a small smile, and hurried towards the Sky Oak.
"We should go to the Sky Oak though," he threw over his shoulder, and soon was racing so fast that the other three had to almost fly to catch up with him.
"Okay," panted Leafstrike. "So, Rainsong, take the left of the tree, Shadefrost to the right. Wolftail, stand right near the lake."
"I'll get the animals down from the tree. I'm an okay climber."
"Stop being modest," Shadefrost said with a roll of his eyes and a flick of his tail, shaking his head.
By nightfall they had gathered enough fresh-kill that it was going to take two trips. They bounded through the woods, happily chatting, until Rainsong spotted a bright beacon of light silhouetted against the horizon.
"What's happening?" Rainsong asked, stopping short. Shadefrost squinted.
Muffled shouts reached their ears. Rainsong darted forward, dropping her prey and racing towards the camp.
The gleaming orange and gold grew brighter, and Rainsong stopped, her Clanmates halting beside her, breathing heavily.
It would've been hard to miss the wall of fire devouring the camp.
"Get SkyClan out!" A yowl she recognized as Pebblestar screeched. Rainsong raced into the camp.
"What are you doing?" yelled Shadefrost behind her. "Get back here, Rainsong! You're only endangering yourself!"
"No! The elders," shouted Rainsong back, and she skidded into the camp to see Snowstrike and Featherheart calmly directing the cats out of the camp, maintaining order as the licking fire swept across the camp.
Brambleheart and Ashflight were both limping, and Littlewing was coughing, her cream pelt dusted with dark ash.
"We need fresh air," coughed Lilypaw. "We need to get everyone out!"
"What about the elders?" cried Rainsong. "And the queens?"
"The queens have gone," shouted Snowstrike. Fireberry nodded, pressing close to the white tom.
"What about the elders?" repeated the deputy. The two exchanged a glance, and Rainsong spun around.
"Ivypool! Breezeclaw, Orchidtail!"
"Ivypool can't breathe!" shouted Orchidtail from inside the elders' den. "We can't get out, but there's fire behind us, our tails are close to burning!"
"Help!" Breezeclaw gave a strangled yell.
Rainsong leaped into the elders' den, seized one pelt, and dragged the elder out, not bothering to see which cat she had grabbed, before she tugged out Orchidtail as well. "Breezeclaw!"
Orchidtail's sob was drowned out by an anguished wail. "Get him out," she wailed. "Get him out!"
Rainsong took a deep breath of heavy, putrid air, and pushed her way into the elders' den, grabbing Breezeclaw. His ginger pelt was smoking slightly, and most of his tail was singed away.
"I'm burning!" he yelled. "I can't see!" His eyes were swollen shut, and the boughs under which the den was hidden were smeared with blood.
"Get him out," persisted Orchidtail behind Rainsong.
Suddenly, she was shoved aside, and a silver and white tabby pelt pushed past her, grabbing onto Breezeclaw and yanking him out into the flaming camp. "Get out," Ivypool snarled, pushing the two newest elders towards Featherheart and Snowstrike.
Ivypool hurried over to the apprentice den, limping. "What are you doing?" screeched Rainsong.
"Getting the apprentices out," replied Ivypool.
"There aren't any, Ivypool!"
"Nonsense," replied Ivypool. "What about Sunpaw--and Molepaw, and...Cherrypaw, and those apprentices? Poppyfrost won't take kindly to you calling her kits nobodies!"
"Rosepetal! Rosepetal--where are you going? Dovewing, you told me you wouldn't leave me! Don't die!" Ivypool called out, stumbling blindly around in circles, coughing.
Rainsong could barely breathe, and smoke drifted through her vision as the fire raced towards her, its fiery feet sliding over the floor of the gorge, consuming everything around it. "Get out!" choked Rainsong. "Ivypool--go!"
"Leafpool? Leafpool, what have you done? Jayfeather, why'd you do that, what are you doing? Where are you!?"
Ivypool collapsed, her silver and tabby pelt barely moving as smoke swirled around her. "Ivypool!" shrieked Rainsong.
Suddenly, without warning, a pair of teeth sank into her scruff, and Rainsong was lifted, hoisted away like a kit. "Ivypool!" wailed Rainsong, struggling.
"Quiet," hissed a familiar voice, and Rainsong recognized Pebblestar. "S-stop struggling!"
The two scrambled away, Pebblestar dropping Rainsong so she could scramble away herself. "But what about Ivypool?"
"It's no use," a quiet voice whispered in her ear. "She's gone."
Dovewing's shadowy form appeared next to her. "I'm going to claim my sister, Rainsong. There's nothing you can do."
"But she's the last survivor," coughed Rainsong, her voice rising hysterically. "She's important!"
Dovewing looked confused, then her eyes widened. "But...but she's dead, Rainsong, she can't be!"
Rainsong's eyes fluttered closed. Dovewing gave her a small lick on her head, and hurried off to gather up her sister.
The next thing Rainsong knew, she and Pebblestar were wrenched apart, and Rainsong was dangling back into the burning camp, which was now completely engulfed in flames. Ivypool would most definitely be dead.
Her claws slipped, but Rainsong was able to fling up another paw to try and scrabble up. A silver face loomed over her, smirking.
"And now," she said contemptuously, throwing the words over her shoulder towards Pebblestar. "I'll kill your daughter to make up for the pain I felt when you were born. My father made you possible. That killed me. He never cared about me...he never did about you, either, but this is the only way I can make you sorry! I'll kill her!"
Luna raised her paws, ready to swipe Rainsong's paws away from the cliff. The deputy's hindlegs struggled to find pawholds.
"Then let me die for her," spat Pebblestar. "I'll jump in there myself!"
"No. She'll die before your eyes, and you'll know you caused it," hissed Luna, hooking one claw under one of Rainsong's. She flicked upwards, and Rainsong's whole paw was dislodged. Pebblestar squeezed his eyes tight shut, before blurting out his next sentence.
"Well, you'll have to find a different way!" he half-shouted. "Because she isn't mine!"
With a sickening scratch, Rainsong felt herself fall...down...down...down.
A roar reached Rainsong's ears, and she screeched in pain, feeling her back take the impact of hitting the floor of the gorge from a huge fall. She lay still, twitching, in a small, dusty clearing, around which the fire was raging. She could barely open her mouth to question the absurdity of it all, when Dovewing landed lightly beside her, Jayfeather and Lionblaze following soon after.
Rainsong gurgled unintelligibly, and Dovewing's tail brushed her shoulder. "Hush. You...this is more..."
"You have a choice, Rainsong," mumbled Jayfeather. "You can give yourself up...or live to finish your destiny."
"Her tail is broken," Jayfeather whispered. "She...she..."
"Don't say it, don't say it," squealed Dovewing and Lionblaze.
"D-Don't..." Rainsong could barely form a sound, and Jayfeather bowed his head.
"If she lived, she could never...remember Briarlight? Rainsong broke her tail, which is less severe, but....she can't...her destiny is gone. Wiped from the future. Nothing...she can't do anything."
"You mean...you mean, she has to die?" echoed Lionblaze. "I thought she had a choice!"
"She does," insisted Jayfeather. "But we don't know if she'll get better or not. Even Yellowfang wouldn't have been able to tell."
"Breaking your tail shouldn't have to do with anything! Only her back should matter," cried Dovewing. "Know Halftail, Sparrowpelt...he only has half his tail, the rest of it got bitten of by a badger, it shouldn't matter!"
Jayfeather sighed. "I guess...I guess I just want her to stay here...with us," he murmured quietly. Lionblaze moved towards him, but Jayfeather backed away. "Don't say anything," he warned. "Don't. I--I have to go."
"I've got to collect Pebblestar," Dovewing mewed solemnly. Jayfeather nodded.
"I have to...I'm...bye."
The two disappeared, leaving Rainsong alone with Lionblaze.
"H-h-how...P-P-Pebblestar...n-n-not....f-f-father?" Rainsong stuttered, staring up at Lionblaze through her shock.
Lionblaze smiled sadly.
Lionblaze bowed his head. "The mate of Cherryfeather. I don't know his name, but..."
"Why did Pebblestar lie? Because...he loved you as his own daughter, he knew Cherryfeather, from some long ago exchange...he loved Cherryfeather as well, and they didn't want..."
"How come I remember being with Stormflight though?" Rainsong asked. "I remember being a kit in the nursery, hearing my first words...why doesn't anyone else know?"
"Because Nightfire helped Cherryfeather give birth in the forest, with Pebblecloud and Stormflight with her. Stormflight claimed the little kit, you, as her own, and Cherryfeather left, to go back...to where she came from."
"Where did she come from?"
"I don't know."
"I know you do."
"Why didn't Stormflight tell me this?"
"Because Stormflight can't! She's not...she's..."
"She's rejected me then?"
"No!" Lionblaze sounded frazzled. "No, she's--"
"Just...tell me what Clan Cherryfeather was. Because I know you know!"
Lionblaze was silent for a long time before he opened his mouth again.
When Rainsong woke up, she was lying on her side, her legs splayed out awkwardly in front of her, and pain flashing through her tail.
Funny scents swirled around her, strange, with a tang to them....not SkyClan, no, now Rainsong could recognize the scent of the fifth Clan anywhere, and this was definitely not it. Rainsong was able to distinguish the smell just as a cat from that Clan padded in.
"Hello, Rainsong," Cinderfoot mewed, and Smallfern was just behind him.
"Is she okay?" whispered Smallfern. Cinderfoot nodded.
"She should be. She's just gotten a broken tail, nothing too severe. Can you hear me, Rainsong?"
Rainsong flattened her ears, and nodded, slightly suspicious about wondering why ShadowClan was in the medicine den...then she realized...she was in their medicine den.
"It's okay, Rainsong," soothed Cinderfoot. "You're in ShadowClan now."
"Where's my Clan?"
"They're here, don't worry. Our warriors are tending to them, helping them, no severe injuries..."
"I mean...what happened to my camp?" Her voice was barely a whisper, and she wanted to shut her ears when she heard what she knew Cinderfoot was going to say.
"It's all burned. I'm sorry."
Tears filled Rainsong's eyes, as she thought blankly of the camp in which she had grown up, in which she had been born--no, that wasn't correct. Her whole life had been a lie, she wasn't born in ThunderClan, she didn't even have ThunderClan blood, what was she thinking?
"I want to talk to Pebblestar," Rainsong said, standing up. Her tail burned as though the flesh was seared, and her balance was quite a bit off, but she staggered determinedly out into the clearing, to find her father and tell him that she knew it was hard for him, that she was going to forgive him no matter what, that she--
"Rainsong. H-He's not...he's...he's dead." Smallfern's voice, though barely a whisper on the gentle breeze, shocked Rainsong, and she nearly collapsed. A dappled brown she-cat hurried over to her, and let the deputy--not leader, not leader, Rainsong refused to let herself think that--lean on her. Pride flickered in Smallfern's eyes, and Rainsong knew she must be looking upon the ShadowClan warrior's daughter, Hawkflight.
Smallfern's small smile vanished when she saw the slight smile on Rainsong's face, and Smallfern seemed to cave in, shrinking, saddening.
"I shouldn't be happy when you're suffering so much," she mumbled, and rested a tail on Rainsong's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
Rainsong pulled away shaking her head. "I should be sorry. I've left the burden of my Clan on all of you. We have to go...we have to go somewhere else...we can't stay...."
"Stay as long as you need," Darkstar said, padding up. "We have more than enough space, with only a few warriors and two apprentices. We needn't all of our territory, we can make you a make-shift camp elsewhere in our territory, near the border with your Clan, and you could hunt there, being used to the familiar ground."
The ThunderClan cats who had gathered looked around, nodding, but most of them looked towards Rainsong. The former deputy was now leader, and she must make all of the decisions for her Clan...but first, she had to get her nine lives.
"Just here, Rainsong," Lilypaw said in the darkness, guiding the she-cat towards a shimmering pool. "Drink one mouthful, and then close your eyes."
Rainsong obeyed, and felt herself sinking into sleep. When she opened her eyes, starry cats were all around her, their pelts shining, their eyes glimmering with pride, hope, or happiness.
"StarClan," whispered LIlypaw. "Great, right?" Rainsong froze, immobile, and she couldn't breathe...she couldn't move...and then it was gone. Her old life was gone.
Rainsong nodded wordlessly in answer to Lilypaw's question, as a dark gray she-cat padded up to her. Stormflight.
"With this life, I give you honesty. Use it well to guide your Clan through the roughest times." Stormflight stepped back, and Rainsong opened her mouth to speak; to say sorry, to tell her...her...the queen....that she wished she really had been her own mother, that Rainsong would have been happy to live in naivete for the rest of her life...but Stormflight rested a tail on the former deputy, future leader's shoulder. "Later," she mouthed, as Rainsong froze with the intense pain of receiving the life, feeling it rip through her like fire.
The next to emerge was her father's...no, Pebblestar's father. She had no relation to him anymore, she never did, but she still felt comforted to see a face she remembered. Molefall.
"With this life, I give you hope. Remember, hope shines at the end of even the darkest of tunnels, waiting to guide you." Rainsong was able to brace herself for her second life, the pain lesser then she expected.
The next cat to step forward was Sunsong, Molefall's mate. "With this life, I give you protection, as fierce as a mother's, to protect your whole Clan and lead them through the toughest of times." Pain ripped through Rainsong, and she faltered. It was more painful then the first, like striking lightning.
Nightfire was the next to give a life, for wisdom. Then Lionblaze stepped forward.
"With this life I give you courage. Use it to fight through even the toughest enemies, to protect your Clan."
"With this life, I give you knowledge. Never discard it in the face of an enemy, but use it to plan, and to fight," Dovewing mewed.
A she-cat that Rainsong had never before seen stepped forward, a brown and cream tabby with amber eyes. "I am Leafstar," she mewed. "The first leader of modern SkyClan. With this life, I give you duty. Use your duty to protect your Clan."
Jayfeather turned to Rainsong, but when he spoke, his voice was quiet. "With this life, I give you love. Use it to help your Clanmates in times of need, and when you look, it will always be there for you."
Rainsong could almost see a holographic image of a cat somewhat resembling Shadefrost in front of her, but Jayfeather stepped through it, and it transformed: into an exact, wispy match of Shadefrost. Jayfeather nodded slightly; knowingly.
Last, but not least, Pebblestar stepped forward. "With this life, I give you compassion. Use it to help your Clan, to assisst the weakest elders and the tiniest kits." He stepped back. "I hail you by your new name, Rainstar. Your old life is no more. You have now received the nine lives of a leader, and StarClan grants you guardianship of ThunderClan. Defend it well; care for young and old; honor your ancestors and the traditions of the warrior code; and live each life to its fullest and with dignity."
The cats around her broke into a joyful chorus.
"Rainstar! Rainstar! Rainstar!"
"Kits!" yowled Appleleaf joyfully. "We haven't had kits in so long!"
Not since Fireberry and Wolftail's two daughters, anyway. Cloudstep and Eagleflower were the first apprentices in moons, and Littlewing, who was finally forgiven for having kits, trained Eagleflower, while Shadefrost took Cloudstep.
Rainstar was sitting proudly in the nursery with her two sunrise-old kits, Berrykit (named in honor of Firepelt, by name of Firepelt's daughter, Fireberry), a dark ginger she-cat, and Redkit, a dark tortoiseshell tom who bore a striking resemblance to his father.
Shadefrost was hurrying around, spreading the joyous news to his Clanmates.
The elders, who now comprised of the former seniormost warriors, Appleleaf, Shortleap, Thrushleaf, Smokebreeze, Flamefur, and Flowertail, were chatting in the sunshine, while Otterpaw, the sole apprentice, and son of Brambleheart and Addernose, cleaned out their den.
Rainstar remembered happily the times she remembered with SkyClan, the fifth Clan in the gorge far away; meeting her mother and father, Cherryfeather and Spiderfur, seeing Raventail, the lost black she-cat taken by Twolegs had escaped only to find a living Clan right near her new home. She had come back to ThunderClan afterwards, only to join the elders' den with her peers.
Rainstar watched her children joyfully bound around the camp, silhouetted by the sun, setting on the last day of the fourth season of her leadership.
All was well.
I hope you liked it! Yes, the last line is from Harry Potter, with which I credit it! Thanks for reading the series--look for the side story of saving SkyClan in The Savior of SkyClan!