written by Phoenix Flight
(font used: Moon Flower; please have all comments be constructive and at least four sentences in length)
"All cats who are old enough to battle gather around the Pond for an initiation!"
As Stormstar's words echo through the camp, I can see that the family's expressions have changed. Previously full of joy, they now look terrified. Even the kits. The kits scramble backwards to hide behind their mother, as if she could protect them.
Of course, she can't. A larger tom - the deputy, I believe - suddenly throws her to the side and shoves the kits forward. The queen screeches in anger and tries to push the deputy away. He pushes her away again as if she's nothing more than a kit and nods at Stormstar.
That must have been the signal.
Stormstar steps up to the kits and narrows his eyes. It appears that he's studying each one of them. Once he reaches the last - a tiny ginger-and-white she-kit - he sneers. It's like he just announced, Yes, she'll be the one that dies today! As he turns away, he snaps, "Dustheart, Hazelfoot!"
He picks up the grey tomkit. The other two - the deputy, Dustheart, and the warrior, Hazelfoot - pad forward and pick up the other two kits, despite their wails and cries. The grey kit bats his small paws at Stormstar's muzzle, but the tabby isn't affected by the powerless swipes.
The three cats briskly make their way over to the edge of the pond. As they do so, the ginger tom at the edge of the clearing looks as if he's in pain, and I remember that this cat is the kits' father.
Three small splashes tell me that the kits have been thrown into the pond. I snap my gaze back to the water, and carefully watch the three small shapes struggle to stay afloat.
Each kit flails helplessly. The long-furred grey-and-white kit latches onto his brother for support, but slips away and gets pulled under the water. That's the last I see of him.
The kits' mother screeches in agony, like she's being murdered. I can't really say that's false - a part of her heart has been torn away.
The large dark grey tomkit tries to cry out for help, but water runs into his gaping mouth and he ends up only making a choking noise. He splashes around for a short while, getting closer and closer to the pond's edge. My heart lifts - maybe he'll make it, and the mother won't have to suffer as much.
But that doesn't happen.
His paddling gets weaker and weaker, and he's only a fox-length away. Come on, keep going. You can make it. Then he gives up.
Another cry of agony from the queen.
The ginger-and-white she-kit is the only one left. She seems to be desperately clinging to life. But as with her brother, her already-weak paddling grows weaker with every movement.
Stormstar watches calmly, completely unfazed by the deaths of two innocent kits. I see his eyes dart toward the two dead kits' bodies floating limply in the water, but only for a heartbeat. He's focused on the kit again, deathly calm.
Suddenly a strong wind strikes, throwing even Stormstar off. The Clan is blown back, and so I'm the only one who sees the kit get pulled under the water. Once Stormstar recovers from stumbling, he scans the pond with icy eyes, then lets out a heavy sigh of disapproval.
The queen's voice has died completely, and so she can't even whine.
Stormstar stands and turns away, getting ready to leap down from the Highrock. His loyal followers stand as well, but the other cats dip their heads in mourning. I slowly rise to my paws and get ready to leave.
A flash of ginger at the edge of the dark pond catches my eye, and I instantly look back.
The kit isn't dead.
She throws herself onto the shore, shivering from the cold. She looks smaller than she did before with her fur plastered to her skin. She tries to stand on weak legs, but falls back over. She coughs up water, her feeble voice piercing my heart. It pains me to see her in this condition.
The medicine cat hastily picks her up and disappears into his den to heal her. The queen's face is buried into her mate's shoulder, and I can hear her sobs from here. A young warrior walks slowly into the pond to fetch the two dead kits and prepare them for the burial.
As the corpses are disturbed, I see two small, faint figures rise from them. They blink their eyes in confusion, then widen their eyes in horror at their dead bodies. I pad toward the pond and stop at the edge, and jerk my head in this direction. The two spirits are confused and afraid, but they obey.
Even if one kit survived, two died. This isn't the LakeClan I knew.
One - Jaypaw
A violent rattling noise and faint cries of pain sound from beside me. Instantly I leap to my paws, my fur bristling. Lightpaw is thrashing in her nest, while Fernpaw cowers near the exit, her green eyes wide with distress. I nod, assuring her that it would be alright, but she only looks away.
I quickly lay a foreleg over Lightpaw's shoulders and touch my nose to her ear. I do this every moon - once every moon she has a flashback to the initiation - a "Retry". But the name isn't fitting - if you die during one, you don't get to try again.
Lightpaw screeches and lashes out at me with her claws. I tense up as her claws meet my ear, but I can't move away. If I did, then... she'd die, to put it simply. Her eyes are nearly white, which is the worst thing that can happen. The lighter your eyes are, the more likely you are to die from a Retry. I can't let that happen,
"Lightpaw, come back." I whisper pleadingly.
Instantly she cringes, and blinks her eyes. To my relief, they are a dark leaf-green once she's concious again. It's dark, but I can tell she's alright. Suddenly my ear stings and I feel blood trail down it. I don't want her to see that she'd hurt me, so I draw my paw over that ear to wipe the blood away.
She turns her head toward me as I sit up. She looks lost and confused as she chokes, "Wh-what...?"
"A Retry." I mew briefly. I probably shouldn't tell her about the eye thing - that would make her panic.
Lightpaw shakily sits up, her gaze trained on her paws. Her normally well-groomed pelt is disheveled and her eyes are dull. "I almost died...?" she whispers hoarsely. Her voice is so soft I wonder if she's talking to herself. "I-I almost died..."
"N-no!" I stammer quickly, trying to reassure her. "Your eyes were actually still pretty green!" I know it's a lie, and I hate lying. But I don't want her to panic.
"I can tell when I'm about to die, Jaypaw!" she hisses angrily, her fur bristling. I expect her to claw me again, but instead she turns away and sheathes her claws. "Why... why can't these stupid Retries just go away? Why do we have to suffer like this?"
Fernpaw is still blankly gazing outside. A pang of sorrow stabs my heart - Fernpaw used to be so carefree and happy. The initiation really changed her.
Focusing back on Lightpaw, I shake my head slightly. "Once we become warriors, the Retries will stop."
"But what if those dead cats don't save us!?" Lightpaw snarls, flattening her ears to her head. "What if the Overseers continue to let us suffer as a sick joke?"
"Th-they wouldn't..." I offer softly, looking away. I hate when she gets like this - she's angry for days. I hate seeing her angry like this. And I can't understand why she gets to be like this. I don't have to go through Retries, and I don't want to, but I wish I could at least understand how Lightpaw feels.
Two - Lightpaw
I trudge along behind my mentor to the training area. I hate training with him, and I'm in a terrible mood. It wasn't Jaypaw's fault, even though it seems he thinks that. I just underwent a Retry - how could I not be in a bad mood? I hiss in annoyance.
Patchcloud stops and glares at me. "What is it now, she-cat?" he growls irritably.
I'll summarize him for you: He's an inconsiderate, grumpy jerk who enjoys witnessing murder.
"Nothing, you stupid tom! Mind your own business!" I snap, lashing my tail.
He rolls his eyes. "You don't scare me." he jeers. "You're just a weak little kit who almost died because of some water."
Letting out a high-pitched shriek, I lunge at him. He stumbles, a surprise look on his face, as I land on his back and sink my claws into his flanks. I snap at his ear, and he hisses as he tries to throw me off. Then he goes limp and drops to his belly. I scramble away before he can roll over and crush me.
Yowling in rage, Patchcloud leaps to his paws again and springs toward me. I start to nimbly dive to the side, but pain shoots up my left foreleg and I fall to the ground.
He lands and looks back at me, sneering. "Is that it? Pathetic."
"You're my mentor, you idiot." I stand, trying to avoid putting weight on my leg. "You're supposed to teach me stuff, which you don't do. Maybe that's why I was so pathetic." I say in a mocking tone, glaring at him.
Patchcloud yawns, as if he's bored now. "Whatever. Let's go train now." He strides off, as if his wounds didn't bother him. Hm. I hope he falls into a pit full of badgers and gets ripped apart.
I duck into the apprentices' den, holding a couple of mice in my teeth. The first thing I see is a miserable-looking Fernpaw being conforted by Jaypaw. He looks up and mouths one word: Retry.
I nod slightly and start to walk to my nest. Jaypaw clears his throat, and I turn to look at him again. He mouths three more words: She nearly died.
I widen my eyes in response, then hang my head. As a kit, Fernpaw was always so bright and cheerful. I want to see her smile again, but I don't even know if that day will ever come. I don't know if I'll ever see her smile again. Feeling extremely depressed now, I settle into my nest and pick at my mouse. I don't feel that hungry anymore.
I push the prey away, heaving a sigh. I curl up tightly, trying to ignore Fernpaw's quiet sobbing. Somehow, I end up asleep.
Three - Lightpaw
I awake to a soft sobbing. It's midnight again. I slowly stand up and see Fernpaw, leaning again the wall with her head lowered. "Fernpaw?" I mew quietly, trying to get her attention.
She half-turns to face me, her eye clouded with horror and fright. "I can't do this, Lightpaw." she whimpers. Suddenly her eyes widen, and a choking noise escapes her throat. She blindly stumbles over to me and collapses at my paws, now limp.
"Fernpaw?" I ask briskly, but there's no answer. Then to my horror, she starts to thrash, letting out strangled screams. "Jaypaw!" I yowl.
He's already at his sister's side, eyes wide. "Fernpaw, c'mon." he whispers hurriedly, laying his tail across hers. "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon... come back... please!"
Fernpaw wildly flails her paws, her claws opening a gash in Jaypaw's face. He recoils, but doesn't move away. Fernpaw's eyes open; I gasp in horror. Her eyes are so pale I have to narrow my eyes to see the color, and even then it's still near white.
"Fernpaw!" Jaypaw shrieks as Fernpaw's jerky movements suddenly cease. My heart nearly stops, and I fear the worst. Then Fernpaw slowly blinks, and lets out a thin wail. She buries her face into Jaypaw's shoulder, and Jaypaw glances at me, his blue eyes despairing.
I follow Whitenose and Dustheart through the trees, my eyes half-closed. I was up all night making sure Fernpaw didn't get another Retry. All night. I'm so exhausted... I feel as if I'm asleep on my paws.
Suddenly I crash into Dustheart.
He growls, "Pay attention, you fool." Then he continues walking. As he does, he says, "We're splitting up to hunt. Whitenose, you go toward the ShadeClan border." Whitenose nodded and dashed off. "I'll go to the tunnels. Lightpaw--" he gives me a seething glare that would make any cat draw away "--you go to the Twolegplace." Without another word, he runs off.
On the way to the Twolegplace, I'm muttering curses about Dustheart. "Feather-brained idiot. Fox-hearted tyrant."
A sudden voice almost scares me out of my fur.
"Talking about me again, Lightpaw?"
It's a loner, Azure. He's around my age, and I met him a couple of days after my apprentice ceremony. He didn't seem to understand why I was so shaken up, so I had to explain the near-drowning thing to him. After that, we kinda just became friends.
"Hey, Azure." I mumble. He's the last cat I wanted to run into here. "And no, I'm not talking about you." I add in a sigh.
He blinks, then purrs, "C'mon, Lightpaw. Tell the truth - you were talking about me."
"Oh, so you're a feather-brained idiot and a fox-hearted tyrant?" I retort.
Azure flicks his ears. "Now you're just being mean." He gives me a fake look of sadness, then, seeing my annoyed expression, prods my shoulder with a paw. "Oh, come on, Lighty. I was just teasing."
"My name's Lightpaw, idiot." I growl, poking his flank with my paw.
He rolls his eyes. "I know that, Lightpaw." he mews with emphasis on the 'paw' part of my name. He confidently strides along beside me. "Hey, you look tired. Mm... I would ask, but lemme guess. You were watching over your friend Fernpaw, weren't you?"
"You're so annoying." I huff. I stalk ahead of him.
"So I was right!" Azure runs to catch up, then walks alongside me. "So, why're you going to the kittypet palace? Are you seeing someone there?" he teases.
My ears burn. "No!" I shout in protest. "I'm hunting there, that's all." I regret my outburst, even though he doesn't seem affected. What I'm worried about is that Dustheart might show up. And he's merciless. He might kill Azure, or torture him and leave him to die.
He only shrugs, then turns. "Alright then. See you later, Lighty." Then, with that, he runs into the forest and he's gone. I stare after him, then continue to the Twolegplace. What a dumb cat.
Four - Lightpaw
"Lightpaw!" Dustheart's stern voice echoes through the trees. I'm carrying four pieces of prey, so I can't reply. I only speed my pace to a run. I can tell he's mad; he probably saw me and Azure talking.
Once I reach him, I see the furious glint in his eyes. Before I can even drop my prey, he runs his claws over my cheek, digging them deep into my skin. I let out a startled cry, dropping the prey and stumbling back.
"I saw you hanging around with that loner. What, are you friends with him?"
"No! He just walked up to me and started to talk to me! I don't even know his name!" I protest. It's a lie, but I can't let Dustheart know that. Blood runs down my cheek where the deputy had clawed it. I lash my tail in anger as he lifts a paw.
"You seemed to know him all too well, liar." he growls icily. Then he leaps.
I dart to the side, and he lands clumsily. He glares this way, but I'd already slipped around and jabbed at his flank. I dance back out of his reach as he swipes his claws at me. He bares his teeth and hisses in frustration, then leaps toward me again. I slide away from him, and he lets out a fierce yowl of rage. He runs forward and I run to the side. But he catches me. He sinks his teeth into my throat. I writhe, trying to free myself.
I can't breath...
I blindly swipe at his face with my claws, not caring about anything else.
Now my vision's dark.
I think I catch his ear and viciously slice downward. It feels like I struck his face, too, but I'm not sure. He hisses and I manage to slip away from him. I gulp in air, then without thinking twice, speed away from him, slightly stumbling at first. Try running when someone just tried to strangle you. I see a flash of white as Whitenose returns, bewildered.
I hear Dustheart's enraged yowl and run faster. He can't catch me. If he does, I'm done for. But maybe Whitenose would stop him, maybe she'd rescue me.
He doesn't pursue me.
I stagger into camp, out of breath. I stumble a few steps and collapse, flanks heaving. Alarmed, a few cats cluster around me, murmuring to each other.
Patchcloud's voice sounds. "Step back. Let her breathe." As everyone else steps back, he blinks and stares at my wounds. Then he looks to a black tom across the clearing and calls out, "Nightleaf!"
Nightleaf, the medicine cat of the Clan, swiftly pads forward, herbs in his jaws. He sits beside me and begins treating my wounds. His voice a monotone, he demands, "How did this happen?"
"Dustheart attacked me." I gasp, cringing as Nightleaf applies cobweb to my wound. "When I was hunting, he sprang out and attacked me." I open my eyes and look up at his dazed expression. Absently, he continues to heal my various wounds.
Patchcloud flicks his tail. "I have no idea how that idiot came to be deputy..." he mutters, infuriated. "I'll be right back." He turns and storms over to Stormstar's den.
The clearing is silent until Stormstar follows Patchcloud out of the den. He halts beside Nightleaf, nodding slightly at the medicine cat. In a deep voice, he meows, "So my deputy attacked you?" I search his face for any emotion, but his expression is blank.
I nod. His voice low, Nightleaf advises me not to move as he applies the herbs.
"Hm. So sad." His voice is unsympathetic. "I'll ask him what happened."
"He'll lie!" I shout, my tail lashing. I try to stand up, only to have Nightleaf gently growl at me again.
Stormstar's ears twitch. "And how do I know you're not lying?"
"He attacked me! He'll say a rogue or something attacked." I snarl.
I hear another voice, one that belongs to another warrior. "Those do look like wounds Dustheart would inflict."
Another. "True. Dustheart often throws enemies off balance with a slash to the face, then he goes for the throat."
More voices rise and argue until Stormstar yowls, "Quiet!"
All of the voices fade into an uneasy silence. It's creepy. Then he growls, "It's worthless. Dustheart didn't do anything. This idiot just got itself into a fight. That's it."
My heart pounds and I feel ready to kill Stormstar. He doesn't know what happened. No one does.
Just then, Dustheart strolls into camp, his tail waving. He has my prey with him, and he's completely causal. As if he didn't just try to murder me.
Five - Jaypaw
A growl rumbles in my throat as I catch sight of Dustheart. He just looks so... calm. He tried to kill Lightpaw. He tried to kill my friend...!
Back at camp, Nightmist is the first to greet us. Cobweb covers the slash on his face, but he doesn't seem bothered by it as he meows, "Any trouble?"
Jaypaw shakes his head. "None at all." he replies. "How's your scratch?"
"It's fine." the black-furred tom says, his voice quiet as he averted his eyes to his paws. "Healing."
Was that... pain in his voice? Sorrow? Or... maybe I was just imagining it. Yeah, that's it.
Then Nightmist looks back at us and meows, "You should see if you are needed on any patrols." As Fernpaw and Jaypaw rush off, I begin to follow them. Nightmist blocks my path, making me step back. He says, "I need to talk to you." He flicks his tail at his den and starts toward it.
Confused, I follow him. He pushes aside the lichens that hang over his den's entrance, and glances back at me. He sits beside a pile of important-looking leaves, and I sit across from him.
He looks at me for a while, his soft blue eyes boring into my own light blue ones. Then he meows, "I believe you."
"Splashfoot hurt you, didn't he?"
I don't reply for a while. Then I nod slowly.
"Care to explain why?" he asks evenly, ears pricked.
"I had been talking to a friend of mine - a loner." I began. "He confronted me, then tried to kill me. Luckily, I remembered the moves Patchcloud had taught me, and I escaped. But no one believes me, except maybe Jaypaw and Fernpaw." I sigh. "You probably think it's stupid and you're going to laugh."
"No." Nightmist says tensely. "Never."
I widen my eyes. "Wha-?"
"He killed me too."
"Don't you mean tri-"
"No, Lightpaw." Nightmist growls, staring into my eyes. "He killed me. Now then." He stands before I can ask him any other questions. "I suggest you leave."
I obeyed, still dumbfounded. But how...? He's right there, alive! Splashfoot didn't kill him, so why is he claiming that he was killed?
Too confusing. Can't understand.
I need some sleep...
I open my eyes. I'm not in the apprentices' den, I realize with a start. I scramble to my paws, looking around quickly. I see a vast field of grass swaying in unison, and the sky is a deep blue, a fluffy white cloud here and there. Is this... RainClan's territory?
...No. This was LakeClan territory until it was taken by RainClan.
I notice a black flash out of the corner of my eye, and I recognize Nightmist. He looks panicked, and he's running from something. Fast.
I chase him, but I never seem to catch up to him.
I notice herbs in his jaws, but I don't know what they are. He glances back, widens his eyes in terror, then speeds up, looking back ahead. I pant, trying to quicken my pace enough to follow him.
A screech sounds behind us, and I look back. A white cat, a pale-grey cat, and a ginger cat are tailing us. I let out a yelp of surprise and pain as my paw bends and I fall forward, whimpering as I roll to a stop.
The ginger cat hisses as he sees me, then changes course, running toward me. His claws flash, and they're sharp. He brings them down swiftly and silently, and I scream, "No!"
I scramble to my paws. My paw pads feel slick, and I'm panting like I just ran a tree-length. Jaypaw is staring at me, bewildered. He breathes, "Rewind?"
I shake my head. "N-no..."
"What is it then?"
I shrug, trying to seem casual about it all. "Nothing. Just a nightmare." I say, my voice wavering. There goes my casual act.
He narrows his eyes, and opens his mouth to say something, but closes it again and shakes his head. "New apprentice today." he murmurs solemnly. "Shattered Ice's kit."
"Hrmm...? Stormstar's son?" I frown. Surely Stormstar would just let his own son pass into apprenticeship without need of the initiation? "What's his name... Starlingkit, right?"
Before Jaypaw can reply, Stormstar's yowl sounds and rings through the camp. "All cats who survived gather around the Pond for a Clan meeting!"
StarClan, keep this kit safe.
I follow Jaypaw out of the den, and see Fernpaw, violently shivering. I'm confused; it's not even cold. In fact, it's pretty warm. Newleaf warm.
I sit on one side of her, and Jaypaw sits on the other.
Shattered Ice fearfully nudges her son into the clearing. Stormstar snatches him away, and slashes his mate across the face. My jaw drops as he hisses, "Weakling." Then the dark-grey tabby cranes his neck, draws back, then throws his flailing son into the Pond.
The poor thing screams as he lands with a loud splash. I hold my breath and count the seconds. One... two...
A tiny brown-and-white head bobs out of the water, and I heave a sigh of relief. The tiny paws churn helplessly, and the water ripples as the kitten slowly makes his way across the water. Patchcloud looks tense, like he's ready to spring to the kit's rescue any time. I can't blame him. Nightmist is nowhere to be seen. Mistywing is staring at her paws, glancing up every few heartbeats. She looks really nervous. Shattered Ice is sobbing into her sister Fluttering Wings' shoulder, but Fluttering isn't any better.
The brown-and-white kitten wails as he goes under again, but comes back up just as quickly.
The time ticks by, slowly and painfully. It hurts to watch as he flails in terror, squeaking and crying out as he goes under. Fernpaw presses against Jaypaw, letting out soft sobs a few times.
But the kit makes it.
He flops up on the shore, coughing up water and crying. I blink a few times. He made it. He's tiny, too small to be six moons. He looks almost four, three even. But I know he's six.
Silence stabs through the clearing like lightning, and even Stormstar is silent. Then half the Clan bursts into cheers, leaping to their paws and yowling happily. Shattered looks relieved, and she's calling the kit's name the loudest out of anyone.
Fernpaw looks over to me, and smiles weakly. "He made it." she whispers.
"Yeah." Jaypaw mews flatly, not looking at us. He's staring at the kit like he's trying to claw it into little pieces, and his claws sink into the grass he's sitting on. "He made it. Huzzah."
Before I can ask why he's like that, Stormstar yowls, "My son is worthy enough to be a warrior - no, leader of this Clan." He pads over to his son and jerks him to his paws, and the kit gasps in surprise. "Despite his pathetically small size-" he roughly nudges the younger tom, who let's out a startled hiss "-he's proved himself worthy. He will be Risingpaw."
Shattered looks startled. "That's not what I named him!" she snarled, lashing her tail. "I named him Starling, remember!?"
Stormstar glares at his mate, his icy blue eyes narrowed menacingly, and he looks as if he's about to spring at her and slit her throat. But he only growls, his voice quiet, too quiet. "Well, Shattered Ice, maybe I wanted to pick a better name for my son. He's not your son anymore."
"What!? N-no! You can't do this-!" Shattered wails, lunging at him. Fluttering steps in front of her, trying to calm her. "St-Starling!" she cries out desperately.
"Risingpaw." Stormstar corrects her, a growl in his voice.
The Clan, not wanting to anger their leader further, uneasily rise in a cheer of Risingpaw, Risingpaw! Jaypaw stands and turns, mumbles, "I'm going hunting. C'mon, Fernpaw." He led his obviously-confused sister away. Fernpaw glanced back, but only for a second. They slipped out of camp, unnoticed.
I, however, sit still, my legs shaking. Stormstar splits up with Shattered Ice, taking her son with him, and even renaming him. No one trying to stop it. Too scared of their own leader, the one who should be giving them advice, not threatening to drown them in a once-sacred pond.
Risingpaw squeaks, "Hi, Lighty!" His head pokes into the den. It's only been a day since his initiation, and he's already cheery, like he didn't almost die.
I blink up at him, still sprawled out in my nest. "Hey, Risingpaw." I yawn, twitching my ears. Then I glance around for two grey pelts. The nests are empty; I push myself to my paws and inspect the two mossy beds. They're both cold. I frown. Usually Jaypaw and Fernpaw would've been back. No, should've. It's been a whole day, and they aren't back.
"Have you seen Jaypaw and Fernpaw?" I ask the newer apprentice, turning to face him.
He blinks, his ears flicking. "Not since yesterday, no. Why?" He sounds perplexed.
"I'm going to look for them." I stand and walk stiffly past him, ignoring his confused stare. Before I can reach the camp exit, I hear a call of "Wait!"
I turn to see Risingpaw running toward me. "I can help!" he squeaks. "C'mon, Lighty! Please please please lemme help!"
For a moment it's hard to believe that this cheerful cat is a murderer's son. Then I remember that he's also Shattered Ice's son, too, and that Shattered taught him better than to be like his father. I start to say, "You haven't had any training, so you can't come," but then I realize that it would count as his training anyway. So I sigh, "Okay. You can come."
Risingpaw lets out a cheerful squeal, and bounds after me, his eyes darting around to take in all the sights. He darts over to a clump of some plants to sniff at it, then to an abandoned mouse hole between the thick, twisted roots of an oak. "So much stuff...!" he breathes, his eyes brightening.
"Mm." I mumble absently, angling my ears around to listen for my friends. I hear heavy paw steps, and immediately my fur bristles. "Risingpaw," I hiss, "get over here."
He obeys, blinking in confusion.
A long-furred silver cat stumbles out of the bushes, his fur matted with twigs. "Y-you're Lightpaw?" he gasps, his breath coming out in short, rapid gasps, as if he'd been running all this way. By the way his legs shook, I'd say he has.
"Yes." I mew, failing to keep the suspicion out of my voice. "Why?" I then demand.
He holds up his tail as a signal for me to wait for a reply, but before I can ask him a question he looks up to me. "Y-your friends... the t-two grey cats... n-no time..." the silver rogue pants, his blue eyes wide. For a second, I don't know what he's talking about. Then I realized he's panicking, and that my friends were...
"Jaypaw! Fernpaw!" I yowl. I start to run, but before I take off I whip around to face the rogue. "Where are they?" I ask quickly, my fur fluffed out.
The cat seems to have regained his breath, and he turns to face me. "Follow me." he hisses before streaking off back through the bushes.
Risingpaw, whom I'd forgotten about, squeaks, "Can I come? Please?"
"Risingpaw, look, we don't know what's happening and how dangerous the situation could be. It would be best if you'd go back to camp and return with a patrol. None of Stormstar or his supporte..." My voice trails off as I realize my words are flying right over his small head.
He stamps his brown forepaw on the ground stubbornly. "I'm coming with you!" he argues. Then he takes off after the rogue, and I have no choice but to follow.
I lose sight of the silver cat. My heart pounding, I stare through the trees, trying to see his pale pelt, and a sudden pain pierces my paw. I cry out as I fall forward, but manage to catch myself with my unhurt leg. I scramble to stand up and limp as quickly as I can after the two.
I stop at a small clearing, where Risingpaw stares, horrifed, at something I can't see. A shriek splits the air, and I flinch at the pain in the yell. I limp up and peer around him, and I see Fernpaw thrashing her legs, and her eyes are...
"Fernpaw, please hang on!" Jaypaw begs, his voice full of desperation. "Fernpaw, please! Y-you're my sister, a-and my only family...! You can't leave!" He's on the verge of tears. "F-Fernpaw, p-please... stay!" His grey fur bristles, and his gaze flickers over to meet my own terrified and/or horrified stare.
I'm frozen, even though his helpless expression beckons me. An agonized scream snaps me out of my helplessness. "F-Fernpaw...!" I gasp, regaining the ability to walk. I reach the two in one leap and I stare at Fernpaw's thrashing figure, and the pure, snowy white of her eyes. She lets out another blood-chilling wail, but I don't back away as I would've done normally.
"Fernpaw. Hang on." I plead. "Just wait. Someone's going to hear you, and a patrol's gonna come by... I swear... Ashcloud, and Mistywing...!"
Her thrashing stops, and there's only a small series of whimpers heard from her, like she's trying to talk. Her sightless eyes stare through the leaves in the trees, and her face is expressionless. Jaypaw cries out, "Fernpaw, no! W-we were going to be warriors together... and they wouldn't have appeared anymore..." He lets out a sob, and I avert my eyes to my paws, because speaking would just make it worse for him.
But under my breath I murmur, "May StarClan light your path, Fernpaw."
Fernpaw's breathing is cut short and stops. Her eyes glaze over, and her twitching paws go still. The silver cat from before is gone, I notice, and Risingpaw is silent. I can tell that he's afraid, or traumatized. I can't blame him. Witnessing a death caused by his own father must have struck a heavy blow to his conscience, and he probably feels guilty, too.
Jaypaw buries his face into his sister's fur, and I brush my nose over her ear. I recoil; it's already cold, as if she hadn't just died. I throw a glance at my friend to make sure he hadn't seen my reaction to the coolness of Fernpaw's fur, but he hadn't moved.
I blink sympathetically. "We should get her back to camp-" I say, but he glares at me, his eyes narrowed.
"Don't you know what they do to cats who die from their flashbacks?" he hisses, the fur on his shoulders rising. "He throws them in the pond. Throws them. Do you want Fernpaw to be disrespected like that?" he demands, lashing his tail.
"...Of course not." I sigh. "C'mon. Let's bury her." I step toward Fernpaw to carry her, but Jaypaw has already thrown her across his back. I nod curtly and turn to face Risingpaw, who is staring at his paws. "Risingpaw?" I mew gently. "You can go back to camp. But don't tell anyone about this. Not even Ashcloud. Alright?" I add more seriously.
He doesn't respond, but he does turn away and streak off, his fur bristling.
I don't dwell on that for long. Instead I look back to Jaypaw and ask, "Where would she want to be buried?"
"...Someplace with a lot of flowers. Y'know, she likes flowers." he responds dully before padding ahead of me. "And I know where she used to disappear to when we were kits." He leads me through the trees, and it feels as if we'd been walking forever. Finally we reach a small clearing with wildflowers of all colors. The dapples of sunlight through the trees make it even more beautiful.
"Right here." Jaypaw declares. Gently, he lays Fernpaw in a clear patch of grass. He starts to dig, throwing dust all over his pelt. I help, ignoring the stinging dust in my eyes, and eventually we've finished digging.
I start toward Fernpaw, but Jaypaw stops me, holding up a forepaw. "I'm holding vigil for her." he mews quietly. "You can leave now. I'll be okay."
I almost protest. But I know how close he was to her, and I step away, nodding slightly. Wordlessly I turn and leave him alone with his deceased sister.
A questioning voice sounds as soon I enter camp. "Lightpaw?" It's Ashcloud, and her eyes show how worried she is. "Are Jaypaw and Fernpaw with you?" Her ears twitch, as if she's curious and concerned at the same time.
Should I tell her? I shake my head. "No. Jaypaw's... hunting." I feel guilty. I'm lying to her about her own kits.
"And Fernpaw?" she asks persistantly.
"...Ashcloud, if I tell you this, you have to promise not to tell anyone." I tell her, making sure the seriousness in my tone is obvious.
The warrior looks startled and frightened. "What is it?"
I whisper, "Fernpaw's dead." Ashcloud looks horrified, and the beginnings of a sob seem to fill her throat, because she can't say anything. My own throat dry, I explain everything that happened. How they'd disappeared yesterday. The silver cat. The flashback.
"N-no...!" Ashcloud gasps. "My kit...! You're lying to me."
She won't believe me. "I'm telling the truth, Ashcloud. I saw it happen. Her eyes were pure white and glazed over." I hate having to break news to others. I hate it. The sorrow in her eyes, and the tears welling up in them. Even more quietly I murmur, "They're at the flowery clearing near the edge of the forest."
At once she's running out of camp as quickly as possible. I spare myself the sympathy and sorrow and look away. I take a step back to the apprentices' den when another voice beckons me. "Lightpaw!"
It's Hazelfoot this time, Lilyheart following her with a worried expression on her face. "Are you alright?" Hazelfoot asks worriedly. "You look as if you've just witnessed a death."
I have. "No. I'm fine." I growl without looking at the two. Without waiting for their replies, I slip into the apprentices' den and curl up in my nest. I know I must've seemed like a cranky elder or something, but witnessing my own friend's death and having a kit become scarred for life can do that to a cat. I'll say sorry to them later.
For now, I'll just rest. I mean, there's nothing else to do, and mourning's too... depressing.
When I wake up, it's dark. The sky's an inky black-blue dotted with bright stars and a cream-colored moon. The silver moonlight filters into the den, illuminating my denmates' pelts. At least Jaypaw's back, safe and sound. Hopefully Ashcloud's back, too.
By the way he's breathing, it sounds like he's asleep. I sit up in my nest and stare skyward. I guess I can't sleep now, because that was a terrifying dream I had. Or maybe nightmare'd be the better word for it. I dunno. Whatever it was, it was scary.
A small voice snaps me from my blankness. "Lightpaw?" I whip around to see Risingpaw, whose brown-and-white fur looks paler, more ghostly in the moonlight. He almost looks like a ghost, but I quickly shake the thought away.
I try to stifle a yawn, and the reply comes out more like a yawn than an actual reply. "Yes?" I mentally cuff myself over my ears, then repeat, "Yes?"
He'd already started speaking again, so my second attempt at a reply goes unnoticed. "Fernpaw was dying... and, her eyes were all scary. I couldn't see any of the prettiness that was in them before."
Is he asking why... or how she died?
"And, um..." The sound of paws shuffling against moss fills the short pause that followed. Then his eyes flash as his gaze turns back up at me. "Why did she have to die like that?"
The question half surprised me, but it also half confused me. I was at a loss for words, and the silence that fills the suddenly heavy, stagnant air is unbearable. So finally, just to break the stillness I murmur, "She was afraid of staying."
Risingpaw doesn't say anything in response. Instead the rustling of his nest sounds as he lies down and curls up, his back to me.
I glance over at Jaypaw. He's still asleep. Then I look outside again. The moon isn't quite full yet, thank StarClan. My Rewind shouldn't come yet.
Suddenly a strangled scream breaks from my jaws, and I collapse.
I can't say I know what happened after that. I saw the paws of my denmates scrambling toward me, and heard the yells of the warriors outside. But then my vision faded into darkness.
Rays of light shone dimly from above, and through the foggy view I had I could spot this... this thing. A dark-colored blob growing larger as time passed. I realized it was coming toward me, and I tried to thrash my legs to run from it. It was no use; it was as if I were suspended in midair.
The blob turns out to be a silhouette. It's completely black. Even the eyes are just blank darkness. I want to swim away, but I'm too exhausted.
A pair of black paws reach out toward me. I try to glide away but one of the paws catches my shoulder and I cringe. A feeling like ice spreads over my skin and under my fur, and I lose consciousness.
I jerk awake, my paws thrashing. I hear a grunt as I kick someone, and I hope it wasn't anyone too important. I struggle to stand up, but slip back down into the nest.
My vision clears and I'm not in the apprentices' den anymore. I'm in the medicine cat's den, and Jaypaw, Shattered Ice, Nightmist, Patchcloud, and my mother, Cloudtail, are standing around me, concerned looks on their faces.
Immediately Patchcloud demands, "What happened, Jaypaw?"
Jaypaw shakes his head. "I don't know. I was asleep, but I heard a scream and woke up to see her collapsed and thrashing in her nest." he explains. He sounds exhausted, and I feel terrible for waking him.
"Do you think it was a Rewind?" Cloudtail asks anxiously in a hushed voice.
Shattered Ice frowns. "It may have been..." she murmurs, but the former Tribe cat looks unpersuaded, despite her words.
Cloudtail touches her nose to mine, whispering, "At least you're alright." Her bushy white tail brushes my shoulders, and Shattered Ice leads her away. Jaypaw follows, but I wished he'd stayed.
Nightmist sighs. I had expected some comforting words from the medicine cat, but instead he flatly growls, "You shouldn't worry us like that, Lightpaw." He turns away, melting into the darkness at the back of the den.
Patchcloud and I are silent. Suddenly he mews, "Lightpaw, are you okay?" It's surprising that he seems worried about me. Maybe he's just acting concerned because the medicine cat is here. Somewhere.
"Yeah. I'm fine." I reply after a few moments. Silently I add, But it's not like you're worried. I glare at him, my tail twitching.