|Preceded by: |
|Dimming Twilight||Succeded by: |
"I ask my warrior ancestors to look down upon this apprentice. She has learned the warrior code and given up her life in the service of her Clan. Let StarClan receive her as a warrior. She will be known as Rainsong."
Rainsong's bleeding face was swathed in cobwebs, and her throat was bubbling blood onto the moss of her nest in the medicine den. Two of her paws were twisted, and both of her ears were torn. Her tail was ragged and patchy, but her belly was healing.
Twilightstar stepped back from the body, and let Stormflight and Pebblecloud into the medicine den. The two buried their noses in their daughters fur, and Firepelt barged her way in, letting out a strangled cry and flinging herself down next to her former apprentice's body.
"I'm sorry!" sobbed Firepelt into the bloodstained pelt. "I'm sorry we couldn't have had a better relationship, Rainsong, I'm sorry!"
Pebblecloud gently licked the ginger warrior's head, before closing his eyes and letting his daughter's scent bathe him for what he believed to be the last time.
Nightfire moved forward with rosemary clamped in her jaws, and began to cover the fading taint of death with the herbs.
"Did you hear? Did you hear!" an excited voice cried. "Killer lost a life!"
The seventh word was the only thing to penetrate Rainsong's brain. Her drowsy eyes opened, and her heart slowly began to beat again. Stormflight, who was whimpering into her daughter's fur, couldn't detect the steady beat, but Pebblecloud, who was silent despite the tears running down his face, heard the small and quiet beat. He leaped up.
"She-she-she," he stammered. "Rainsong!"
Rainsong blinked open her eyes, and Nightfire sighed in content.
"Littlepaw! Littlepaw, she's alive!"
The cream apprentice dashed out of the herb store, in which she had quietly been sniffling, and gave a cry of joy.
"You're a warrior, dear," Stormflight sniffed.
Rainsong wasn't able to croak a word, but Twilightstar dashed in after hearing Nightfire's cry. The leader beamed.
"Guess I can't take back your name now that you're alive," joked Twilightstar. Rainsong gave a weak smile, and rested her head back down on the moss as her mother licked her face, rasping her tongue over the scars that were still gently oozing.
"...smother....me...." choked out Rainsong as Pebblecloud and Stormflight licked her furiously.
The two laughed, but Stormflight's eyes darkened.
"I'm going to murder Hazelclaw at the next Gathering," she vowed, flexing her claws and tearing up a portion of Rainsong's nest.
"Mother," protested Rainsong feebly. "Stop!"
"Oh, my little dear," trilled Stormflight. She ran out into the camp.
"Rainsong is alive!"
Thrushleaf bounded into the medicine den with Appleleaf and Raventail on his heels. Mosspaw and Flamefur followed more slowly, and soon the medicine den was so crowded Firepelt barely had room to squeeze out.
Mosspaw nuzzled his denmate's ear, and licked his sister on the head. "I knew you could save her."
"It wasn't me," replied Littlepaw honestly. "It was StarClan."
But Mosspaw wasn't listening. He licked Rainsong, and whispered, "I'm sorry. Can we still be friends?"
"Yes," gasped Rainsong. Blood stopped bubbling at her throat, and within moments all of her wounds and healed. The cats stood back in astonishment.
"Thank StarClan," breathed Stormflight. "Thank StarClan."
"Wow," mewed Littlepaw. "StarClan must have been generous!"
The cats laughed, and, purring, they left the den, making room for the next wave of cats to stream in. Owlstorm, Breezeclaw, Orchidtail, Stonetail, Shortleap, Weaselnose.
"Thank StarClan she survived that," whispered Twilightstar to Nightfire, who nodded.
"She has a great destiny...she couldn't die," the medicine cat mewed simply, and then her green eyes clouded over. "Even the greatest tide can be controlled by the moon."
"Moonshadow's got to kill Killer!"
Gasps floated around the medicine den, and then Weaselnose raced out.
"Mosspaw?" breathed Rainsong feebly. "I'm sorry too."
"Don't be," Mosspaw mewed. "Brighten up, you've only had half an apprenticeship! I still have to wait six moons, probably, it's only leaf-fall! We started apprenticeship in new-leaf!"
"I can't wait for leaf-bare again," mewed Littlepaw. "It's so fun to play in the snow!"
Three small scraps of fur bounded towards the still, silent, and wary brown tabby warrior.
"Now, kits, don't--"
"Oomph!" Rainsong quivered under the weight of the three kits. Flowertail trotted into the medicine den, and dragged Shadekit off of her.
"Sorry, Rainsong, they've been begging to see you and Halfleg and Ivypool only have so many stories!" puffed the queen. "Shadekit, don't jump on--Blackkit that includes you and Oakkit, Oakkit, stop! Whew. I don't know how Halfleg handled all three, plus caring for Firepelt for a bit after Willowfern..."
"Mmhm," grunted Rainsong. Scorchwing bounded in.
"Oakkit!" she murmured, picking up the small she-cat. "Your father wants to see you!"
Oakkit padded nervously out of the den, but then they heard a tiny squeak of triumph and Smokebreeze laughing as he flicked his tail away from his daughter.
Shadekit sat next to the new warrior and curled his tail around his paws. His dark tortoiseshell pelt gleamed in the dull light. He began to cough, and Flowertail swept him away from the injured Rainsong.
"You don't want to get Rainsong sick, dear," she mewed.
"But I want to stay with her and help her get better!" mewled Shadekit indignantly in his high, squeaky voice.
"You're not going to help her get better if you make her sick!" replied Flowertail.
Shadekit sighed, which ended in a bout of coughing.
Rainsong rolled her head to look at Nightfire, who turned around just as Shadekit coughed again. The color of Nightfire's eyes and the cough of Shadekit sent a though shimmering through Rainsong's head.
"I remember an epidemic like this, when I was a kit," remarked Halfleg.
Six more cats had come down with greencough, and Shadekit's case had been confirmed. Even Twilightstar had come down with it, and she was coughing like crazy in the shelter of her den. She had forbidden Pebblecloud to come near her, for if he got the disease, there would be no telling what would happen.
"Firestar proposed we go to the Abandoned Twoleg Nest," suggested Halfleg. "There were so many of us that were sick..."
"Well, there's a Gathering tonight," mewed Pebblecloud, who was sharing tongues with Stormflight a few tail-lengths away. "We can ask the other Clans if they have any catmint...well, I don't want to announce it, so Nightfire will have to go and ask the other cats. But that's a splendid idea, Halfleg. I'm glad to see your legs are on the mend, as well."
Halfleg's legs had been broken for more than sixteen moons it seemed. Finally her legs were healing after increased attention from Littlepaw, who was forbidden to go near the sick cats.
The sky was rapidly darkening, and the full moon rose high into the sky. "Okay, Nightfire, Appleleaf, Raventail, Breezeclaw, Thrushleaf, Moonshadow, Fernfur, Orchidtail, Stormflight, and Rainsong. Let's go."
WindClan and ShadowClan were already there, Killer perched on the tree with dignity in his gaze, WindClan the only Clan unaware of his first loss of life. Redstar was staring down his narrow face at his warriors.
Finally, RiverClan arrived, and Pebblecloud leaped up onto the tree from where he had been standing at the base with the deputies.
"Where's Twilightstar?" called some RiverClan cat. Mutters rippled through the Clans and everyone murmured and gasps, voices joining in.
"Indisposed," replied Pebblecloud shortly. "Now, if you're finished, I'd like to begin my report." More muttering. "Prey is running well despite the cold, and our warriors, kits, and elders are finally recovering from that unprovoked attack by RiverClan, one of our newest warriors having almost died, and she would have died if not for the work of our medicine cat, Nightfire."
"Nightfire! Nightfire! Nightfire!" chanted WindClan and ShadowClan.
"No elders or kits were attacked," hissed Waterstar.
"I meant to say, our kits and elders are finally recovering from the shock of being attacked on their own territory and having one of their brightest apprentices have a near death experience after her throat was half-bitten out by a RiverClan warrior," mewed Pebblecloud. He swept his tail over his paws. "We have a new warrior. Rainsong."
"Rainsong! Rainsong!" Once again, RiverClan stayed quiet, though Rainsong noticed that three small cats were cheering. Hazelclaw was staring steadily at Pebblecloud.
"RiverClan has nothing to report," mewed Waterstar shortly. The three small cats looked down at their paws. Rainsong deduced that they must have been new apprentices, and were hoping to get acknowledged as new warriors and apprentices usually did.
"Prey is running well," mewed Redstar. "We also have one new apprentice, Tigerpaw, who has been apprenticed to Roseheart. Also, Barkheart has kitted."
"Tigerpaw! Tigerpaw! Tigerpaw!"
"Smallpaw is Smallfern," muttered Killer.
"Smallfern! Smallfern! Smallfern!"
Rainsong was one of the cats to cheer the loudest. The cats dispersed to share tongues, and Rainsong spotted Nightfire move over to talk to Whiskertail, Volenose, and Berrytail.
Berrytail shook her head with a snarl, and turned away to her apprentice, Troutwing, and padded away. Whiskertail and Volenose both nodded shortly, before consulting their leaders. Killer vehemently shook his head, and Whiskertail related his decision to Nightfire, who dipped her head in respect. Volenose received a small shake of the head, and Nightfire's shoulders slumped. She implored to Volenose, who looked sympathetic, but could only shake her head.
"We're not getting any catmint," she mewed heavily to Rainsong as the cats began to leave. "I guess the sick cats are just in the paws of StarClan now."
How dare RiverClan! thought Rainsong indignantly. She sought out Hazelclaw. Confronting him would take a lot of confidence, but he wouldn't dare break the truce under the full moon.
"I want you to know, I survived," she mewed coolly. The gray and white warrior turned around in annoyance from where he had been purring to a WindClan she-cat, and said a rude word. "That won't change anything. You killed me, and StarClan knew it was unjust. I didn't die because StarClan told me not to, I didn't die because of Nightfire."
The she-cat gasped, and turned away.
"Honeybird!" called Hazelclaw. He hissed at Rainsong before dashing after her.
"I'm Hawkfeather, and this is my sister Heathernose. Our other sister is Roseheart, and our other sister is Honeybird, that cat that Hazelclaw was talking to," replied a dark brown tabby she-cat, gesturing with her tail to a gray she-cat, and then a red-pink she-cat. "Honestly, Hazelclaw is mad as a fox in a fit to go falling for Honeybird. She may have a cute name, but she's a fierce fighter."
"Hazelclaw was the one who almost killed me," mewed Rainsong quietly. The three sisters gasped.
"What?" mewed Heathernose. She looked astonished, and her sisters did as well.
"Yeah," replied Rainsong, sticking up her head. "He grabbed me by the throat."
"And your face!"
"Roseheart!" Hawkfeather looked shocked but her voice trembled with laughter. Rainsong blushed.
"Yeah, he did that too."
"Oh, I'm going to--" Honeybird had joined them.
"Heathertail! Honeybird! Hawkfeather! Roseheart!" Redstar called irritably.
"Bye, bye, bye, bye," replied Rainsong absently, turning back to her own deputy, who was gesturing frantically for her to join them.
Once they had arrived back in camp, they saw Littlepaw scrambling madly around.
"Weaselnose and Owlstorm are sick!" she cried. "And Twilightstar is coughing really bad, I gave her some honey to ease her throat, and Oakkit and Blackkit are beginning to cough as well, and they can't get any milk because Flowertail's ill too!"
"Move them to the abandoned Twolegplace," insisted Halfleg.
Pebblecloud looked at her, then listened to the hacking camp. "Let's do it.
"Come on, Twilightstar. Go on."
"I," coughed Twilightstar, "I...I have to...care...for....the Clan..."
"It is your duty to save yourself. You'll just get more sick, and more of us sick," ordered Pebblecloud. "If you stay here, I might have to become Pebblestar before long. And I like my name the way it is, Twilightstar."
Twilightstar gave a rusty purr, but her eyes looked haunted, and her pelt haggard. "Fine. I'll go."
"You. And Flowertail and her kits. And Weaselnose. And Owlstorm, as well. Scorchwing, Mosspaw, Flamefur. And Smokebreeze," Pebblecloud mewed.
A coughing sound came from behind him, and he turned to find Rainsong sneezing. "I must...have a feather....in my throat," she gasped. Pebblecloud shook his head.
"You have greencough. You're going to the Abandoned Twoleg Nest too. Follow Twilightstar and the other cats. They're listening to Nightfire," her father called after her retreating back.
Rainsong settled down beside her former denmate, who shot her a saddened look between coughing. Nightfire raised her voice to be heard over Owlstorm's hacking.
"We'll bring food to you every day, to be retrieved by the strongest warrior. It will be hidden in a hollowed tree trunk...and we'll have a warrior guarding it, so no animals can take it and find you. All warriors are forbidden to go past that tree trunk," Nightfire had risen her voice so the whole Clan could here. "All warriors are forbidden to go past the hollowed tree trunk near the Abandoned Twoleg Nest. Do I make myself clear?"
Murmurs of assent.
"Then let's go," croaked Twilightstar, and the cats began to slowly pad through the territory, the stench of sickness hanging in the air around them.
Coughing filled the air, and Rainsong heard snarls come through the darkness. She tried to maintain her composure, but even the hooting of owls and the rustles of their pawsteps frightened her when her leader and fellow warriors were in such a state. No one should die to this treacherous disease that could be more fatal even than the worst battle.
Weaselnose sneezed. Shadekit and Oakkit coughed, and Blackkit wailed, hungry. Flowertail tried frantically to soothe her kits between her own hacking, and Owlstorm stumbled weakly over to help her. Nightfire, at the head of the group, looked back worriedly.
"I'll find catmint as soon as I can," she called back, concern in her voice. "And I'll get Flowertail some borage, don't worry, kits, Flowertail."
The queen and her kits nodded thankfully, Shadekit swaying on his paws. Rainsong picked him up by the scruff and carried him the rest of the way to the Abandoned Twoleg Nest, swallowing back coughs so as not to drop the shaking bundle of fur.
"Are we gonna die?" he squeaked. "Halfleg said that there was a terrible bout of greencough and that the great leader Firestar lost a life! Is it true, Rainsong, is it true?"
Rainsong wanted to point out that she couldn't answer unless she dropped Shadekit, but she couldn't even do that without letting go of the small kit's scruff.
"Carry me, Rainsong!"
"No, carry me!"
Blackkit and Oakkit shoved in front of each other, and Rainsong gently put Shadekit on the ground, where he stumbled a bit but was able to trot by her side as she picked up Oakkit.
"I'm gonna be a...a warrior soon," gasped Blackkit, tripping over her own tiny paws.
"You'll be the bravest in the forest," mumbled Rainsong as she set down Oakkit and picked up Blackkit.
"No, I won't!" squealed Blackkit. " 'Cause you already are! You survived that nasty cat killing you, and I don't wanna die so I can't be braver than you!"
"You can be just as brave," suggested Rainsong around the black she-cat's fur. Blackkit giggled between coughs.
"That tickles!" she cried, and wiggled around.
"Having fun?" Mosspaw asked, mischief in his eyes. "Here, I can carry her. Pick up Shadekit again."
"What about me?" begged Oakkit. She sneezed. Flowertail stumbled over.
"I'll take her the rest of the way. Climb up....climb...climb...climb up, little one," she choked out.
"Ooh!" The kits wiggled free of the warrior and apprentice's jaws, and dashed over to climb on to their mother's back, who fell a little bit under their weight, but managed to support them. She staggered through the giant opening in the nest, and Rainsong and Mosspaw followed, purring through their coughs.
"And here's some moss," mewed Nightfire, dropping a bundle out from under her neck and spilling some from her jaws. Littlepaw did the same.
"My kits...will...sleep....in....my nest," coughed Flowertail, grabbing some moss. The rest of the warriors each took some until enough for just two cats remained. Rainsong and Mosspaw took it, and began to erect nests out of moss. Then they saw Twilightstar limping from a dark corner of the den. They looked down at their moss.
Rainsong rolled hers back up and brought it over to Twilightstar, who was searching for the remaining scraps.
"I'm okay, dear," she mewed when Rainsong thrust the bundle at her.
"No," Rainsong insisted. "You're leader. You're more important than all of us!"
"I have more lives," contradicted Twilightstar. "I have more to lose. You've already had a near death experience yesterday. I don't know why StarClan is pushing all of this on my Clan. Three battles....less than a moon. Keep it, Rainsong."
Rainsong stubbornly refused, dropping her moss on the dirt floor, and padding away.
She curled up on the floor, tucking her nose beneath her tail and closing her eyes.
Rainsong woke up a long time later, and felt a war pelt on her back and moss underneath her. She gently rolled over, and saw a dark brown pelt beside her, its breathing steady. Rainsong gave way to dizzying blackness with a contented sigh and a smile on her face.
Rainsong, as the strongest, went to go retrieve the fresh-kill the next day. She found a whole pile of it, thrushes, mice, voles, and blackbirds. It took her three trips to carry it all back to the nest. Raventail was the cat guarding it.
"Hi," coughed Rainsong. Raventail backed away with a nod.
Twilightstar chewed quietly on a piece of vole, coughing only slightly, while Flowertail's whole body was shaking in the corner, and her kits were mewling for milk.
"Momma!" wailed Oakkit.
"Hush....hush....hush, little kits. Your mother's going to be all right," mewed Owlstorm bracingly. "Come try some fresh-kill!"
"Don't want fresh-kill," mumbled Oakkit. "Want milk!" She began to cough, and Rainsong turned away from the small kit concernedly.
"She'll be all right," mewed Weaselnose confidently between coughs. "She's just...stubborn. Look, Oakkit! Shadekit's trying fresh-kill!"
But the truth was, the little tortoiseshell tom was inspecting the fresh-kill, and sneezing all over it.
"Shadekit, don't...don't...." Flowertail was coughing too much to finish her sentence.
"Sneeze all over the fresh-kill," supplied Rainsong helpfully. A loud yowl echoed from outside, and Rainsong dashed outside to the sound of a thunderous noise.
Raventail was standing and clawing a pink-pawed, hairless Twoleg, who was trying to grab her. Rainson detected that it was a female, from the kindly smile on its odd-shaped head, and the length of its head-fur. It stooped over to pet Raventail, who backed away and hissed.
Then the Twoleg spotted Rainsong. It let out a cooing purr, and scooped her up. Rainsong coughed and sneezed all over the Twoleg, who ignored her obvious stench of sickness. Raventail yowled.
"Rainsong! I'll go for help," she called, dashing away. The Twoleg dropped Rainsong and blundered after Raventail.
"No," cried Rainsong. She coughed. "Raven...Raventail, stop! You're...you're...you're leading her to the camp!"
Raventail swerved away and ran back towards the abandoned nest. "Hide!" she yowled. The coughing inside stopped, and Rainsong could hear the kits mewling, while Flowertail shushed them between swallowed down coughs.
Suddenly, the Twoleg swooped down, grabbed Raventail, and pounded away. Rainsong stood, rooted to the spot, listening to the furious cries of Raventail and the stubborn Twoleg.
"Raventail," yowled Flamefur, emerging from the Twoleg nest, hacking. "Raventa-ail!"
"She's gone, Flamefur," murmured Twilightstar. "I'm sorry."
"I'm better," insisted Rainsong. "I'm not coughing at all."
"She's right, Nightfire," mewed Littlepaw. "She's fine. Maybe she just had whitecough and it went away."
"It's possible," Nightfire admitted grudgingly. "I suppose you're right. Go back to camp."
Rainsong bounded happily away. She was clear! It must have just been a feather, after all.
"Why are you here?" demanded Firepelt. "You're sick! Go back, right now."
"I'm better," Rainsong replied. "Don't hound me over it!"
"We'll see whose hounding!" Firepelt jumped on her former apprentice and together the two young warriors tussled.
"All right, all right, break it up, break it up." Pebblecloud mewed with amusement. Rainsong hopped off of the ginger warrior with embarrassment, licking her chest fur.
"Since you haven't had one," continued Pebblecloud, "Firepelt, take her out. Maybe you can bring back some more for the sick warriors. We've lost so many!"
The deputy padded away, sounding devastated.
Firepelt told Rainsong to wait for a moment, and then she bounded over to Orchidtail, and directed her towards Rainsong.
"We're doing her assessment," mewed Firepelt. "But I stick out to much, with my pelt. You'll be better to blend in."
Orchidtail nodded. "Of course."
"Great job," purred Pebblecloud. Rainsong was startled to see that his eyes were berry-bright. They couldn't have their deputy getting sick as well!
Rainsong whipped around to see Littlepaw hissing her name from inside the medicine den. "Come here!"
"Nightfire wants you to go the Moonpool with us," whispered Littlepaw once Rainsong had been able to slip away.
"She knows you have to defeat Killer, not Moonshadow. And he's doing all he can. It has to be you."
"When do we go?"
"Time flies. I know, it seemes like we just moved the cats to the Twoleg Nest....I'm sorry to say Twilight--"
An eerie wail drifted into the camp. "Twilightstar's dying! Get Nightfire!"
"She's gathering herbs," gasped Littlepaw, dashing to meet Scorchwing. She had dashed away from the Twoleg Nest, but obviously she had been deprived of breath and was in a coughing fit.
"I'll get some catmint....oh, StarClan, stupid, stupid, stupid! We used it all all ready, I don't have any to give her!"
Rainsong followed Scorchwing and Littlepaw. They swept into the Twoleg Nest, and saw Twilightstar laying on a bed of moss in the far corner. The tortoiseshell she-cat was gasping for breath, and Littlepaw dropped the honeycomb she was carrying and dashed over. Rainsong was able to save it before it got too dusty.
"Give me the honey," Littlepaw ordered as soon as Rainsong got to her. Rainsong handed it over, licking her lips to savor the rest of the mildly tasteless goo. "Swallow, Twilightstar, please!"
The leader coughed. "I....can't....Pebblecloud....bring...."
"Is she gonna die?" asked Oakkit fearfully. She had stopped coughing, and was staring fearfully at her dying leader.
"Get Pebblecloud," snapped Littlepaw. "Someone, for StarClan's sake!" She was furiously working over the tortoiseshell, and when Nightfire dashed in, panting, she cried, "Be quiet, for--oh." She shrank away. "Sorry! Here, work on her, I probably messed something up--"
Nightfire shook her head. "Continue."
Littlepaw focused on her patient again as Scorchwing hurried back in with Pebblecloud. The dark gray tom rushed over.
"Shut up," hissed Littlepaw, and Pebblecloud was so suprised that he stopped. He shut his mouth and took a step back.
"Oh no. Oh, StarClan, no."
No one needed to ask what happened.
The proof was right before their eyes.
The tortoiseshell flank was still.
Twilightstar was dead.
"Oh, StarClan, no," gasped Pebblecloud. He buried his nose in Twilightstar's pelt.
Owlstorm gasped. Scorchwing pressed close to Weaselnose, who gave her a somewhat reassuring lick on the nose between a cough. Flowertail was still shaking in a corner, but her seemingly better kits bounded over.
"Did she die?" asked Oakkit bravely.
"Oakkit," croaked Flowertail. Her mate ushered their kits back to the queen, but Shadekit hid under his father.
"Is Twilightstar gonna be all right?" mewed Shadekit. "I don't want her to die!" He sneezed.
"How many lives does she have left?" Rainsong whispered worriedly to Weaselnose.
"She...if she had any left she would've waken up by now. I saw her die in an attack with rats that invaded a few moons before you were born and she was up and fighting again within moments. I'm assuming..." Weaselnose didn't need to finish for Rainsong to understand. Twilightstar was gone.
They held a ceremony for the dead leader at sun-high, as well as a ceremony for Raventail, who they could do their best to assume as dead. Flamefur violently protested the ceremony, and was forced by Nightfire to sleep through it, duing to an excessive dose of poppy seeds.
Pebblecloud, soon to be Pebblestar, leaped up onto the Highrock to make his announcements.
"I say these words before StarClan, that the spirits of our ancestors approve of my choice. The new deputy will be Stonetail."
"Stonetail! Stonetail! Stonetail!" The Clan chanted, and as the light gray tom padded up, tears glistened in his eyes.
"I never thought I would be chosen," he mewed in his deep voice, flooded with emotion. "Thank you."
"You will accompany me to the Moonpool. You have deemed yourself worthy enough. Come along."
Pebblecloud dipped his head to Stonetail, and then flicked his tail for Rainsong to come over. "You're coming too."
Rainsong's jaw dropped. To the Moonpool? But no warriors ever went there, just the leader to get his lives, and the medicine cats to share tongues with StarClan. But she was going to go anyhow...wasn't Littlepaw going to take her? So the medicine cats were coming to Pebblecloud's initiation as well?
The sun was sinking low in the sky when Pebblecloud, Stonetail, Rainsong, Nightfire, and Littlepaw ventured out towards the Moonpool. They waited a bit for the other medicine cats, and after a brief conversation they padded on.
Berrytail shot Nightfire and Littlepaw a contemptuous look, and padded alone with her chin high and tail erect. Troutwing, the medicine cat apprentice, hung back and walked with Rainsong and Littlepaw. Cinderpaw joined them, but Whiskertail and Volenose struck up a conversation with Nightfire, and Stonetail and Pebblecloud were conversing in undertones.
"Is Twilightstar...you know....?" Troutwing whispered, uncertain. Rainsong dipped her head. Cinderpaw gasped. Littlepaw nodded.
"What happened?" Cinderpaw mewed. Rainsong shot a furious glance at Berrytail, Whiskertail, and looked sadly at Volenose, before replying,
"Greencough. We couldn't get catmint in time, plus our supplies are dead because of the snow. It's the worst time of the year."
Berrytail slumped slightly, and Rainsong hissed. Troutwing frowned. "Don't be angry at her, she did what she thought was best. She didn't know Twilightstar was on her last life."
"Well she was," spat Rainsong. "Why couldn't she have just given us the stupid catmint? She didn't even ask Waterstar for approval!"
"Maybe because she knew Waterstar would say no?" guessed Cinderpaw. Rainsong glared at him. Littlepaw laid a tail on Cinderpaw's shoulder, and mewed to Rainsong,
"Don't be mad at him. He's trying to help figure this out."
"Well, Twilightstar's dead, anyhow. Doesn't matter anymore."
"You sound like she's your own mother," replied Cinderpaw. Rainsong shrugged.
"Well, she's not. Stormflight is."
"Don't you know? Twilightstar was Stormflight's mother's littermate! Whitefoot, your mother's name was. We used to be friends, when I was a new apprentice and she was an older warrior. At my first Gathering I could see that she was the first one to open her mouth and call my name. Twilightstar couldn't say anything, as leader, but..." Troutwing trailed off.
"How do you know so much?"
"I've been around for a while. I'm been a medicine cat apprentice for almost twelve moons. I wish Berrytail would hurry up and retire already," she joked in an undertone. The others laughed.
"Hurry up, you four! We're there."
The moon was just peeping out from above the horizon, so the cats settled down to wait. Rainsong must have dozed off, for the next moment, Troutwing was shaking her awake.
"Look at the Moonpool!" she gasped.
"You've seen it enough times," grumbled Rainsong, shaking her pelt.
The Moonpool was dazzlingly bright, white moonlight hitting the water and turning it a stunning color.
"Drink," ordered Nightfire, and the cats gathered around the pool. One by one, they touched their noses to the water, sipped a few drops with open muzzles, and then closed their eyes.
"Dovewing! Lionblaze! Jayfeather!"
"Shut up," hissed Jayfeather, gesturing with his tail. "Watch Pebblecloud's ceremony!" He quickly trotted over, and the other three slunk behind him.
"Whitefoot," murmured Pebblecloud, as the brilliant white she-cat padded up to him.
"With this life, I give you compassion. Use it well to save your Clanmates in times of need." She touched her muzzle to the former deputy's head, and the warrior tensed as though he were experiencing the worst type of pain. Within seconds, it was over. Jayfeather padded up.
"With this life, I give you wisdom. Use it to make the best decisions in times of crisis." He did the same, and Pebblecloud braced himself until it was over.
Dovewing and Lionblaze were next in line. "With this life, I give you strength. Use it to fight fiercely for your Clan."
"With this life, I give you sight. Use it to see past what's visible, and look into the hearts of those in trouble," Dovewing mewed. Pebblecloud closed his eyes.
A beautiful golden she-cat padded towards Pebblecloud, and he sniffled. "Sunsong."
"My darling son. With this life, I give you love. Use it to defend the queens, kits, and elders of your Clan, and never stop believing." Pebblecloud obviously hadn't braced himself for the life, and his eyes jerked open as it coursed through him.
A darker tom moved towards Pebblecloud. "Molefall."
"Pebblecloud," mewed the tom with a small smile. "Pebblecloud, I loved you, and I'm sorry I treated you horribly. Your mother and I are both sorry. So with this life, I give you forgiveness. Use it well to protect your Clan from old grudges."
A tortoiseshell she-cat emerged from the glittering pelts. "I am Poppyfrost," she mewed. "I was your father's mother. With this life, I give you happiness. It can be found, even in the darkest of times, if you only remember to find it."
Pebblecloud let out a purr as a ginger she-cat bounded towards him. "Cherryheart!" Molefall's brother. Poppyfrost's daughter.
"With this life, my friend, I give you hope. Never lose sight of it."
The last life to give was Twilightstar's. She swept up to him, her green eyes gleaming. "With this life, I give you courage. Use it in the face of an enemy, and use it to face your own Clan. Never back down from it. And now I hail you by your new name. Pebblestar. Your old life is no more. You have now received the nine lives of a leader, and StarClan grants you the guardianship of ThunderClan. Defend it well; care for young and old; honor your ancestors and the traditions of the warrior code; live each life with pride and dignity."
Darkness overwhelmed Rainsong, and she was swept into sleep.
"That was...wow," mewed Rainsong, shaking her head as she stretched. Troutwing nodded.
"I got to see Mudfur, and Brambleberry, and even Mothwing and Willowshine. I want to be just like Willowshine!" Troutwing puffed out her chest. Stonetail's gray head emerged from a lumpof gray fur, and Pebblestar scratched at his ear.
"Let's go," he decided. The medicine cats purred.
"Congratulations, Pebblestar!" Rainsong meowed, padding up to her father and nuzzling his flank.
"My little warrior."
Berrytail cleared her throat. "We've got to get going."
Rainsong glared at her, and she flinched, but took the lead as they padded back to their camps. Rainsong, Stonetail, Pebblestar, Nightfire, and Littlepaw all said goodbye to the other medicine cats, and trotted into camp with fresh-kill dangling from their jaws.
Rainsong raced over to Stormflight. "Say good morning to Pebblestar!" she cried, and Stormflight pushed past her daughter with a smile on her pretty face, pressing up against Pebblestar.
Warriors emerged from the dens around them. Shadekit bounded up to the new leader.
"Hello, Shadekit. You're getting to be older now, aren't you? How old are you, Oakkit? Blackkit?"
"We're five moons!" chorused the kits. "Next moon, we'll be apprentices!"
"And I'll be a warrior," mumbled Mosspaw around a bunch of moss.
"Maybe I'll be a full medicine cat!" Littlepaw bounced around.
"You won't be until I die," corrected Nightfire. "And I don't plan on doing that any time soon. Now Flowertai's getting worse. The other cats moved her back to camp, obviously. I'm surprised at you, Owlstorm, Weaselnose, Smokebreeze, Flamefur, Mosspaw, Scorchwing...you recovered so quickly!"
"That was because you gave us the catmint, remember?" Scorchwing replied. "You know, you left it in the hollow with the prey?"
"I--" Nightfire looked puzzled. "Well, why isn't Flowertail better?"
Scorchwing shrugged. "She ate just as much as the rest of us. Maybe we just had whitecough and she has greencough?"
"Possible," Nightfire mewed, still confused. "But why didn't she get better? Where did the catmint come from?"
Rainsong left the confusion of the Clan and went to hunt. She was flitting near the lake, when she heard a voice coming from towards the ShadowClan border. She crept closer.
"Clawstar. Oh, Clawstar, why? Why were you killed? Why'd you have to abandon our kits? Why'd you have to abandon...why'd you have to abandon me?"
Rainsong could make out a ginger pelt, and she recognized Claw sitting with the water lapping at her paws, her body beginning to shake with restrained sobs.
Rainsong didn't want to intrude, but the water was creeping up Claw's pelt, soaking her fur and plastering it to her body to make it look small, despite her pregnant belly. Rainsong didn't realize that Claw herself was wading into the lake. She realized too late Claw's intentions.
"No!" Rainsong launched herself towards the queen.
Claw's head was submerged, but evidently she heard the ThunderClan warrior, for she popped up, bobbing along the surface with her ears flat and her green eyes angry.
"What are you doing?" cried Rainsong.
"Clawstar's gone," sobbed Claw. "He left, and now I'm alone. I want to join him, so we can be happy forever!"
"But your kits," pointed out Rainsong, "They don't deserve to die, do they?"
"Maybe not," replied Claw darkly. "But I do."
"You do not!"
"Try..try and stop me," spat Claw. She took a deep breath and plunged back under the lake. Rainsong leaped forward into the water and sank her teeth into the warrior's scruff, hauling her back out. Claw thrashed.
"Clawstar! Clawstar!" she yowled. "Let me come to you!"
Rainsong pushed her onto dry land, and blocked her path back to the lake. "Why are you saving me?" she asked forcefully once she had shaken out her fur. "I'm an enemy warrior. This isn't what I thought would happen. I'm ShadowClan!"
"You don't have to be. You...you could join ThunderClan," offered Rainsong, aware that as soon as the words were out of her mouth, if Claw accepted...
"And be mocked because I'm half-rogue? Have my kits be ridiculed because they're half-Clan? I know what it's like here, Rainsong. I'm not mouse-brained. It's not all prey and sunshine. I know what happened to Twilightstar."
"There are other ways I could join Clawstar. I'll find them, and you won't be there to stop me."
Leaf-bare was over, much to the relief of all of the cats, and Flowertail was becoming better with every day. Nightfire was doing the best she could, and the snow around the cats was melting. Rainsong hadn't heard from Claw since the accident at the lake, but she had heard that both Claw and another former rogue, Tadpole, had given birth to kits.
It was the night of the Gathering, Pebblestar's first. The cats were rallied up, and were crossing the fallen tree to the island.
"Let the Gathering begin!" yowled Killer. "ShadowClan has nothing to report, except for the birth of my kits, Rock and Flame, who are here tonight!"
A gray tom and a ginger tom, both quite small yowled in malicious delight. A pale she-cat with scars criscrossing her pelt shrank away from them with fear and disappointment in her gaze. Whiskertail hissed up to Killer, and he silenced her with a flick of the tail.
"Cinderfoot has received his name!" she called. "And Claw has given birth to Wolfkit, and Tadpole has had a daughter, Scar."
"Silence," roared Killer. "It is not for you to speak here, Whiskertail. I'll deal with you at camp."
"Rosewing has given birth to Whispkit and Starlingkit!" reported Waterstar.
"We have all finally recovered from greencough," mewed Pebblestar quietly.
"Pebblecloud! What are you doing?" hissed Redstar.
"I'm Pebblestar now. Twilightstar's last life was claimed in the vicious bout that grasped us, just leaving us a few sunrises ago."
"WindClan has nothing to report," replied Redstar after an awkward silence.
The cats broke up. It had been a remarkable short Gathering.
The way back to camp was short and quick, but rather noisy.
"I have a few announcements to make!" Pebblestar shouted over the noise. "Mosspaw, come forward."
"I, Pebblestar, Leader of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down upon this apprentice. He was studied hard to learn the ways of your noble code, and I commend him to you as a warrior in his turn. Mosspaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code?"
"I do!" Mosspaw's voice rang clearly through the camp.
"Then, from this moment on, you shall be known as Mossheart. StarClan honors your kindness and spirit, and we welcome you as a full member of ThunderClan."
The dark brown warrior curled up next to his former, and now eternal, denmate. Rainsong pressed her nose into his fur, and he wriggled around to give her a lick before falling asleep.
"Your mentor will be Rainsong."
Blackpaw touched her nose to Rainsong's shoulder. "You're gonna be the best mentor ever!" she whispered excitedly as Rainsong licked her own head.
Shadepaw stood proudly by Mossheart, and Oakpaw was quivering next to Owlstorm. The two younger warriors had agreed to always train their apprentices together.
"Oakpaw! Shadepaw! Blackpaw! Oakpaw! Shadepaw! Blackpaw!"
"What are we going to do?" Blackpaw asked eagerly. "Can we do the border patrol?"
"Sure," replied Rainsong, and Owlstorm nodded.
"May I come with?"
"Whatever you want!" Mossheart mewed. Owlstorm grinned.
"I'd like six rabbits and four voles, please," she joked. Mossheart rolled his eyes, and beckoned his apprentice.
"Come on, Shadepaw. We're going to patrol!"
Shadepaw and Blackpaw cheered. Oakpaw sighed noisily.
"I wish Littlepaw wasn't Nightfire's apprentice," she whined. "I wanna be medicine cat!"
"Oakpaw!" scolded Flowertail. "Don't offend your mentor."
"But I wish Nightfire was my mentor!"
"Well, if you don't want to go on a border patrol, you can stay in camp and search the elders for ticks," suggested Owlstorm. Oakpaw made a face.
"At least I'll be able to learn about mouse bile," she humphed, turning away. Her brown tail swished in the dirt as she bounded towards the medicine den. "I wanna be your apprentice!" Owlstorm sighed.
"Let's go," decided Rainsong. "Come on, Blackpaw!"
"I'm sorry, Owlstorm," Blackpaw called back. "I don't know what's gotten into her! She's normally all right!"
"Quiet," hushed Rainsong. "We might hunt too, and I don't want you scaring all the prey from here to the lake!"
The cats trotted along the ShadowClan border. All was quiet. "This is the ShadowClan border," murmured Mossheart.
"I can tell." Shadepaw wrinkled his nose. "I mean, I can smell." Rainsong grinned.
Blackpaw caught her eye and smiled mischievously. Rainsong closed her mouth.
Mossheart and his apprentice bounded ahead, and Blackpaw padded beside Rainsong. "You like Shadepaw, don't you?"
"No!" Rainsong blushed. "He became an apprentice a few moments ago! I've been a warrior for almost two moons!"
"So you're twenty moons older than him, or six less than that or something, big deal."
"How do you know about that?" asked Rainsong.
"Those...those things, like, how many moons....what are they called?"
"Quantities," Blackpaw corrected. "Amounts. How many ears a mouse has, how many moons in a season....how many moons in a full cycle, of all of the seasons."
"Oh, wow! What is that?" Shadepaw breathed from up ahead. Rainsong hurried towards him, Blackpaw on her heels. Something was floating farther out on the lake. Rainsong had a nagging suspicion about what it was.
Rainsong took a deep breath, and began to wade into the lake.
"What are you doing?" cried Mossheart.
"Rainsong, come back!" Blackpaw shouted. "You'll get hurt!"
Rainsong didn't reply, she could feel the pebbles sloping beneath her paws, and as soon as the smooth surfaces dropped away, Rainsong began to move her legs, kicking like she was walking in water. She was able to keep her head up above the water, tilting her muzzle back to keep it from being flooded with water.
A shape emerged as she struck out farther, and she felt her claw tips brush sodden fur. Rainsong sank her teeth into the scruff of the cat, and began to propel herself with the extra weight towards the shore.
A thunderous noise came from behind her. Before Rainsong could turn around, a massive curl of water rose up and splashed over her, and she almost dropped her bundle. She could see her friends cheering her on next to a massive tree on the shoreline, but Blackpaw was gone.
Rainsong heaved the ginger pelt up onto the bank, just as Blackpaw dashed back with Nightfire. Rainsong flopped down and began to cough up lakewater.
"What have you done with my mother!" cried an indignant voice. A tiny gray tom was swaying on his paws as he tumbled out of the bushes.
"Who're you?" asked Mossheart rudely. Rainsong gurlged.
"That's Wolfkit," she gasped. "And this is Claw."
"Who is this?"
"He's Wolfkit," mewed Rainsong in an undertone. "Claw's son."
"Didn't Claw object to you stealing her kit?" Pebblestar asked. Rainsong shook her head.
"She drowned herself in the lake, Pebblestar. But I think she'd want him to come with us...I don't think she'd mind."
"How do you know?"
"Father, can we please keep him?" Rainsong asked earnestly. "He's small...and Flowertail still has milk coming--"
"Rainsong, she's sick!"
"Maybe he's old enough to eat prey?" Rainsong offered desperately.
"Why don't you want to keep him?" exploded Rainsong. "He's a kit, for StarClan's sake, he's not going to do anything!"
"He's...he's ShadowClan," whispered the dark gray tom. Rainsong rolled her eyes.
"So what? They're all a collection of rogues by now!"
"He's not even half-Clan," retaliated Pebblestar.
"He may not be half-ThunderClan, but his father was Clawstar. His mother may have been a rogue, but she was a good cat. She never did anything wrong," spat Rainsong. "I'm keeping him, even if you don't want to."
"What'd he say?" asked Blackpaw nervously. Rainsong gave a small nod, and Blackpaw beamed.
"Yay, we can keep him!"
Shadepaw was crouched next to the sleeping gray kit. Blackpaw jumped over and gave the small kit a lick. Wolfkit woke up immediately, blinking open deep green eyes.
He didn't even seem to remember his mother as he bounced around the camp, listening to the elders and tagging along behind the apprentices.
Rainsong perked her ears.
"Shut up, you worthless piece of fox-dung, you're going to wake them up, and then the element of surprise will have been lost!"
"Intruders!" screeched Rainsong, jerking up. The warriors around her woke up abruptly, their eyes snapping open.
"Attack!" Rainsong raced into the gorge and saw a black tom leading a small group of cats into the camp, leaping towards the almost vacant nursery. Rainsong pounced on the cat who seemed the leader.
"What happened to your face?" spat the tom as Rainsong grappled with him.
"Nothing," she hissed back. "But yours will look a whole lot worse!"
"Defend!" Pebblestar yowled. "Firepelt, Shortleap, Fernfur, Appleleaf, Oakpaw, Owlstorm, guard the elders and the nursery, Rainsong, take Blackpaw and scour the forest for the rest of them. The rest of you, attack!"
The cats reacted quickly to the orders, and Rainsong jumped out of the camp with Blackpaw on her heels. After scanning the area around the camp and deducing quickly that there were no other cats, they threw themselves back into the fray.
Rainsong battered a gray tom, then leaped onto a brown tabby she-cat who liked like she was about to claw Shadepaw's head off. Together they beat the tabby she-cat, and she went spinning away. A white she-cat raked her claws down Rainsong's flank, and she head-butted the rogue, sending her flailing. An identical she-cat jumped onto Blackpaw, but Rainsong was able to drag her off, and leap onto a ginger tom.
"Worm!" yowled a brown she-cat who was now pinned underneath Blackpaw. "Help!"
"Wait, Neffy!" A pink-gray tom called back. He was being occupied by Firepelt.
"Jake, let us go back!"
"We have to defeat them!" yowled Jake, the leader. "We'll gather all of the Clans up against you, Clan of Thunder, and then we will destroy you!"
Pebblestar roared something after them, then abruptly went limp. Blood was pooling underneath his belly, and Rainsong was near enough to hear his breath grow shallow.
"Nightfire! Nightfire!" she wailed.
"It's no use, dear," Stormflight soothed numbly. "He's...gone."
"But that was like...a few sun-lengths battle! Nothing happened! If they were cruel enough to kill him..." Rainsong trailed off. "What was that?"
"Rogues," muttered Nightfire. "Completely unreliable. Always getting into things. Messing with things they don't even understand."
A few moments later, Pebblestar sat up. He blinked blearily, and stared around. "I'm...what happned?"
"You lost a life, dear," mewed Stormflight. "But it's okay, you're all better. Go see Nightfire and Littlepaw."
Pebblestar shook his head. "Everyone else must be okay before I go to get treated."
"Everyone else is okay, Pebblestar," reported Rainsong. "We're all fine."
"Exactly." Stormflight sounded satisfied. "Now go."
Pebblestar padded away. Mossheart bounded up to Rainsong. "That was so weird! I mean, it's like the middle of the night, and these rogues come bounding into our camp--"
"That's great, Scorchwing! Wolfkit will finally have some company!" Weaselnose beamed. "Scorchwing's having kits!"
"Oh, that's wonderful," cooed Flowertail, emerging from the nursery. "When?"
"I don't know," stammered Scorchwing, blushing slightly. "I haven't asked yet."
"How many are there?"
"What are you going to name them?"
The questions swarmed Scorchwing, who backed away into Nightfire's den. She padded out triumphantly a few moments later.
"Two moons. At least two! As for names..." She looked admiringly at Weaselnose, who shrugged his powerful shoulders. "We don't know yet."
"Let's go for a walk," decided Weaselnose quietly. "Come on." The two padded away, and flocks of cheering erupted in the camp.
"Wow! Our sister!" Moonshadow and Fernfur exchanged happy glances. "Our sister is having kits!"
"This is great," mewed Thrushleaf enthusiastically. "More kits is just what we need!"
"Hey--where's Oakpaw?" Shadepaw and Blackpaw were staring around the camp. Owlstorm glanced around.
"Maybe she just wanted to get out of camp?" she asked slowly.
"She wanted to--never mind," Shadepaw said quickly. "I'm sure everything's all right."
"Hi, Rainsong. What's the matter? Wanna play moss-ball with me?" Wolfkit pushed a few scraps of moss together with his paws, his green eyes wide with innocence. "Please?"
"Oh, sure." Rainsong snagged the ball of moss out of the air with a claw, and flung it back towards Wolfkit. Laying on his gray back, Wolfkit flung the moss back towards Rainsong. They went back and forth, back and forth, until Flowertail came out of her den with Scorchwing.
"Now, you two," she scolded gently. The moss-ball went whizzing past her nose. Wolfkit jumped to get it, fell on his back, and dunked his head into a small puddle.
"Erf!" he cried. "Help! Water! I'm drowning, someone please, help!"
Rainsong whipped around and grabbed Wolfkit out of the water.
He stumbled around, melwing with his tiny pink mouth open. "Claw, come back! Cla-a-a-aw!"
"Shh, Wolfkit. Hush," soothed Rainsong. "Claw's in StarClan now, Wolfkit. But she might visit you."
"I want her now," mewled Wolfkit. Rainsong patted the kit on the head with her tail.
"You can't have her now, Wolfkit. But you'll be able to see her soon."
"Ferf!" Wolfkit tripped as he stumbled back to the nursery. "Oof!" Rainsong gently picked him up by the scruff, and carried him to the nursery.
Wolfkit sat silently, preoccupied, waiting for Scorchwing and Flowertail to come back into the nursery, where it was getting dark.
"My kits will be coming soon," Scorchwing encouraged. "So you'll have kits to play with!"
"Okay," said Wolfkit glumly.
Scorchwing shot a despearate glance at Flowertail, who quietly began to comfort Wolfkit. Slowly, he perked up, until Flowertail urged him to go to sleep, and he obeyed, closing his tiny eyes and snuggling close to the queen's soft belly fur.
"I wish Claw was here," murmured Wolfkit.
"She's watching over you in StarClan, little one. It's going to be all right."
"Really? That's great, Littlewing!"
The medicine cat apprentice had gotten her full name the previous night, the half-moon.
"I was so surprised," Littlewing murmured. "I didn't expect--"
"You've got your name!" cried Orchidtail. "Oh, my little kits, all grown up!"
"Mother," groaned Mossheart, trying to pull away from the tortoiseshell warrior. "Mother!"
"Hey Blackpaw," called Rainsong. "Want to go hunt? Think of it as a...pre-assessment."
"But I've only had nine moons of training," replied Blackpaw. "I--okay!"
"Let's go this way," decided Rainsong, heading deeper into the forest. Blackpaw stumbled to catch up to the long strides of her mentor, and they stopped a bit from the lake, right in front of the Sky Oak.
"Okay," huffed Blackpaw, "I know you don't want to just hunt. But really, I'm telling you, Shadepaw does like you, he talks about you--"
"It's not that, Blackpaw. Owlstorm and I want to talk to you. Mossheart's doing the same with Shadepaw. Come out, Owlstorm."
The dark she-cat emerged from the trees. "Hi, Blackpaw."
"What do you want?" cried the black apprentice. "I don't--I'm not conspiring with any Clans, I swear by StarClan, I'm--I'm not doing anything bad, I--"
"Blackpaw, calm down," soothed Rainsong. "It's just about your sister. Oakpaw seems...she's reserved, and we haven't been seeing her a lot lately."
"She never comes in for training," added Owlstorm. "I don't think she wants to train, she always seems so interested in Littlepaw, I mean Littlewing, and Nightfire's work, and she never wants to fight."
"She wants to be a medicine cat," protested Blackpaw. "But Nightfire's young, so she isn't going to die any time soon, and anyways, Littlewing is too young to have her own apprentice!"
"We know, Blackpaw. There's just one thing that's...more troubling," murmured Rainsong, sitting down on her haunches and closing her eyes.
"What is it?" asked Blackpaw sharply.
"I think you'd better see it for yourself," replied Owlstorm. "Follow me."
The two followed the senior warrior towards the WindClan border. "What's to see?" sniffled Blackpaw.
"Smell," directed Owlstorm. Blackpaw opened her jaws, and tasted the air.
"But that's...that's Oakpaw's scent."
"Yes." Owlstorm bowed her head. "We have a theory, Blackpaw. Oakpaw doesn't want to be ThunderClan. She wants to be a medicine cat, you know that, but she also...she feels like we don't care about her as much...she wants to be WindClan, she feels a sort of calling to them."
"How do you know all this?" demanded Blackpaw.
"I've heard her. At the WindClan border, here, talking to a few warriors...Roseheart, Honeybird, Hawkfeather, Heathernose, Sweetnose, Sandwhisker....and they listen to her, and they understand her. She feels right amongst them. And she's been to their camp, I know. The only thing...they don't know she's ThunderClan."
"She disguises her scent by rolling in damp ferns, sometimes dung. She limps into their land, and pretends to be injured. She did the first day, I followd her, and that's why she didn't come back. They've been caring for her, thinking she was an abandoned loner, or rgoue."
Blackpaw looked distraught and near tears. "Oakpaw wouldn't--she--she--"
"It's okay, Blackpaw. I understand--"
"No, you don't!" yowled the apprentice. "You know nothing about me! You don't care about me or my sister, but I do!" She raced away.
Oakpaw didn't come back that night.
"We are proud to announce the acceptance of a young loner into our Clan. Goosepaw has joined our ranks as a medicine cat apprentice!" mewed Redstar triumphantly.
"He knows," whispered Rainsong to Mossheart. "He knows who she is, and he's glad he's weakened our ranks by one, and heightened his by one. He sees this as a victory."
"We are proud to report the births of Scorchwing's kits; Featherkit, and Snowkit," reported Pebblestar.
"My sons have been made fighters!" yowled Killer. "And I have another announcement to make: Rock and Flame will be the new deputies and carriers out of punishment!"
Yowls of protest broke out. Pebblestar tried to keep the fur on his neck lay flat. "Killer," he said, his quavering voice trying to stay calm. "I mean no offense, but Rock and Flame must go through apprenticeship, and there can only be one deputy, preformed through an ancient, traditional ceremony. And there can't be carriers out of punishment!"
"There are now," roared Killer. "Rock, Flame, come forward!"
Two cats stepped out of the cloud, a dark gray tom, and a ginger tom, both heavily muscled, though still quite young. Their eyes gleamed with malicious triumph.
"What about me?" wailed a small pale she-cat. Rainsong remembered her as Scar, the small sister of Rock and Flame, with scars criscrossing her pale pelt as a result of wounds inflicted by her brothers.
"Reedpaw, Scar, whoever," spat Killer contemptuously. "Shut up. You don't want me to make you."
"I'm your daughter," cried the newly named Reedpaw.
"Silence," growled Killer.
"I--" Reedpaw's mouth opened in a mewl. She was clearly still only about three moons old, just barely weaned off of her mother's milk.
Killer leaped down and pinned his daughter to the floor of the island. "Shut up!"
Reedpaw squeaked. Killer clawed at her, and she screeched.
A dark gray she-cat pushed forward. "Killer, stop. Our daughter, is just that. Our daughter. You shouldn't hurt her like this."
"Be quiet, Tadpole," replied Killer lazily, flexing his long, curved claws.
"She doesn't deserve it," protested Tadpole. "Please."
"You're a traitor," hissed Killer. "I have half a mind to banish you both!"
"Then do it," snarled Tadpole. "But she's my daughter, and i don't care what you say, only what you do to her. She doesn't deserve this."
"ShadowClan, we're leaving," snapped Killer. The cats looked too terrified to protest. Tadpole followed more slowly with Scar limping at her side.
"Not you," Killer barked. "Leave us. If I ever see you again, you will be sorry."
"I was just saving our daughter," called back Tadpole. "But if this makes you happy, I'll join another Clan."
"Which one will take you in?" sneered Killer. "If any of you," he swung his head around, "if any of you harbor this she-cat and her disgusting kit, you will be sorry."
"You can come with us," Nightfire mewed, rushing forward. "It will be nice for Wolfkit to have some company, and Featherkit and Snowkit."
"Thank you," breathed Tadpole. "Thank you so much."
"You will be known as Frogpelt. Your daughter will be known as Sunpaw, and her mentor will be Appleleaf."
"Thank you," whispered Sunpaw. "Thank you so much for rescuing me from my father and my brothers. I'll always be loyal to you."
"Are you sure you want to be an apprentice? You don't want to stay in the nursery for a few more moons?" questioned Pebblestar. "It's your choice, completely."
"I want to be a warrior," called Sunpaw clearly. "I want to fight for my new Clan."
"You win some, you lose some," Mossheart muttered to Rainsong. "Lost Oakpaw, gained Sunpaw and Frogpelt."
Shadepaw and Blackpaw were both looking at their new denmate with dilligent smiles on their faces. The two kits bounded out from the nursery. Both of their eyes were open, both of them bright, startling blue.
"I'm gonna be the best warrior ever!" boasted Snowkit, his tiny eyes wide. He sniffed Frogpelt. "Are you new? You smell...fun--" He got a glare from his mother. "Different."
Featherkit beamed. "Are you gonna be our mentor some day?" she asked of Brightpaw.
"I won't be old enough," stammered Sunpaw.
"Yes, you'll be about six moons too late," added in Blackpaw. Rainsong grinned at her. Shadepaw smiled at his littermate's mentor's beam.
"Hi," greeted Appleleaf. "I'm Appleleaf."
"H-Hi," stuttered Sunpaw.
"Do you want to hunt?" inquired the new mentor. Sunpaw nodded hesitantly. "Come on!"
Appleleaf bounded away, but Sunpaw followed more hesitantly. Frogpelt watched with pride shining in her eyes. "Oh, Sunpaw. You'll never be Scar anymore."
"I'm gonna be a warrior in a few moons," boasted Shadepaw.
"Me too," inputted Blackpaw. Neither of them sounded bothered by the disappearance of their sister, and they knew she was now a WindClan cat. However, they realized that they would never have to fight her, or fight her kin, for since she was a medicine cat, she couldn't take a mate, and therefore have no kits. The only thing they would worry about would be their own kits getting hurt by Oakpaw's (Goosepaw) kin.
"Come on, Blackpaw. Let's go do a border patrol. We'll take the ShadowClan border, Stonetail!" Rainsong called. The deputy nodded. "Shortleap, take Thrushleaf and Appleleaf and Sunpaw, and do the WindClan border."
"Will do," answered Shortleap. "Thrushleaf! Appleleaf, grab Sunpaw!"
"Can I take Firepelt?" asked Rainsong. Stonetail nodded.
"Come on Firepelt," cried Blackpaw. "We're going to patrol the ShadowClan border."
Firepelt gave them a short nod, and joined the mentor and apprentice.
The older warrior sighed. "Remember when you were my apprentice?" Firepelt mused. Rainsong nodded.
"You used to give me a talking to! And remember when you were Twilightstar's apprentice? I was just a kit," reminisced Rainsong.
"Twilightstar," sighed Firepelt.
"Look, are we patroling or gossiping?" Blackpaw asked, rounding on the warriors. "You sound like a bunch of elders!"
"Don't tell Ivypool you said that," warned Rainsong. "She's angry enough as it is without any of you apprentices doing your chores."
"It's Shadepaw's turn," protested Blackpaw. "He should do it now! I've changed both of their bedding for sunrises!"
"As you should," sniffed Firepelt. "I had to do it a whole lot more when I was an apprentice, and there were about five of us."
Blackpaw grinned. "Oh well."
Rainsong looked out into ShadowClan's land. "I wonder what it's like there," she wondered out loud. Firepelt shrugged.
"Who cares? They're another Clan. We're ThunderClan, they're ShadowClan. We're as different as can be."
"Sunpaw might know," supplied Blackpaw. Rainsong shot her a scolding glance.
"She's not even ShadowClan," exclaimed Firepelt. "I mean, she's completely rogue. Both her parents..."
The ginger warrior trailed off at a cough from Rainsong, reminding her that Firepelt had no right to talk, seeing as she had no ThunderClan blood, and was half-RiverClan, half-WindClan.
"Do you ever want to go back?" Rainsong asked quietly. "To see your parents' families?"
"I wouldn't know them," replied Firepelt shortly. "But Blackpaw's right. We're not a bunch of elders. Let's stop gossiping and get on with all this!"
They padded along the border, occasionally renewing stale scent markers. "Looks like we're done here," remarked Firepelt.
"Well we're not," sneered a voice. Killer stood behind them, with Rock and Flame silhouetted behind him, their pelts outlined against the flat horizon. Ashtail was slinking behind them, her dark head down.
"Grab her," commanded Killer, flicking his tail towards Rainsong.
"Firepelt. Take Blackpaw and...run!" yowled Rainsong, as Rock and Flame darted towards her. Firepelt refused.
"We're helping you!" she cried, and clawed Rock's ear. He yowled in pain. "Blackpaw, get help!"
The black apprentice didn't move. "I'll help you," she shouted. "I'll help you!"
"No," roared Firepelt, with an anger in her voice that scared Blackpaw half to death. "Go!"
Blackpaw turned on her heel and ran. Rock pinned Firepelt to the ground, and bared his teeth barely an inch from Firepelt's throat.
"Permission to kill?" growled Rock, glancing towards his father. Killer stood on the ShadowClan side of the border, staring at the skirmish. Flame was battering Rainsong's belly, but the ThunderClan warrior had the upper hand, and was about to beat the ShadowClan cat.
"Whatever," sighed Killer, and Rainsong screeched.
Rock clamped his jaws around Firepelt's throat, and shook her from side to side. The ginger warrior struggled, but blood was already staining Rock's teeth. He dropped Firepelt, and she lay limp and lifeless. Rainsong gasped, and went limp in Flame's paws. He took advantage of her, and gave her a dizzying blow to the head.
"I've died once already, you idiots," cried Rainsong. "I"m not gonna do it again!"
"Think again," muttered Flame.
"No," snapped Killer. "She must be alive. She'll be our hostage, our slave. We will rule the forest with this one as our tool, our spy."
And they dragged Rainsong away, leaving Firepelt dead on the ground behind them.
"Rainsong? What are you doing here?"
"Smallfern?" Rainsong's voice was groggy, and she looked around, finding herself in a small corner underneath a bramble bush. "Help! Firepelt!"
"Oh, StarClan," breathed Smallfern. "Cinderfoot!" The dark gray tom trotted over.
"Oh, dear," he mewed. "I can patch you up, Rainsong, I'll just need to put some marigold on your scratches, maybe get you something to eat. You'll be better in no time."
"Why am I here?" demanded Rainsong. "Smallfern, what's going on?"
"You know as much as I do," whispered the white warrior.
"I smell ThunderClan," croaked a voice, and a black tom dragged himself out of a den next across from where Rainsong crouched. "What's she doing here?" His tail was limp and awkwardly twisted.
"That's Deadtail," informed Smallfern. A white she-cat followed after Deadtail. "And that's Smallears."
"Rock!" Killer's voice ripped through the silence. "The near-dead ones have emerged. Show them what happens if they speak without permissioin."
Rock advanced on the two elders. Deadtail flattened his ears, and moved in front of Smallears. "She didn't speak," he cried. "She didn't do anything."
"Too bad," snarled Rock, and he leaped on the elder. Smallfern watched, terrified, next to Rainsong, who cowered in fear.
"It's against the warrior code," she wanted to scream, as she watched Deadtail attempt to scramble away from the new deputy. Flame stalked up, and cornered Smallears. He looked towards his father. Both sons looked up.
"Permission to kill?"
"Not granted," snapped Killer. "I said show them what happens, not kill them. Go away now. Cinderfoot, don't you dare heal them. You'll get a taste of their own punishments if you do."
Smallears whimpered and slipped back into the elders' den. Deadtail followed her, with a fleeting glare towards the three bloodthirsty cats.
"How could they do that," hissed Rainsong. "It's against the warrior code!"
"You," commanded Killer, spinning around to face the prisoner. "Go hunt. Smallfern, escort her, and make sure she doesn't escape. If she does, you will die, and I will hunt her down and kill her as well."
"Okay," squeaked Smallfern. She led the tabby warrior out of camp.
"I've got to kill him," whispered Rainsong. "He--he..."
"I know," replied Smallfern. 'But I can't help you. I...I'm sorry, Rainsong, I can't help you. You'll have to do it yourself."
"You're still my friend, Smallfern."
In the end, Rainsong caught two mice and one icky frog. She added it to the fresh-kill pile, and heard the pine trees rustle behind her. A black tom was coming into the camp, followed by a few more cats. Rainsong recognized them with a jolt.
"I've received my nine lives," mewed the black tom. "I am now Coalstar, leader of BloodClan."
"Nice name," smirked Killer, stalking up to the black tom. "Coalstar?"
"Any idea how to preform those stupid warrior ceremonies?" asked Coalstar. Killer laughed, and Rainsong hissed slightly.
"They're not stupid," she growled. Coalstar and Killer turned around.
"What did you say?" snarled Killer.
Rainsong shook her head.
"Nothing," supplied Smallfern. "The prisoner would like to know if she can speak."
"Fine," snapped Killer. "But make it quick."
"I know how to do the ceremonies," she blurted.
"Too bad," spat Coalstar. "All you, choose your own names!"
Clammering broke out. A ginger tom whispered something to a white she-cat, who turned to a brown cat. In the end, they all lined up, and Coalstar called out their names one by one, and they were to say their former names, and then their new ones.
"Lina. Flowershine." Neffy was staying Neffy, Worm was staying Worm, Brick was Fierceclaw, Leaf was Leafwhisker, Hammer, Hammerclaw, Bone, Bloodclaw, and Sylvia was staying Sylvia.
"Good," remarked Coalstar. "Now, let's go."
"To ThunderClan," yelled Killer.
"To ThunderClan!" echoed BloodClan, and a few of the ShadowClan warriors.
Rainsong froze. ThunderClan. Her home. They were going to destroy her Clan.
Without thinking, she pelted out of the bush, her pelt snagging on the thorns. She left several scraps of tabby fur on the bush, but she kept running, feeling her strong muscles flex underneath her coat.
"Get her!" screamed Killer maniacally. "Get the prisoner!"
Rainsong didn't slow down. She was nearing the border with ThunderClan. She had to warn them; had to tell them; had to fight with them.
"After her!" roared Coalstar. "BloodClan, attack!"
Rainsong plunged into the gorge, skidding down the side, but managing to keep her balance. "Attack," she screeched. "Hide the elders! Pebblestar, ShadowClan's coming!"
Pebblestar dashed out of his den. "What?"
"ShadowClan's coming with a band of rogues. They're--they're here!" The cats appeared, silhouetted on the horizon. Flame and Rock were at the front of the pack with Killer, their eyes shining with malice and excitement.
"ShadowClan, attack!" yowled Killer.
"BloodClan, attack!" shouted Coalstar, and both groups of cats dived into the ThunderClan camp.
"What sick dream has StarClan sent?" cried Ivypool, staggering out of the elders' den with Halfleg on her heels.
"It can't be BloodClan again! Sol resurrected them, in the Great War, oh, StarClan, no!"
Rainsong pushed the two elders back into the den. "Go," she yowled. "Stay in there!" The warrior spun to face the attackers, and her own Clan was streaming out of their dens and leaping onto the backs of the attacking cats.
Rainsong pummeled Flowershine's back. The cat screamed. Evidently she had no practice fighting, and Rainsong was quickly able to send her spinning out of the camp. She spun to face the rest of BloodClan and ShadowClan.
"Smallfern!" The white she-cat was sinking under the claws of Worm, whose eyes were cold.
"Traitor," he hissed. "Fighting with them."
"This isn't right," Smallfern spat, but her voice was failing. Rainsong yanked the rogue off of her friend, and flung him away. Together, they beat back Worm, with help from Pebblestar, who gave the pinkish gray tabby a split ear to remember ThunderClan by.
"Scorchwing!" wailed Frogpelt. "Watch out!"
"You!" yelled Killer. He lunged towards his former mate, and Flame and Rock were pummeling Sunpaw. Scorchwing batted at Leafwhisker, who was nearing her, tumbling with Stonetail, whose grip was failing.
"Blackpaw! Go for WindClan! They're closest!" yowled Rainsong, and her apprentice hared off. Flame broke off from the fray, and leaped after her. "Watch out for Flame!"
Rainsong found herself next to Mossheart. The brown warrior was sending Sylvia sprinting towards ShadowClan land. Rainsong scanned the area, and found Pebblestar locked in fierce combat with Killer. Her father did not have the upper hand.
"Pebblestar," hissed Rainsong. "You get that side of Killer, I'll jump on him and send him into your claws."
Mossheart nodded, and sped off. "Ready?"
"Go!" yowled Rainsong, and she pried the tortoiseshell leader off of her father, and sent him tumbling into the outstretched claws of Mossheart. Breezeclaw broke off and hopped on top of Killer, pummeling him, while Pebblestar took hold of his tail, and Rainsong and Mossheart nipped his legs and swiped at his ears.
"He's on his last life," called Frogpelt. "If you kill him once, you'll kill him forever!"
"Father!" howled Flame. "I can't see!"
"I can't move!" sobbed Rock. They were lying next to each other, and Flame fur and Smokebreeze were stepping away from them, with Orchidtail and Stormflight staring down at them with cold eyes and outstretched claws.
"Ha," smirked Stormflight, staring down at the cowering Flame and Rock.
The two had grown muscular, but were still barely kits.
Before anyone knew what was happening, Stormflight had flown back, hit the rock wall of the gorge, and was lying motionless, and Pebblestar let out a yowl of anguish, Killer's jaws having closed on his throat. Pebblestar was losing a life, Rainsong saw, as she ran, torn between her mother and her father.
"I've got Pebblestar," called Stonetail. Rainsong hurried to her mother's side, and saw Rock, limping, with his powerful legs outstretched and eyes murderous.
"Mother," whimpered Rainsong. "Don't die."
"Rainsong," breathed the warrior. "I'm so...proud...of you....I'll never....leave...you alone....tell your father....I love him..." Her dark blue eyes fluttered closed.
The enemy cats were fleeing, and Rainsong let out a cry as it began, with a strike of lightning, to rain.