The five clans; FogClan, MistClan, SmokeClan, DustClan and SandClan have been living in peace for a long time. But suddenly they are struck by a vicious disease they called Darkcough. Now it is up to six warriors, who are connected in ways they can not imagine, to save the Clans from this incurable disease.
It was something the clans had never seen before; ragging from the youngest kit to the oldest elder. It was a monster in all forms, eating at the flesh of living cats, as it tried to reach every corner of the darkened forest.
Cats died, in large amounts as it was a disease that the medicine cats had never seen or heard of before. It was a much more severe version of whitecough and spread just with contact. Worse yet, you never knew the cat had the disease until it was too late to fix, and they had already spread it onto several other cats.
Suddenly, mates rubbing against each other, one cat catching prey for another, and the small little patrol skirmishes became a problem for the clans.
Every time a sick cat rubbed against another, the disease spread within moments, and neither of the cats could know for a long time. And the clans became desperate with these raging wars, which led to many battles, the primary reason these diseases spread.
Medicine cats started dying at a rapid pace, as they made contact with the disease when they tried to heal the injured. The clans started restricting them from touching the sick cats; realizing that they needed their healers to survive the tough times.
It was so horrible they gave the disease a name: Darkcough. A monster of all forms.
I was desperate for the clans to survive. I took long journeys across the sky to find something, anything to save the desperate clans. I climbed over the mountains and swam through the seas with no luck.
But I refuse to give up; I will follow my search wherever it takes me, so that the clans may find their sweet peace yet again.
Suddenly, my eyes are caught by something. I turn to see a beautiful and radiant bushed of a very special plant. I had never seen it before but just by looking I realized that this was exactly what the clans needed.
A fraction of a millimeter from its juicy roots would be more than enough to heal a cat. It would be the solution to the disease, and it would be enough for all of the clans to share and use.
But it was far away and it would require a journey; one that would need to be made by a strong group of destined warriors; at least one from each clan.
Shaded cats must come together to fight the evil within.
It sounded like a good prophecy to me, so I decided to stick with it, and send it out to the other Starclan cats, watching over the distressed clans. It was only a matter of time.
They would have to succeed.
Rain. Gray Skies. The bleakness. The blankness.
Brookfall closed her eyes and tried to think back to happier times, but it was almost impossible. Who could think of sun-lit meadows with the gloomy clouds overhead? Who could think of piles of fresh-kill watching starving cats stagger about the camp? And who could think of kits, happy and healthy, playing outside when the nursery was filled with the stench of sickness and the sound of tiny coughs?
A harsh cough interrupted her thoughts. She turned and her heart twisted painfully when she saw who it was; the only other cat in the warrior's den with her. The others were all out hunting or stuck in the medicine cat's den, suffering. Which was where her friend needed to be too. There was just no denying it anymore.
"Are you okay Softsplash?" she asked, moving closer to the brown-tabby-and-cream she-cat. "Maybe I should ask Lizardstripe or Dewpaw for some herbs to make you feel better."
Softsplash shook her head, her expression pained but determined. "No. They have their paws full enough already. I just need to rest."
Doubt filled Brookfall's heart. She really wished her friend would just let go of her pride and accept the help, but another part of her didn't want to acknowledge it was true. To admit that the deadly disease they called darkcough had really taken over. Had grasped the last cat that mattered to her. It just couldn't be true.
Just then a wail cut across the clearing and nearly stopped her heart. She raced outside to find a sobbing Mintbird leaning against her mate, Greenstripe. Lizardstripe stood in front of them, head bowed. His golden eyes looked tired and defeated. "I'm sorry Mintbird. I did everything I could to save them."
Fighting a rising panic, Brookfall raced forward. "What happened?"
Graystar himself answered. "Sagepaw and Shallowpaw are dead. They died together, just now." Turning back to the medicine cat he said, "It's not your fault Lizardstripe. We appreciate everything you did to help them."
No, Brookfall thought, begging StarClan that it wasn't true. The two sisters had been happy and full of hope, two beacons of light in the fog that had surrounded SmokeClan since the illness. They couldn't be gone. Dewpaw looked particularly stricken. They had been his denmates and his friends, and now they had died under his care. The young tom's blue eyes were filled with tears, and he sat huddled in a corner, shaking with silent sobs of unspeakable grief. Brookfall resisted the urge to comfort him, sensing that he needed to be alone right now.
Softsplash emerged by her side. Brookfall could hear her labored breathing, and unconciously took a step away. Horror filled her when she realized what she had done. Was she really afraid of her best friend? She knew she had cause to be if Softsplash really was sick. If it spread to her, Brookfall could die, like the two apprentices. But it still wasn't right.
A sickening feeling rose in her throat. What were they going to do. In a soft whisper she prayed, "StarClan, please help us."
Cough. Cough. Cough. Ambershine awoke, startled by the rough coughing. She turned her head to see Echosong, her younger sister, was doing the coughing.
"Are you alright?" Ambershine asked, worriedly. Echosong lifted her head weakly, her eyes clouded with pain.
"Yes. I'm fine. Don't worry about me," She chocked. "You're too overprotective over me."
Ambershine sighed. "Someone had to be," She meowed. Many cats usually said that she was way to overprotective over Echosong. But of course she would be, Echosong was her younger sister. Their parents had died when they were born and Echosong had been born sick. She was unusually small and weak, and Ambershine had vowed to protect her.
"You can't fool me," Ambershine meowed, trying to keep the worry out. "I know your sick. You better get to Wintersong right now." A deep, terrible feeling spreaded through Ambershine. Her worst fears were coming true. Darkcough.
Darkcough had been spreading through MistClan, killing half the clan. Ambershine had hoped that she and Echosong wouldn't have gotten it. But she was now afraid that Echosong had caught it. Please StarClan, She prayed, closing her eyes.
"I heard coughing," A worried mew startled Ambershine. She spun her head around to see Wintersong, the medicene cat of MistClan.
"I think Echosong's sick," Ambershine meowed, sounding like a worried kit. Wintersong padded over to Echosong. She put her nose on her head, closing her eyes. After what seemed like a whole season, Wintersong finally lifted her head up.
"Ambershine," Wintersong meowed, her voice quivering with fear that scared Ambershine.
"Echsong has Darkcough."
Ambershine blinked. She felt blind and hopeless, not knowing what to say.
"Am I going to die?" Echosong chocked, fear in her voice. Wintersong looked at Ambershine.
"No," She meowed. "You just have to come to my den and I'll treat you," She gently nosed Echosong up. Echosong stood up, her legs and tail wobbling.
"Come along dear," Wintersong murmmed gently, padding out of the den, Echosong leaning on her. Ambershine's throat tightend up.
Echosong was going to die.
Ambershine had to face the truth. Every cat who had gotten Darkcough had died or were close to getting it. Feeling sick and dizzy, she padded out of the den.
"No! Swiftfire! No!" Ambershine jumped startled by Hazelmist's wailing. She turned to see Hazelmist leaning over her mate, Swiftfire. Ambershine relized with pain that Swiftfire was dead. Because of Darkcough.
"I'm so sorry Hazelmist," Sootfeather, the medicene cat apprentice meowed sadly. Hazelmist looked up, her face smeared with tears.
"It's not your fault," She chocked. "It's mine."
Ambershine couldn't bear to listen anymore. Sighing, she padded into the medicene den to see Echosong lying in a bed of moss.
"Eat this," Wintersong meowed, handing Echosing a smal, green plant. Echosong sniffed it, her nose wrinkling.
"It will soothe your pain," Wintersong urged. Echosong weakly looked up but nodded. As she started eating it, Wintersong turned towards Ambershine.
"Ambershine," She whispered, padding up to her."I'm SOS sorry to say this but-"
"Echosong is going to die," Ambershine finished. Wintersong's eyes clouded as she looked. Tears streaming down her face, Ambershine ran out of the den. She raced into the clearing.
Echsong dosen't deserve to die! Ambershine though as she yowled, sending all her grief to the sky.
Ambershine shut her mouth as Rainstar padded up to her.
"Rainstar, don't try to comfort me," Ambershine growled, turning her head away.
Rainstar's blue eyes grew soft as she padded up to Ambershine, putting her tail on her shoulder.
"I know how you feel about this," She meowed, a hint of grief in her meow. Ambershine knew why. Two moons ago, Rainstar's daughter Cloudrain had died because of Darkcough.
"How could StarClan allow this to happen?" Ambershine growled. Half the clan was sick or dying with Darkcough.
"It's not their fault," Rainstar meowed. She lifted her head and gazed at the sky. "We could only hope that one day, a savior would come and save us from Darkcough."
Snakefang padded anxiously back and forth across the clearing in front of the medicine cat's den.
SandClan's medicine cat, Rainshimmer, padded out of the den with a sorrowful glance in her eyes.
"I'm sorry, Snakefang, but Flowerserpent is very ill with Darkcough. From my asessment of her, without laying a paw on her of course, has shown that she is indeed very sick."
Snakefang's temper boiled. He was usually known to get angry at everything, and this had done it.
Snakefang let out an irritated hiss and he growled, "Well, why don't you give her herbs? Any herbs! There must be a mixture that will help!"
Rainshimmer frowned, "Snakefang, control yourself. You know very well that the wrong mixture of herbs or overdosing her on them could make her worse. You have to be patient."
Snakefang hissed, "I can't be patient! The whole Clan knows that too well. This Darkcough disease has taken Petalfur, Lizardpelt, Dustclaw, and Brightfire and I can't lose the only cat that I love that is still alive!" Black thorns pierced his heart as he rattled off the names of his mother, father, brother, and best friend, but he pushed it aside and sormed away.
Tears of fear, sadness, and anger rolled down his cheek as he thought of what might happen if he lost her. He was very worried because his crush was the only cat he loved now, and he was worried that she would die before they became mates and have kits.
"I know your worried, Snakefang, but don't worry," a familiar voice ruffled his ear fur and his heart cried longingly for his mother, "You are destined to be a great asset to all the Clans. You must be patient."
"Ok, mother," Snakefang murmured bowing his red-furred head.
"What was that, Snakefang?" one of the elders, Thornfoot asked.
"None of your concern, Thornfoot!" Snakefang snapped, but he regreted it. Thornfoot had been his mentor and was thankfully, not yet touched by Darkcough.
Snakefang felt a pain inside, Oh, I hope Flowerserpent gets better. Perhaps I can help her get there!
Through the worry that had filled thim to every tip of his red, black and white striped fur, the tips of his long, sharp teeth, and the tip of his long red tail, a glimmer of hope twinkled inside him.
Snakefang smiled for the first time since Darkcough had come into existance and he raised his head to the sky, I will do something for Flowerserpent! I promise her, she will survive and we can have the life we dreamed of as apprentices.
FogClan had been lucky- not many of their warriors had been touched by darkcough yet. Only three had come down with the fatal disease- Dawnfleck, Scarpelt, and Whitespirit. FogClan had done well taking care of them. Elders were assigned to take care of them- after all, if a Clan loses an elder, no harm is done. Once the three cats were dead their bodies were quarantined and properly done away with, buried deep in the ground, the burial parties scrubbing themselves at the small brook that ran through FogClan territory afterward. But no Clan is absolutely untouched- the darkcough disease is too wily for that.
Moonsky was never very well liked among the Clan. She was a terrible fighter, an average hunter, and very shy and reserved, sticking out like a fern in a patch of brambles amongst the proud, quick-to-fight FogClan cats. She didn't even really look like typical grayish-white FogClan cats- Moonsky was jet black with white speckles and amber eyes. She was scrawny compared to the other burly cats of her Clan. A common joke was that if she ever got into a fight the opponet would die from laughter instead of her claws.
Exactly two cats cared when she came down with darkcough- Moonsky herself and her sister, Flamebird. Their mother and father were both dead. The medicine cat, Yewberry, might have remotely cared, but probably not- he was old and had seen hundreds of cats die at his paws already.
"Moonsky, I'm sad to say that you have darkcough."
Normally a cat would be suprised at this news- Moonsky wasn't. She had been hacking and coughing for the past several weeks, and basically knew she had had it already. Flamebird was a different story. The calico she-cat with an ash gray underpelt's stared with wide blue eyes.
"Y-Yewberry... is there... is there.... anything you can do?" Flamebird stammered.
Yewberry shook his head. "I'm sorry. I'm not alowed to handle patients with darkcough."
Flamebird reached her head out to nuzzle Moonsky, but was blocked by Yewberry's paw. "I wouldn't do that. You wouldn't want to get sick yourself."
"Yeah, Flamebird. You're too likeable to get si-" Moonsky stopped as she entered another fit of coughing.
Flamebird's eyes filled with tears. "If she dies, I will die with her." She lunged towards her coughing sister, only to be held back by Sunpaw, Yewberry's apprentice. Tears streamed down the calico she-cat's face as she struggled to reach her sister, but Sunpaw was stronger than her- he had originally been a warrior apprentice but was stopped because of a crippled foot.
"I'm fine Flamebird. I really am." Moonsky tried to console her weeping sister in vain. Flamebird just cried harder.
"No! No, Moonsky!" she yelped, as if her words would stop the spreading disease. Yewberry tried to ignore her and focused back on Moonsky.
"Moonsky, you are expected to live another week."
The diseased she-cat nodded solemnly, and a screaming and crying Flamebird was dragged out of the medicine den.
Moonsky swallowed. She would die in a week- and there was no stopping the disease.
Leafsong jumped up.
"No Jayheart! Our Clan needs you!" I heard Vinestar say.
Jayheart was the deputy. Leafsong's eyes widened. He had Darkcough. And he was dying. A tear dripped down her face.
"I'm sorry Vinestar. It's not my fault I got Darkcough. Goodbye. Forever." Jayheart whispered.
"Jayheart's right!" Vinestar screeched.
"It's not his fault! It's Rosefrost's!"
Rosefrost was the medicine cat. Vinestar blamed her for a lot of things. But Vinestar was, uh, old, and starting to go a little insane. Now most of the Clan knew what happened. Leafsong's rival, Sunnywhisper looked at her happily.
"Look who's gonne be the new deputy! No, don't look at you, look at me!" Sunnywhisper mocked.
Every cat thought after Vinestar died, or Jayheart died or retired, Sunnywhisper would be the new deputy. We were all proved wrong.
"MudClan, as you know, Jayheart has died, and the new deputy is Leafsong. Since Rosefrost has an apprentice, Ashpaw, we know that Rosefrost is to blame that there was no cure for Jayheart. Rosefrost, you are exiled from MudClan." Vinestar said.
Everyone gasped. Sunnywhisper looked like she could kill a cat with a single blow. And Leafsong was afraid she would. On her.
Maplestorm blinked open her lavendar eyes as soft white light appeared over the distant jagged cliffs. She rose slowly to her paws, stretched, yawned. Her father would likely be wondering where she was: At these times there was not a waking moment when he wasn't worried about her safety.
Gracefully, she leapt down from the flat stone where she'd spent her night, and started quietly back to the camp. The desert floor was cold and hard, but it would soon heat up with the sun's warmth. As she padded toward her home, Maplestorm prayed that the darkcough had taken no more lives in the night.
Standing at the camp entrance were two guards. They both were surprised to see her. "When did you leave?" asked the sandy ginger she-cat.
"Don't worry, Gemheart," Maplestorm replied. "You didn't miss anything - I left in the evening yesterday."
The warrior nodded, but still seemed confused.
Not paying any attention to the guard, Maplestorm continued toward the warriors den. Fortunately, she found that none of them had moved from the den during the night - at the first sign of disease, they had to be moved as not to infect other cats.
And Lizardfur, her father, she was pleasantly surprised to find sound asleep.
She turned around when she heard a small squeal from the medicine den. Two queens were standing outside, looking distraught and terrified.
"What's happened?" she asked, racing over to join them.
The darker one stared sorrowfully at her, her green eyes shining in the increasing sunlight. "Mousekit," she whispered.
The other queen, a long-legged grey tabby, explained quietly. "She woke up and his breathing was uneven." She paused to lick the shaking she-cat's ear. "We aren't positive he's sick, but with the--the disease--we can't take any risks."
"Of course, Hawktail." Maplestorm wondered what she could do to help, but could think of nothing. "And, Featherheart, if there's anything I can do," she offered the sobbing queen.
Featherheart nodded. "Thank you."
"There's really nothing you can help with right now," said Hawktail. "We'll keep that offer in mind, though."
The sun was rising higher yet, and the camp was beginning to stir. Rainshimmer was wandering around, checking some cats for symptoms of illness. It was all she could do, being so helpless around the disease - if she were to become infected, SandClan would be doomed, so she was forbidden to lay a paw on them.
Lizardfur sat down next to his daughter. "Where have you been?" he demanded.
"I was worried about getting sick," she admitted. "So last night I left the camp to sleep so I wouldn't be so near the disease."
The old tom sighed. He wasn't young, but he was nowhere near retirement before the darkcough. Yet now, as Maplestorm gazed into his blue eyes, she saw a cat so fearful and distressed that the fur around his muzzle was turning grey, his eyes foggy and seemingly sightless.
"That's good," he finally answered, "but please tell me next time."
Maplestorm wanted to comfort him, but didn't know how. "I'm sorry," she said simply. Suddenly, her voice rose, "But I'm not a kit! I'm a warrior and I've been one for four moons. I can take care of myself - you don't have to know my location every moment."
Lizardfur closed his eyes. "I can't lose you like I've lost everyone else."
Ashamed of her words, Maplestorm shrunk back and said nothing as he turned and walked away.
Brookfall gave an exhausted sigh before collapsing into her nest. Every part of her body hurt from the constant huntig patrols. She couldn't remember a time when SmokeClan had been this weak ever before. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes as she thought of Softsplash. Her friend had finally been taken to the medicine cat's den after having a fever, delusions, and coughing up blood. Her absence made Brookfall so sad she physically ached in her chest.
Finally, she tucked her tail around her nose and drifted off to sleep, giving in to the weariness that seemed to have permanently settled in her body.
She was dreaming. She knew she was, yet everything was so vivid it was like real life. All around her, cats lay on the ground. Her first thought was that there had been a battle, but these cats weren't bleeding. Then she smelled the rank scent of illness, and heard the coughs and sneezes. Where was she? It couldn't be in SmokeClan; there were cats from all the other Clans around her. A young she-cat, no older then six moons, tugged at her desperately. Brookfall felt her throat close up, thinking of Sagepaw and Shallowpaw.
"Please," she rasped in a hoarse voice. "Please go. We need you. You must-" A shuddering cough gripped her body, and she turned away. too weak to say anymore.
Before Brookfall could cry out and shake the lifeless young body, a silvery mist enveloped her, and the next thing she knew she was no longer surrounded by sick and dying cats. Instead, she was in a grassy meadow, sunlight streaming down on her. She breathed in the warm, flower-scented air for a second, then whirled around. "Where am I?"
A voice that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere answered. "StarClan."
"What?" Horror seized her, then panic. Had she contracted the illness and died in her sleep without knowing it? She didn't feel dead, but then again, how would she know what that felt like?
The voice let out a deep, rumbling chuckle. "You are not dead child."
Brookfall's ears flattened to mask her embarrassment. "Oh yeah? Then why am I here?"
The voice was now grave, all trace of humor gone. "The Clans are fading, being wiped out by this sinister sickness you call darkcough. However, there are answers to this problem, as there are to every."
Hope flared in her chest. She had hoped so desperately it was true, and now this was like a lifeline to cling to. "Really? Please say it's true. I'll do anything if only it will be true. Where? Is there a cure? Where?" She was babbling mindlessly, but she didn't care.
"Go to the Gathering place tomorrow night," the voice said. "There you will find the answers, where shaded cats emerge, and become one."
"Wait!" she cried, but the dream was already spinning away from her. All that was left was cats, circling around her, their faces unseen and hidden.
Ambershine blinked her eyes open. She looked around wildy, wondering where she was. She was lying on the cold, bare ground in a small forest. Silver, sparkling mist filled the air, making Ambershine's eyes blur.
"Oh, Ambershine. My lovely daughter."
Ambershine turned her head around to see a very beafutiful she-cat; who was all white expect for dark brown paws and dark, shinning amber eyes. Her mother. Ambershine's heart filled with happenises as she padded up to her, nuzzling muzzles with her mother.
"Brightcloud," Ambershine murmmed. "I've missed you so much."
"And I've missed you too, my dear." Brightcloud said, licking Ambershine's left ear. However, as she looked into Brightcloud's eyes, Ambeershine found a hint of worry there. She could sense her fear. Confused, Ambershine broke away.
"Mother, is there something wrong?" Ambershine meowed, trying to keep worry out of her voice. Brightcloud's dark amber eyes clouded, worrying Ambershine even more.
"Ambershine." Brightcloud said firmly, surprising Ambershine. "I need you to listen to me. I need you to remember this. You understand?" Ambershine nodded.
"I need you to be tough for the dark times ahead. MistClan are in a very diffucult time in history." Brightcloud whispered. "A single journey might be the clan's only hope." Ambershine's eyes winded, still silent.
" If you want to save the clans and Echosong," Ambershine's ears pricked immenditly.
"You will have to go to the Gathering place at midnight the next day. You must save the clans."
Shocked, Ambershine fell backwards onto her back. She got up, shaking the dust out of her fur.
"Me? Save the clans? How?" Ambershine asked, chocking.
Brightcloud looked straight at her, her eyes full of calm, love, and hope.
"You won't be alone. Five other cats will come with you, and you will succeed." Brightcloud murmmed, touching her muzzle to Ambershine's head. As she broke away, Ambershine looked up, puzzled. Before she could speak, everything started to fade away. Brightcloud faded, leaving Ambershine still with horror.
"Wait! I don't understand!" She yowled. But everything had already disappeared.
"Do something!" Snakefang hissed in rage. "Flowerserpent looks as if she is going to die at any moment, so you better haul tail and heal her or I will shred you to bits and feed you to her myself!"
He knew he didn't mean it, but Flowerserpent was laying on the ground coughing and writhing and twisting in her moss. It took Snakefang all his willpower to stop himself from nuzzling her and murmuring to her that it would be alright.
Rainshimmer shook her head as her apprentice, Leafpaw, shivered in fear at the long-toothed warrior.
"Snakefang, I've told you before: we can't do anything!"
Snakefang bared his teeth, taking extra care to show the two especially long, sharp ones.
Leafpaw's eyes swelled with tears as she considered Snakefang's threat.
"Snakefang! You're scaring Leafpaw!" Rainshimmer hissed.
Snakefang convulsed with anger.
"Snakefang, I'll be ok..." Flowerserpent rasped.
Snakefang said, "I love you, Flowerserpent. Remember that."
Snakefang threw one last glare at the medicine cat and stomped away.
He settled into his moss and drifted into sleep, hurt, confused, angry, and exhausted.
His dreams took him into a starry, misty place.
"What am I dead now, too?" he demanded, frustration filling him up.
"You're not dead."
Snakefang turned to see the former leader of SandClan.
"Then what am I doing here?" he growled, "I'm already drained of what little patience I had as it is."
Treestar meowed, "This is about Darkcough."
"Oh, this nasty disease again!" he yowled, "It took my mother! It took my father! It took my brother! It took my best friend! It is taking my mate!"
"And you can save her."
The glimmer of hope reawakened, I knew I could!
"How?" squeaking like an excited kit. He cleared his throat.
"You must take a long journey, far away, with five other cats, to find the cure. One, you know very well."
He was yanked away from StarClan before he could speak again and he felt a new feeling: determination.
He was determined to find the cure, but first he needed to know who, who would be close to him, was the prophesized cat. He knew it couldn't be Flowerserpent, but he did have another close friend: Maplestorm.
So many feelings mingled inside: anger at the disease and sadness at the loss made determination.
But he knew that by the time he got back, Flowerserpent could be dead.
Well, if I lose her, I have one friend left.
He smiled as he got nostalgic, wrapped in memories from the time before Darkcough. Maplestorm and him had been good friends since kithood, but nobody would remember since they both had losses to mourn.
He got up and picked his way to Maplestorm's nest and prodded her with a paw, "Maplestorm..."
"Shaded cats must come together to fight the evil within."
"Are you sure, Goldenblaze? Is that the prophecy?"
"Yes, Fawnspeckle. It is."
Moonsky was totally confused. She was in a clearing filled with luminescent green grass, pine trees rimming the clearing's boundaries. The midnight blue sky was speckled with tiny white stars that twinkled and pulsed light. But the cats talking in the center of the clearing were the most confusing part. One was a well-muscled, valiant looking golden tom with a ruff around his neck like a lion's mane and shining amber eyes, the other a slim she-cat with a coat the color of dark honey, spangled with tiny white dots and bright green eyes. Goldenblaze and Fawnspeckle.
Another strange thing was that Moonsky wasn't coughing here-it was as if the disease had never touched her. She peeked from behind the small bush she was hiding in and continued to watch the conversation in silence.
"This can't be the prophecy. These warriors are young...this is to dangerous for them to take on," Fawnspeckle meowed, a worried frown perched on her delicate face.
Goldenblaze gently let his tail rest on her back, a comforting gesture. "They will be alright. They are strong and capable, and will be well prepared to fight the disease."
Fawnspeckle nuzzled the tom and murmured something Moonsky couldn't make out-and stopped dead.
"I know you're here, Moonsky," she meowed, her eyes narrowed. "Come out."
Moonsky gulped at her stern gaze and slipped out from under the bush silently, blinking embarrassedly.
Goldenblaze smiled gently. "Moonsky. How is everything?"
"Umm...fine," she replied jitterishly, confused at the StarClan warrior's small-talk.
The golden tom nodded. "Good. Good. I take it you overheard our conversation?"
Hesitating a little, Moonsky nodded.
Fawnspeckle stepped in at this point. "You aren't in any trouble-in fact, far from it. But tell nobody of this." She sternly looked the scrawny she-cat in the eyes. "Not even Flamebird."
Moonsky blinked indignantly. "What? Why not?"
Fawnspeckle sighed. "Please Moonsky, just trust me. It'll work out fine.Oh, and go to the gathering place at moonhigh tommorow. All questions will be answered there."
Moonsky opened her mouth to ask another question but the scene faded abruptly and the she-cat woke up and immediately entered a coughing fit.
Leafsong stretched down in her nest. Before she knew it, she was asleep.
"Leafsong." Jayheart looked at her. When Leafsong had heard her brother, Flashstrike had darkcough, and so did her sister, Shadowdusk, she was hopeless. But when she heard Jayheart's voice, hope flowed into her body.
"Am I dead?" Leafsong asked Jayheart.
"No, child." He replied. She sighed in relief.
"But if you want to save your brother and sister, listen to me." She perked her ears up.
"Go to four trees tonight at midnight. You are DustClan's only hope."
Maplestorm wrapped her tail around her paws as she watched her Clanmates. Featherheart had been taking Mousekit, who had a minor case of whitecough, in to the medicine den every morning, worried it might worsen. Hawktail, as an incredibly loyal friend, stayed with her at all times.
It was tragic, but most cats were growing used to the spreading disease and constant death.
If he wasn't following Maplestorm's every motion, he was sleeping; avoiding his dark surroundings. Her heart ached for her father. He'd lost everyone - Maplestorm was in a way lucky she couldn't remember her mother or her sister. And she had her friends for support. All he had was a daughter who really wanted nothing more than for him to accept she had grown up. She was independant now.
"Maplestorm," said a familiar voice. "You look awfully tired."
"I am, Splashfoot," she replied to the white and grey she-cat.
"Then go and rest. I'm about to myself."
Maplestorm shook her head. "Don't be sleeping here: It's not safe with disease in the air." Splashfoot was her best friend - she would be heartbroken if she became ill too. "Come with me."
They quickly made their way to Maplestorm's makeshift sleepingplace. Since the first night, she had brought some moss for a somewhat comfortable nest, and set a few branches against the smooth stone, creating a lean-to shelter that would keep out at least a bit of cold air.
Splashfoot followed her inside, commenting on its surprising warmth.
Silently, Maplestorm lay down in the nest and closed her eyes. A moment later she felt Splashfoot's head rest on her back as her bright blue eyes closed.
She awoke in a lush forest. The grass grew bright and green. The wind whispered in the trees. A silvery grey queen stepped out from behind a thick trunk, seeming to have gathered from the mist.
"A disease has taken over the Clans," she said in a honey-sweet voice.
All Maplestorm could do was nod, her violet gaze unwavering, fixed in awe.
"But there is still hope," she continued, weaving around Maplestorm, her tail brushing the young warrior's pelt as she walked past. "A mysterious plant."
"Wh - where is it?" Maplestorm asked, already understanding what the strange cat was telling her.
"Go to the Gathering place at moonhigh," she responded.
"The cure is there?"
She was silenced by the flick of a silvery tail. "Shaded cats must come together to fight the evil within." Her voice came out strange, less silky and more hardened. The starry warrior continued to circle Maplestorm, but she was slowly fading into nothing.
"I don't understand," Maplestorm tried to say, but no words came out. The forest was drifting away and the StarClan warrior was already gone.
Snakefang scanned the forest clearing where he was supposed to find Maplestorm. He had imagined Maplestorm at camp and had accidentally prodded an empty nest, when he remembered where she now slept. She spotted her in a small make-shift den. It looked inviting and comfortable. There, you could never guess there was a disease destroying the Clans.
"Maplestorm!" he hissed into it.
"Wha-... Snakefang? What are you doing here?" she meowed, coming out. Her fur looked begraggled and her eyes looked dull.
Snakefang flicked his toungue between his two long teeth in annoyance, like a snake.
"I had a dream that I went to StarClan. I was told that I could save the Clans from the diease with a few other cats, one of which I was close to. Is it you?" he asked
Maplestorm nodded, "I was wondering about that, too." She stopped grooming herself and stood up. "So, to the Gathering place?"
Snakefang nodded, "To the Gathering place."
Snakefang led Maplestorm out of SandClan territory and through the winding paths of the Clan territories. They tread the sandy forest of SandClan and DustClan, and stumbled through the misty forest of FogClan, SmokeClan, and MistClan until they reached their destination.
"It's quiet..." Maplestorm observed.
Snakefang nodded and looked at every tail-length of the clearing, his keen eyes not missing anything.
"We're alone," he meowed.
Maplestorm nodded and they padded into the clearing, looking around for any signs of cats.
If this is a trap, I will be ready! Snakefang thought, baring his long, thorn sharp teeth and unsheathing his claws.
Bristling, he did a scan of the clearing, hearing rustling branches.
The camp was silent. The moon shone brightly above the camp, turning it silver. Ambershine slowly crept out of the warrior's den, careful not to wake anyone. It was nearly midnight. Ambershine needed to go to the gathering place.
A hoarse cough came from the Medicene Cat's den. Ambershine, halted, startled. Slowly, she peered in the den to see Echosong curled up in a bed of moss, snoozing soundly. Ambershine padded in silently, trying not to wake anyone. She padded to Echosong and gave her ear a small luck.
Sleep well, sister. Ambershine thought as she crept out of the den.
The bushes rustled slightly as Brookfall hurried through the last leg of SmokeClan territory, urgency in her pawsteps. As she approached the Gathering place, voices drifted out to her, unfamiliar and... were those SmokeClan cats? They certainly didn't sound like it.
Emerging from the grass, she stepped out into the clearing and gasped. Five other warriors were scattered across the meeting place, glaring at each other with suspicion. When she entered though, they directed their gazes at her. A red-black tom was the first to speak, his tone hostile.
"What are you doing here?" he snapped.
A smaller white she-cat with tabby stripes stood and said more kindly, "Did you recieve a dream too?"
Brookfall gave a hesitant nod. "From StarClan, I believe. It said... it said there was a cure to this disease. To darkcough."
The tom spat angrily. "I was visited by a SandClan warrior. He never mentioned the other Clans." Another she-cat moved to calm him down, her eyes steady.
She felt her anger rising, but before she could say anything, a bright light burst from the center of the clearing, blinding them all temporarily with its cold glare. A wintery, starry wind began blowing around them as words echoed in her ears like a strange, indistiungishable melody.
A ghostly shape emerged out of the mist, a large black tom with golden eyes. He spoke in a deep, rich voice, holding himself rigid. "Listen to me, all of you. You have been chosen for a special mission. It will be hard, yes. But it will save your Clans. Along the way, you will learn to work together, to love, to trust, and to be a family. You will have to brave many obstacles, but we have faith in you. Your first clue is this: follow the sunset to the place where StarClan's claw touches the earth. There, we will guide you onwards. Are you in?
A million thoughts were swirling through Brookfall's head. I barely know these cats! What about SmokeClan? They need me. What about Softsplash? What about my warrior duties? Aloud, as if on cue and autoprogrammed, she claimed in a bold voice, "I'm in."
"Me too," echoed the other cats, determination shining in their eyes like small sparks.
"Good," he said, beginning to vanish before their eyes.
"Wait! Is that all?" cried Brookfall, but he had vanished, leaving only a trace of frosty glitter on the grass to even show he had been there.
Turning to the other cats, she mewed, "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go."
And with that, they headed west, side by side, on the first pawsteps of a long, long journey. Together. Like they were meant to be.
"Do you think they will succeed?" the black tom was by my side again. He was one of my most trusted companions from the time during which I roamed the forest and I had hand-chosen him to deliver the message to the six chosen cats who were the forest's last hope.
"I can make no such promises," I replied as I glanced down at the cats, each one so different both on the outside and deep inside as well.
Shaded cats must come together to save the clans.
They would clash and getting along might be the hardest obstacle for them to overcome. They would have to brave many dangers abut they would do them together.
And maybe, someday they could grow to be closer than companions. It was our only hope that they might bond and put differences aside if they wanted to bring us back the cure.
The calm and soft cat, who had a heart worth of pure gold, and the perfect attitude and determination to keep the group moving forward.
The natural leader, a devoted cat who could keep others together and would know how to avoid the dangers the quest would bring them.
The quiet cat among them. The brutally honest one who would always come out and tell them what they had to hear. Not social so she could be a potential starter of fights, but loyal and devoted to those whom she was friends with.
The aggressive cat, who was strong and would the the defender of the journey. His purpose for this quest was meaningful and failure would not be an option for him.
The injured one, who had more to lose and fight for than any other among them. Fierce with a burning instinct for survival but also the ability to accept fate.
And the more independent one who was sure to stray from the group even more than the others. With good heart and friendship that would be hard to earn.
Each cat was so different from the other, they wouldn't be able to escape without clashing hard. But they would have to learn how to ignore their differences soon.
Their emotions would mix and tussle, but the shaded cats would have to come together to save the clan.
Because the greatest monster the forest had ever come across; darkcough, was rising.