The five cats stood their ground, their backs arched, their lips pulled back into a snarl. A white she-cat with frost littering the ground in her wake advanced, and with a swipe of her paw sent snow whipping into the cat's face. It growled, shaking away the slap of cold material, and took a step forward.
"Cold, come back!" a light gray she-cat shrieked. "It will kill you!"
"If I do, it will kill us all!" Cold hissed back. "We are the Elementals, Air—with power like this we are all destined to die."
"No, we are destined to live." A blue-gray cat slid up to Cold. "With power like this, we are destined to live. For with much at stake, we shall work together even further." She gave a short purr and pressed up to Cold. "Me and you together, Cold. All of us together."
The remaining three cats proceeded, and took position next to Cold, their eyes glittering. The Elementals created an impenetrable barrier between them and the enemy. Fire, Water, Air, Nature, and Cold spirits rose into the air, and mixed the contents together to form something, something dangerous, a force against the evil, fed by the will to help the greater good. But it was more than the Elementals that came together that night—it was the love and fellowship each cat was compelled to feel for another, the urge to protect the weak and fight alongside each other. The Elementals grew together, their hearts entwined forever, creating a path to be followed by every cat in their wake.
"With power like this, we are not meant to die. We are meant to live. We are meant to grow and learn together, and feel the power true love. That is the meaning of the Elementals."
"Graypaw! Graypaw!" a voice meowed loudly in Graypaw's ear. "Wake up, will ya?"
"Unngh," I groaned as I sat up. Slowly I blinked my eyes open, and screwed them up as the blinding morning light filtered through the gaps of the ceiling of interwoven brambles. A white face with sparkling blue eyes was staring at me, eye-to-eye. She was shoved aside by Firepaw, who pounced on her with his body, (which nearly took the breath from her because of his deadweight muscle), and began play-fighting. Oh, come on, Graypaw, I though to myself. I began scuffling with the fiery tom, while Frostpaw, refusing to be left out, quickly scrambled up and leaped into the fray.
"Apprentices!" Cloudfur popped his head in with a disapproving gaze. "What's going on here? Firepaw, Frostpaw, you were meant to join the hunting patrol which left without you just a moment ago. And Graypaw, you were supposed to be on the dawn patrol. It's sunhigh!"
That woke me up. I quickly gave a lick to my chest and hopped up, painfully aware that I still looked like I'd just woken up, which was quite true. I followed Frostpaw and Firepaw to the training hollow instead, and they sat in front of the two Elemental mentors, Icestorm and Scorchpelt.
Ever since I was born many cats acted weird around her, and gave her looks. Maybe it was because of the doubt, the confusion with her. My mother, Grayfeather, was equally mystical—she were the bravest cat in the Clan, ready to do anything with her Elemental powers, but she were easily diminished by the fact that she did not have normal abilities—she were what the Clan called a "Shadow Caster," very rare Elementals who had great but dangerous, and frightening powers.
Most kits showed their abilities at a young age, about six moons, when they would be paired with another Elemental with their ability and essentially temperament, but I had never shown hers. I did have dark fur and a shadowed personality, but that could still just be from my mother. Though my father died long before my birth and my mother died a little later, I was still treated as an outcast. And even though the Clan treated the Shadow Casters as outcasts, I secretly hoped I would turn out as a Shadow Caster, to keep on the tradition of my family.
"Hey, um, Graypaw," Firepaw mewed, waving his paw over my face. "We have to do the drop and kick. I'm paired with you." I nodded gratefully and we began to get into position, our paws ready.
Firepaw steadily advanced, but his tail swished at the ground, sweeping up the leaves. I stifled a snort. I may be doubtful upon Elemental training but I was surely better than Firepaw at this!
Firepaw broke into a sprint towards me, ready to be the one to drop, but I knew that I was the one who was in the right position to do it. I dropped and as Firepaw landed on top of me I kicked out with a hind leg, taking out his paws and losing his balance. He scrambled up but I was already ready for him.We purred with amusement and scuffled on the dusty ground, play-fighting.
"Firepaw, Graypaw, stop it!" Icestorm hissed, breaking them apart by inserting her paw. "This is a training session, in case you haven't noticed, not a play-fighting practice."
"Sorry," I murmured, then kicked Firepaw to do the same. We looked at their paws but secretly glanced at each other, snickering quietly.
"Right, then," Scorchpelt continued. "We'll go hunting and see what you three can catch. Then we can be in time for Leafpaw and Tricklepaw's warrior ceremony."
I bit back a hiss of disappointment. It would be hard for me to get to my warriors ceremony, my assessment, even. It was truly harder for me to get it than Frostpaw and Firepaw, and I knew I might even be denyed the chance of becoming a warrior.
I tagged along with Frostpaw and Icestorm, trying not to feel terribly left out. As we neared a tree which apparently contained a creature rustling in the leaves above, Icestorm glanced at her apprentice and then at me. She would obviously leave me out again.
"Frostpaw, let's see if you can go get that squirrel," Icestorm whispered. "But don't stalk it, this time you'll use your abilities." Frostpaw's eyes shone as she neared the tree, her tail quivering with excitement. As she got near the tree she swept up her paw, sending an array of frost into the tree. The squirrel gave a squeak of alarm and ran down the trunk...
...straight into my paws. "Great catch!" Icestorm meowed enthusiastically, but directing her praise toward Frostpaw. She looked at me and shrugged sympathetically.
Most of the Clan didn't love me, true. But I had never known why Icestorm hated me so much. Even the highly traditional elders didn't react this strongly to my Elemental-powers situation -thing.
"Wake up, will you, Graypaw?" Icestorm snapped. "We're heading back to the training hollow with our catch." I followed the white and light-gray she-cat as I directed her paws toward the training hollow.
Firepaw and his mentor, Scorchpelt, stood with a squirrel and a starling, looking smug. Frostpaw glared at Firepaw as he gave she and Graypaw a triumphant gaze.
"Well," Icestorm said. "Three pieces of prey, well done for an afternoon. Well, that is, Firepaw and Frostpaw. Graypaw couldn't catch a blind, deaf, and crippled mouse if it ran into her paws." With that insult, the rude she-cat whipped around and stalked back to camp.
"What's her problem?" muttered Firepaw under his breath. Scorchpelt gave him a sharp glance, although he looked a tad bit angry as well. "Graypaw, not to worry. You will be having your afternoon meal as well. Now, make haste, or you will be later to get to the fresh-kill pile for the juiciest piece of fresh-kill!"
With an excited squeak, Frostpaw leaped to her paws and raced away, Firepaw and I haring after her.
As Firepaw hungrily tore through his mouse, Frostpaw and I shared a rabbit, somewhat more civilly.
"So I was thinking," Frostpaw mewed. "About you and Icestorm..." But before the white she-cat could finish, a scream sounded from the other side of the hollow.
The trio of apprentices quickly leaped up at the shrill noise, while warriors around them were stirring. Leafpaw and Tricklepaw jumped, as they had been thoroughly into watching Tricklepaw's amazing agility with water. I had to admit though, floating an orb of water in your paws was an accomplishment, and I hoped someday, whatever my actual Elemental ability turned out to be, whether Shadow Casting or otherwise, would be just as amazing, if not more.
A talon of ice stuck from the ground, already melting in the ground and stuck up so it had nearly impaled Blazefur in the belly. She carefully dislodged herself from her position and glanced up at Vinestar. "It nearly killed me!"
"Where did it come from?" Vinestar queried, sliding down to where Blazefur sat.
"It justt...fell from the sky!" she gasped. "Right where I was standing." With a glare at the half-melted pillar of ice, she thrust out her paws in outrage, sending out a faint column of fire to douse the ice.
"Well," Vinestar meowed, "maybe there are some severe climate changes because of the diversity of cats. You know that happens sometimes."
Every apprentice knew about the Diversity Act since kithood. Long ago, the five original Elementals lived alone, and the only members from each Elemental section who were allowed to meet were the leaders of each group. But since the Diversity Act the cats were permitted to live together in peace, though had to keep their abilities at bay for fear of hurting one with it, or creating a climate change.
I looked up and saw it before Frostpaw did. "Frostpaw, look out!" I rammed my head into her and slammed her out of the way. We lay tangled in the dirt. I groaned and got up, took a look behind me and gasped. Another column of ice, this time three times as big, was standing before us, with the cold mist still yet to melt off of it. A clamor grew among the cats. Vinestar hurried forward, along with Echomist, the medicine cat, and Creekheart, Frostpaw's mother. I was aware I had no mother to help me up; it still hurt when Echomist hurried over to me and helped me sit.
"Are you okay?" Vinestar queried worriedly.
"Yes," I murmured, still shaken. I got to my paws and wandered over to Frostpaw, who was a small cut on her shoulder and was being treated by Echomist. I saw Scorchfur and another Fire Elemental conjure another douse of fire and melted the spike.
How dire will this climate change be?
"...Fire Elementals are to stay in camp," Vinestar was staying. I cringed. I wasn't of any Element, so I was of no use. I knew that -- that was what it was like every day, every moon, every season, for my life. Just this time, it hurt a little bit more, what with the huge crisis. "...in case any more ice should fall into camp.
"Water and Cold Elementals, you are to patrol camp boundaries, as any accident from your abilities can make this ice crisis worse. Air Elementals, please do the same aboveground, preferably over camp. Nature Elementals, excluding me of course, see to repairing the damage to the camp and check the forest for any signs of rehabilation requirement."
The cats departed into a murmuring mass of bodies, going to their posts.
"See you later?" Frostpaw whispered into my ear. "I've got to go."
"Yeah," I muttered, watching the white she-cat hurry to Icestorm. Firepaw gave me a nod and rushed to Scorchpelt.
I was left alone in the center of the clearing, feeling alone and helpless. I had always wished I'd had a mentor to support me, but with no Shadow Casters in the Clan, there was no one to pass on skills to me.
"Graypaw, just...just stay safe," Vinestar mewed, face furrowed. I stifled a cry of frustration and turned. As always.
I wandered into the territory, sighing and gazing up at the trees. The sunlight dappled the ground. Suddenly I padded into a stream of yellow light and, flinching back, hissed -- it felt like some cat were pressing a hot metal rod into my skin. I backed away, terrified.
Why had the light burned me? It had never done so before. Though light would have naturally opposed me as a being, what with me being a Shadow Caster, I had never been able to cast anything before, and light had never hurt me, though I was never particularly pleased with being in sunlight.
Tentatively I stretched my paw into the sunlight. The same type of fierce burning, though now it was less intense as I was expecting the feeling to come. I turned my pad in wonder, then instantly regretted it. The sunlight touching my delicate pink pads stung like hellfire. I snatched my paw back and stared up at the light.
Shakily turning back, I continued to the place I had spent time in as a kit. It was an amazing oak tree, a hundred feet tall and half that wide. My mother, the cat I had known for so little time yet remembered the most about in my life, had often told me stories about her adventures here as a kit. I stretched my neck as far as it would go to gaze up at the soaring boughs and world of green leaves above me, my mind delving into a bittersweet memory from my past.
"It was huge," Grayfeather mewed, her gaze shining as she saw my eyes widen in awe. "As tall as a thousand of you stacked atop each other. When I jumped into the tree, I was in a world of endless green, the branches went on forever in every direction around me. The tips of the branches reached the sky and tickled the bottom of the clouds." She said it with such passion, but yet, even as a kit, I noticed something sad in there, lingering at the back. She's trying to conceal it from me. I always tried to rack up the nerve to ask, but sometime or other I would always back down. I knew Grayfeather's heart had been broken so many times, and I didn't want to make her any more sad.
At that point my mother would duck and start tickling me on my belly. We would laugh and tussle until I became exhausted. I knew Grayfeather always left the den after putting me to sleep -- and I had never had the heart to ask her where she went. I didn't want to doubt her. There was already enough doubt in my life.
That night, I pretended to be fast asleep. I was aware of Grayfeather gently licking my forehead, and then, scarcely making a whisper, headed out of the den.
I counted. 1....2....3. Now! Even quieter than Grayfeather, I got up and ruffled my fur, then peeked over the corner of the entrance to check where my mother was. I was just in time to see her slip away. Where is she going?
Quickly I scampered across the clearing. There was no warrior on guard duty tonight because of the moonlight patrols -- I would have to follow my mother carefully. Almost tripping over a twig, I scrambled after her.
Grayfeather was quick. I had to run to keep up with her. She wove nimbly around tree trunks and under thistles. She moved so that almost no foliage was dented. I clumsily made large holes in the piles of leaves as I followed -- still trying to keep quiet.
Finally my mother paused and looked up. I followed her gaze and was equally in awe. The Cloud Tree? It was indeed huge. It fit my mother's descriptions, though in the nighttime it looked twice as big and seemed as if it could impale the clouds straight through.
As I was distracted, I forgot to watch my mother. My eyes locked onto the tips of the green fronds, I didn't notice my mother creep into the center of the clearing. Then a sudden movement startled me and I lowered my gaze.
She danced. She dipped and swayed, and made a graceful arc with her paws. She seemed to swing through the air, as if her invisible partmer were holding her as she was swung. Her fur blew and her body twisted flexibly through the dark night.
But there was something insistent about the way she did it -- a dark, translucent light glinted in the way her paws stepped, the way she swirled and moved. And then I realized.
Shadows. She was dancing with the shadows.
They swirled around her, and seemed to support her, lift her into the air. When she opened her eyes, they were not warm and amber -- they were pure obsidian black, the irises as deep a purple as a nebula in the night sky. The shadows sifted around her paws, and every way she swung, her lashing tail left a dark, disappearing stain in the clear air.
Then suddenly she dropped to the ground. The swirling shadows let go of my mother's dark form, and she stood there, suddenly sagging and crestfallen, her head pointed toward the earth. Then she opened her eyes, and they were amber again, yet the sadness had vanished. I saw my old mother, one who was happy and blissful, a cat who was excited to wake up each morning and live life to its fullest.
And then her eyes locked on me.
"G-Grayfeather?" I stammered. I hadn't wanted to ruin her peace. She had looked amazing the the pure darkness, she had looked happy. My mother -- my mother had been happy.
Pain and weariness poured into her eyes, and at the very bottom, the intense sadness. Along with that came the disgust, a disgust for life and all the evil cats within it.
"Freaks. They think we are freaks."
And I never saw my mother again.
Holding back a sob, I looked back at the colossal tree. It didn't look so happy, so perfect anymore. The twisting branches look sinister, the tree casting dark shadows on the ground. My eyes blinked and suddenly there were cats there, clawing and tearing at each other, spilling crimson blood onto the dry ground.
Too much. Too much had happened.
I could never return here. The pain always came back, and in the end it would always succeed. I turned and ran.
"Where've you been?" Frostpaw asked as I settled down beside her to share tongues.
"Oh, you know—out," I replied casually, knowing it would far from convince Frostpaw. She knew me inside and out—there was no hiding things from her.
"Where?" she asked again.
I cringed. "I just told you," I mewed. "Hunting. Taking a walk. Out."
She rolled her eyes. "I know that's not true. Please, I want to know what's wrong. You've been acting so strange all of a sudden."
All of a sudden? I thought. Maybe Frostpaw doesn't know me that well after all.
I sighed. "I miss her," I murmured truthfully. "And I feel so out of place here. You all have some sort of work to do—I feel left out when I can't really contribute to the Clan."
"Graypaw," Frostpaw mewed severely, "don't talk like that. Go ask Vinestar if you're bored, and don't mope around like this. It's not good for you."
"Thanks, Mom," I muttered.
"And eat your food!"
I rolled my eyes and took a bite of the mouse lying in front of me. "And on that note. I am really wondering about the ice. You said another one fell when I was out?
Frostpaw laughed. "You should have seen what Blazecloud did when it nearly impaled Icestorm."
I gasped. "What did he do?"
"He completely melted it with this gigantic cloud of heat and everyone was staring at him!" Frostpaw giggled. I knew she was exaggerating but it was fun to listen to her version of stories once in a while. "You know he has a sweet spot for Icestorm."
I laughed. "That old bat? She certainly doesn't have a sweet spot for me!"
Just then Icestorm walked briskly in, and eyed me with a cold gaze. "Frostpaw, hunting."
Frostpaw gave me a cheery little wave and ran outside to wait for her mentor.
"And which 'old bat' would you be referring to, flea-brain?" Icestorm questioned coolly, her face placid.
I crouched. "N-no one," I murmured. I was shocked that a grown warrior would stoop so low as to call a young apprentice such a rude, childish name as "flea-brain". And I realized that she had sent Frostpaw out so she could call me the rude name without any witnesses.
"Annoying little scrap," she muttered. "If I was in charge around here, you'd be booted all the way to the Starry Lands by now." Then she whirled and quick-stepped away.
Dusk was falling, and the air was growing comfortably cool. With no proper mentor to take me out, most times I lay in my nest, silently waiting for the deputy, Riverfern, to order me about, or one of the warriors to get annoyed enough with me to put me on a task.
I wandered up to Creekheart, who was patching up the warriors' den. Creekheart, like the rest of the Clan, didn't like me very much, but since she was Frostpaw's mother relented a little and treated me with moral respect.
"Um, not really," she mewed. "Go visit Riverfern, maybe you can go out and hunt or something."
I headed to the leader's den, hoping it was the right place to look, and took noisy steps so Vinestar would know I was there.
"Come in," he called from inside. I walked in. Vinestar gave me a smile, but Riverfern gave me the complete opposite.
"Hi, Riverfern," I greeted. "I was wondering if you had something for me to do?"
"Go hunt," she offered, a little bit annoyed. "You're an apprentice. You can do that, you know." A little bit hurt, I forced a smile and backed out of the den. Right. Time to hunt.
I trotted with high steps out of the clearing, trying to look unbothered. I still lived life with all of the bullies surrounding me, didn't I? Maybe it wasn't something needed, but I could survive one little conflict, even if it was with the Clan deputy. But Icestorm is something else entirely. I don't think I can even live with her around.
Something scurried about under foliage to my left. Dropping into the hunters' crouch I had, more or less, taught myself by observing the former apprentices, Leafwhisker and Tricklefur, I crouched and bunched the muscles in my haunches, readying for the leap.
Pounce! I landed squarely on the mouse, devouring a moment of victory I rarely felt in the cold place I called home, and killed it with a swift bite to its neck.
"Nice catch," someone congratulated me from behind. I knew who it was; I stooped to pick up my mouse and turned to face Firepaw.
"Thanks," I replied cheerily. "Icestorm really took it out on me today." I paused, waiting for Firepaw to interject with comments on Icestorm's stupidity and how she should keep her bum where it belonged -- Graypaw rarely contributed with comments like those, but secretly she laughed when she heard them.
But Firepaw shook his head, his eyes wide, and motioned across his throat with a claw. I saw a flash of white behind two clumps of ferns.
Right. Icestorm was spying on us.
"Icestorm means the best, however," I continued, giving a weak smile. "She's a strong warrior and I'm sure she knows much more than I do. She can teach me a lot more than I'll ever learn."
The loud rustling that Icestorm was trying "hard" not to let them hear disappeared, and Graypaw relaxed. "Seriously, why do you and Frostpaw let her invade your privacy like that?" I muttered.
"There's nothing I can do," Firepaw replied, rolling his eyes. "I guess I'm on free time now. D'you want to go hunting or go find Frostpaw?"
"Probably find Frostpaw," I answered. "She was worried sick for me because I was 'moping around'. And besides, I've just gone hunting."
Firepaw snorted. "Right, and she took a toll on your for not finishing your food, didn't she?"
I looked genuinely impressed. "Actually, yes. How'd you know?"
He rolled his eyes. "That's our Frostpaw. She's over by the training clearing, let's go."
We walked together to the training hollow, Firepaw always a pace ahead of me. We finally reached the sandy clearing, where Icestorm was drilling Frostpaw on techniques. Frostpaw was concentrating hard, her pretty blue eyes closed, her paws poised in the air in front of her.
"What is she doing?" I whispered to Firepaw.
"I don't know," Firepaw whispered back. "She's much more advanced than us. She told me she was 'channeling power through her mind' or something of that sort. Okay, she's done."
Icestorm excused her from the training hollow. and Frostpaw trotted over to us cheerfully.
"What's that?" I asked her suddenly.
"What?" she asked. "Oh, channeling the power? That's what Icestorm calls it, but she likes to be extravagant. It's basically concentrating your mind before you do drills, to get the most of the power."
"Oh," I replied disappointed. "Want to go back to camp? Firepaw and I are going."
"Nah, Icestorm's set me on hunting after training," Frostpaw declined dejectedly. "You guys go ahead."
"No, Firepaw, you can go. I'll come hunting with Frostpaw." Firepaw nodded and set on his way toward camp.
"Where do you want to go?" I asked Frostpaw. "Near Starlingpines?"
"Sure," Frostpaw agreed. We left the training clearing and headed for the tall pine trees usually containing a few flocks of starlings. We padded in comfortable silence, not speaking because there wasn't anything to be said.
Neither Frostpaw nor I was looking where we were going, and we ended up along a sandy beach, rimmed with tall trees and facing a small lake.
"How are things?" Frostpaw finally asked casually. "Anything going on lately?"
"Nothing," I sighed. Sensing my depressed attitude, she stayed silent and let me think. We sat in silence for a moment, looking over the water. The sun was going down, sending rays of flame shooting over the sky.
"What's it like?" I asked.
"What's what like?"
"Channeling the power," I replied. "Does it make you feel...powerful?"
"Oh, yes," Frostpaw breathed excitedly. "It makes you feel like you can see and hear everything...but it also reminds you of how large the world is really, y'know?" She chewed her lip. "In that sense it makes you feel how insignificant you really are. I don't like doing it much."
"Do you think I'll ever be able to do that?" I whispered.
"Yes," she replied firmly, without a trace of doubt in her eyes. "Someday, you'll find a shadow-caster like yourself and they'll teach you everything. You may even become a shadow yourself!" she ended jokingly.
I purred. "I hope that someday is soon," I murmured. "I want to be able to do something."
"Graypaw, you can still do things," she replied. "While you wait for that cat, you can still serve the Clan by hunting well and learning to fight your best without Elemental abilities."
I sighed. "If only it were as easy as you're saying it to be."
Frostpaw rolled her eyes. "Stop moping around--"
"--and finish your food, I know," I cut her off playfully. "Let's go back to camp. Maybe another spike has fallen into camp, and Blazecloud is going moony-eyed over Icestorm again!"
Frostpaw laughed. "I'd like to see that again!" Cheered up, we headed back to camp as dusk broke out over the sky, and night took over.
Frostpaw and I returned to the camp, and Frostpaw and Firepaw settled down beside me in the nearly empty apprentice's den. We had exchanged our stories of the day until we we worn out enough to go to bed.
Their eyes were tightly closed from their weary day of training and hunting, but I was still wide awake. Every night my mind goes back to the dark memories of the night she left. Every time the sky went dark, I felt as if I were reliving the memories again. If only I could go back in time, and know that my mother was going to leave, and I could hold her and never let go...
Eventually my eyes closed into a fitful sleep. I dreamed. But this time it wasn't of the night of my mother's disappearance.
I blinked my eyes open and found myself in a field of soft grass, daisies popping out in sprigs between clumps of the green feathery grass. The sky was dark - night had fallen - but the world still glowed, as if the light were coming from beneath my paws.
"Hello, Graypaw," a voice called from behind me.
I whipped around and stared as a beautiful white she-cat with luminous blue eyes walked up the slope behind me. Her body, her essence, seemed to emit light, and the way she walked with her head tilted toward the sky regally gave her an aura of importance. The she-cat's head was adjorned with beautiful white crystals that caught light and relayed it as a spectrum of colors.
I stepped back, a little wary. "W-who are you?" I wondered out loud.
She let out a purr and dipped her head. "I am Cold," she mewed, her voice ringing harmomiously in the space around them.
"Cold," I whispered. "The Cold? You're an Empyreal?" My eyes rounded in shock and respect. I proceeded in crouching with my ears brushing the grass in front of me, but Cold shook her head and guided my chin back up with her paw.
"You need not pay your respects," Cold told me. "After you heed to message we bring, we shall be the ones respecting you."
"W-what?" I murmured, my eyes glazed over. I could hardly believe I was seeing an Empyreal cat right in front of me. Frost would never believe me if I told her I had seen her division's leader.
"Wake up, Graypaw," Cold mewed, urgency seeping into her voice. "I have not much time. You and your camp will awake soon. Listen carefully."
I nodded, snapped out of my trance, and gazed seriously at the white she-cat.
"The claws of ice that have brought terror to your campmates," Cold began. "Do you know where they come from?"
I shook my head. "No."
"They come from afar." Cold leaned closer. "She sends them."
"Who?" I asked, confused. "How can she send them if she is far away?"
"She is in my Elemental division," Cold breathed. "She has the power to sweep you and your campmates off your paws."
"She has Elemental abilities?" I echoes, shocked. "But that's impossible! All the Elemental cats who exist live in the camp."
"No they don't!" Cold snapped at me. "It is time your leader and his cats wake up. They are all over the world! There are more camps like yours. There are more loners and rogues who have these abilities, even kittypets who don't realize the potential power they hold!" She hesitated, and her voice dropped down to a whisper. "She doesn't know her limit. You must stop her before she takes it too far."
Confusion drew into my head and was audible in my voice. "But where is she?" I asked. "Where are the rest of the Empyreal cats?"
She shook her head. Nervousness battled in her eyes, and she bit her lip while glancing back. "They do not know I am visiting you," she replied quickly. She shook her head. "You must hurry: you will see how much worse the conditions have gotten soon enough. I must take my leave now. You have to defeat her!" Cold, powdery flakes started whipping around us like a hurricane, and I struggled to see anything through the thick white wall the snow created.
"Wait!" I yelled over the roar of the snowstorm. "Where is she?"
The white she-cat blended into the storm so well that I lost sight of her. Or maybe she's disappeared. "Follow the clues!" her voice echoed back from somewhere above me, or everywhere at once. It was hard to tell over the noise of the whipping snow. Then, before I could get any of the scouring questions in my head answered, my vision turned black and my senses went numb.
I awoke to screaming sounding from outside.
Blinking my eyes open, I tried to get up, but my limbs were stiff with cold. I looked down and gaped when I saw that snow encircled my nest in heaps. But it's still springtime! Where did it come from?
With a jolt I remembered my crazy conversation with Cold herself. Glancing to my side, I saw Firepaw and Frostpaw stil sound asleep. Shaking out my fur, I stepped tenderly over the snow and peeked out of the apprentice's den to see who was in trouble.
I saw a blue-gray she-cat standing outside, her paw poised over a sharp shard of ice sticking out of the ground. The camp was still asleep, not awakened by her terrified wail, but her eyes were wide open and filled with shock.
"Dewfur!" I hissed, gingerly stepping over the clearing. I realized, with sinking horror, that the camp's clearing was filled with five or six more of the giant chunks of ice, which had rained down overnight.
The she-cat turned to me, momentarily forgetting her awkwardeness with a shadow-caster, and gasped, "I was on guard and I didn't see it coming!"
"When did the other ones fall?" I whispered to her. "Did you see them?"
She nodded mutely. "Of course. They struck at the center of the camp, blocking my way to Vinestar's den, and I didn't see the point in alarming the camp because they stopped falling after midnight or so." She glanced back at the ice towering her. "And this came and nearly struck me. I didn't even see it coming!"
The ivy tendrils covering Vinestar's den parted and Vinestar slid out, his fur bedraggled and dark bags under his eyes. "Dewfur?" he mewed, his voice cracking with tiredness. All the weariness was chased out of his mew and his eyes widened as he gazed at the damage dealt overnight. "Why didn't you warn us?" he hissed.
Dewfur's eyes rounded and she did not try to defend herself, so I stepped in. "Dewfur didn't think it was worth waking the camp up for it, since the ice spikes only struck the center of camp and stopped after a few minutes."
Dewfur seemed to finally remember I was still there and realize who I was. Her eyes narrowed and she nodded stiffly.
Vinestar nodded, though still looking perplexed, and regained his calm and sensible attitude. "Graypaw, go back to your den," Vinestar instructed me. "Dewfur, please go back to your post. I'm going into the forest for a look around before coming back." I decided not to argue and went back to my den, my eyes closing almost instantly. My weariness captivated me, and I felt asleep among the soft snores of Firepaw.
There were icicles in my nest by the time I woke up. I sat up and stretched until my whiskers quivered, and then stiffened.
The whole den was covered in icicles.
I hastily shot a glance at Frostpaw and Firepaw's nests. They were empty. "Frostpaw! Firepaw!" I hissed, frightened. Where were they?
"Over here," I heard Frostpaw's hiss from the den entrance. Her nose was blue with cold, and her legs were shaking with the extreme chill of the ice. I went to join her and Firepaw. "Check it out," she breathed.
Outside was a hurricane of snow, wiping out everything visible. The blizzard obscured everything in vision, until I could not see past a whisker in front of my foot. I almost choked in horror and tripped over my tail, landing on my back on the den floor.
"Graypaw!" Frostpaw hurried over to me and helped me up. "What's wrong?"
You will see how much worse the conditions have gotten soon enough.
"Cold," I gasped, shivering, and almost lost my balance again. "Cold, cold, cold."
"Yes, we know you're cold," Frostpaw replied worriedly. She shot a glance at Firepaw. "Warm her up! I think she's freezing to death!"
Firepaw shook his head, terror shooting through his gaze. "I can't!" he hissed through clenched teeth. "Don't you think I've tried? I just can't; whenever I try to use my abilities they freeze up!"
"I-I'm okay," I breathed. The cold was seeping into my bones, and my whiskers were stiff with the building frost on them. "It's fine..." Cold warned me!
"Should we get Echomist?" Firepaw asked me, concern seeping into his gaze. "I can go--"
"No!" I hissed. "Look at that snow! You'll freeze to death in heartbeats. We'll just have to try our best to stay warm until the snow eases away." As I got out my words, an ear-nipping breeze rushed into the den, blasting me with its chill.
Then it hit me. Dewfur...Vinestar!
"Hold on, I've got to go out there!" I gasped, struggling through Firepaw and Frostpaw's grip as they tried to hold me back.
"What?" Firepaw argued. "You just said we'd freeze to death if we went out there!"
"Dewfur was on guard," I whispered, frightened. "I woke up before both of you. An ice spike nearly hit her, and she screamed in panic. Vinestar and I woke up and went to see what was wrong, and then Vinestar told her to keep guard while he took a look in the forest." I shivered. "I need to see if they're still..." My voice ebbed away. I couldn't bring myself to say alive.
Frost nodded. "We have to make sure they're safe," she told Firepaw.
"We?" I protested. "You guys can't come. It's not safe--"
"Not safe?" Firepaw hissed. "I'm from the Fire division, and Frostpaw literally lives in the cold. I think we're suited for this weather." He laughed a little. "I think it's you who's going to be in danger."
I nodded, understanding. "One...two...three..." We plunged into the blinding white blizzard.