This is a one-shot for Misty's contest. Enjoy!
The she-cat's pale gold pelt was a small ray of light in the foggy darkness as she thrashed frantically. A dark force, half-cat, half-cloud, was moving towards her.
"You cannot escape. It is your destiny. You must die. It is for the good of the Clans. You are not a cat. It is you. It is within you."
The she-cat's round pale green eyes grew wider and wider with fear as the dark cloud-cat became bigger. "Please," she sobbed. "I just want to live a normal life."
"Impossible! Childish fantasies! You must accept who, or what, you are. And fulfill your purpose. You have a purpose, a use. That is all."
The cloud enveloped her, but there was no one to witness the dream. If they had though, the would see that her coat grew dazzlingly bright, bursting into a brilliant golden yellow. The she-cat writhed in pain and horror as the light and darkness combusted, and she was thrown back into a silvery realm, into the clutches of sleep.
Runningpaw licked the last bits of vole from his lips, then stood and stretched his lean body. Looking around, he saw that, as usual, GrassClan's camp was quiet. To Runningpaw, it seemed like his warrior ceremony couldn't get here fast enough.
There was one other apprentice in the Clan, a moon younger then him, but he rarely spoke to her. There was something odd, or at least different, about Sunnypaw. She had large green orbs for eyes, and a pale coat that looked like it was made from molten gold. Runningpaw kept his distance from her, not exactly because he disliked her, but because when he looked into her large eyes, he felt as if taking a step towards friendship with her again would suck him into a deep abyss that he could never get out of. Like there was much more to her then the pretty she-cat who excelled at hunting that the rest of the Clan saw. But he could see it. And it kind of scared him.
"Runningpaw!" Barkleaf, their medicine cat, was walking towards him. "Can you take this mouse-bile and get rid of the elder's ticks?"
Though he cringed on the inside as he picked up the foul smelling pouch, he had to admit that, pathetically, this was the most exciting thing that had happened all morning.
"Sure Barkleaf," he mumbled around it.
"Thank you," the brown tom meowed. "I have to go harvest some dock and marigold, and I've no time to do it. Get Sunnypaw too, if you can find her."
"I think she's out hunting," he put in hastily, which was partly true. The young she-cat was an excellent hunter, and it was probably what she was doing right now. Either way, he wasn't about to go looking for her.
"Hello Runningpaw," Darkflight meowed as he entered. "Come to hear a story?"
"Actually, to tend to your ticks. But I'd love to hear one as I work," Runningpaw replied pleasantly.
"Which one should we tell him?" Darkflight turned to the other two elders, Scratchfur and Linktail.
"How about the time a fox came into the camp?" asked Scratchfur lazily. The reddish tom turned to Runningpaw. "It was the scariest thing I ever saw, let me tell you."
As he listened to the story, with each elder coming up with more outrageous additions to the tale, Runningpaw let his mind wander. Would he ever be forced to fight a fox? He wanted to do the right thing for his Clan, but would only fight to kill if it was absolutely nessacary.
After he was done with the elders, Runningpaw headed outside. There was no sign of his mentor, Redberry, so he decided to go for a walk in the woods and do some hunting as well.
The sunlight was warm on his back as he weaved through the forest. Just then, he heard a low, chanting sound. Puzzled, he followed the noise and emerged into a hidden vale. Sunlight filtered through so many layers of green leaves and cherry blossoms that it splayed out in an emerald and ruby pattern on the grass. The cherry trees' long branches brushed the ground, and all manner of beautiful flowers grew around the alcove.
And sitting in the middle of the clearing, bathed in ethereal light, was Sunnypaw. She appeared to be in a queer trance. Her green eyes were wide open, but unseeing. Her body was vibrating slightly. The chanting sound he had heard appeared to come from around her.
Slowly, he backed away, then turned and ran. What is wrong with her?
"Aolani," Sunnypaw said impatiently, glaring at the dark, wavering form of a cat in front of her. "Can't you talk about anything but how to control my power till the 'time'? Why can't you explain to me what exactly is going on with me?"
The cloud-cat sat, and her eyes emerged from the ever-moving mist she was made of. "Sunnypaw," she sighed, or at least that's what it looked like. It was quite odd talking to her. "It's difficult to explain. Now, let's try that again. This time, when I lunge at you, no matter how angry or emotional you get, do not let it happen."
"I'm the sun." Sunnypaw still cringed and bit her lip when she said those words, though she had known for some time now.
"Not exactly," meowed Aolani calmly. The large golden eyes disappeared, and she reared back and prepared to strike, growing bigger.
With a shrug, Sunnypaw braced herself. As usual, she felt the sunlight. Not the warm sunlight she felt normally, and other cats must all the time, but a hot raging inferno that threatened to engulf everything. Next came the burning in her chest. Then the flash of light- No! She focused her mind intently, trying desperately to keep herself together. The rays began to dim slowly. Aolani's eyes appeared once more, and she gave a nod of approval, receding into her regular form.
"You're getting better."
"It's really helping. Soon you'll be able to fight like a normal cat."
"A normal cat! What do you care if I get to be normal? All you're trying to do is keep the power safe till the time comes. You don't care about me! You think I'm a weapon! Something to be used." Sunnypaw felt her rage building again. Light began emerging once more, chasing Aolani back. She swished her tail agitatedly.
"That's not true Sunnypaw. Calm down, now."
"Forget it!" Sunnypaw expelled a few rays and blinded herself as well. The clouds faded and she was back in her secret place with the new-leaf air surrounding her comfortingly. She blinked a few times, and regained her composure. It always took a while to get adjusted back to the normal world after her training sessions.
As she headed back, she thought that for a second she scented Runningpaw. Runningpaw. She had liked him since they were kits. She could remember when they had been best friends and done everything together. That was before Aolani. Before she found out who she really was. Before her family had died because of it.
Before. And it will never be the same again.
The whole Clan was enjoying a quiet evening. Sunnypaw enjoyed it as well, but for a different reason. As the sun went down, the power within her dimmed. It was still there, she knew, a bright, burning presence, but it was much easier to control. It let her mind refocus on regular happenings instead.
A twinge of loneliness stabbed her as she looked about at her Clanmates, all sharing tongues and talking. Only one other cat was alone as well. His warm blue gaze caught hers for an instant, and she felt her neck-fur growing hot. She looked away.
Runningpaw and she hadn't really spoken since her family had died. Since she had met Aolani. Sunnypaw knew she had changed then, and probably not for the better, but she didn't know how to get back to normal. What was normal anyway, when you were destined to die for your Clan? When you knew that no matter how hard you tried to escape it, your only fate was to be a massive bomb. She wasn't even sure what she would be fighting against when the "time" came, but Aolani made it soud like a tiger and lion combined. And Sunnypaw had no desire to fight. It came not from gentleness, though she would never hurt something without reason. It stemmed from the fact that here on earth, without Aolani's help and in the heat of battle, she could never be sure what would happen.
So far she had avoided all the border skirmishes. But as new-leaf made them stronger, GrassClan's biggest adversaries, WillowClan, were attacking more and more often, trying to steal the little portion of woods GrassClan owned. They did most of their hunting on the prairie, but the woods served as a good hunting grounds and a place to make their camp. The clan would defend it fiercely, and Sunnypaw knew it wouldn't be long before she was called into battle. She was also sure that nothing short of an eclipse would stop her from exploding and destroying every cat in the forest, including herself.
Runningpaw lay awake in his nest, unable to stop his gaze from straying to the other side of the apprentice's den, where Sunnypaw was curled into a tight little ball. Every few minutes she'd murmur something incoherent in a pleading tone, making him wonder what she was dreaming about. What had she been doing when he saw her today?
His thoughts travelled back to his kithood. In almost all of his early memories, she was there. The night she'd been born. Their first trip outside the nursery. Listening to elders' tales together. Getting chased out of the warrior's den by Darkflight. His cheeks grew hot as he remembered the day he'd marched up to his mom and announced that he loved Sunnykit, that they were mates, and were going to have one hundred kits when they grew up. I was little then. I didn't know any better.
Then her parents had died. Their bodies had been found in the woods. The Clan had assumed that they had been killed by rogues, because they couldn't come up with anything else. But there was no way a mere cat could have broken two cats' spines like that. Sunnypaw, who was a kit then, had been stricken. But Runningpaw could tell she knew more about her parent's death then she let on.
After that point though, it became impossible to reach her. She retreated into a shell no one could penetrate, and the bonds of their friendship had disappaited into his pitying looks and her defiant glares. Sunnypaw hated to be pitied; Runningpaw knew that much. But it was hard not to feel sorry for her, whatever she was going through had most definitely not ended with her parents being killed. And he wasn't sure if it would ever end.
"Runningpaw! We're going out for some hunting practice." Runningpaw loooked up to see his mentor, Redberry, walking towards him. "Sunnypaw and Crimsonfall are using the sand-pit for fight-training, so I thought we'd go down to the field and catch some hares. It'll help your speed."
"Sure," Runningpaw meowed. Oddly, he felt a bit disappointed that Sunnypaw wasn't coming. He wanted to ask her what she had been doing yesterday, lost in that odd trance. It scared him somewhat, but another part of him wanted to reach out, to know more. How much had his old friend changed?
They headed out of the camp and through the woods. The field opened up in front of them as an endless expanse of grass stretching as far as they could see. The light wind carried the scent of hare on it, making Runningpaw's mouth water. His long legs longed to race over the grassy turf in pursuit of one. It was in his blood.
Spotting a brown shape huddled in the grass, he dropped into a crouch and began stalking it. Keeping his tail still, he wove between the stalks till he could see the hare clearly. Then he leaped out of the grass in an explosion and gave chase. The hare began running as fast as he could, but Runningpaw hadn't recieved his name for nothing. He accelarated till he was a blur, using his long tail as a rudder to help steer himself as he moved. Closing in on the hare, he pounced and delivered the killing bite, just before his momentum caught up with him and he somersaulted with the fresh-kill clenched in his jaws.
Redberry caught up with him and smiled approvingly. "Good job," she praised. They hunted a bit more, then headed back to the camp.
Runningpaw dropped his hare and two squirrels on the fresh-kill pile. As he looked up, he caught Sunnypaw's brilliant green gaze, and turned away. Why was she everywhere he looked?
The quiet of the dusk was shattered by Oakclaw, who had just rushed into the camp. "WillowClan is attacking!"
Sunnypaw's stomach gave a sickening twist when she heard Oakclaw. Somehow she knew her luck had run out. It was time to fight. To find out what she was made of. Already, despite the coolness of the sunset, she could feel her power alight within her. When she looked at Runningpaw, she knew he saw it burning in her eyes, and hot shame crept through her. Why couldn't she just be a normal cat?
Larchstar emerged from her den, her gray-brown agouti coat rippling over nimble muscles. "Then we will fight back. Where are they?"
"The border by the woods. Our patrol is holding them off, but they can't last much longer." Oakclaw licked a spot of dark red blood off his brown coat.
"Redberry, Hareleap, Birdwings, Runningpaw, and Sunnypaw, go with Oakclaw."
Automatically, though her brain didn't register what she was doing, Sunnypaw felt herself moving after the patrol. What would happen now?
As the patrol headed through the woods, the scent of WillowClan became stronger. Sunnypaw felt her warrior blood rising, and fought to control it. She would fight it as long as she could.
Yowls exploded in her ears as they burst into the battle-scene. Screeching cats clawed at each other's pelts frantically. The GrassClan warriors were outnumbered, Sunnypaw observed. She would have to fight. Hareleap and Birdwings, two mates, streaked past her and pounced into the fray. They were followed by the rest of the patrol, except for Runningpaw. He glanced at her, a bit nervously. "You okay?"
She swallowed, trying to force down the intense heat boiling over inside her and focus on his face, the sound of his voice. "Yeah." He gave a short nod and sprang into the fight.
Aolani, please help me make you proud. With that, Sunnypaw pounced on a WillowClan cat and bit down hard. She let out a screech of pain almost the same time he did, but hers was at the scorching pain that lanced through her. She bit down on her tongue, hard, ignoring the salty flavor of blood in her mouth, and scrabbled determinedly at the WillowClan tom's pelt. She would learn to fight normally. She had to.
Hareleap and Redberry were tackling a large tom she recognized as Yodelthroat, WillowClan's deputy, while Oakclaw and Birdwings tussled with another pair of cats. Runningpaw was pinned to the ground by a huge tom, who was diving for his throat. No! There was no way she could save him. He was too far away. But suddenly, just as she thought it, the WillowClan cat was thrown back against a tree. The fighting ceased, as all the cats turned horrified, just in time to see his fur catch fire.
"Snapclaw!" screamed a cream she-cat. The tom let out a howl of pure terror and beat himself furiously on the tree, which ignited. He raced away, his fur charred and leaving a trail of smoke, as the flames began spreading.
"Run!" yelled Runningpaw. He shot forward, a brown blur, and suddenly panicked cats from both Clans were rushing past her. But Sunnypaw couldn't move. She'd caused this. The bushes had caught fire now, and slowly it was easing into a circle, surrounding her. "Sunnypaw!" Runningpaw appeared at the last gap where the flames hadn't reached yet. "Come on!"
Sunnypaw closed her eyes, trying to shut out the image, then she ran. She felt Runningpaw alongside her, slowing his paces to meet hers, but she didn't open her eyes. She slammed headfirst into a fallen log and collapsed. Hot tears coursed down her cheeks, not from the pain, but from the sickening guilt of what she had just done. "Sunnypaw?" Runningpaw's voice was softer now, gentle, despite his fear of the fire that was quickly chasing them.
"Runningpaw," she managed to get out. "Go on without me. I'll be fine." She wasn't sure how true this was, but surely she had more immunity to heat than other cats. He didn't respond, just curled up beside her. She raised her head. "Go!"
He shook his head pointedly. "I'm not leaving you here."
"We'll die." He was completely calm. She couldn't tell if he meant it, but no more cats could be hurt because of her today.
"Come on." They scrambled to their paws and shot through the woods and grass, headed for the river. Sunnypaw had no time to wonder why he had done it; she was too busy trying to keep up with his long, quick strides.
Many other cats, WillowClan and GrassClan alike, were already there. "Runningpaw! Sunnypaw!" They saw Redberry gesturing frantically and jumped into the river beside her.
"Where were you?" she gasped, staring at her apprentice and Sunnypaw. Sunnypaw opened her mouth to say something, but Runningpaw cut her off.
"Sorry. We got sidetracked."
Redberry nodded and padded off towards another group of GrassClan cats huddled together. "Thank you," Sunnypaw whispered.
"Thanks nothing," Runningpaw said. "I want to know what happened back there, Sunnypaw."
"W-what?" she stammered.
"I know you did something." She detected a hint of desperation in his voice. "I don't understand what, but I know something happened. Something you didn't intend."
She stared at him in shock. How did he know? For some reason she didn't feel like lying. There was enough of that in her life. "It's a long story."
He glanced at the burning forest. "We've got time."
"You won't believe me."
His steady blue eyes met her troubled green ones. "Try me."
Runningpaw felt his heart thud as he realized she was going to tell him. He curled his tail around his paws and waited, surprised she trusted him enough with her secret. Whatever it was, it had hurt her more then it had hurt Snapclaw and the forest. He could tell that much.
"I'm not a regular cat," Sunnypaw sighed. "I couldn't tell you what I am if I tried. No one will tell me. All I can say is this. I have a... connection with the sun."
"The sun?" Runningpaw meowed, confused. "What does the sun have to do with anything? Oh. Your name. What's the big deal?"
She looked exasperated. "I don't know! But whatever it is, it's tearing my life apart." Shocked to find her eyes filling with tears, Runningpaw bent and gave her a quick lick on the forehead. Her eyes went wide, and he took a step back as though he' touched the fire.
"Ow! You're burning up!" Realization dawned on him. "You set the fire like that."
"It wasn't on purpose," she stammered. "All I know is one moment I was thinking that he couldn't hurt you and the next I felt some of my power go out and the tom was on fire."
Despite herself, she gave a small smile. "What did you think I had? A disease? Though sometimes it feels like it," she said sadly. He couldn't stand to see the glow leave her pretty face, so he pressed on.
"How did you figure it out? How did you know what happened?"
"Nothing happened. I was born this way. That's what Aolani told me." Anticipating the question, she said, "Aolani is kind of like my coach. I could take you to meet her right now if you want."
He stared, then glanced around. "In case you haven't noticed, we're stuck in the river because of a giant fire that will devour us if we set foot on dry land." Her face fell, and he winced, biting his tongue. He hadn't meant to remind her of what she had done.
"It's not like that. We don't have to go anywhere. Here." She pressed against him, and he felt her skin sear his. A low chanting sound filled his ears. He recognized it from the time he had seen her sitting alone in the clearing in the trance. Before he could say anything, he felt the world fading around him. A sucking sensation filled him, as though he were being ripped through time and space.
"Sunnypaw-" They landed on hard ground with a thud that knocked the breath out of him. He froze, glancing around wildly. Sunnypaw stood next to him, perfectly calm. "What is this place?"
"Who is this intruder?" asked a cold voice. Runningpaw's blood ran cold. Around them, the gray mist began to gather, swirling and shifting into the unmistakable shape of a cat. A pair of sharp golden eyes emerged from the cloudy figure. "Sunnypaw! How dare you bring another cat here?"
"Sorry! I- I had to tell him." Sunnypaw sounded half-defiant, half-pleading. "Please Aolani. It's my only chance to have a real friend."
Runningpaw blinked. "I was always your friend." The both knew that was a lie. "It wasn't just me! I thought you hated me after..." he trailed off.
She sighed. "I know. It was my fault too. I'm really sorry."
Aolani, if that was what the strange apparation was called, appeared to be frowning. "He will only mess up your training."
"Wrong! How can I not control myself when I risk hurting another cat? It will raise the bar." Sunnypaw looked less sure then she sounded.
"Hurt me?" Runningpaw squeaked. Neither she-cat glanced at him. They seemed to be locked in a stare-down, communicating in a silent language. He wondered if they were telepathic as well. At this point, nothing would surprise him about Sunnypaw's secret life. "So... Sunnypaw? What about, you know, back at the river. Did we just disappear." She finally turned to face him.
"No, we just appear to be in a trance. Let's hope no one notices in all the commotion."
"Oh. Okay." Was she crazy? Hope no one notices? Fat chance. Runningpaw wondered what the others would think if they turned and saw two apprentices staring off into space, sitting in the middle of the river calm as anything. That was how she had been when he's seen her, but that was different. She was alone, at least, except for him, and hidden. No one had noticed. What if GrassClan left without them? What if they were burned to death? Would they be trapped here forever?
"I'm training," Sunnypaw explained. "To control my powers while fighting." Her eyes dimmed. "To avoid things like what happened today."
Aolani's form had been drifting and becoming more vague, but now she snapped back together and her eyes blazed like a pair of miniature suns. Runningpaw could practically feel the heat radiating from her and Sunnypaw, filling even this huge endless void with its intensity. "What happened today?"
Sunnypaw looked miserable. "I had to go into a fight."
"And?" The cloud-cat began to turn darker. Runningpaw guessed that was what happened when she grew agitated. Silver threads of mist became almost black, and began whipping about in a frenzy. Sunnypaw didn't bat an eyelid.
"I lit a cat on fire. And a tree. And by now the whole woods might have burned down."
Aolani gave a tired sigh. "You poor child."
"I don't need your pity!" Sunnypaw's golden fur stood on end. "I just need your-"
"Help?" she interrupted. Sunnypaw's ears flattened in shame.
"I'm sorry Aolani. I just can't do anything right today." Runningpaw stared at her, then brushed against her pelt hesitantly. It was still unnaturally warm, but it didn't scorch him this time. He let their flanks remain touching, and she gave him a wan smile. He returned it, despite how weird this all was. His former best friend was actually a sun-cat with superpowers. Who knew?
Despite the bravado she had put on to Aolani, Sunnypaw was beginning to be really nervous about this training session. She had just lit a cat on fire for crying out loud! There was no telling what might happen to Runningpaw. But there was also no turning back now. She felt her friend tense as Aolani's golden eyes blinked once then vanished. She began to expand once more, lightning crackling and thunder rumbling as she became a giant, living breathing, storm.
"What in StarClan?" Runningpaw breathed. Sunnypaw didn't have time or breath to reply. She managed to stagger a few steps away from him, and focused on trying to contain herself. The fiery heat was puslating within her violently, wracking her body with spasms of random light. She forced it down, focusing on the center of the cloud-cat storm, where a purple glow served as a reminder that it was a living thing. Just when she thought her power was subdued, she felt as if a giant claw was reaching into her and yanking out. Bending backwards as light splayed out in all directions, she let out an agonized wail.
"Sunnypaw!" Runningpaw's voice was desperate. "What's happening?"
She couldn't hear Aolani's reply, because she was experiencing a familiar tugging. Like she was being ripped out of this realm and into another. "Aolani! I'm being Pulled!"
Instantly the cloud-cat reformed and darted towards her. "Resist it!"
"I can't..." Sunnypaw's could feel her strength ebbing. She was vaguely aware of Aolani by her side, and then Runningpaw's smooth brown tabby coat pressed against hers. Then there was a giant force of suction, and they were Pulled into another dimension.
Sunnypaw was the first to spring to her paws. Her head throbbed, as did her power, a searing ache within her. Runningpaw and Aolani got up beside her. "What's going on?" Runningpaw said.
Sunnypaw felt her heart twist when she saw how scared Aolani looked. She had never seen her mentor like this before. "I- I don't know."
Then Runningpaw nudged her. "Sunnypaw? I don't think that's a good guy." She looked where his tail was pointing. What she saw nearly stopped her heart.
A large purple-black form was making its way towards them. It was like Aolani, only five times as big and with a much more sinister look about it. Glowing red eyes appeared, accompanied by a pair of long tusk-like white fangs that protruded out of what she assumed was it's face.
"No beast, sun or moon escapes me. Fear me. I am the Tear."
Runningpaw was the first to speak. "The what?" Aolani gave him a muffled hiss. Sunnypaw was appalled at the pure terror she saw on her face. Runningpaw shut his jaws abruptly.
"What do you want?" Sunnypaw said shakily. "Why did you Pull me out of training?"
He examined her closely with his beady blood-colored eyes. "Such power. I could feel it through the realms and dimensions. I had to see you in person. I am not impressed anymore." He ran his eyes over her small frame. She could see his point; he was much bigger then her, but that didn't stop her blood from boiling. Literally.
"I'm not small!" He gave a cruel smile. Sunnypaw felt a sickly cold feeling seep through her veins.
"Sunnypaw! Stop! He's absorbing your power!" Aolani screeched.
"Hush sister," the Tear said. "This is not your place to speak."
"Sister?" Sunnypaw meowed increduloulsy. "Aolani's your sister?"
"Okay, this is officially the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me," Runningpaw muttered. "Some big-shot bigfoot called the Tear, a ghost, and a sun-cat. What's next?" Sunningpaw nudged him, trying to look disapproving, but she couldn't stop her whiskers from twitching. Aolani shot them both a glare without answering the question. Quite convenient, Sunnypaw observed.
"So you can absorb my power?" she asked.
The Tear scowled darkly. "You're stupid." And just like that, they were Pulled out of the realm and thrown back into the river. For a few seconds they stood facing each other. The cool water sizzled as it touched Sunnypaw's burning skin.
"Did that just happen?" asked Runningpaw.
Sunnypaw nodded feebly. "You're stupid? What kind of a villian can't do better then that?" she spat angrily. "And what does he mean by that?"
Runningpaw glnaced around. "Where's Aolani?"
"She can't come here," Sunnypaw explained. "She's probably back in that realm."
Runningpaw frowned. "You took me there to explain everything to me. But all I have now is a bunch of new questions. Starting with, what the heck is Pulling?"
"It's hard to explain," she said uncomfortably. "It's like... well, pulling yourself, or someone else, through the dimensions. So, they still exist in their Home plane of existence, which is here for us, but they also are where you Pulled them."
"What?" He stared at her in shock.
"I know it's a lot to think about at once," she said.
"That's the understatement of the year," he muttered. "But in return, I think I can answer one of your questions." Sunnypaw frowned.
"What would that be?"
"What he meant when he said he was absorbing your powers."
"Aolani said that."
"Whatever," he mewed irritably. "The point is, I know what he is. At least sort of. You're the sun. He absorbs your powers, only he uses them for evil I'm pretty sure. Darkness if you will. That means there's only one thing he can be." He paused for dramatic effect, and Sunnypaw tapped her paw impatiently. "Your opposite. He depends on you, but he opposes everything you stand for. He's the ultimate enemy. He's... the moon."
Sunnypaw would have laughed if she wasn't so horrified. "The moon? Of course. How coud I not see it? Thanks Runningpaw." He shrugged modestly.
"I just care about what we can do to stop it."
"We?" she asked incredulously.
"Yeah," he said a bit sheepishly. "There's no way I'm letting you face it alone."
"Well," she said, pressing against him; she had cooled down by now. "Let's start by getting out of here. The fire's out."
Together they joined the WillowClan and GrassClan cats, all sore and defeated. Yet for the first time, Sunnypaw had hope. She had a friend again. And with him, she felt like she could do anything.
Runningpaw felt dizzy on his paws as he looked around the charred remains of his home. If it weren't for Sunnypaw's comforting presence at his shoulder, he was sure he would have toppled over. But she felt horrible enough, and she hadn't been able to help it. He had to be strong for her.
The GrassClan cats that hadn't been on the fighting patrol had joined them at the river, and now Larchstar lined them all up to take stock. She glanced around. "Where is Twigtail?"
Runningpaw scanned his clanmates. He hadn't seen the skinny brown elder since this morning. "Uh oh," he whispered.
Larchstar seemed to be thinking the same thing. "Birdwings, take Sunnypaw and Runningpaw and search for him. Everyone else, take a little time to rest. We'll need to find a new or at least temporary camp, unless we can fix this one up."
"I'll take Oakclaw and Mintwhisker to examine the camp," offered Redberry.
"And I'll tend to wounded cats as best I can without herbs," said Barkleaf. Larchstar nodded gratefully. Then Birdwings flicked her tail at the two apprentices and they dashed off into the woods. They had to find the missing elder. He couldn't be dead. Runningpaw chanced a look at Sunnypaw. Her jaw was set and her eyes were grim and full of self-loathing. He knew she would blame herself forever if Twigtail was dead. Please let us find him.
They inspected every bush and charred tree, but it was no use. Nothing could be smelled over the reek of burnt wood and smoke. A few embers still somoldered in the dirt, stinging Runningpaw's eyes with heat, sparks, and billowing clouds.
Birdwings' silver-white pelt was blackened by soot, but she continued to search doggedly. Still, after about half an hour, they were all exhausted, their paws burnt(except for Sunnypaw) and claws clogged with ash and debri. Birdwings voiced what they were all thinking. "It's no use."
Sunnypaw seemed to deflate. The light left her luminiscent green eyes, and she sagged against a tree. It seemed to cut through Runningpaw's heart like a knife. He couldn't stand seeing her so sad. But there was no way he could cheer her up either. Birdwings began to hurry back, her head down and her tail sweeping the blackened ground.
"Come on," he said softly. Sunnypaw sighed and padded slowly after him, dull and listless. Then, without warning, her head snapped up. Her eyes suddenly glowed dazzlingly bright, so that he almost had to look away, and the next thing he knew, she had whirled around and was running in the opposite direction. Runningpaw glanced desperately over his shoulder. Birdwings had already disappeared. He raced after Sunnypaw.
Quickly, his long strides ate up the distance between them. "Where are we going?" he yelled.
"I don't know," she called back. She skidded to a stop at the outer edge of GrassClan's territory, the one on the opposite side of the WillowClan border. Runningpaw watched as she paced around frantically. What was she doing? Every few seconds she would stop, and her eyes would ignite with the unnatural emerald light. Then she'd continue pacing. Finally she froze. "There!" She bounded up to an old boulder and circled it, her face full of concentration. Then she called, "Twigtail?"
"Sunnypaw?" Runningpaw couldn't keep the questioning out of his voice. Why was she talking to a rock?
She didn't respond. She was too busy digging frantically against a small gap near the base of the boulder, where it didn't meet the earth. "I've got you," she murmured determinedly. "Don't worry." He could see blood seeping out from her paws where her claws had torn, but she kept at it. Finally, he joined her. His heart thumped wildly as he caught the faintest trace of cat scent.
"Twigtail!" They both stopped as a pair of amber eyes appeared in the darkness. The elder's croaky, hoarse voice drifted out of the opening.
"I'm saved." Runningpaw leaned into the opening and fastened his teeth in the elder's scruff, ignoring the foul taste of burnt fur. The scrawny tom collapsed on the ground, his flanks heaving as he breathed in the outside air. Twigtail coughed violently. The two apprentices stared in horror. His brown tabby coat was nearly black. His right ear was burnt so badly that part of it was missing, and the edge was raw and bloody.
"Runningpaw," whispered Sunnypaw. "Go get help."
For a moment, the command didn't register in his numbed brain. Then he whirled around and dashed off through the woods. "Birdwings!" He charged into the camp. "We found Twigtail! He needs help!"
Birdwings and two other cats rushed towards him, and he led them across the charred fields and woods at breakneck speed. Everything else happened in a daze: dragging Twigtail home, Barkleaf's worried face, and the Larchstar's gratitude that they had found him. Finally, the smoke in his lungs, the soot lining his fur, the embers that had burnt a black fringe around his eyes, and his exhaustion at running through the territories back and forth overwhelmed him. His head slumped against Sunnypaw's shoulder, and he fell into a deep, nightmare-tortured sleep.
Sunnypaw couldn't sleep. Every other cat, including Larchstar, had fallen asleep, but she just coudn't. Over and over, the image of Snapclaw's limp body igniting played through her mind. Each time cut through her heart deeper and deeper. The bile rose in her sore, scratchy throat at the smell of fire and smoke and decay that coated the world now. Then she felt it, a gentle whisper of tugging at the edge of her mind. Aolani.
She gave in to the Pull, and felt herself being sucked away into Aolani's world, the smell of smoke fading, to be replaced with swirling mist. Aolani merged in front of her. "Sunnypaw." She sounded as tired and defeated as Sunnypaw felt.
"Aolani. You're the Tear's sister?"
The cloud-cat looked away. "It's a long story. But yes. I am."
"Please tell me," Sunnypaw begged. Aolani sighed.
"I'm sorry. I can't. It's too painful. But I can tell you that I've been where you have. I understand what you're going through." Sunnypaw blinked.
"How? You're not even a real cat." As soon as she said it she regretted it. Aolani flinched and turned away. "Aolani-"
"Is that what you think?" she said softly. "That just because I don't exist in your Home world, or look like you, that I'm not real? That none of this is real?"
"I'm sorry," Sunnypaw sighed. How did they get here? "The point is, what is the Tear up to?" Understanding dawned in her mind. "He's the one, isn't he? The one I'm supposed to fight. How can I fight him? He's the moon... we go together." Aolani said nothing. Sunnypaw stared at her. "Well?"
"The moon reflects the sun's light. When the sun ceases to shine..."
Sunnypaw sat down heavily; she didn't think her legs would hold her up anymore. "Oh. I see. But it's not just as simple as that, is it?"
"No," Aolani mewed sympathetically. "You do have to fight him. And it will take all your strength to win. But even then-"
"I die." Sunnypaw was in no mood to sugarcoat things. Maybe it was convenient for her to die, and the quicker the better. Look what she'd already done. She didn't belong on Earth, she didn't belong anywhere. "Okay." She took a deep breath. "What do I have to do? We still have time, right?"
Aolani turned away. "That is what I wanted to tell you. We are running out of time. The battle approaches much faster than I originally thought. There will be a lunar eclipse in three days. That is when the Tear will seek your power, when he is weakest, to avoid combusting with all of it at once. It is also when he is the most vulnerable. We must strike then."
"Three days?" Suddenly all Sunnypaw's confindence vanished. Pictures flashed through her mind, the camp, her clanmates, the places she held so dear, and Runningpaw, her closest friend. Only one thought kept her from shrieking and racing away. "But when I die, I'll meet my parents again. I'll be with them in StarClan. And I'll have done the right thing."
"I'm sorry Sunnypaw," Aolani said. "But you won't go to StarClan. Your body, or what part of you is mortal, will be completely obliterated and destroyed at the very least in the fight. You will cease to exist. In stopping the Tear from taking your power to take over the world, you sacrifice yourself. If there was anything I could do... I would." Sunnypaw turned away. She couldn't face the agony in her mentor's eyes when she had so much of her own burning inside her.
"Okay," she said, a shudder running through her. "I- I'll go now." Aolani nodded, and Sunnypaw Pulled herself back into her familiar nest. With an aching heart, she ran her eyes over the sleeping camp, knowing in three days she would be lost to it forever. Or, depending on her choice, it would be lost forever. Her eyes rested on Runningpaw's resting form. Not much of a choice. She couldn't let the Tear destroy her Clan. They were too important. And if she had to die to protect them, then so be it.
"Sunnypaw?" Runningpaw blinked at her as the hare dashed away, too far gone to ever be caught now. "How did you miss that?"
"I'm sorry," she stuttered. Hunting didn't seem to matter anymore when she had only three days left to live.
"It's okay," he said warmly. "Let's go back to camp. Is something wrong?"
Sunnypaw didn't want to tell him. This was her burden to carry. But one glance into his warm blue eyes melted her into a puddle. She told him everything, her words and emotions spilling out faster and faster. By the end, she was sobbing on the ground. He lay beside her and soothed her by stroking her back with his tail, but he looked just as distraught.
"You can't die. I won't let them take you. You're my friend." His face turned to steel.
She shook her head. "You can't stop them. I have to do this, or everyone we know and care about will die. And cats we don't know. The Tear can't be allowed to do this Runningpaw. I have to..." She trailed off, unable to continue.
He sighed miserably. "Then tomorrow and the day after that, we're going to have as much fun as possible. You're going to enjoy life."
"What?" she blinked.
Runningpaw met her gaze. "You're my best friend. Get ready for the best days of your life." He led the way back to camp. A small smile formed on her lips, but Sunnypaw couldn't help thinking, and the last days of my life.
Runningpaw closed the gap between him and Sunnypaw quickly and tackled her onto the blackened grass. Though their territory still hadn't recovered from the fire, the two apprentices didn't care at all. Tomorrow was the lunar eclipse. This was their last chance to be normal cats, before their lives were torn in two.
He pushed her over and they went rolling down a hill. He landed on top of her, staring into her sweet face. Suddenly he found himself noticing that her green eyes were bright against her pale gold pelt, and her nose was pink and delicate. He felt a surge of emotion he'd never felt before, and scrambled off her quickly. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she said, clambering to her paws. They had done this yesterday too, but now there was a desperate way to their "fun" that hadn't been there before. Time was running out.
"I know where we should go next," he said. He led her through the woods. When she realized where they were going, her eyes lit up.
"How do you know this place?" she meowed as they entered the vale. The cherry tree was now bare and black, but still beautiful in a twisted, mysterious way.
Runningpaw pressed against her, enjoying the way her small body felt against his, despite the heat that came with it. "This is where I first saw you, well, I know now that you were Pulled."
She smiled. "I knew I smelled you nearby one day. What did you think?"
He glanced at his paws, ashamed. "Kind of like you were a freak. But I knew it wasn't true, I promise. I've always known you were special Sunnypaw."
Her smile grew wider, lighting up his world like no regular sun ever could. And suddenly, it hit him. It wasn't the peaceful, gradual feeling most best friends got when they had spent countless happy days together. This hit him so strongly he staggered back a few steps. He couldn't take his eyes off her, yet it hurt to look at her and know what was coming. Runningpaw hadn't thought this could ever happen to him, and certainly not like this, but there was no mistaking it. Love.
"Runningpaw? Are you okay?"
Runningpaw couldn't make his mouth move or make a sound. Does she feel the same way too? It was useless really, even if she did, for there was no happy ending for them. But somehow, he had to know. He took a step towards her. "Sunnypaw," he breathed her name like it was the most glorious in the world. She seemed to sense the intensity in his voice, for her smile faded.
"Yes?" Her words were barely audible. She looked pained. Runningpaw just couldn't stop himself though.
"Even if you-" He couldn't bring himself to say the word. But she knew. They both knew. It was all they'd been thinking about for the past day. "I need you to know something. You're the best friend anyone could ever ask for. But you're also so much more to me. Sunnypaw, I love you. This last week has been the best in my life. I couldn't want more, except... I want you to stay with me."
Her eyes clouded with grief. As if on cue, dark clouds rolled in front of the sun, dimming the alcove where they sat and echoing his mood. "Runningpaw, don't think it's just you. I love you too. And that's why it hurts so much." She buried her face in his fur, and he could feel her burning hot tears singing his skin, but he didn't budge, just pressed closer against her. Their tails twined and they were so melded together they were nearly one cat. Rain began to fall, all around them, no more than a late new-leaf storm to the others, but a death sentence to him.
A fat drop landed on his head, and he blinked, telling himself the water running down his cheeks was just raindrops, not tears. Sunnypaw was shaking, her eyes flashing on and off, obviously struggling to control her powers.
Runningpaw tried to force his mind to grasp the fact that there would be no happy life for them, not even a reunion in StarClan. After tomorrow, she would be gone forever. But he couldn't face it. He just couldn't. So he buried his face in her wet, flaming fur, and hid from all his troubles.
"Runningpaw, you can't come with me."
"Fine," he relented. Above them, the darkening moon was rising in the night sky. Runningpaw's throat was so constricted he could hardly force out the words. "Good bye."
"Good bye," she said, her voice trembling. He darted forward and pressed his nose against hers in an exchange that held everything that they could never put into words. "Now, when I Pull, you can't be anywhere near me. If you touch me, you'll be Pulled yourself. And if you're there while I'm in a trance, and when I die..." she gulped, but pressed on. "You might get hurt. As soon as I Pull, get out of here, and take cover."
"Got it." He watched carefully, and as soon as her muscles tightened he slammed against her with all the desperate force he could muster and clung to her. Her cry of protest was cut off as the suction worked its magic and they were both Pulled away.
"Why did you follow me?" she screamed. "You'll be killed. You're the one cat I want to protect the most-" Sunnypaw froze. Runningpaw followed her gaze and didn't see the Tear, as he expected, or even Aolani. Two ghostly cats were making their way towards them. Their fur was both an unmistakable ginger-gold, but with a pale frost over it.
"Are they StarClan cats?" Runningpaw said. But he was cut off by Sunnypaw, who barreled forward, light splaying under her paws like a sudden outburst of joy. He leaped back to avoid getting burnt to a wisp.
Runningpaw frowned. How come he recognized those names? As the cats grew closer, he realized he recognized them too. Sunnypaw's parents!
"Hello daughter," purred Shinepelt. Her eyes were almost the same shade of green as Sunnypaw's, but they didn't glow as brightly as hers. Goldwasp's eyes were a cutting gold. Both cats looked majestic and powerful, nothing like the broken bodies that had been found all those moons ago.
"We don't have much time," Goldwasp said, pressing against her. He didn't wince, so Runningpaw assumed StarClan cats had some kind of immunity to the heat, or he just didn't care. From his own experience, it was probably the second one. "But we want to tell you that we love you."
"And we know you'll do the right thing." Shinepelt's pained expression as she licked her daughter's forehead showed plainly that she knew what doing the right thing would cost them all. "We have to go now. Bye Sunnypaw!"
"No!" she screamed. "Wait!" But the two cats were gone, leaving only frosty glitter in their wake. Runningpaw padded up beside her and pressed his flank against hers. They both turned at the sound of a cat Pulling. A cloud of mist, dark as the night itself, formed into a wavering shape. Aolani looked too distressed to merge properly and completely, nor stay in her normal silvery color.
"It is time."
Sunnypaw nodded. Her heart was beating so loud and fast she was sure that even the Tear, wherever he was, could hear it. And he could probably sense her fear too. She took a step forward and swallowed hard. "Okay. Let's go."
"He's coming?" Aolani didn't wait for her reply, catching a pleading look from Runningpaw, and she Pulled them out. Sunnypaw braced herself, ready to meet her fate.
The Tear was waiting for them. The force of his cold presence was certainly not as strong, but it didn't make him any less intimidating. "So. You're here. Ready to give me your power?" His smirk was cruel and annoyingly confident. Sunnypaw felt a flash of her old spirit. If she had to die, she would die in style.
"You want it?" A flare of heat burst from her. "Come and get it."
Runningpaw trembled with rage beside her. "Don't you dare-" He was cut off as Aolani covered him with her misty form.
"I'll protect him," she promised.
Sunnypaw blinked at her. There was so much else she wanted to tell the cat who had taken care of her and mentored her, becoming practically a second mother. But there was no time; she got the feeling Aolani understood anyway. She always had. "Thank you."
Before she turned fully back around, she saw the Tear gather himself up. His blood-red eyes turned a hot, pure white, the pupils disappearing completely. Oh no you don't! She gave in to the all-consuming heat that was raging inside of her. A blast of searing solar energy zoomed toward her oppenent, sending him flying a few feet. However, he recovered in mid air, a smile on his ghostly features, and her power seemed to be seeping into him. His white eyes began to glow gold as the sun.
"Sunnypaw!" yelled Aolani. "You can't go on fighting like this. He's the moon, he'll just absorb all your power. It's now or never." Her voice faltered as she struggled to keep Runningpaw in her misty grasp. He was screaming hysterically and throwing himself forward as the cloud-cat encircled him in a sort of cage.
"Sunnypaw! NO! Please don't-" Sunnypaw turned away. The last thing she needed was to hear his begging. Slowly, she turned to face the Tear. It was instinctive; the knowledge of what she had to do to combust herself. The truth was, it was draining her strength quickly to keep control of her power more then ever now. When the moon was at its weakest, the sun within her was desperate to shine.
"Good bye world," she whispered. "I love you Runningpaw." She wanted his name to be the last thing she said, even if he never knew. Then she lunged forward, straight into the foggy heart of the Tear.
He let out a cry, compeltely taken by surprise. As she touched him, she felt a tingling cold radiate through her. Her heat and his cold seemed to be battling in the friction-filled air between them. Then they were both falling, blinding flashes of gold and white light filling the air.
The fall never came for her. She stopped in midair. Sunnypaw wasn't able to explain how it happened, only that she didn't want to fall and suddenly her power shifted, holding her in the air. The Tear wasn't so lucky. He landed with a sickening crash, dangerously loud and solid for something made of clouds.
Without hesitation, she dived back into the middle of him. She could feel herself becoming enstranged from her body, melting into her alter ego like slipping out of one skin and into the other. She didn't know if her appearance was changing, but at this point it didn't matter. Not when the end was so near.
The intense pain of her regular cat body splitting was nearly drowned out by the heat and light that was over everything now. She had one last panicked regular thought, Runningpaw, please be safe! And then she was the sun.
Runningpaw stared wide-eyed, a soundless scream tearing itself from his mouth, as his beloved was lost in the blinding light. Above him, Aolani clung to him tightly with her light holds. He scrabbled frantically at the ground. All sources of reason and thinking were lost on him. He had to stop her.
Runningpaw barely noticed when he tore free of the cloud-cat's reach. He hurled himself forward, into the searing white heat, with only one thought in mind. Sunnypaw. And then everything went black.
He found himself flat on his back, staring up at the night sky. Above him, the moon was just a black disc, completely obscurred by now. His pelt still tingled with a burning sensation, but it was unsinged. He recognized the place. He was in the alcove.
"No!" He leaped to his paws and looked about himself frantically. "Sunnypaw!" His heart stopped when he saw a motionless golden body lying on the grass beside him. Hot tears began racing down his cheeks as he collapsed beside her.
"Runningpaw? What happened?" Her beautiful green eyes opened and stared up at him.
He almost fainted with relief. "You're alive! But... how?"
"I can answer that question." They both turned to see a black she-cat suspended in a silver-gold realm. Runningpaw didn't recognize her, but Sunnypaw gasped.
"Aolani? Is that you?"
She nodded. "Let me tell you a story. A long time ago, more moons than you and I could count, I was in your place Sunnypaw. There wasn't supposed to be a way to save me. But somehow, my brother, Darkpaw, found a way. It required an unthinkable sacrifice: your spirit. Everything that makes you a cat, gone. For both of us. But it didn't end there. While I was stripped of my power, no longer the sun so I wouldn't have to make the sacrifice, Darkpaw was completely ripped from ever having anything to do with me. So besides being a cloud-cat, he became the moon."
"And the Tear," Runningpaw finished, understanding dawned on him. "But if he did so much for you, why is he so evil now?"
Aolani glanced at her paws. "That was the cruel irony of everything. The fact that he saved me from dying to save the world meant he would be the one trying to destroy it now. I could've stopped it, but I didn't know. He kept his plan from me till the last moment, and suddenly everything was happening at once. And then, before I knew it, I had lost him."
"So why are you... a normal cat?" Sunnypaw exclaimed. "And what's with the silver and gold..." She trailed off, her eyes widening in horror.
"What?" Runningpaw said, frantic. She didn't seem to hear him.
"Please Aolani. I'll do it. This is my-"
"No," said Aolani, shaking her head slowly. "If I had fulfilled my destiny the first time, none of you would be in this mess. And Darkpaw would still be alive. I don't know if this will fix it. But I have to try."
"You're the moon and the sun," said Runningpaw in disbelief.
"Not for long," she said grimly. "I'm sorry, but now I'll fix it. It's my time today Sunnypaw." A faint smile illuminated her dainty face. "You two have the rest of your lives together now."
Sunnypaw let out a strangled sob and leaned against Runningpaw. He froze. Her pelt was cool as the night air, smooth and normal. Her power was gone. He felt a stinging in his own eyes as the black apprentice was wrenched high into the air, in a flash of light that was an undescribable color, a mix beween the gold of the sun and the white of the moon and something in between. And then her limp black body collapsed on the ground, lifeless.
Sunnypaw let out a strangled cry beside him and dashed forward. In doing so, she slammed into another black apprentice that materialized at that instant. He blinked a pair of copper eyes and looked around. "Where am I?"
"Darkpaw?" Runningpaw breathed in amazement. The black tom frowned.
"How do you know my name? Wait. Runningkit? How did you grow..." He trailed off.
Sunnypaw and Runningpaw exchanged glances. "It's a long story. We'll tell you on the way back."
He shook his head as if trying to remember something. "Wait." His eyes widened. He staggered a few steps backward, and Runningpaw guessed his memory had just hit him. Darkpaw sank slowly to the ground, moaning and shaking his head. "She's gone? Aolani, Moonpaw? She's gone. Because of me. I tried to save her..."
"You did your best," Sunnypaw assured him. "Some things have, well, changed, since you've been away. Come with us."
"Okay," he said hesitantly. A brave look entered his face. Runningpaw could tell Aolani's sacrifice hadn't been in vain. Still, there was an empty spot in his heart as he thought of the life she could've had, not as the silvery cloud, but as her true form. Anyway, that was how he would always see her; as a sleek black she-cat with the power of the moon and stars behind her.
As Darkpaw recognized his home, he bounded ahead, leaving Runningpaw and Sunnypaw together. As he looked at her beautiful golden face, illuminated by the sun that was rising on a peaceful world, memories flashed through his head. Their relationship had had more then its share of ups and downs, but it didn't matter now. Thanks to Aolani, they could be together forever.
"But we'll never forget," he said aloud.
"Never." She twined her tail with his and touched her nose to his. "I love you Runningpaw."
He pressed against her reassuringly cool pelt. "I love you too Sunnypaw."
As they headed back, Runningpaw's eyes glanced upwards. The moon still showed in the dawn sky, a reminder of this night. But the eclipse was over. It was all over. Still, they would never forget. And despite all the pain and sorrow, he would never regret this. If this was what it took to catch the sun, it was worth it.