Prologue - Kode
"What will you do, now that you don't have your mommy to protect you?" Someone jeered. "There's no one here to save you..."
Starkshock barreled past Finchflight, shoving him aside.
"Leave her alone!" She snarled, anger ripping through her like a tidal wave.
"Or what?" Finchflight scoffed. "There's nothing you can do."
"Oh, yes there is!" Starkshock snarled, raking her sharp claws down Finchflight's face.
His screams were insufficient, his blood was not enough.
"Beg." She hissed in his ear. "Beg for mercy."
"N-no!" He writhed, thrashing, under her iron grip.
"Beg." She growled again, eyes slits of anger. "And I just might let you live."
Finchflight let out a yell, attracting attention from the other members of ShadowClan.
"Beg," She said again, and a peal of psychotic laughter forced its way out of her throat.
"Never." Finchflight's eyes were full of resentment and defiance.
"I'm going to say this one last time. Beg. Now."
The tom said nothing, studying her features.
She grinned cruelly. "Too late." He dodged, but she was too well-trained; her claws found their mark.
She slashed downward, slitting his throat.
It was a gruesome sight, seeing Starkshock covered in blood, Finchflight's limp body laying at her paws.
"Who dares," She snarled, "To touch this wolf? Who dares, now that she is under my protection?"
There was dead silence from the onlookers of the slaughter.
Finally, Toadpelt spoke.
"Starkshock..." He whispered softly. "What have you done?"
Chapter One - Stone
A moon had passed since Starkshock’s outbreak. The cats were astonished that Pinestar hadn’t expelled her from clan life. Many cats still shot disbelieving stares at her, and rightly so. She had killed her clanmate.
Toadpelt and the rest of the senior Warriors were having a group training session with the wolf. She had just turned seven moons old and was eager to learn to fight.
“Okay, Greypaw, as you know, since you have your strength and sheer power working towards your advantage, I’ll show you a basic power move. Who shall I demonstrate on? Beetlenose....” Toadpelt hung his head.
“Beetlenose.... Finchflight....” he sniffled. “My son’s best friend. I’m sorry, Whitenose.”
All of this was too quiet for anyone to hear, but Beetlenose walked over, sympathy in his eyes, and licked his father’s head lovingly. He looked Toadpelt in the eye and jerked his head toward the wolf.
Toadpelt cleared his throat, and went on.
“Greypaw, I want you to rear up on your hind legs, and reach your paws over your head, then bring them down on the opponent’s head. I will demonstrate on Beetlenose now.” He brought his paws up, then forcefully brought them down on Beetlenose’s head, halting at the last second, so he didn’t shove his son’s face into the muck. He addressed Greypaw,
“Now watch this.” He swung his hind legs around, planted them on Beetlenose’s haunches, and lightly raked his back. As he stepped back, he continued.
“With your weight, even as you rake your opponent’s back, their head will stay planted in the ground. Try it.” He nodded towards Beetlenose.
After some tweaking, she began performing the move more fluidly and gracefully, and Mousetail brought the meeting to an end.
Chapter Two - Kode
Now a pariah, Starkshock was lonely. She didn't show it, of course, keeping her chin held high, regally, every time she felt a pair of eyes on her.
She knew what she needed to do; beg Pinestar's forgiveness. As if.
She lay in her den, tail twitching idly. She had hunted. She had collected herbs.
Nothing left to do but wait until the sun went down, she supposed.
"Starkshock! Starkshock, come quickly!" It was Beetlenose, interrupting her peace.
"What?!" She demanded, swinging her head around to face the brown-bronze tom.
"It's Greypaw," He whimpered, "She's hurt. Badly."
Starkshock's blood turned to ice. The wolf was the only thing stopping her from leaving her clan. After killing Finchflight, clan life had ceased to appeal to her, the thought of being a warrior no longer sent a buzz through her veins.
She jumped to her paws, each hair on her pelt bristling. "What happened?" She snarled, pressing her nose to Beetlenose's.
Normally, it would have been considered a friendly gesture, but not this time. It was now a hostile move, and Beetlenose knew it.
"We don't know. She staggered into camp, covered in scratches. She smelled like fox."
Dismayed and angry, Starkshock followed Beetlenose to the medicine den.
Greypaw was stretched out on three moss-beds, occupying them all. Her sleek silver fur was matted with blood and grit. Her tongue lolled out, and her eyes were slightly glassy.
"We don't know how to treat her," Beetlenose fretted. "I'm sorry." He touched his tail-tip to her shoulder, and filed out of the medicine den somberly, the medicine cats and Toadpelt in tow.
"Best to leave her alone now," Toadpelt remarked in a hushed tone, clearly not meant for Starkshock to hear.
Starkshock pressed her nose to Greypaw's large one, and her tail began to wag.
It was odd. She did it when happy, but to felines, waving their tail was a sign of displeasure, or anger.
"I'm sorry," Starkshock murmured to the young wolf. "I'm so sorry..."
"D- Don't be," Greypaw whispered. Her voice was heavy, accented, her breath labored. "It was my fault. I p- picked a fight with the fox, even though..." She sucked in a rattling breath. "Even though I knew I couldn't fight it."
Tears stung Starkshock's eyes, and she buried her nose in Greypaw's fur. When she spoke, her voice was muffled. "I should have been with you. I should've never left your side..."
Greypaw was like a sister to Starkshock. She'd never had a family, and now she was losing the closest thing she had to a sister.
"We can still save you," Starkshock said fiercely, pulling away from Greypaw, and looking into her bright blue eyes.
Greypaw laughed, a low hearty rumble that turned into a cough. "No. No, you can't."
A heavy silence fell. Starkshock's eyes scanned the herbs layed out beside Graypaw. Nothing seemed to call to her, no sudden flash of inspiration came to her. She let out a small wail, and Greypaw watched her, looking saddened.
"Don't cry, Starkshock... It's okay," Greypaw said, trying to soothe Starkshock.
She looked at Greypaw sharply. "What are you talking about? You're dying!" She wailed.
"Hello, Starkshock." Starkshock jumped, but Greypaw just looked mildly concerned, giving no sign that she'd heard the voice.
Starkshock swung her head around, trying to find who'd spoken. At the entrance to the den, a pristine white tabby was grooming her fur. "Whitenose!" Starkshock gasped, staring at the deceased white she-cat in awe.
Whitenose's eyes glimmered as she turned to face Starkshock. She arched her back impressively, padding over to Starkshock leisurely. Greypaw seemed to be frozen. Her chest didn't move. She wasn't breathing.
"Is she... dead?" Starkshock asked, not willing to look at the StarClan visitor.
"No, although she will be soon," Whitenose's eyes flashed with worry.
"What can I do? Whitenose, what can I do?" Starkshock's voice rose to a wail. "What's wrong with her? Why is she frozen?"
Whitenose pressed her nose to Starkshock's shoulder, calming her. "Breathe. Don't worry. Nothing's wrong with her, except for the obvious." She gestured to the battered wolf pup. "She's frozen because I'd rather speak without... interruption. In fact, if you care to look, everyone in ShadowClan is frozen. When we're done, it'll be as if nothing happened." Whitenose's voice was grave. "No more questions for now, though. Our time here together limited," She said, with a stern look at Starkshock.
"Why n- Sorry, sorry," Starkshock said, interrupting herself.
"This is urgent. It concerns you, and the future of ShadowClan." Whitenose murmured, her words flowing out heavy and fast. "Remember the river when water runs red, remember the winter when three turn up dead. Remember the shadows when you walk alone, remember the fallen when you find their bones. Feathers drift farther away, you must retrieve them, or the forest will decay."
Whitenose was already fading. "No! Whitenose! Don't leave me! Come back!" Starkshock yowled. "Try burdock root," Whitenose's vocie was the faintest echo, but there came a purr of amusement from oblivion. "It's good for infected rat bites."
Quieter, still: "Say hello to Toadpelt, for me." "I will," Starkshock murmured.
"You will what?" Greypaw asked. Starkshock jumped up. "What? Great StarClan, you scared me!" Starkshock said, with a mreow. Greypaw smiled weakly. She was drained, and her breath was slightly cold.
Starkshock was about to sit down with Greypaw, the incident with Whitenose already pushed from her mind, when her tail brushed a dark, purpleish root. Burdock root. She jumped up, pinning the root down with her paws, as if the herb could scurry away.
"What is it?" Greypaw gasped, between pants.
"I know what to do!" In relief, Starkshock looked up at Greypaw. "Greypaw, I know how to save you!"
Chapter Three - Stone
Toadpelt staggered into camp, moaning and dragging one leg. He looked to be barely conscious, and at once he fell down, cats rushing to pick him up. They brought him to the medicine den, where they stood over him and spoke, but he did not hear. They pressed and prodded at his body, and put things down his throat, but he did not feel. The light became brighter and brighter, and everything went black.
Toadpelt was in a forest. A lush, green, prey filled forest, with cats sharing tongues and eating prey everywhere. He turned around, and did a double take when he saw who was next to him. A pristine, defined, beautiful white she-cat. “Whitenose!” He nearly squealed with excitement, then thought about what was happening. “Wait-am I dead?”
“No, Toadpelt. But your friends must wait before you return. They are trying to save you as we speak. It does no good. You are in the paws of Starclan now,” she paused. “Follow me.”
He followed her through the forest, across the moor, and arrived at a cave bigger than any he’d ever seen. Whitenose stopped. “My journey ends here, my love.” Her eyes glazed over and she disconnected from reality. “Remember, Toadpelt, remember the river when water runs red, remember the winter when three turn up dead. Remember the shadows when you walk alone, remember the fallen when you find their bones. Feathers drift farther away, you must retrieve them, or the forest will decay."
He nodded vigorously, taking in everything she said. He headed into the black cave, and was transported to his conscious life.
He awoke with a gasp, taking his first breath he had since sunhigh. The medicine cats jaws dropped, and they rushed into camp yelling, “Toadpelt’s alive!” In a mere few heartbeats, eight or nine cats were crowding him, asking all kinds of questions. He stood up, seemingly healed from his accident, and pushed his way through the crowd outside the den. They were still peppering him with questions,
“Were you in Starclan?”
“How are you healed?”
He held up his paw for silence, and the questions stopped. In the calmest voice he could administer, he said,
“One at a time.”
He answered question after question, possibly until dusk, yet there was still a crowd of cats surrounding him. He noticed the medicine cat, and knew what he was obliged to do. He waved away the other cats, and stated mysteriously, “I have something to do.” He quietly ran to the medicine den, and told the clan’s healers what had happened. “I was in Starclan, and Whitenose came to me, and she said, ‘remember the river when water runs red, remember the winter when three,’” he broke off. The medicine cat was murmuring the prophecy to him, reciting apparently what she had heard already.
Without a word, Toadpelt left the den. But he couldn’t go to sleep yet, he had just one more thing to do. He made his way to the warriors den, where Starkshock lay in silence. “I forgive you.” Was all she needed to hear. He grabbed a piece of prey, which marked his last meal of the night.