- Companion to Suns and Shadows.
- Sometimes you just can't help wondering what would have happened if it had ended another way...
The pool was full of stars, bright and comforting. And yet Cinderpelt still felt...she wasn't sure.
She sighed and lay her head down on her paws. What's the matter with me? This morning she had turned down both Bluestar and Spottedleaf's offers to go hunting. And when Tallstar suggested they go play with the kits she made up an excuse.
"Hello kitten," Cinderpelt looked up, then lay her head back down again. "Hello Yellowfang."
The dark colored she-cat purred, her orange eyes bright, "Is that any way to greet your old mentor?"
"I'm sorry." Cinderpelt felt bad, "Something's wrong with me today, I just don't..." she trailed off, unsure of what she wanted to say.
"Let me guess," Yellowfang said quietly, "You feel antsy, you keep drifting off into thoughts..."
Cinderpelt felt a prickle of excitement, "Yes! That's exactly it!"
Yellowfang shook her head and said nothing. "What?" Cinderpelt asked, now annoyed, "Yellowfang, it's bad enough when you get all mysterious in the Clan meetings, don't start doing it in our personal conversations too!"
The she-cat let out a rusty purr and nodded, "I'm sorry kitten. I suppose you're right. It's just not something I generally like to talk about."
"But you know what's wrong with me," Cinderpelt flattened her ears, "And you won't tell me."
"No, I'll tell you. We'd just hoped you'd hold off longer."
"Whose we? Yellowfang, what's going on?!"
"It's nothing truly bad kit. It's just..." she stretched and itched at her ear, as if the fleas she'd carried with her in life had followed her into death, "Complicated."
"I think I'll manage."
Yellowfang's eyes flashed and Cinderpelt felt very much like an apprentice again. "Sorry," she squeaked.
"Anyways," Yellowfang meowed, "Sometimes after a cat's been dead for a few seasons or so, they start to feel what you're feeling now. They start to wonder, to miss life."
"To wonder what?" Cinderpelt asked, curious despite herself.
"What could have happened," Yellowfang meowed mysteriously, "If things had been different."
"What do you mean...?" Cinderpelt was confused. She could feel herself drifting off again but she held her eyes open, focused.
"Like...let's say Smokepaw. What if he hadn't died on the Great Journey? Or what if Hollykit and Larchkit hadn't starved to death."
"That doesn't sound so bad," Cinderpelt said doubtfully. The way Yellowfang had talked, she made if sound like this wonderment was a pox, a curse.
"Well," Yellowfang scratched her ear again, "There are the darker stories. The ones that don't end up with the cat having another chance, a long and happy life. What if Bluestar had chosen her kits over ThunderClan? What if Firestar had stayed a kittypet? What if I-" she flinched and trailed off. Cinderpelt could feel the pain radiating from her mentor and she pressed against her comfortingly.
"And why is that bad? So, a cat gets a little mopy for a while. Big deal, right?"
Yellowfang shook her head. "But death is a terrible place if you are always wondering about before. And StarClan..." she paused, as if unsure whether or not to reveal something. Cinderpelt's fur itched with impatience. "StarClan has a way to settle those questions."
"How?" Cinderpelt asked eagerly.
"We can show you how things would have ended up. So to speak." Yellowfang said. "It will be like a very vivid dream, you won't remember you are dead, but when you wake up you'll remember it."
"Has everyone done it?"
"Not everyone. Bluestar did, I think the heartache forced her too. Firestar has too out of curiosity I think more then anything. Most of the younger cats have."
Cinderpelt's question seemed to take her friend by surprise. Yellowfang slowly shook her head, "No. And I never wanted too."
Cinderpelt felt a pang in her heart, the way she always did when Yellowfang tortured herself over her son. "Can I do it?" she changed the subject.
"Only once," Yellowfang said, "But there are a million possibilities. Most cats want to know how their lives would have continued after they died. Some cats like Bluestar and Firestar want to know how making a different choice could effect them. Some cats even want to know things like if they had fallen in love with another cat or if they had been born to different parents. It's a hefty decision."
What would I want to know?
What if I fell in love with another cat other then Firestar? Would it have hurt any less?
What if I hadn't died? No, Sorreltail would have and I don't think I could watch that...
What if Leafpool hadn't fallen for Crowfeather? What if she'd been there to save Sorreltail and I?
What if I'd wanted to be a medicine cat right from the start?
The next thought took her by surprise. It was the most obvious question, and yet it hadn't occurred to her until now.
What if I hadn't broken my leg?
"I know what I want," she told Yellowfang with certainty.
"Thanks carefully," her mentor cautioned, "You'll never get this chance again."
"But it's simple!" she felt a sense of bliss, "What if I didn't break my leg?"
Yellowfang nodded, but there was sorrow in her orange eyes. Something told Cinderpelt she already knew how this story ended. "Are you sure you want to see that?" she asked, "Remember, some stories don't have happy endings."
Something in Cinderpelt rose up. How could this not have a happy ending? She lost Firestar to Sandstorm because she was in the medicine den. She was in the medicine den because she had lost her dream of being a warrior. She couldn't even help beat Tigerstar! Her heart ached at the painful memories.
"I'm sure," she meowed quietly.
Yellowfang nodded, "Then let's go now."
She led Cinderpelt away from her pool and towards the Moonpool where Clan meetings were held. Cinderpelt remembered sitting on the banks and being told that she would die. She flinched and kept walking.
Yellowfang stopped by the edge of the pool, "And you're absolutely sure?" she meowed. Cinderpelt nodded. Yellowfang rolled her eyes and muttered, "Kits..." She continued in a louder voice, "You won't be able to wake up until it ends. So it will feel like you're actually experiencing everything although in reality it will only take a few seconds. And the story only ends when you die. Whether that's longer or shorter as what happened in real life is up to you. You're going to be placed back at the moment where you made the choice that led to your broken leg."
The message... Cinderpelt remembered.
"But you won't remember any of this," Yellowfang meowed, "But something will cause you to either make the other choice or you won't be able to go receive the message. Understand?"
She was still a little confused, but she nodded again.
"Excellent." Yellowfang touched noses with her, "Good luck Cinderpelt."
"Now dive in the pool."
Cinderpelt looked at her for another moment and then turned. She waded into the Moonpool- it was cold and tasted of stars. She took a final breath and, not knowing what to expect, dove.
She swam into darkness smelling first the cold fiery scent of StarClan, and then the wild scent of the Old Forest.
Cinderpaw burst out of the pond, shaking. Her teeth chattered and she felt frozen stiff but shaky at the same time.
"Cinderpaw!" she looked up to see Graystripe's amused but concerned amber eyes, "What were you thinking."
"She wasn't," Fireheart growled. His green eyes blazed and Cinderpaw felt small but also proud. He'd been worried about her. Her mentor turned towards her, his fiery pelt ruffled out against the strong breeze, "So what were you doing?"
For a moment Cinderpaw felt disoriented. Then she remembered, "I saw a fish!" she turned to look behind her, as if the fish would still be there, waiting for get killed and eaten. It was not.
"Fox dung," she muttered. Brackenpaw snorted. Fireheart rolled his eyes.
"Let's go back to camp," he muttered. Graystripe and Brackenpaw looked amused, each picking up their prey. Graystripe had caught a plump sparrow and Brackenpaw had caught a mouse. Fireheart hadn't caught anything, only, he claimed, because he was so busy watching Cinderpaw.
"No!" Cinderpaw protested, "I still haven't caught anything!"
"Well, whose fault is that?" Fireheart said harshly. Cinderpaw flinched a little and his eyes softened, "Besides, we don't want you getting sick." He nudged her, the way he nudged her when she was a kit and he was saving her from Brokenstar's madness. She vowed that she would save him some day too.
"Fine," she sulked and allowed Fireheart to lead her back to camp, a small happy fire burning by her shivering heart.
"You'll be fine," Yellowfang rolled her eyes and muttered something else that Cinderpaw couldn't hear. Frostfur did though and she shot Yellowfang a withering look. Cinderpaw was grateful to her mother, but Yellowfang seemed unfazed.
"Great!" Cinderpaw chirped, "So I can go practice battle moves now?"
"Cinderpaw-" he mother began disapprovingly.
"That depends kit," Yellowfang interrupted. Her tone was unusually reasonable and there was a friendly warmth in her eyes, "Would you rather rest up today and be fine for the rest of the moon or slowly wear yourself down all for one battle practice?"
"Slowly wear myself down?" Cinderpaw meowed cheekily. But she knew the old medicine cat was right and she headed towards one of the medicine cats empty nests.
"Did I say you had to do it in here?" Yellowfang yelped. "Out! Both of you!"
Frostfur made a noise of annoyance, but Cinderpaw purred. Other cats thought Yellowfang would never make the move from the ornery old ShadowClan warrior to new ThunderClan medicine cat. But Cinderpaw knew she was just always going to be like that.
Plus Fireheart trusted her.
"I'm fine," Cinderpaw told her brother. She was already worn out from reassuring Frostfur that she would be alright, and now Brackenpaw. If she had to deal with one more worried family member...
She turned and her heart fluttered a little. In a totally not happy way. It was probably just...digesting something. Yes. It was working extra hard to help her belly get that pigeon she'd had for lunch.
Fireheart regarded her curiously, "Are you alright?"
She nodded, "Yeah," her eyes brightened, "Are we going out?"
"You're not." Fireheart said. His tone was serious but his eyes smiled. "There's some message for Bluestar on the Thunderpath...Tigerclaw wants her to go get it but she's not here."
"You're sick," His eyes were serious as well now. "I'm going and you need to stay here." Cinderpaw opened her mouth to argue but Fireheart interrupted her before she could even start.
"The Thunderpath is narrow there. A warrior will be fine, but you're barely an apprentice."
Cinderpaw glared at him. "Well you're barely a warrior!"
"Yeah," Fireheart turned, "But I'm still going. And you're not. Graystripe is taking you and Brackenpaw out for battle practice."
Cinderpaw felt elated. She remember what Yellowfang said, then, scowling, pushed it out of her mind.
Fireheart was visibly happy at her change in mood, "Great. I'll be there to see the end of it."
"Great! See you then!"
Fireheart gave her a friendly nudge bringing back the pigeon digestion and bounded off out of camp. Cinderpaw turned to try and find Brackenpaw or Graystripe. She caught Tigerclaw's eyes. His amber gaze was unfathomable but Cinderpaw thought she could see a little bit of annoyance, a little bit of pleasure. But when she looked closer it was gone and Tigerclaw was glaring at her. She waved her tail and continued looking for Graystripe and her brother. She spotted them by the fresh kill pile and ran over, ready to train.
Apparently training for her meant sitting on a rock and watching Graystripe and Brackenpaw circle each other. Well, Graystripe circled. Brackenpaw was still frantic as far as battle went and he stood nervously watching as his mentor paced. Eventually Graystripe stopped.
"You realize you will have to fight me eventually," Graystripe purred.
"But I have to watch you!" Brackenpaw protested. It was not the first time they'd had this argument today, and certainly not the first argument they'd had about it ever. The first time she'd eagerly offered to show Brackenpaw how it was done. Graystripe had sent her back to her rock, reminding her that she was sick.
She watched a spider make a web and then lay her head on her paws. Graystripe and Brackenpaw circled and fought and broke apart and circled again. And Cinderpaw was bored, bored, bored, bored, bored.
She slipped off the rock and, after a quick glance to make sure Graystripe and Brackenpaw hadn't noticed- they hadn't- she sped off into the forest.
The cool wind felt great on her fur, the chill from the water having left her bones. She sped towards the Thunderpath, getting turned around a few times. She listened when Fireheart told her about the territory, but this was her first time out completely alone. Brackenpaw would have been terrified, but Cinderpaw let out a purr, the freedom whisking her along.
She could smell the acrid scent of the Thunderpath and she could hear monsters rushing by on it every now and again. Remembering her eagerness to see the great Thunderpath when she was first apprenticed and her disappointment when Fireheart introduced her to the barren stretch of black, she purred again.
She trotted cautiously through the bushes that lined the side of the Thunderpath. It was probably the only place in the forest she was careful- besides Snake Rocks. Fireheart had saved her from adders there once before too.
Cinderpaw slowed down her trot to a walk and allowed her thoughts to meander. Yes, Fireheart would be angry at her for sneaking away, but she also craved that sparkle in his eyes that told her he was impressed with her guts. And this took guts- not even warriors liked walking by the Thunderpath alone.
Which reminded her of Fireheart's bravery. Which reminded her of other things- pigeons, for one- and she sighed, pushing those thoughts away. Apprentices had no business meddling with feelings and she didn't intend to.
cinderpaw noticed the Thunderpath beginning to narrow and her tail curled. Fireheart would be around here somewhere...
She was scenting the air when she heard a rustle behind her. She whipped around and peered into the bushes, "Hello?"
"Furball..." Cinderpaw rolled her eyes, cursing herself for being so paranoid. She turned back and traveled a little up the Thunderpath, still trying to scent anything but the disgusting smell of the Thunderpath.
She was eying the Thunderpath, watching for monsters when she tripped. She flew into a Twoleg thing- a shiny silver tree with a white square-ish thing on top. Cinderpaw let out a shriek and winced as her back cracked against the hard substance. She got to her paws, aching, but otherwise unhurt.
Cinderpaw padded forward, wanting to see what tripped her. And then she gasped, falling over.
Fireheart was splayed out in front of her, green eyes closed. Blood was smeared on the pebbles around him. Cinderpaw raced forward and was relieved to see his flank rise and fall. He was alive. But barely.
She sank to her paws and let out a small mewl. What had happened? Had Fireheart gotten the message?
Behind her, more bushes rustled. She thought she heard a whisper of laughter, but it was whipped away by the wind before she could tell.
Cinderpaw rushed alongside Yellowfang. "How is he?" she begged. "Is he going to be okay? Is he going to wake up? Is he dead?"
Yellowfang was eying Fireheart who was being carried between Tigerclaw and Whitestorm. His red pelt was coated in blood and he looked small between the two senior warriors. Cinderpaw wondered if she'd looked that small when she got rescued from Brokenstar. Being helpless made you look small- probably because that was how you felt.
"Cinderpaw, I'm sorry, and I know that you want answers, but right now I need to worry about Fireheart. I promise I'll let you know when we're finished."
They raced away and Cinderpaw's short legs couldn't keep up any longer. She tried to keep up, but she was left behind, Fireheart being spirited away from her. She sat and the forest was still around her, a couple of bird flocking in the tree, a pair of squirrels fighting. Her heart hammered and she fought back tears.
Cinderpaw let out a yowl. The squirrels raced away and the birds flew up and away in a wave.
"It's not fair!" she screamed. "It's not-"
"Cinderpaw?" she turned to see her brother standing by his mentor, looking cold but cheery. "What's wrong?"
Fureheart's blood flecked the leaves they were standing on. Tears rose in her eyes.
"What's the matter Cinderpaw?" Graystripe asked, looking worried now.
Cinderpaw couldn't do this. She couldn't tell her brother and Fireheart's best friend that he was hurt. It wasn't fair. Her mouth was dry and she stuttered, "I-I- Fireheart got h-hurt on the Thu-Thunderpath-"
Graystripe was gone before she could finish. Her last glimpse of him was a thick gray tail disappearing over the rise that lead to camp. She turned to Brackenpaw and was surprised to see him rush past her. "Let's go!" he yowled after her.
Shaken out of her misery- for the moment- Cinderpaw raced after him and into camp.
Most of the cats were outside whispering. Whitestorm was comforting a stricken looking Bluestar and Graystripe was arguing with Tigerclaw outside of the medicine cats' den. The elders were huddled outside their tree, whispering to the queens who keeping close eyes on their kits. Sandpaw and Dustpaw were muttering and shooting glances at the medicine den. The warriors paced or talked in small groups.
Cinderpaw and Brackenpaw made a beeline to the medicine den.
"-my best friend you pretentious fur-" Graystripe stopped when he saw the worried apprentices, but still glared at Tigerclaw.
"Can we see him?" Cinderpaw asked breathlessly.
"As I was just explaining to Graystripe," Tigerclaw shot a small smirk at the bristling warrior, "No visitors are allowed-"
Yellowfang's voice drifted out of the den, "Tigerclaw, you can let them in. But no more then two!"
Cinderpaw looked to Brackenpaw and he nodded her in after Graystripe. With the eyes of the Clan on her, she padded in.
The medicine den had a light feeling that felt nice and the smell of herbs was always comforting. But there was nothing comforting about the medicine den now. Yellowfang crouched over Fireheart protectively, like a mother crouching over her only kit.
Graystripe let out a gasp and pelted to his friend.
"Careful!" Yellowfang snapped.
"Is he going to be alright?" Cinderpaw asked nervously.
"He's got a lot of shallow scratches- probably from getting rolled around on the Thunderpath- and his shoulder's bruised pretty badly. That's probably where the monster hit him. And..." she hesitated, "He won't wake up."
"Why?" Cinderpaw felt a rising panic well up.
"It's possible...it's possible the monster hit him hard enough that his brain...something happened to it." Yellowfang shook her head, "I've only seen this once before. It's about equal chances that he'll wake up or he won't. If he wakes up he'll be lucky- a smaller cat would have gotten their leg shattered instead of a bruise on the shoulder."
"When will he wake up?" Graystripe asked, looking up from his friend's side.
Yellowfang narrowed her eyes, "If he wakes up it could be anywhere from tomorrow to a season from now."
"A season?!" Cinderpaw gasped. Graystripe looked shocked and blinked several times.
"Yes," Yellowfang sighed, "I'm sorry. I wish it...I wish it hadn't happened." Something lurked in her eyes, something she wasn't about to share.
"And you'll have to go now," she turned and made for the herb stash, "You can come back tomorrow."
Graystripe reluctantly got up and padded out without a word. Cinderpaw stood there, her eyes locked on her mentor's limp body. Yellowfang came back in with a mouthful of herbs. She set them down. "Cinderpaw?" Cinderpaw couldn't move her eyes. She could hear the monster coming at her, feel the pain exploding on her shoulder...what had Fireheart felt?
"Cinderpaw!" Yellowfang's voice brought her back to reality. She turned and met the medicine cat's eyes which melted from tired pain into sympathy. And Cinderpaw promptly burst into tears.
Cinderpaw couldn't sleep. It was a perfect winter night for it- bitingly cold outside of your nest but when you were inside the den it was warm. A sole cricket played out a melody, trying to lull the apprentice to sleep. But her eyes remained open and her brain remained whirring.
She got to her paws and padded out. Whitestorm was on guard, his snowy white pelt a beacon in the night. It was easy to avoid him, although she questioned whether or not he was simply turning a blind eye to a cat in obvious pain. She gritted her teeth. She didn't want anyone's pity.
Cinderpaw stretched and looked up at the moon and moped around for a while before she finally decided to go to the medicine den (which was what she had obviously wanted to do the whole time). She ducked through the opening only to stop when she heard voices.
"Fire alone will save our Clan," a tom crooned. There was a quiet chuckle, eerily familiar to the one Cinderpaw had heard in the bushes by the Thunderpath.
"What a load of dirt that was," the tom continued softly. "Because here you are and I honestly doubt you'll ever see the light of day again. Poor, poor Fireheart."
Cinderpaw's fur was on end and she was barely containing a snarl. The malice in the tom's voice was tangible and it was all she could do not to leap out and expose herself. But he was probably bigger then she was and what if Fireheart got hurt in the fight?
Oh, where's Yellowfang?!
"You know, it's a shame that Bluestar didn't take the message," the silky voice continued. Gloating. "But it is almost worth it to see her champion out of the way. Who will protect her now? Whitestorm? Tigerclaw?" Another chuckle, "Thornkit?"
There was a shuffling noise and Cinderpaw couldn't help but to peek.
The medicine den was dark, without moonlight. Not that there was any, the new moon made the winter forest darker then anything Cinderpaw had ever seen. Darker then the hole Brokenstar had put her in. She could dimly make out Fireheart's newly cleaned pelt, cobwebs creating shining patches. The tom was sitting next to him, but the little light was trickling in the wrong way so that she could only see pricked ears and a vague shadow.
The tom was crouched over Fireheart. He seemed huge- or maybe that was the darkness playing tricks on Cinderpaw. Fireheart's ear didn't twitch as the warrior whispered to him.
"If only you knew what I had planned..." the tom's ears shifted to the side- he was tipping his head. "And I have the best choice possible- whether or not I get to kill you now..." Cinderpaw let out a silent gasp as razor sharp silver claws caught a stray, lonely fragment of light as they pressed against Fireheart's throat. Cinderpaw held her breath, wondering if she could tackle the tom in time to at least save Fireheart long enough for someone else to come and find the tom. Of course, she'd probably end up getting caught on those long claws anyways.
To her relief, the tom retracted his claws, "But it would be so much more fun to let you wake up- if you do- and see what happens."
What's going to happen?
The tom leaned in close again and Cinderpaw had to strain forward to hear what he said.
"But when you realize what happened, what I was able to do because you couldn't stop me..." the tom let out a rumble of a purr, "Only then will I let you die."
Cinderpaw was chilled, further more so when the tom unsheathed his claws again and almost delicately scratched a small wound into Fireheart's flank. The sleeping warrior didn't even flinch but Cinderpaw opened her mouth to screech before remembering she had to remain silent so she could try and see who the tom was without arousing his suspicion. She stuffed her paw into her mouth and bit down, blood flooding her mouth.
"Looks like one of your cobwebs fell off in the night," the tom meowed in satisfaction. He looked up and his amber eyes found Cinderpaw in the shadows. She wondered again if she could fight him off by herself. But even her bravery had its limits. She turned and ran out to camp, "Bluestar! Tigerclaw! Whitestorm!"
But by the time the three senior warriors got there- Bluestar looking alert, Tigerclaw without a hair out of place, and Whitestorm blinking- the tom was gone and all that was left was a pitiful apprentice dogged by nightmares.
Yellowfang was eying Cinderpaw with barely contained malice. "You know Cinderpaw, it's mostly just the kits who have difficulty taking their medicines. Now do I have to make you take these or can you be a big girl?" The questioned was honeyed over with sarcasm and Cinderpaw flinched.
"I don't need poppy seeds!" she protested, not for the first time, "I know what I saw, it was not a nightmare, and I don't need to go to sleep! I need to figure out who it was and train and-"
"Okay, okay." Yellowfang sighed and Cinderpaw let out a sigh of relief as the medicine cat swept the tiny black seeds away with her tail. "Why don't you tell me again what you saw?"
And so Cinderpaw went over it again. "Can you describe the tom?" Yellowfang asked.
"I didn't get a good look," Cinderpaw hated this fault, hated to play the weak she-cat who couldn't do anything. "It was dark. But he had amber eyes, he was big, and he had long claws."
"Not exactly a stellar eyewitness account, is it?" Yellowfang meowed drily. Cinderpaw looked at her paws and Yellowfang rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on now. I won't make you take your medicine but don't start pitying yourself. That won't help anyone."
Cinderpaw looked up to see the medicine cat glaring at her with unusually bright eyes. Yellowfang blinked twice and growled, "Go train Cinderpaw. That'll be the best medicine for you,"
Cinderpaw was shocked by the rawness of the medicine cat's voice, "But-"
And she did.
Graystripe had been appointed as her temporary mentor. Bluestar must have known that would be a strain for the warrior, but it would keep him busy and he already was aware of where Cinderpaw was in her training.
Cinderpaw entered the training hollow early the next morning and found him practicing alone. She had always admired warriors as a kit, the smooth battle moves, the way their muscles slid effortlessly under their pelts, the easy smiles and laughs. Even battle wounds were glorified, the drama and grittiness making this life all the more real for her. She had never wanted anything more then this life.
Graystripe paced around the clearing as if he was facing an opponent and sprang, tussling with his imaginary foe in the moss. His claws were out, Cinderpaw noted. Like he had someone in mind he was fighting.
"Hey," she called. The gray warrior stopped and poked his head up. On their hunts. Fireheart always teased Graystripe for chasing falling leaves and giving more flair to his pounces then necessary. But that was also part of the warrior's charm, his joy and his ability to give it to others. Now he looked the same but there was also a stark emptiness in his eyes. Cinderpaw could barely remember when Lionheart had been killed- Graystripe had the same look then too.
"Hi," he meowed back. He stood and shook out his pelt, mossy clumps falling back top the earth. "You're a little early," he commented.
"Early bird gets the worm," she meowed unenthusiastically.
"Yes, and the tired Cinderpaw gets pummeled in practice." his whiskers twitched but the haunted look remained in his amber eyes. Cinderpaw shrugged and they sat still for a moment.
"I believe you about the other night," he said suddenly.
"You do?" she was surprised. So far everyone, even Frostfur, had doubted her. Hurtfully so.
Graystripe nodded, "Fireheart doesn't exactly have a shortage of enemies. I don't doubt that someone would want to hurt him. But as to why someone would want ThunderClan..." Graystripe trailed off and Cinderpaw sensed that he knew something she didn't. Her pelt prickled with irritation and she changed the subject.
"Who were you fighting? Pretending to fight, I mean."
His eyes clouded. "When you care about someone and they hurt you...without meaning to...and you're just so angry..." he trailed off but Cinderpaw understood.
"So, did you talk to Silverstream at the Gathering?" Cinderpaw teased lightly, trying to lighten the gray tom's mood.
"Silver- what?" Graystripe's eyes brightened for a moment, "Oh! Yes! I did,"
"What do you mean and? We talked, she told me if I fell in a puddle well they were there she wouldn't save me and I said what puddle and she laughed-"
"What do you mean sure?" Graystripe yelped. "Do you think I'm lying?"
Cinderpaw purred, "Of course not, it's just that when you got pulled out of the freezing river you were so moon-struck by her beauty-"
"So she's pretty! Besides, I'm not the only one who goes tumbling into rivers!"
Cinderpaw swatted him with her paw and then they were both laughing and she felt happy for a moment.
"Graystripe? Cinderpaw?" They looked up to see Brackenpaw looking at them with wide, dark eyes. "What are you doing?"
And reality crashed back upon Cinderpaw like a wave. Fireheart was hurt, there was an enemy lurking about, and she and Graystripe had been larking about in the moss like kits. She stood and brushed herself off.
"Nothing." She looked over to where Graystripe was getting up, his eyes hardened amber again. "Let's train."
"You wanted to see me Bluestar?"
Bluestar's eyes snapped up. Cinderpaw had always admired her leader more then anything- Bluestar's eyes were like blue fire and her claws were always ready. But she was also smart and kind and Cinderpaw valued that. Bluestar was still gaunt after her spout of green-cough, which had stolen one of her lives.
"Oh, Cinderpaw. Yes." Bluestar stood and motioned the apprentice closer. Cinderpaw got the feeling Bluestar didn't want to be heard. She scooted closer.
"How are you feeling?" Bluestar asked.
Suddenly remembering she should have been just waking up from the poppy seeds Yellowfang was meant to have given her, Cinderpaw faked a yawn. "Um....tired?"
Bluestar's eyes sparkled with amusement, "Naturally." her expression darkened, "You're absolutely certain about what you saw last night?"
Cinderpaw nodded. Bluestar sighed. "I had hoped not, but..." she stood and paced. "Did Fireheart ever talk to you about... Tigerclaw?"
"What?" Cinderpaw blinked, "Well...just once. He asked me if I was scared of him and I said no. But it was because I just told Tigerclaw a lie..."
Bluestar nodded, "I sent out patrols to see if they could scent rogues anywhere in the territory. Or perhaps another Clan trespassing. We will find whoever if responsible for this and make sure that no more harm comes to Fireheart and nothing happens to the Clan." Her kind eyes met Cinderpaw's, "I promise."
Cinderpaw nodded, "Can I go join one of those patrols?"
Bluestar nodded and Cinderpaw got up to leave. Thinking, she turned. "Bluestar...why did you ask about Tigerclaw?"
Her leader looked at her paws, "Just something Fireheart said to me earlier."
"Alright..." Cinderpaw quickly left, head spinning with unasked questions.
"You smell anything?"
Sandpaw scented the air again. Whitestorm looked at her encouragingly and Cinderpaw tried to swallow her frustration. Graystripe and Brackenpaw looked similarly annoyed.
"I know Sandpaw's an expert hunter and all, but I don't think that will transfer to scent-"
"Got it," Sandpaw's green eyes narrowed at Cinderpaw. "A twoleg and his dog were here two days ago, a pair of mating squirrels is in the tree over there, and there was a large number of rogues around here yesterday or last night. Mostly toms, maybe one or two she-cats." She looked smugly at the others and Cinderpaw bit her tongue.
"Excellent!" Whitestorm praised. He nodded at the others, "Brackenpaw, would you like to track the rogue's scent trail?"
Brackenpaw nodded, eager to be included. Cinderpaw huffed slightly, a sound that was not unnoticed by Sandpaw. Her brother led the patrol through a winding path in the woods, sometimes stopping for a moment besides a large bush or tree. Like the rogues had been sneaking through and hiding. They reached a large clearing that was hidden somewhat by a grove of pines on one side and a rock outcropping on the other. Brackenpaw stopped here.
"They stopped here for a long time. And..." he scented the air again, but shook his head, "There's something else..."
Whitestorm took a sniff and exchanged a shocked look with Graystripe.
"What?" Sandpaw asked impatiently.
"A ThunderClan cat was here." Graystripe growled.
"What?!" all three apprentice squawked at the same time.
Whitestorm nodded, "It's heavily masked, but I can..." his ice blue eyes clouded over and he turned, plumy white tail flying through the air. "We have to tell Bluestar."
Bluestar's haunted eyes slid from cat to cat. Most of the others just quietly shared rumors that the leader was still sick or that her recovery was slow and she was simply sick. But Cinderpaw knew better.
Telling Bluestar had almost physically hurt. Watching the hope slip from her eyes as Whitestorm broke the ties that kept the Clan together.
From the clearing, they'd followed the scent trail back to the medicine den and Fireheart's nest. There was no doubt now. A ThunderClan cat was involved with this sick plot. The question was, which one?
Cinderpaw could feel waves of pain radiating form the High Rock. Is it Darkstripe? she wondered. Runningwind? Mousefur?
Immediately she was sick with herself. So, a ThunderClan cat was involved. But she didn't have to start wondering which one it was! Her heart ached as she looked around her happy, laughing Clan. The only dark shadow was a brooding Tigerclaw stalking about the edge of camp. When Bluestar had told him, the amber eyed warrior had sunk his long claws in the earth. "I'll rip their entrails out," he swore. Bluestar just looked past him, gaze cloudy.
"Cinderpaw?" Cinderpaw looked up to see her brother. Brackenpaw looked tired and...she didn't want to think it, but...well...paranoid.
"Can I eat with you?" he asked nervously.
"What about Dustpaw?" Cinderpaw asked. Her brother had immediately become something of an admirer of the older apprentice, asking him for help in battle training and advice for hunting. Cinderpaw had always preferred to hang around Fireheart and Graystripe or just eat alone. It wasn't that she was shy, she just never enjoyed Dustpaw's taunts or Sandpaw's smirks.
"I just..." Brackenpaw shuffled his paws and Cinderpaw was reminded of when he was a kit, hiding behind her when the other kits would team up on them in play-fights or when Frostfur was scolding them. "I just wanted to eat with you today. If that's okay."
Cinderpaw nodded, but she asked, "Brackenpaw, are you scared about what we found today?"
Instead of denying it- which would have been Cinderpaw's first move- he nodded, amber eyes wide. "Aren't you? One of the cats we grew up with, someone we know and love and would die for, is insane. And wants to kill us."
"The tom didn't say anything about killing us, just...destroying the Clan." Cinderpaw, remembering it was a tom, crossed Mousefur off her mental list. Then she felt bad again.
"Have you seen Graystripe?" Brackenpaw asked, changing the subject.
Cinderpaw thought carefully. "He skips meals a lot. Ever since Fireheart..."
"No," Brackenpaw meowed, looking thoughtful. "It was before then even. A little bit. Almost ever since we've been apprentices."
"Maybe he needs time away from you," Cinderpaw teased.
"We should follow him."
"What?" Cinderpaw snorted. "He's probably not even doing anything interesting, just napping or hunting or..." she trailed off when she saw her brother's pleading expression. He needed something to do, a distraction. Her own paws itched to run and hunt and escape. Slowly, she nodded.
They quickly finished eating and headed out.
The forest was fresh and cool and Cinderpaw couldn't help but feel light. It was beginning to snow and she raced with her brother through the silent forest, weaving around trees. Every so often a peal of laughter would shatter the silent, followed by another.
The snow caught on their fur. On Cinderpaw it made her look even more like the ashes for which she was named. On Brackenpaw it made him look more ginger then light brown. If you ignored the amber eyes and the lightness of his pelt...no. Cinderpaw was trying too hard to see Fireheart.
"Hey, are we even still on Graystripe's scent trail?" she asked.
Brackenpaw bristled playfully, "I know where I'm going!"
"Well I don't- hey!" Cinderpaw slid to a halt. Her eyes were round, the snow falling in front of them making them a speckled blue-white. "There's the river!"
"Wow," Brackenpaw breathed. They stood still, staring at the blue-gray water. It writhed and tossed in the breeze, fighting as hard as it could not to be frozen. But Cinderpaw could see the starts of ice spreading in from the edges. She felt like the river- fighting not to become frozen. The snow fell around them, silent and beautiful. For some reason it made Cinderpaw feel as though her heart was breaking. She turned away from the lovely but bittersweet sight of the river.
"You still smell Graystripe?"
"Brackenpaw sniffed the air and nodded, looking uncertain. "I wonder if he's marking the RiverClan border."
"I doubt he'd want to be here after he almost drowned." Cinderpaw grumbled. "If he's in the river again, I'm not getting him out."
Brackenpaw purred softly and the apprentices crept forward, pads light on the snow.
The quivering branches of the bushes parted and Cinderpaw glanced around, Brackenpaw peering above her.
She almost missed him at first. His thick gray fur blew in the wind and snow flakes danced on his pelt. And beside him sat a ghost.
No, Cinderpelt thought. That's a cat.
But her fur was impossibly silver and her eyes were impossibly blue. Cinderpaw gasped a name. "Silverstream!"
"What's he doing with her?" Brackenpaw whispered.
While they watched, horrified, their mentor meowed something soft to the RiverClan warrior. She purred and gave him an affectionate lick on the cheek. Graystripe looked happy, his eyes sparkled, the hurt pushed away.
The mates stood together, tails twined, as the river froze.
Seasons of Brackenpaw's experience at determining her moods and consequent stupid actions, was all that stopped Cinderpaw from rushing into the clearing. He was able to pin her down and she pushed up, "Let mego."
Somehow, the two cats hadn't heard them. "Cinderpaw, no!" Brackenpaw hissed, "You don't know what he's doing. He could be breaking it off. And besides, with Fireheart, don't you think he deserves a little happiness?"
I deserve a little happiness. But she stopped struggling and after a moment, her brother let her up.
"Doesn't he know he's betraying the Clan every bit as much as mysterious tom is?" Cinderpaw hissed.
Brackenpaw's eyes flashed and in a second, Cinderpaw was pinned again. "Don't you ever say something like that again," he snarled. "Graystripe is my mentor and you can call him whatever you want with Fireheart or Sandpaw or whoever, but you can't call him a traitor. And especially not to me."
Cinderpaw was thrown by the strength in his voice and the fire in his eyes. "O-Okay." Brackenpaw looked furious for another second, then let her go, turning back into the brother she knew so well. She looked at him, stunned. Perhaps she had been foolish in assuming she and Fireheart had something special. Brackenpaw and Graystripe might be polar opposites in almost every way, but they were close.
"What," a frosty tom voice meowed, "Are you two doing here?"
Cinderpaw met Brackenpaw's horrified amber eyes and together, they slowly looked up.
Graystripe glared down at him, looking more angry then Cinderpaw had ever seen him. Silverstream stood a few mouse-lengths away looking terrified.
"Oh...um...hey Graystripe," Cinderpaw meowed brightly, trying to force a purr. "We were just...um...coming to see the border. Oh, is that Silverstream? What's she doing here?"
"You're a terrible liar," Graystripe meowed flatly.
"W-What did you see?" Silverstream asked. Cinderpaw nodded politely to her and the silver gray she-cat stared at her with wide blue eyes. It's not so surprising that Graystripe fell in love with her, Cinderpaw rationalized. She was beautiful, she was kind, and she had dragged him out of a freezing river and saved his life.
"Just...you talking. And... sitting together." Cinderpaw meowed.
"We've only been here for the past few minutes," Brackenpaw added helpfully. "We just wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Well, I'm fine," Graystripe said shortly. "And I won't be if you tell anyone."
Silverstream blanched, "My father..." she whispered. Cinderpaw remembered that Silverstream's father was Crookedstar, the powerful leader of RiverClan. She shivered. If he heard Graystripe was in love with Silverstream, both she and Brackenpaw would need new mentors.
Graystripe narrowed his eyes, "I'm not afraid," he looked at the two apprentices, "I'm trusting you two not to tell,"
Brackenpaw glare at Silverstream for a moment, bristling. "You're not just using him, are you? To get at ThunderClan,"
Silverstream looked hurt, but understanding and she shook her head, "Never." she whispered.
Graystripe purred and wrapped his tail around her. Brackenpaw made kind of a choking noise and Cinderpaw uneasily wondered if she should break them off.
Then she heard it.
The chilling laugh that haunted her ever nightmare. Her fur stood on end and though the others looked unaffected, Cinderpaw could hear it. And she knew something bad was going to happen.
"Graystripe," she meowed, trying to remain calm, "I think you'd better say good bye to Silverstream. Fast."
Graystripe looked peeved, but he simply touched his nose to his mate's, whispered something, and watched as she slid into the frozen river and swam, gracefully, away.
No sooner had her silver head disappeared into the silver of ice and water that Tigerclaw came from the bushes.
"What are you doing?" he asked suspiciously.
Graystripe narrowed his eyes, something in his gone cold. "Is it now a crime worthy of a deputy's attention to show one's apprentices the freezing river?"
Tigerclaw tipped his head, "Is that all you were doing?" Graystripe nodded coolly. "Then why, I might ask, is only part of your fur wet?"
Graystripe froze. Cinderpaw cursed herself for not being able to think of a convincing lie.
"It was a RiverClan cat," Brackenpaw blurted. Cinderpaw and Graystripe stared at him in horror. But Brackenpaw just went on, his tail twitching nervously. "She came out of the water and just threw herself at Graystripe,"
"Did she now?" Tigerclaw meowed softly, his amber eyes sliding over to a bristling Graystripe.
"Yeah," Brackenpaw nodded, eyes flicking to his mentor. "I'd seen her before when we would patrol, always watching him. And then today she just came out of the river and started sobbing and Graystripe growled at her and-"
"Stop," Tigerclaw looked bored and disappointed. "Is that true?" he asked Cinderpaw.
Mutely, Cinderpaw nodded.
"Did you see which RiverClan warrior?"
The apprentices shook their heads, and after a moment so did Graystripe.
Tigerclaw muttered something that sounded like 'pot-bellied, moony eyed fools'. He turned and stalked back to camp.
Graystripe stared after him, a look of dazed confusion on his face.
Brackenpaw crowed, "I saved your tails!"
"I would have thought of something!" Cinderpaw protested. Brackenpaw purred. "I can't believe you lied to Tigerclaw like that!"
"Me neither!" Graystripe purred, "Thanks Brackenpaw."
Brackenpaw's eyes beamed with happiness then he tipped his head. "Isn't that....no."
"I just thought I saw something," Brackenpaw blinked. Cinderpaw could hear the laugh again and she spun around.
Graystripe growled, "I can smell rogues."
"We have to get back to camp," Brackenpaw gasped.
They all turn and ran, pelting through the trees. The haunting laughter followed them and the sound of heavy paws slamming into the dirt chased them on all sides.
The first rogue darted out of the tree when they had just entered the forest. A ginger blur flew by and struck Brackenpaw. Cinderpaw's brother went down in a flurry of claws, letting out a surprised yelp. Graystripe charged after him and Cinderpaw attempted to follow, but another rogue struck her, this one a light brown.
Cinderpaw let out a growl and lashed out thorn sharp claws. A pain blossomed on her back where the rogue had raked her claws, but the rogue let out a shriek and her blood dribbled onto Cinderpaw's pelt. She could hear Graystripe and Brackenpaw yowling, but for her, all that existed now was this rogue, this moment, this battle.
While the rogue was howling, Cinderpaw pushed upward, flipping the rogue and pinning her. She knew that she was smaller, and she had no chance to keep the rogue down once she was ready to attack. So she simply clawed for her life and the rogue let out earsplitting wails.
Finally, the rogue shrugged away form her and ran, her tail between her legs.
Cinderpaw let out a sigh of relief, and checked her wounds. A shallow scratch on her back, a bite on her shoulder. Nothing too painful and nothing that would take too long to heal.
Suddenly, an earsplitting wail broke the silence. Brackenpaw.
Cinderpaw turned and pelted down the slight hill that her brother and Graystripe had tumbled over.
Two other rogues had ambushed them and Graystripe was struggling to get past a black one while Brackenpaw fought with the ginger she-cat and another brown tabby. With a howl of rage, Cinderpaw hurled herself at the tabby.
They hurdled through the trees, Cinderpaw's momentum carrying them until they hit a tree. The tabby pinned Cinderpaw and, remembering Fireheart's favorite trick, Cinderpaw went limp, like she was unconscious. The tabby released his grip, unsure. Cinderpaw surged upward, yowling. The tom let out a small shriek of surprise and she clawed at him, tufts of fur sticking to her claws.
The rogue twisted and managed to get a bite on her ear- Cinderpaw yowled as she felt it tear- but Cinderpaw finally beat him away.
She tore back up the hill to where Graystripe and Brackenpaw had sent away their opponents. Graystripe looked tired but mostly unhurt and Brackenpaw was bleeding from several small scratches.
"We have to get back to camp," Cinderpaw meowed.
Nodding, Graystripe led the way. Cinderpaw could sense the pain in his legs- he wanted to go faster but he wouldn't leave them behind.
"You can leave us behind," she suggested breathlessly, "We'd catch up."
He shook his head, "Not with all these rogues waiting in ambush. I'll stay with you until we get to camp."
But no other attacks came and they reached the camp without any further difficulties.
The camp was devastated. Rogues fought everywhere and Cinderpaw could make out her Clanmates being clawed and bitten and attacked. Frostfur and Speckletail shielded the nursery but Cinderpaw could still hear the wails from the kits inside. Worry for her mother shot through her.
Tigerclaw and Bluestar were no where to be seen. Whitestorm was corralling the apprentices- Sandpaw a blaze of fire and Dustpaw looking peeved, bleeding heavily from a shoulder wound. Mousefur and Runningwind were protecting the elders' tree, although Cinderpaw could see Patchpelt trying to nip at the attackers from behind his protectors.
And in the center of the clearing, a massive brown tabby broke away from Longtail who slumped to the ground. He turned, as if he could hear the three new cats enter and Cinderpaw could see malicious amber eyes glittering up at her from the camp. Horribly familiar eyes. And he opened his mouth, and though Cinderpaw could not hear it, she imagined the terrible laugh. And falling deep into a hole without any handsome ginger warriors to save her. His crooked tail wove in the wind and he glowed with the heat of battle.
"Brokenstar," she whispered.
Brokenstar launched himself towards the three cats. The hope drained from the hopeless ThunderClan warriors who had brightened at seeing reinforcements. Two apprentices and a warrior wouldn't be enough to stop the ruthless ShadowClan leader.
"You two go help the others," Graystripe meowed, crouching. "I'll hold him off."
"Graystripe, you don't have to be a hero-"
"Fireheart did it as an apprentice," his eyes glinted, "Now go!"
Cinderpaw and Brackenpaw dodged out of the way and Brokenstar continued barreling towards Graystripe. Cinderpaw heard screeches, but she kept running.
"Go find Bluestar and Tigerclaw!" Brackenpaw yowled over the caterwauling. "I'll go help!"
Cinderpaw nodded and swerved past several tussling cats to hop onto the High Rock. A rogue leapt at her, screeching, but a light ginger blur tackled it out of the air. Brackenpaw! But Sandpaw's green eyes met hers and Cinderpaw nodded a thanks before hastily scrambling up the rocks.
The High Rock was cool and smooth, no one tussling up here. Cinderpaw wanted to pause for a moment, to admire the cool stone and the peace. But she couldn't completely block out the wails of her Clan below and the stench of blood. She wasn't that cold-hearted.
She turned to face Bluestar's den with a strange reluctance. Something felt wrong. Her back leg burned suddenly and she flinched, wondering what was wrong. She had no bites there. But, as Yellowfang often said, sometimes a young cat's body would just hurt for no reason.
Cinderpaw delved into the den, her eyes adjusting to the dark. There was a scuffling sound and she blinked, "Bluestar?"
The den came into focus. Tigerclaw's massive body dominated most of it- blood dripping from his jaws. A small spotted body lay on the ground, blood seeping into the moss. And beyond that,a huddled blue mass crouched in her nest.
Cinderpaw started forward and Tigerclaw spun around with a snarl.
"Are you afraid of Tigerclaw?" Fireheart had asked her.
She had answered no then. Now, she was.
Tigerclaw halted a few mice lengths, his paw raised in the air, long cursed claws out. "Cinderpaw..." he meowed, in disbelief.
"Hey...I just came to get you and Bluestar. We're being slaughtered out there." she moved to go to her leader but Tigerclaw stepped in her way.
"I don't think you should do that Cinderpaw."
Cinderpaw felt a rising panic. "Why not?"
Tigerclaw had a look of panic hidden under the amber depths of his eyes. Cinderpaw wondered for a moment, but it disappeared.
"Cinderpaw...Bluestar is dead," Tigerclaw meowed softly.
"This piece of filth did it," Tigerclaw meowed, nudging the body before him. Cinderpaw saw a young face and soft dappled fur. Barely an apprentice. A huge gash was slit up his stomach and blood pooled out. Tigerclaw caught her looking, "I killed him,"
Like you killed Oakheart...'
Cinderpaw slipped forward and this time Tigerclaw didn't try and stop her.
Bluestar looked small in her nest. A huge wound had welled up in her neck and her eyes were closed. She looked peaceful. But as Cinderpaw looked closer, she saw a terrifying edge to the peace. Bluestar's claws were out. Her fur still bristled slightly and her lips curled back in the slightest of snarls.
"An apprentice did this?" Cinderpaw was horrified.
"Bluestar had lives left," Tigerclaw meowed somberly. "He didn't do it just once."
But something still felt wrong. "His claws are too little to make a hole like that..."
Tigerclaw's gaze darkened. "This is a sad day for ThunderClan." he murmured. "Bluestar dead, as well as many of our Clanmates, and Fireheart still asleep..."
Cinderpaw blinked, "Tigerclaw...I think it was Brokenstar I saw that night."
Tigerclaw nodded. "Let's hope he doesn't find his way back in."
And with that, the great tabby warrior turned and padded out. Cinderpaw turned and looked back to Bluestar. Tears formed in her eyes and she scampered back to her leader and touched her blood-splattered nose to Bluestar's cold one.
"May StarClan light your way Bluestar," she meowed thickly. Then she turned and headed back outside to the new Clan.
The vigil was both loud and quiet. Cinderpaw could hear muted wails and tears. And every now and again she could almost pretend she heard whispers or a branch cracking- a StarClan warrior grieving in their own way.
Bluestar looked like a ghost certainly. Her fur had been groomed and sweet smelling herbs were lain about her to help whisk her on her way to StarClan. The blue of her fur both stood out and vanished into the night, shadows playing over her body. Her eyes were still closed and Cinderpaw longed for them to snap open, for Bluestar to ask them what they were doing mourning her. For her to be alive.
"We'll find who's responsible and make sure no more harm comes to Fireheart, or the Clan. I promise." Those had been some of Bluestar's last words to her.
Well, I guess we won't be doing anything, huh Bluestar? Cinderpaw thought bitterly.
Tigerclaw had left for the Moon-pool immediately.
"I wish I could stay and grieve," he had meowed somberly, "But with all the rogues about, the Clan needs a leader. I'm truly sorry."
The Clan had accepted it and let it go. But something had nagged at Cinderpaw, something she was sure was wrong but wasn't...
"Just something Fireheart told me..." Bluestar's words kept coming back to her. She shivered.
Graystripe limped out from the medicine den to greet them and the Clan greeted him with a half-hearted cheer. Graystripe ducked his head and crouched beside his leader. Cinderpaw knew the gray warrior would never admit it, but she thought that Graystripe being celebrated for sending the rogues into a retreat after Brokenstar was good for him. Fireheart was usually the one who got to bask in the glory.
The night was slipping away and Cinderpaw thought back to half a moon or so ago. Bluestar was alive, Fireheart didn't have to eat by having Yellowfang chuck squirrel bits in his mouth and hope for the best, and she had been happy.
Now she just felt vaguely annoyed and paranoid all the time.
Great StarClan, I'm turning into Brackenpaw.
Her brother had padded over to Graystripe and the two were talking. Graystripe gave Brackenpaw an affectionate nudge and her brother laughed. Cinderpaw felt a pang. She was supposed to get all that.
Stop being so petty! Bluestar just died for StarClan's sake!
And with that her attention was brought back to her leader's death. No one else had thought it strange that Bluestar had died so violently at the hands of an apprentice aged cat.
"Rogues teach their young to do strange things," One-eye had offered. And no one had said anything differently.
Cinderpaw got up and went to the medicine den. Yellowfang was sitting by the outside, looking anguished. Fireheart and the wounded cats were in her den and she obviously didn't want to leave them, not even to give thanks to her leader.
"You can go," Cinderpaw meowed, "I'll watch them."
Yellowfang didn't even argue, she just gave Cinderpaw a thankful glance and darted off. Cinderpaw sat and curled her tail over her paws. Behind her, Dustpaw twitched fitfully in his rest and Longtail was slumped in his nest. Fireheart was still asleep, looking for all the world as though he was in a nest, taking a nap.
I should have gotten that message.
The thought was as sudden as lightning and it almost knocked Cinderpaw off her paws. She shook her head, but couldn't deny the logic. Yellowfang had said a younger cat would have had their leg broken. And which was worse, being a crippled or being lost?
She didn't get a chance to think about it because there was a call from outside. "Tigerclaw's back!"
Yellowfang dashed back in, not meeting Cinderpaw's eyes. "You can go," she meowed thickly.
Cinderpaw wanted to say something, but she figured she'd only get snapped at if she asked the medicine cat if she was alright. Something was bothering Yellowfang too, something that ran deeper then Bluestar's death.
She headed out into the main camp. Tigerclaw was sitting on the High Rock, Bluestar's body laid out before him. Cinderpaw bristled. This didn't feel right.
Tigerclaw looked solemn, but his amber eyes gleamed. "I know we are not fully done grieving Bluestar but I have three announcements."
The Clan looked up, eyes glittering in the dark. Tigerclaw nodded and looked to the stars before looking back to his cats. "First of all, I am now Tigerstar."
"Tigerstar! Tigerstar! Tigerstar!" Darkstripe led most of the chant, the Clan too exhausted by grief to be too happy.
"Second, I must name a new deputy." Tigerstar paused for a moment, "And it shall be Mousefur."
Cinderpaw felt genuine surprise. A quick glance told her most of the Clan was also shocked, but pleased. Mousefur was purring, tears still slipping down her fur. Darkstripe looked particularly betrayed, but Tigerstar ignored him.
"And third..." he tipped his head, "You will not like this. But I want our Clan to be one that gives second chances."
Shadows slipped from the dark around him, dancing closer. Soon, the High Rock was crawling with dark forms. A large shadow detached itself from the others and stood by Tigerstar. The ThunderClan cats let out gasps and Graystripe cursed.
Tigerstar purred frostily, "I have invited the rogues to join our Clan."
"Hey Fireheart. I know you can't hear me...at least I don't think so. I mean, it's not like any of us know about what's going on with you now- for all I know you can hear everything I say. But anyways...sigh.
"I know I shouldn't be here. It's the middle of the night and I snuck in- that should be a big clue...but something's wrong, I can feel it. I mean...just everything's wrong. Those stupid rogues joined the Clan. And we barely put up a fight! I mean, sure, Mousefur started complaining, but then she remembered she was deputy and sat back down. And of course the elders were inconsolable, but to be fair if you break a branch on the tree they go nuts and start wailing about young cats not respecting old traditions. Sigh again.
"But why would Tigerstar invite them to join the Clan? He wouldn't want to hurt the Clan and they killed Bluestar for StarClan's sake!
"At least I think they killed Bluestar. But what kind of an apprentice leaves gashes like a badger? What kind of an apprentice could kill a cat over and over and over? I couldn't- thinking about it just makes me want to be sick all over.
"But I mean...there's not a lot of alternatives. Brokenstar was getting his tail kicked by Graystripe and all the rest of the rogues were out in the camp. The only other cat in the den was...Tigerstar.
"But that's treason. After he named all the rogues, he gave this big long rant about how he knew Bluestar's long leadership had given us some...how did he put it? 'Imparted errors'. He said that Bluestar was too soft, bless her soul, but being a leader was about power and standing up for your Clan. And strength, all about strength. Which means any insult to the Clan is an insult to him and vice versa. So if I call him a hairball I'll be cleaning the elders for moons.
"And accusing him of murder would get me much worse.
"But I'm scared. I mean... say it was Tigerstar who killed Bluestar. Then why were the rogues here? That can't have been a coincidence. And him asking them to join the Clan? That's just...
"But I mean, Tigerstar would never kill Bluestar. He was her deputy for StarClan's sakes! And he was a hero and he killed Oakfeather for killing Redtail...but you never believed that did you? 'Something Fireheart said to me'...that's what Bluestar said. You've never trusted Tigerstar have you? And you even asked me why I wasn't scared of him! But why wouldn't you trust him? You were best friends with his apprentice! I mean...then Ravenpaw died, but still you ought to know Tigerstar...
"That was him and-
"I have to go find someone...Brackenpaw or Graystripe or someone...I'm so sorry Fireheart. But thanks. You made it so clear.
"Just promise to wake up soon, kay?"
"Graystripe, Graystripe, Graystripeeee..." Cinderpaw muttered as she pelted through the forest. She had already looked everywhere- the Owl Tree, Tall Pines, Snake Rocks...where was Graystripe?
Then she slowed to a trot, an idea forming in her mind. "No...he wouldn't be that stupid..."
She turned and ran towards Sunning Rocks.
Her 'talk' with Fireheart had made her think a lot about what was happening with the Clan. If she was right about Tigerstar, which she was now almost positive she was, this was big. But after doing some serious thinking, the new rogues were almost as many as the ThunderClan cats. In a battle, it would be difficult to defeat them. Assuming this was all a legitimate problem...Cinderpaw was still wrapping her head around the idea that Tigerstar, Tigerstar, the loyalest deputy a cat could wish for, was a traitor.
Although the harsh speech he'd made yesterday made it seem more...real. He had renounced almost all of the old ways, talking now about punishment to maintain order, rigid rules to keep traditions, death to sustain life. And somewhere along he'd managed to slip in that fraternizing with the enemy would result in death, all the while glaring at Graystripe who looked back innocently.
She burst through the trees and wove her way to Silverstream and Graystripe's meeting spot.
I don't care what they're doing, Graystripe has to know, this is important! And if he wants to get himself killed, that's dandy, but I need some advice.
She stopped for a moment, outside their hiding spot. Because despite what she thought there were several things she would rather not interrupt them with. She listened.
"Silverstream, that's fantastic!" Graystripe's joy was palpable.
Silverstream's meow was breathy and high-pitched with excitement. "You're going to be a father! I'm going to be a mother! We're going to be parents!"
Graystripe...and Silverstream... were having kits.
What in the holy name of StarClan are they going to do?! They're both dead! Heck, I'll kill them! The stupidest of all stupid things...
But even with the Clan on brink of disaster, she crept away. Someone else would have to help.
"Yellowfang?" Cinderpaw hissed, creeping along the floor of the medicine den. "Yellowfang?" Shadows danced around the medicine den and the dried scent of herbs made for an eerie scene. Cinderpaw felt her fur rise a little. "Yellowfang?"
"For StarClan's sake, what is it?!" the medicine cat popped out from the herb stash, orange eyes blazing like a monster. Cinderpaw barely contained a screech and fell back on her side.
"Great StarClan Yellowfang, are you trying to give me a heart attack?!" Cinderpaw demanded, shaking her fur. "What's the matter with you?"
The medicine cat narrowed her eyes, "Nothing. Now what is it?"
Cinderpaw felt herself bristling at the snap. "Well, maybe I would tell you if you weren't being so...such a...urgh!" she huffed, "Seriously, what is the matter?!"
Yellowfang bared her teeth, "I'm not a kit and I don't need one worrying after me! I'm fine!"
"Well I don't-"
"I'm fine!" Yellowfang all but roared. Cinderpaw flinched and the medicine cat took a step back, her eyes clouding over with pain. "I'm-I'm sorry."
"It's alright," Cinderpaw meowed softly. "I just wanted to talk to you about Tigerstar."
Yellowfang narrowed her eyes once more, "Be careful, kitten," she whispered, "You are treading on dangerous grounds."
"When am I not?" Cinderpaw meowed brightly, then lowered her voice. "But, Yellowfang, something's up. Those rogues-" Yellowfang's eyes flashed and Cinderpaw backtracked quickly, "I mean, something doesn't feel right about Bluestar's death."
Yellowfang snorted. "You don't think I know? What kind of a medicine cat would I be if I couldn't tell when a kitten apprentice killed an experienced ThunderClan leader or when her traitorous pond-scum deputy did it?"
"Then why didn't you say anything?" Cinderpaw was elated at not bearing this terrible secret alone, but angry that Yellowfang had chosen to keep quiet.
"Tigerstar wouldn't be so kind as to kill me," Yellowfang whispered. "He knows..."
"Knows what?" Cinderpaw was puzzled, "Yellowfang, you know Bluestar was murdered as well as I do. What terrible secret is Tigerstar hanging over you that makes it so you can't tell the Clan and be done with it? They'd believe you."
"No, they wouldn't..."
"Well why not?" Cinderpaw meowed, starting to get frustrated.
"Cinderpaw..." the old medicine cat heaved a ragged breath, "Brokenstar..."
Laughter, a deep hole, a broken tail, and nightmares without the sun...
"Brokenstar is my son." Yellowfang meowed brokenly, "And Tigerstar knows that."
"No," Cinderpaw meowed, backing away, tripping over her own paws, "Yellowfang, no..."
"I'm so sorry," the medicine cat's eyes were brimming with tears.
Cinderpaw could feel tears forming in her own eyes. Yellowfang had held her while she cried for Fireheart, had been a mentor as much as Graystripe had, hadn't made her take that poppy seed so long ago. Had believed her.
Brokenstar had kidnapped her, thrown her in a pit, and wanted to make her a killing machine when she should've been playing with Brackenpaw.
"Yellowfang, please..." she wasn't sure what she was asking. But this couldn't be true.
"I'm sorry," Yellowfang turned away. "I can't help you."
Cinderpaw felt rage bubbling inside of her, fiery hate balled inside tears. "You're a coward!" she screamed. "You're a coward and a traitor and I hate you! I hate you!"
Yellowfang didn't defend herself.
Cinderpaw ran out of the den. A gentle snow had started up and her eyes watered even more form the cold wind.
So this was what her Clan was coming down to? Traitors and traitors. Tigersta rkilled Bluestar, Yellowfang bore a monster, Graystripe was off with Silverstream...
"No, no, no!" she screeched.
She ran and ran more, her lungs burning. It was all wrong, this wasn't supposed to go like this. Bluestar should be alive and Fireheart should be awake and- her leg seared with pain and she fell. Great, did I break my leg or something?
She had just tripped over a tree root. She dragged herself to her feet and looked around.
I ran all thew way to Four Trees.
Miserably, she padded into the shelter of the Great Oaks. Snow weaved around the branches and kissed the ground in a soft and beautiful dance. There was nothing but silence and Cinderpaw couldn't hear anything but her tears as they burrowed into the snow drifts.
Cinderpaw looked up. The Great Rock stood before her, stoic and huge. She started to walk away, then thought, Why not? No one's here.
She pulled herself onto it, feeling only a sliver of the joy she usually would have. And there, on top of the world but feeling as if she was road kill on the Thunderpath, she did the only thing that seemed reasonable.
She curled up and fell asleep.
Cinderpaw opened her eyes and blinked. "I don't think I'm at Four Trees anymore," she muttered.
The silver and blue landscape around her was woven from stars and picturesque meadows. She gazed about in wonder, her eyes huge.
She turned and almost wished she hadn't the heartbreak was so intense.
Bluestar stood before her, purring, looking as healthy as she had in life.
"I'm dreaming," Cinderpaw meowed bitterly, "I get it."
"Not entirely," Bluestar meowed. "You're in StarClan."
"So I froze to death?"
Bluestar's whiskers twitched but there was also sadness in her gaze, "You didn't used to be so cynical Cinderpaw."
"Well Yellowfang used to be my friend and look where that wound up." Cinderpaw huffed, aware that she sounded like a sulky kit.
Silently, Bluestar padded over to a pond. After a moment, Cinderpaw followed. "Look inside," Bluestar murmured.
Cinderpaw did and gasped slightly. Inside the pond was a haggard but younger Yellowfang, looking dejected.
"Come on," she whispered brokenly, "Please..." she was murmuring to a small cat- two- three and two of them were very clearly dead.
"No," Yellowfang hissed. "No, no..."
The scene shifted and now she was standing next to Raggedstar, her face barely concealing pain. They stood in front of a ShadowClan queen who was regarding the remaining kit- who Cinderpaw recognized as Brokenstar- with hatred.
"Well I don't want it." the queen meowed. "Can't you just leave it to die some place?"
"He's my son," Raggedstar meowed angrily. "Just because his mother can't claim him as her own..." Yellowfang looked up for a moment, clearly expecting a press against the flank or some other hidden sign of support. She was given none.
Cinderpaw blinked, back in StarClan again.
"Do you see what I mean?" Bluestar asked.
"Not really." Cinderpaw admitted.
"No one wanted Brokenkit. And no one wanted Yellowfang. You can't judge either of them for a mistake made in the name of something good."
"I guess I can see that for Yellowfang." Cinderpaw allowed, "But Brokenstar? What did he do?"
Bluestar shook her head and behind her, the pond remained on Brokenstar. "Imagine growing up in your father's shadow, but also never knowing your real mother and hating the one you had. Imagine having to constantly prove your strength but wanting nothing more then for your parents to love you and for your father to be proud."
Behind her, the tom in the pond started to grow, innocent newborn turning into a lonely looking kit into a sad apprentice into a mean warrior. Cinderpaw looked on, slightly afraid. Finally, the moving stopped to the Brokenstar Cinderpaw knew today, a monster of a leader.
"Do you see what I mean now?" Bluestar asked.
Mousefur looked tired.
Cinderpaw observed the deputy from a respectful distance, half her attention still on her half eaten squirrel. Mousefur's cheeks were hollow and her eyes were sunken and haunted. Cinderpaw knew Tigerstar enjoyed having strategy talks in the middle of the night when the rest of the Clan was half asleep. She suspected it was to break his deputy's spirit- Mousefur was only meant to be a puppet after all. Tigerstar had also taken away one of the Clan's strongest warriors. Cinderpaw felt a rush of pity for the anguished looking she-cat. It wouldn't be long before she was completely Tigerstar's.
Cinderpaw quickly finished her squirrel and sat up. Trying as always to look unsuspicious, she padded out of camp.
The forest was alive with springtime, moons having passed since the day Bluestar showed her Yellowfang's life. Cinderpaw had gone back to camp afterwards and apologized to the medicine cat. Yellowfang had told her the whole sordid tale and for days after Cinderpaw's heart ached with sadness. The entire tale was chalk full of misery.
She hopped over a branch and, instead of continuing down her path, she rolled to the side, between a few bushes and into a sheltered clearing, inaccessible by any other means. Brackenpaw, Graystripe, and Yellowfang were all seated inside looking amused as she padded in, nonchalantly removing a twig form behind her ear.
"Sorry I'm late," she meowed, "Had to eat."
"Naturally," Brackenpaw purred. Cinderpaw eyed him with some sadness. He'd gotten so big and his voice had taken on a deeper tone. And with ever passing day he became more mature and serious, less like the normal nervous brother she was always so used to.
"There'll be no talk of rebellion today," Graystripe meowed happily. Cinderpaw and Brackenpaw blinked in surprise.
For the past moon or two they'd been meeting in secret, the four of them who knew of Tigerstar's treachery, to discuss what should be done. Cinderpaw was ashamed to admit that with her, Graystripe, and Yellowfang all together, Brackenpaw did most of the thinking and talking.
"Why not?" she meowed, "If we're sticking with the plan of informing the rest of ThunderClan at the next Gathering we need to finalize exactly how much of ThunderClan we'll be telling. I mean, I doubt we can trust Darkstripe."
Graystripe's eyes were full of pride and bittersweetness. "We can't," he simply meowed before getting up, taking up most of the cramped space, "Actually we have to go back to camp. There's a warrior ceremony that needs to happen."
"But Sandstorm and Dustpelt were made warriors moons ago-" Cinderpaw paused, a small flame of excitement burning into a roaring bonfire, "Oh."
"We're going to be warriors?" Brackenpaw squeaked.
Graystripe and Yellowfang burst into purrs and the two excited apprentices hurried them out of the secret meeting place and back to camp. Tigerstar was waiting on the High Rock. "Have your apprentices passed their final test?" he asked. Cinderpaw felt the usual verve of hate she usually did at the sight of him, but today it was masked. But she had recognized the sadness in Graystripe's eyes- Fireheart should have been here too.
Graystripe's amber eyes sparkled, "With flying colors." His voice about burst with pride. Silverstream's kits were due any day now and his two apprentices were maturing into warriors. What could be better?
"Step forward you two," Tigerstar meowed.
"Brackenpaw, do you promise to uphold the Warrior code and protect your Clan at any cost, even that of your own life?"
Brackenpaw's eyes were solemn and Cinderpaw remembered the nerves he'd had before their apprentice ceremony. There was nothing but certainty in him now. "I do."
"Then I name you Brackenfur, warrior of ThunderClan."
Brackenfur beamed and he turned to his sister and mouthed good luck!
Cinderpaw met Tigerstar's amber gaze alone. Her heart still sang I'm going to be a warrior!
"Cinderpaw," Tigerstar meowed silkily. "Do you promise to uphold the warrior code and protect your Clan at all costs, even that of your own life?"
She was not a rolly-polly apprentice anymore. She wouldn't charge off around the territory and expect Fireheart to chase her. She was a grown warrior who could take care of herself and she could and would reveal Tigerstar for the traitorous scumball that he was.
"Then," Tigerstar meowed, "I named you Cinderpelt, warrior of ThunderClan,"
"Brackenfur, Cinderpelt! Brackenfur, Cinderpelt!" the Clan chorused. Apart of her whined at the boring traditional warrior name, but she was also elated. She was a warrior! She was a-
The entire Clan stopped and looked back to where the small voice had come from. To call a warrior by her apprentice name at her ceremony?
But when Cinderpelt recognized the bright ginger fur that snaked through the crowd to where she, Brackenpaw, and Graystripe sat, she didn't care. "Fireheart!" she shrieked. "You're awake!"
Fireheart purred weakly, still looking terrible. His gaze drifted past her to Brackenfur who waved his tail, then to Graystripe who beamed, a vision of happiness. The Clan whispered.
Suddenly Fireheart tensed, "You," he spat looking up at Tigerstar, "Where's Bluestar?"
"Dead," Tigerstar managed to hide his surprise and look sad for a moment, "I'm leader now."
Fireheart blinked, horror washing over his face. Tigerstar smirked slightly and looking like he was about to tear into a juicy mouse, whispered to Mousefur so low no one but the cats sitting at the base of High Rock could hear, "Mousefur, now."
"But when you realize what happened, what I was able to do because you couldn't stop me..." Brokenstar's voice drifted back to her from a nightmare long ago in a moonless medicine den when Fireheart was just injured. "Only then will I let you die."
Something terrible was about to happen.
"Fireheart, something's about to happen," she was only able to meow this much before Mousefur, who had once laughed with the other warriors and would have died to protect her Clan, leapt of the High Rock with a look of torment splashed across her face.
Tigerstar's gleeful eyes kept on Fireheart as Mousefur unsheathed her claws in midair. And the Clan fell silent and the dusky brown she-cat hurtled down and sank her claws into Graystripe's throat.
His purr turning into confusion, Graystripe's amber eyes found Fireheart's stricken green ones before they closed and he fell.
The entire Clan was silent. Tigerstar pulled a mask of surprise over his gleeful face and Fireheart stared at Graystripe as his best friend tumbled over, Mousefur landing on the ground next to him.
"No!" Brackenfur yowled. He ran to his old mentor and crouched beside him as Cinderpelt tackled Mousefur.
The deputy didn't put up a fight, she just smiled at the younger she-cat with blood-stained teeth, "Every night he would make me fight and every night he would say things and I'm sorry I'm sorry but he made me and-"
Cinderpaw stared at the old deputy in horror as Darkstripe and Russetfur, a former rogue, hauled her to her paws and dragged a babbling Mousefur away.
Fireheart stared at Tigerstar in fury and horror, "How could you," he whispered so no other cat could hear. "Graystripe didn't think you were a threat,"
Tigerstar leapt lightly off the High Rock and looked at Fireheart, "Ah, but I think you are a threat. And didn't you see? Mousefur killed Graystripe, not me." he lowered his voice even further, "Bluestar isn't around to save you anymore Fireheart. Watch yourself,"
And with that, Tigerstar swept off to talk to Brokentail.
Cinderpelt raced to where her brother knelt by Graystripe. Fireheart charged after her.
She had hoped maybe Graystripe would be alive to say a few last words to Fireheart and her brother, but Mousefur had killed him swiftly. Fireheart would never speak to his best friend again. Her brother was inconsolable.
"What am I going to tell Silverstream" she meowed brokenly.
"What?" Fireheart blinked.
She had told Fireheart everything. Everything that had happened since he was hit. Fireheart listened to it all silently, but his eyes grew more and more horrified as she went on. Finally, she had nothing left to say and all she could do was wonder if it was alright to be happy Fireheart was awake even though it obviously caused him so much pain.
"I could hear everything," he meowed after they sat in silence for a while. "When Yellowfang would talk to me, when you came in that one night..." his claws dug into the dirt, "When Brokenstar came."
Cinderpelt listened sadly feeling nothing but a numb sense of pain. She felt like she had been sad ever since Fireheart had almost died. Was there ever a moment between here and then that she had felt an ounce of joy?
Tigerstar appeared on the High Rock and Cinderpaw felt a surge of hatred.
"We need a new deputy, Mousefur has been executed," he meowed without preamble. Cinderpelt wasn't surprised and only a little sick that Tigerstar killed Mousefur for carrying out his dirty work. "Our new deputy will be Brokentail,"
"No..." Cinderpelt meowed softly. Fireheart pressed against her comfortingly and she pushed back against all the nightmares she'd ever fought thanks to Yellowfang's son.
"Let's go," Fireheart suggested.
"Graystripe isn't buried yet," Cinderpelt pointed out.
Fireheart turned slightly away so she couldn't see his expression, "I think the best way to say goodbye to Graystripe is to avenge his death, not attend his farce of a vigil."
Cinderpelt nodded, "Shall I get Brackenfur?"
Fireheart looked slightly embarrassed, "I suppose you can if you want..."
Cinderpelt felt that pigeon from so long ago and she purred, "Let's go,"
They raced trough the springtime forest. After they got away from camp, Fireheart started telling Cinderpelt first about all the things he and Graystripe and Ravenpaw had done as apprentices- all the pranks Graystripe had attempted to pull on Tigerstar and Lionheart, Ravenpaw catching an adder...and then he told her about Tigerstar. Confirming what she already thought, he told her how Tigerstar had killed Redtail and blamed Oakheart who had died anyways. Ravenpaw was a witness for Tigerstar had tried to kill him too.
Cinderpelt sighed, "We have to do something,"
"We could kill him,"
Cinderpelt shot up, blinking, "What?"
Fireheart stared at the stars next to her, "All the cats he's killed, all the thins he's done...can you honestly tell me he doesn't deserve to die? Brokenstar too."
"Maybe..." Yellowfang's pained face flashed in front of her eyes. "Would you want to kill him?"
"More then you can imagine,"
Cinderpelt, not quite knowing what she was doing, pressed closer against him, "I'm so sorry about Graystripe, Fireheart." "meowed softly.
"Well," Cinderpelt meowed, "If you do decide to take out Tigerstar, you have me and Brackenfur behind you,"
"Yeah," Fireheart whispered, turning his head for their noses were not even a mouselength apart, "I'm glad I have you,"
Forget pigeons, her heart itself was flying. "I'm glad you're awake,"
Fireheart purred and their tails twined, then he sat up and backed away, "Sorry. But we should go back...they'll be burying Graystripe,"
Cinderpelt felt a thud of disappointment, then berated herself. His best friend just died!
"I should go tell Silverstream," she meowed. Fireheart nodded, eyes pained.
"Cinderpelt, I want you to know I really-"
"No," she whispered, "Don't. Just...go see Graystripe,"
Fireheart nodded and disappeared back into the bracken. She exhaled and turned, heading for the RiverClan border.
She didn't tell Silverstream.
How could she? How do you walk up to a she-cat and say 'Your mate, the father of your unborn kits is dead and we couldn't save him because this lunatic wanted him dead to hurt his best friend who the lunatic hates as well. Sorry.'
She couldn't do that. Maybe that was another reason she'd never be a medicine cat- she couldn't deal with death. Because after death there was nothing and even with StarClan, a cat was gone. Cinderpelt had tried to hard to go back to StarClan to talk to Bluestar again and see if Graystripe was there. But she could never find her way back.
Cinderpelt moped around Sunning Rocks for a while, then headed back to camp. The sun was high in the sky and the day was warm.
She entered the camp to a chorus of warm purrs and blinked in confusion. Bu the Clan wasn't turned towards her, they were gathered around...Goldenflower? Cinderpelt pushed forward until she could see Tigerstar's mate properly.
Five kits suckled by Goldenflower. One gray kit with an almost laughably huge tuft on the top of its head, a dark ginger she-cat, a dark brown tabby tom, and two silver she-cats.
"What are their names?" Cinderpelt couldn't help asking.
Goldenflower's gentle eyes met hers, "The gray one is Forestkit, the red on is Redkit, the tabby is Tanglekit, and the two silver she-cats are Moonkit and Rainkit,"
"Beautiful names," Cinderpelt meowed, her mouth dry. "Beautiful kits too."
Silverstream would have kits like these too. And who would coo over them?
She met Fireheart's eyes from across camp and waved her tail weakly at him. Brackenfur padded up behind her, "You like him, don't you?"
Cinderpelt jumped slightly, "Jeez, don't do that!" glaring at him slightly, she shrugged, not wanting to talk about what she had not admitted to herself yet, "And we're friends."
Brackenfur rolled his eyes, "Please Cinderpaw."
"I-" she struggled with her words, not sure what she wanted to say or how to say it, "I do like him. A loot,"
Brackenfur purred and gave her an affectionate lick. "How about you?" Cinderpelt asked playfully, "Is there a certain someone?"
Brackenfur shook his head, "Guess the right she-cat hasn't come along yet,"
Cinderpelt purred and then realized how much the Clan had changed. Maybe earlier she would have begged Brackenfur to keep her secret and maybe he would have told just one friend. But now she knew he would keep her secret because it gave Tigerstar one less way to hurt either Cinderpelt or Fireheart.
"Brackenfur," she whispered, "We're going to kill Tigerstar,"
"Me and Fireheart."
Brackenfur's face looked grim but also a sick kind of happy that almost made her cringe, "How can I help?"
Cinderpelt looked at the stars, "What about Brokenstar?"
"What about him?" Fireheart asked next to her.
Cinderpelt rolled to face him, their noses pressed together, "I mean," she meowed playfully, "The rogues follow him. And he's Tigerstar's deputy. He has to go too,"
"Well, yeah," Fireheart meowed. "You want him?"
Cinderpelt bared her teeth. She wasn't a kit, she wasn't a scared little she-cat who needed saving by the great Fireheart, "Yeah, I'll take Brokenstar," she meowed evenly.
"You realize that means you'll have to kill him?"
"Well sucks for him I guess,"
"I love you,"
Cinderpelt blinked, not sure how to handle this. She was elated, but this also wasn't exactly the time to be talking about love and whatnot. "What about Spottedleaf?" she asked, trying not to sound jealous.
Fireheart cringed so barely she almost didn't notice it, "Spottedeaf's dead," he meowed, "And there's nothing changing that. And then I thought maybe San- someone else liked me. But when I look at the big picture, the only cat who wants me around all the time is you. And you're the only cat I want to be with,"
Cinderpelt was speechless. A first for her.
Fireheart sighed, "I guess I thought you felt the same way," He stood as if to leave.
Cinderpelt tackled him, purring. Fireheart laughed and they tumbled around. "I love you too," Cinderpelt whispered.
Their noses touched and Cinderpelt felt as though a fire was creeping out of her heart and engulfing her. She was in love- this was what love felt like. And even though Graystripe and Bluestar and Mousefur were dead and the Clan was starving and Tigerstar was a monster, she was almost a little happy because every single one of those things had led up to this moment.
"The old plan was to announce Tigerstar's crimes at a Gathering," Yellowfang rasped, "Naturally, now that you all are dead-set on revenge," she narrowed her eyes at the three younger cats who looked back innocently, "I suppose that won't do." she sighed, "My advice is to think about your plan. Tigerstar's guards aren't going to let you pad in and kill him and Brokentail,"
"B-Brokenstar?" Brackenfur stuttered, looking at Fireheart and Cinderpelt for help. Cinderpelt shrugged back unhelpfully.
Yellowfang purred but her eyes were a little hurt, "You can't just expect to swing from one dictator to the next. Obviously Brokentail has to die too,"
"I'm sorry," Fireheart meowed, sounding truly sorry. But Cinderpelt knew he wouldn't change the plans, not even for Yellowfang.
"Are you going to kill him Fireheart?" Yellowfang smirked bitterly, "That would be fitting. The cat I look upon as my son, the cat I wished was my son killing my true son."
Cinderpelt shook her head to allow Fireheart to bypass the difficult question, "I'm killing him," she meowed.
Yellowfang regarded her, not saying anything for a moment. Then she sighed, "Aim for the belly. He gets cocky- never guards it."
Cinderpelt, instead of being shocked by this turn of events, simply felt a stab of sadness, "Thanks,"
"We should do it tomorrow," Brackenfur meowed suddenly.
"What?" Yellowfang coughed in shock.
"The longer we wait, the more cats are likely to find out." Brackenfur meowed reasonably. "It's better to do it soon. Besides, we already have the plan- Yellowfang and I will get rid of the guards, Cinderpelt takes out Brokentail, and Fireheart faces down with Tigerstar."
"He has a point," Yellowfang admitted grudgingly. Brackenfur puffed out his chest.
Fireheart's whiskers twitched, "You are absolutely nothing like Graystripe and yet you remind me of him in so many ways."
Brackenfur's eyes were amber fire, "Thanks,"
She had never run so fast in her life. Her head was in turmoil- should she tell Tigerstar what she had seen? That his life would be ended? Because they would succeed- she was sure of that.
But Fireheart...she had thought for a moment that- no. Fireheart was a weak kittypet, a rebel, a sick cat who needed to be put down. Cinderpelt and Brackenfur didn't know what they were doing- they were young idealists. Fireheart was the issue here. And Yellowfang- a ShadowClan traitor. Yes, that was it.
But it felt wrong.
She entered camp and ran immediately to Tigerstar's den. The guards eyed her wearily until Brokentail peered outside and collected her, depositing her in front of the great leader himself.
"Our little hunter," Tigerstar purred, "Busy as ever keeping the Clan fed?"
She didn't bother telling him that there wasn't enough food- that the rogues ate too much and left the Clan too little and how was she supposed to feed an entire Clan on her own anyways? "I bring news," she meowed miserably.
"Well don't tell me too fast," Tigerstar purred. He was in a good mood. She wondered briefly who he had been tormenting- Tigerstar was always in a good mood after a good round of clawing an innocent.
She took a deep breath, then another. Brokentail's icy claws trailed down her spine, "Talk," the tom whispered menacingly. She shivered.
"Brokentail, don't be rude," Tigerstar chided. He leaned forward, amber eyes hungry, "It's good news, isn't it?" She nodded jerkily, not saying anything. "Well then spit it out!"
Tears gathered in her eyes, "I shouldn't have-"
"Talk!" Brokentail roared. She crouched on the floor of the den. I didn't used to be this weak. I used to have a backbone, I used to be strong. What happened?
"Brokentail," Tigerstar meowed reasonably, "Now, if you talk to us I'm sure we can work something out so you and Dustpelt get a little more rations... maybe some more food for when your kits come?"
She froze, "I'm not expecting kits."
"With the way Dustpelt stares all moony-eyed at you, I think you will be soon," Tigerstar purred heartily and she resisted the urge to rake claws down his face. But she was broken and he wouldn't let her rest until she had told him. Why had she thought this was a good idea?
"Now," Tigerstar meowed, leaning forward, "Tell us Sandstorm. What is your big news?"
And hating herself with her entire heart, Sandstorm opened her mouth.
The morning of the assassination was beautiful. Clear blue skies and slight breezes gave light to green forests and blooming flowers. Cinderpelt rose late and went to the meeting spot to practice fighting with Fireheart and go over the plan once more. Yellowfang and Brackenfur were out 'gathering herbs' so the four wouldn't arouse suspicion.
Fireheart was napping, ginger fur turning to fire in the sunlight. Her breath caught in her chest for a moment and she thought, We could both die today. We could both die today and we might not get to live out lives out together,
She shoved the thought away and padded over. "Hey,"
Fireheart blinked up at her, "Hey,"
"Do you want to start or-" her sentence was cut off as Fireheart pressed against her with a purr.
They talked. They didn't talk about what would happen that night, they talked about the future and better things and what they would name their kits.
"Graykit," Fireheart meowed.
"What if none of them are gray?" Cinderpelt purred.
Fireheart's whiskers twitched, "What if it's eyes are gray?"
"Gray eyes? Who has gray eyes?"
It was the best day of her life. Around sun high, they hunted. After eating, they resolved to actually plan and practice. But they both fell asleep in the sunlight, curled up together.
Fireheart woke her up. The dying sun was sending red beams of light into their clearing and her stomach clenched. Time to go kill the leader and deputy,
"Where are Brackenfur and Yellowfang?" Fireheart meowed.
Cinderpelt shrugged, "They probably just went ahead to camp. Were we supposed to meet them here?"
Fireheart narrowed his eyes, then blinked as a dark shape materialized from the bushes. "Darkstripe," Fireheart snarled.
The usually sour looking warrior seemed rather pompous as he padded over to the two cats, "Greetings," he meowed easily, his icy gaze sliding from Fireheart to Cinderpelt. She held it, chin high. Eventually, Darkstripe turned away and Cinderpelt felt a surge of pride.
"What do you want?" she challenged.
"You two really should be more careful," he meowed, observing a bird in the trees above before turning and resting his gaze back on them, "Sandstorm overhead you talking yesterday, your little plot to kill Tigerstar." he bared his teeth in a semblance of a cruel smile, "Sandstorm's such a good little warrior."
"Sandstorm-" Fireheart looked stunned, "Sandstorm wouldn't sell us out."
"Well, you've been replaced as a priority for her it seems," Darkstripe meowed, stretching lazily.
"So is that it?" Cinderpelt growled, "You're here to take us to Tigerstar? Because I can tell you he sent too few warriors."
Darkstripe looked vaguely repulsed, "I'm not some...goon," he meowed, "I'm here to inform you of a message to you from Tigerstar,"
"Which is?" Fireheart meowed, quickly losing patience.
Darkstripe turned back to Cinderpelt, "Return to camp or your brother dies. If the sun sets and you are not back, your brother dies. If Tigerstar dies, your brother dies. If you make any move to escape-"
"Brackenfur dies," Fireheart finished dully.
Darkstripe's eyes brightened, "So not all kittypets are stupid and useless after all!" he turned, waving his tail, "Sundown," and disappeared into the bushes.
Cinderpelt felt as if someone had clawed out part of her heart. "Brackenfur..." she whispered. "Oh StarClan, Brackenfur."
"He's my brother! If I hadn't gotten him involved-"
"Tigerstar would still have hurt him," Fireheart meowed calmly. He narrowed his perfect green eyes, "You do realize this is a trap, right?"
"Of course," Cinderpelt meowed, padding towards the bushes.
"Don't go," Fireheart's plea stopped her in her tracks.
She didn't turn, "He's my brother."
"I'm your mate,"
Her heart broke. The pigeon died, all those dreams she'd had since she'd been a kit flew into a place where starlit meadows hide old loves and wishes never received. She had to hurt Fireheart to save him. Because he could still be saved- Tigerstar just needed one cat to martyr. Fireheart could get away.
She made her voice as cold and icy as possible, "You're not my mate Fireheart."
He was heart-breakingly handsome and the pain in his eyes nearly made her cry out. "But-"
"But nothing." she tipped her head, "What we had was nice and I do think of you as a friend, but do you honestly think you take precedence? Over Brackenfur?"
"Run," she meowed coldly, "Run Fireheart. Get away from here because StarClan knows you're our only hope. But whatever you do, don't do it because you have this deluded idea that we are in love or that we are mates. Because we weren't, aren't, and never will be."
"Cinderpelt please," he whispered.
But she padded through the bracken anyways. She listened, heart pounding. But Fireheart didn't follow her.
She allowed tears to blind her vision and she cried as she walked. But as soon as she got near camp she wiped away her tears with her paw and padded confidently to the entrance.
I am going to die here. Today. Now. I am never going to get older, I am never going to run in the forest again or share a moonlit night with Fireheart. I am never going to talk to Brackenfur or dream or eat a mouse. I am going to die because Tigerstar is going to kill me for what I have done.
She padded through the entrance.
Tigerstar sat on the High Rock, Brokenstar next to him. Brackenfur was sprawled out behind them, bleeding while Yellowfang attempted to see to his wounds while two guards snickered at them. The rest of the Clan huddled in their dens, shocked eyes the only things left of the once proud cats Cinderpelt had grown up with.
She stalked into the center of the empty camp, turned and faced Tigerstar who glared down on her.
"Here I am," she meowed bitterly, "Just like you wanted."
"Cinderpelt," Tigerstar meowed, standing on the High Rock so he towered above her, "You're a traitor. Do you know what happens to traitors in ThunderClan?"
"I'm the traitor?" she meowed incredulously. And then she spoke to the ThunderClan cats, not their leader, "Would you like to tell the Clan how you got me here? By threatening to kill Brackenfur, my brother? Or how you came to be deputy, by killing Redtail? Or how you killed Bluestar and had Fireheart hit with a monster?"
There were gasps, but no one ran out to save her. No one joined her cause. She was on her own.
"Cinderpelt, you have to run-" Brackenfur croaked weakly.
"Where is Fireheart?" Tigerstar meowed, interrupting. His amber eyes narrowed, "Surely he wouldn't be so foolish as to run?"
"He did," Cinderpelt meowed, feeling cold all over, "But you have me. So go ahead, make your spectacle."
"No!" Cinderpelt turned, her heart sinking and rising at the same time. That idiot, she thought lovingly. Fireheart stood at the camp entrance, his green eyes blazing into Tigerstar's delighted amber ones. "I'm here."
"Excellent," Tigerstar meowed amiably. "The executions will go as planned then?"
"Let Brackenfur and Yellowfang go," Fireheart demanded.
Tigerstar shrugged and flicked his tail. The two guards stepped away from the two warriors and Yellowfang glared before returning to treating Brackenfur. Cinderpelt felt slightly better.
Tigerstar leapt off the High Rock and Cinderpelt's heart sped up, a frantic beat of panic. She found her mother's eyes in the warriors den, staring at her in frozen horror. But Frostfur was not a fighter and Longtail seemed to be whispering something in her ears. I'm sorry, Cinderpelt hoped her mother would understand, I fell in love. I did something pretty stupid. But I had the best intentions.
Tigerstar was in front of her now and Cinderpelt met his gaze without flinching. She wouldn't give anyone the satisfaction of seeing her afraid to die.
"Any last words?" her leader asked quietly.
"The ThunderClan I knew wouldn't allow this to happen," she spat out, "I hope you all still have the courage left to free yourselves."
"Brave, but foolish," Tigerstar meowed. He raised his paw, claws glinting and Cinderpelt wondered if it would hurt. He's clawing my throat out, probably, it's gonna hurt, she thought bitterly.
Fireheart was saying something but she couldn't hear it past the blood rushing in her ears.
Briefly, she wondered if Brackenfur would be okay. And her mother, would Tigerstar hurt them too?
If he does I'll haunt his sorry tail forever, she thought with a grim joy.
And then Tigerstar was upon her, a bright flash of pain and then nothing.
And then she remembered, tears streaking down her face.
None of this is real.
"You alright?" Yellowfang asked. Cinderpelt looked around, discovering she was once more in StarClan.
"You have to tell me what happened to them," she spun to face Yellowfang, tears falling faster then she could comprehend, "Everyone. What happened?"
Yellowfang sighed, and curled her tail around her paws. "Fireheart was killed right after you. The Clan did attempt to revolt a moon later, but Tigerstar and his rogues put a quick end to that. Brokenstar was poisoned, deathberries. I was killed for that. Silverstream died during birth, like she did in your life, but since no one was there to save the kits they died too. The Clans couldn't get to their new home because of that, and everyone died when the twolegs came."
Cinderpelt felt a flash of pain. She had failed Silverstream twice. "Brackenfur?" she asked breathlessly.
Yellowfang purred, "Your brother- the one spark of joy in all this. He led the revolution a moon after your death, but when Tigerstar began killing the leaders off he escaped to Ravenpaw's barn and lived there. I think he met a she-cat too...and they survived the twolegs. They were happy,"
Cinderpelt exhaled, "Why can't I stop crying?"
Yellowfang purred again, "You just died. Your mate just died and everyone you loved was sentenced to death. I'll be surprised when you stop crying."
"I thought..." she searched for the words, "I thought it would hurt less. I thought if my dreams and Fireheart and everything wasn't snatched away from me by Tigerstar and a monster it would hurt less."
"When you broke your leg you still had your Clan to help you," Yellowfang meowed gently. "In this world Tigerstar broke the Clans and that ultimately shattered your dreams."
Cinderpelt nodded and got up, padding away from the medicine cat without another word. She began running through the starry forests, searching until she came across Firestar sitting alone by a pond.
She tackled him and he looked up in surprise, "What...?"
"Shh," she meowed," Just let me have this moment for a second..." Fireheart stopped talking, letting her tears soak his pelt.
And now she was also crying because she could feel a dull throb of pain from her leg. And that made her unbelievably, undeniably happy.