Huddled in a corner of the camp with Minkpaw, I whispered, "What is this plan doesn't work? What if the killer is actually a rogue? Our plan won't work then."
"Then we'll come up with something new," Minkpaw said resolutely. "Now, did we agree on a timing? Early evening, right?"
"Right," I said with a short nod. My heart beat faster just thinking about it. Standing up, I shook out my fur. "Dewfrost wants me on the border patrol now. If I find anything suspicious or that points to rogues as the culprits, I'll tell you, okay?" She nodded, and I padded away.
Thinking back to, well, only a few days ago, I was shocked to see that Minkpaw and I were actually getting along for once- and that Daisypaw and I weren't. My friend wasn't giving me the silent treatment exactly, but she refused to acknowledge that we were friends, and she certainly wouldn't chat with me like we used to.
Oh well. Once I had the case sorted out, I'd apologize and make things right with her.
That sounded really cold to be in reference to your best friend, but what other choice did I have? Surely catching Shinecloud's killer was-
"Breezepaw, you ready to go?" Dewfrost called. My mentor was waiting for me by the camp entrance, along with the rest of the border patrol; Thistleblossom and Goldenburst. The latter gave me a friendly smile, communicating that while he knew Daisypaw was mad at me, Ivyrose and him weren't participating in her cold shoulder treatment.
"Yeah, I'm ready," I said. I was eager to be on a patrol again, and not just to see if I could scent any rogues. Now that my ankle was finally healed, it felt good to be getting back to my apprentice duties.
The four of us set off towards the further side of SpringClan's border, the one that wrapped around the hillside fields- and High-Rock. I was surely the most keyed-up, anxious cat on the patrol, as every step I took could bring me closer to solving the murder. When we reached the border where rogue/loner scents had been reported, Dewfrost ordered us to split up and check the thing thoroughly while marking it. This was fine with me, as I needed some time to do some private sleuthing.
Sure enough, the reports were proved to be correct. Every single one of us found some sign of cats being at the border, cats who didn't belong there. Dewfrost looked anxious. "Do you think Shinecloud's death and these scents are connected?" he asked.
"Could be, or could be we're just dealing with two different issues," Goldenburst said, pawing at the ground in frustration. "I just wish we had a little more evidence and stuff to go on, and actually seeing one of these intruders would be nice too, so we could question them."
Biting her lip, Thistleblossom meowed, "I can ask Oakstar to send out a patrol to try to find these rogues, but I don't know how many cats we can spare. He's already got a group working on the murder mystery, and we still have to keep up regular hunting and border patrols too. It might be too draining to our Clan to go off following rogues."
I listened to the discussion quietly, knowing it wasn't my place, being only an apprentice, to interfere. Finally, Goldenburst stretched and jerked his head. "We should get back to camp before they miss us."
"Yeah. I'll talk it over with Oakstar; maybe we can come up with something," Thistleblossom sighed.
Quickly, I was realizing that SpringClan needed to root out the killer as soon as possible. Or else there were going to be tons of complications and consequences.
StarClan, please let our plan work.
Around the afternoon, when everyone was sharing tongues or gossiping, Minkpaw and I put our trap into action. Splitting up, we headed for different groups of cats, whispering our little lines.
"Hey," I said, kneeling beside Hawkeye, Blackheart, and Cranelegs. "Did you hear? Oakstar thinks he knows who the killer is. He's going to interrogate them at the scene of the crime, on top of High-Rock, at sunset tonight."
All the toms stared at me. Blackheart narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "How do you know that?"
"Goldenburst told me," I said, knowing that everyone knew how Goldenburst was like a father to me.
That seemed to appease him. With satisfaction, I noticed that Hawkeye had already gotten up to go tell someone else this bit of gossip. By sunset, everyone would know that the killer was to be questioned on High-Rock. Now I could only hope that my instinct was right.
You see, this whole plan was riding on the fact that I was sure the real murderer would show up at High-Rock(or at least near it) to see who was being interrogated in their place. Yes, it was a long shot. But Lionpatch had told me to trust my instincts, and I was going to. If the plan failed, we could come up with a new one- though we'd have to be careful, because chances are the real culprit would be more wary.
Minkpaw joined me, eyes sparkling. "I think this might work, Breezepaw."
"I hope so," I agreed. "Now for the next step. Get Oakstar out of the camp."
Convincing Oakstar to leave the camp turned out to be surprisingly easy- I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. All we had to do was tell him he needed to take Mintwhisker out hunting, and he agreed to it. I also wasn't sure if it was a good idea to trick him, instead of just telling him our plan outright. I mean, it would just be us two apprentices up there at High-Rock by ourselves... and no one would know where we were. Suddenly, I realized that if the murderer decided to silence us forever when we caught him/her, there would be no help at all for us.
I had to tell someone what we were going to do. But who? Any warrior would immediately forbid us to do it.
"One second, Minkpaw," I said.
She frowned impatiently. "Okay, but make it quick Breezepaw. We need to get a move on if we're going to be there before the killer arrives."
"Daisypaw!" I yelled. "Daisypaw, wait up!"
Primly, she turned and said, "I'm sorry, I can't. Specklepaw and I are going to go to the berry fields, and I can't be late. Oh, and by the way," she added, "I know it was you and Minkpaw who started that rumor about the interrogation at High-Rock tonight. No one's going to believe that, I'll bet." The tiniest note of concern came into her voice. "You aren't going to try anything stupid, are you Breezepaw?"
I shrugged. "Depends what you call stupid. But yeah, me and Minkpaw are going up there, and you can't tell anyone, okay? I'm just telling you this because if something happens..."
"I'm serious. You cannot tell anyone. If we were ever friends, just do this one thing for me."
She rolled her eyes. "Of course we're still friends. But you haven't even apologized yet, which is why I still have to pretend we aren't."
Defensively, I mewed, "I did apologize!" Then I relaxed. "But anyway, I am sorry. See you later?"
"Yeah. Please don't get yourself killed." Concern glimmered in her hazel eyes.
"I'll try," I vowed, before joining Minkpaw and dashing away towards High-Rock for the encounter of a lifetime.
Or so I hoped, anyway.
Upon reaching High-Rock, Minkpaw and I chose the highest vantage point we could, well hidden from the ground. We nestled behind a jagged spear of rock that came out of the main base, trying to be as quiet as possible even though no one was there yet. The last thing we needed was to tip off the murderer.
Almost inaudibly, Minkpaw breathed, "What if no one comes, Breezepaw? What if they know it's a trap?"
"Then we try again tomorrow, with a new plan," I whispered back.
We both fell silent after that. And waited. There was nothing to do but wait.
Finally, I spotted it. A flash of color and movement down below. Tentatively, I peered out as far as I dared, straining to catch a glimpse of the cat who had arrived. When I did, my breath caught in my throat. I yanked my head back behind the rock, trying to slow down my pounding pulse.
He glanced about suspiciously, ears pricked, apparently listening for any sign of Oakstar or the suspect. Shooting a glance towards the horizon, he seemed to notice that it was still too early to be sunset. "He's finding somewhere to watch from," I whispered to Minkpaw. "What if he comes up here?"
Squeezing her eyes shut, she whispered back, "It's no use letting him find a hiding spot. If we wait too long, he'll realize this was a trap."
"What are you saying?" I could feel my eyes bugging out.
With a grim set to her jaw, she slowly began to rise to her paws. "We have to confront him. Right now." And before I could stop her, she ducked out from our hiding place, scattering pebbles noisily as she yelled, "Blackheart! What are you doing here?"
There were no words to describe the display of shock on the tom's face as he stared up at us. I was sure he was wondering what two apprentices were doing up at High-Rock. Briefly, I wondered if he thought we were the suspects. How ironic that would be. "What is going on?" Blackheart snapped, eyes blazing. He knew what was going on perfectly well, I realized. He was buying time.
Together, we advanced on him till we were only a few tails away. "So. You came here. Why? To here what cat had been summoned here in your place?" I asked coldly.
Sneering up at us, he snorted, "You think I'm the murderer?"
"You have the motives, after what Duskwatcher and Shinecloud did to you," Minkpaw said, not angrily, but calmly, as if reciting a well-known quote.
Rage colored his pale eyes. "You don't know the half of what they did to me," he choked out, turning his head away. "All you saw was that one fight and you say I have the motives. But if you knew-" He paused, as if struggling with himself. "Shinecloud deserved to die. I don't care what anyone says. I say good riddance. And if I had my way, Duskwatcher would be next."
Even though I had already tried to steel myself, this blew me away. "They're your Clanmates!"
Bitterly, he shook his head. "No, they're not. They're beasts. My enemies."
"We're going to turn you in now." There was no joy in Minkpaw's voice as she said this. No relief at having solved the case. I knew how she felt.
His face contorted. "Oh yeah? What if I say I don't want you to? Who's going to protect you?" He unsheathed his claws.
Something didn't seem right. But before I could place my paw on it, a loud voice came from behind Blackheart.
"I believe that would be us. We're going to protect Minkpaw and Breezepaw."
Disbelievingly, Minkpaw, Blackheart and I stared at the huge patrol of SpringClan cats standing there. In the front was Oakstar himself, and- "Daisypaw!" I yelled, too grateful to be angry that she had told everyone my plan. She smiled apologetically.
"I thought you might need some help."
Before I could voice my gratitude, Oakstar turned to Blackheart. The leader's eyes were thunderous, and the black-and-white tom quailed visibly in the path of his rage. "Blackheart, I won't say anymore. I won't say how disappointed I am. All I'll say is this: I want you out of my Clan. Forever."
"That's ridiculous!" a voice yelled. Duskwatcher. The dark gray tom's golden eyes were blazing like balls of fire. "He should be killed!"
"No," Oakstar said firmly. "But he will be banished-"
"Then I'll do it myself!"
Time seemed to slow down as the enraged tom flew towards the hapless Blackheart. I knew Blackheart was going to die at that instant. I just knew it. And then there was a flash of blue-gray, and the next thing everyone knew, Bluebird and Duskwatcher were grappling on the ground. Bluebird was on top, fighting to keep his brother under control. "You're nuts!" he hissed. "You're crazy! Listen to Oakstar!"
It was sickening to see the mad light in Duskwatcher's eyes as he was forced away from Blackheart. Inside, I knew Shinecloud's death had changed him forever. It had snapped something inside him that could never be replaced.
That was when Minkpaw nudged me. "He's gone."
The Clan froze, searching for Blackheart. She was right. He was nowhere to be seen. In the commotion, he'd escaped.
Panic clawed at my heart. No. I was even more sure now that something wasn't right. Which was ridiculous, actually. I had a confession. Blackheart had admitted to doing it. Hadn't he?
While the rest of the Clan murmured at the base of High-Rock, too stirred up to go back to the camp yet, I grappled furiously with my own mind. Somehow... we had missed something. The third cat, I realized. We had never found out who the third cat was. And that might not matter- except I was sure it did. No matter how much I tried to convince myself that Blackheart was the face my subconscious had brought up earlier, I knew he wasn't. Maybe he had been the third cat. Maybe he'd thought Shinecloud deserved to die, and decided not to tell anyone about her murder.
But he wasn't the killer. I was sure of that- at least, as sure as I could be with barely any evidence to go on.
Bounding over to Lionpatch, who was standing at the edge of the fray, I mewed, "Lionpatch, is there anything you can think of that associates mint with Blackheart? Anything at all?"
"What?" he blinked confusedly; he'd obviously been speculating on Blackheart's condemnation. Then he paled under his fiery ginger coat. "Y-yes. Mint, right?" I nodded in response. "He's allergic to it. His paws swell up, he gets breathless..." He trailed off. "You don't think Blackheart's the murderer."
There was no use denying it. "No. But... I think I know who is. I need to question Blackheart though, and he's gone."
The medicine cat paused to consider this. "If you go now you can probably find him. Hurry. I'll cover for you if anyone misses you."
"Thank you," I breathed.
As I ran off, I realized just how many missing links there were in this story. I needed to connect the web of cats that Shinecloud had hurt in some way or another. And in that web, I knew I would find my killer.
Either way, Blackheart wasn't the perpetrator. I needed to redeem him, and convince him to help me convict the real killer. Which would be really hard. Because he had covered for the killer already once. He hadn't told anyone. And now it seemed he was actually willing to take the blame for the killer's crime.
Not anymore. Now it was time for the truth to come out.
This case wasn't closed.