Episode Two, Season Two, of Solitary.
Padding through the forest, the sun dappling the ground around me, I couldn’t help but marvel at the peace that had been brought upon the forest since the battle. It was nice to be alone after the battle, but it wasn’t the same as before.
Before the battle, before the Clan cats arrived, I thought, I was truly solitary. Now, as the Clan cats have come, and fellow rogues have caused problems, I was forced away. I do admit, it’s nice to be alone – but I don’t want to stay this way forever.
Today, I had ventured away from my den farther than I had been since the battle. I was on the far side of the territories, on ForestClan’s side – so I was taking a big risk. Flame’s and Oak’s rogue groups were nearby, and if they saw me, they would definitely be hostile.
I’d better not get in their way. Otherwise, that will be the end of me.
“Is that you, Wisp?” I heard a soft voice calling my name. A bright ginger she-cat poked her head out from behind a large birch tree. “I haven’t seen you since the battle.”
At first, I was alarmed, but as soon as I recognized her, I calmed down. This was only Scorch – a fellow rogue who was on no side. Green eyes burned into me as Scorch stared at me, and I resisted the urge to move away.
“Yes, it’s me,” I sighed, as Scorch continued to stare. “And you’re right – I haven’t been here since the battles. I’ve just needed time to clear my head, I suppose.”
Scorch had continued to stare at me as I spoke, and only after I had finished speaking did she look away. “How are the Clans?” she whispered, so softly so that only I could hear. “Have you seen them?”
I gave a small nod. “I saw some TreeClan cats a few sunrises ago. They seemed fine,” I mewed. “No problems, as far as I could see.”
At once, I saw Scorch jump to her paws. She looked alarmed, and I wondered if I’d done something to alarm her. “Scorch, I -” I began, before Scorch sent a furious green gaze over in my direction, silencing me at once.
“They didn’t tell you everything,” Scorch mewed quietly, dropping her gaze.
Not telling me everything? I didn’t believe what Scorch had said, couldn’t believe what she said. It was impossible that the Clan cats wouldn’t tell me everything – they trusted me, even though I wasn’t one of them. What were they hiding from me?
“The Clans’ struggles aren’t over yet,” Scorch continued, jolting me out of her thoughts. Her eyes seemed darker than I had ever seen them before. “They have problems. I heard a ForestClan patrol talking about it the other day. It affects both Clans, apparently. I’m surprised they didn’t tell you.”
“Didn’t tell me what?” I gasped out. Scorch wouldn’t lie about something like that, I was sure.
Scorch just gave me one long look. “You’ll have to find out yourself,” she mewed, as my ginger sister turned and slipped away between two trees. Before I knew it, Scorch was gone.
Well, that soured quickly, I thought bitterly, as I stomped away from where I had seen Scorch. Tonight, I would head back along the ForestClan border, and hope for any ideas of what Scorch had said, because I had no idea.
Obviously there’s more to the Clans than what meets the eye, I thought wryly.
After checking to make sure Oak and his rogue group were not snooping around their hunting grounds, I snuck past quickly, sighing with relief when I got past unseen. Those cats there would still be angry with me – I killed one of their leaders, Raven, in the battle that occurred just under half a moon ago.
Now I returned to my den – which was fairly close to the TreeClan border, ForestClan’s was further away – along the ForestClan border, which was slowly turning stale. I wouldn’t be surprised if a patrol turned up soon to remark the border.
Up ahead, I shivered. I saw a shadowy figure in the distance – more than one cat, all along the ForestClan border. It seemed to freeze as I got close, and then I heard voices:
“Is that Wisp? The rogue who helped us beat those cats that attacked us?”
“It looks like him. He was the one who defeated that black cat in the battle, remember?”
“He helped Swallowwing. He attacked that dark tabby rogue that was pinning her down. Who knows, our deputy could have been killed otherwise!”
All the time while the ForestClan cats talked between themselves, I continued to approach them, slowly but surely. Soon enough, I was so close to the patrol that they could see me clearly.
The cats at the patrol’s head – a small brown tabby tom – growled at me with narrowed eyes, and I understood his hostility. He was Smallstripe – and I knew he was still unappreciative of the fact that I wandered onto his territory, and we attacked each other. I had gained scars from that battle – and he had too – seeing the long scar on his back that I inflicted on him.
“Just so you know,” Smallstripe added, “that is Wisp, if you haven’t noticed.” The patrol looked shocked at Smallstripe’s hostility, but he went on: “Ask him questions for all I care.” He stepped back, and let the other ForestClan cats approach.
I narrowed my eyes at Smallstripe. Will you ever forgive me for what I have done before, I thought, exasperated.
“I’m Havenstrike,” introduced a black-and-white she-cat with amber eyes. She stepped forward, surveying me with narrowed eyes. Three other cats were behind her – a tortoiseshell she-cat, a black tom, and a hostile Smallstripe who seemed uninterested.
So that’s the she-cat that led Smallstripe off track, I thought. She was the she-cat who sparked the trespass beside my den.
The tortoiseshell just nodded at me quietly, but the black tom just stared at me, obviously confused. “I thought the Clans were hostile to rogues,” he mumbled.
“Not to him,” Smallstripe grunted dismissively.
I wanted to clout Smallstripe over the ears, but I didn’t. It wasn’t worth the risk. Besides, I didn’t need to war with the brown tom again.
“Never mind Smallstripe, he’s as grumpy as a badger.” Havenstrike spoke again, addressing me. “By the way, that cat who just asked that question about rogues is Pouncestep. He joined us recently – he said that he’s from that group of cats outside ForestClan, but he says he’s cut his ties with them.”
At this, Pouncestep gave a little jump, and I narrowed my eyes. I didn’t quite believe what Havenstrike had said. Changing the subject, I mewed: “How’s ForestClan?”
“We’re recovering,” Smallstripe growled at me, refusing to lift his gaze. “Most of our cats have been healed – there’s still two getting healed who got serious injuries.”
“Our troubles aren’t over yet, though,” Havenstrike added, cutting Smallstripe off. “We need to find a –”
‘Don’t mention it, Havenstrike,” Smallstripe interrupted. “Don’t tell him that we need a Gathering place.”
“You just did,” Havenstrike mewed gleefully, moving over to Smallstripe and whacking him with her white-tipped black tail.
A Gathering place? At first I was confused, but then I remembered. Oh… that’s what the Clan cats were doing last full moon.
At that moment, I heard Smallstripe start to curse under his breath. The tortoiseshell in the group looked offended by the words the brown tom said: Pouncestep still looked jumpy as the black tom shot a shocked look at his Clanmate. Havenstrike sighed, gave a sorrowful look at me, and then turned to Smallstripe. “Smallstripe,” Havenstrike mewed, “if you don’t stop this now I’ll report you to Whitestar.” For once, her voice was serious.
At once, Smallstripe stopped speaking, and shot a furious look at Havenstrike. “I’m just frustrated that I let out the secret,” he murmured defensively, his amber eyes blazing with fury.
“That still doesn’t explain your actions,” Havenstrike murmured softly. The black-and-white she-cat turned to me, and dipped our head. “We’d best be going now; we have a patrol to finish. I’ll tell Whitestar that I saw you.”
I gave a small nod: I knew that the ForestClan cats didn’t have much time to talk, but it was nice to see them again after the battle. “I’d be honored. May StarClan light your path, all of you.”
Havenstrike nodded at me, and I noticed that the tortoiseshell she-cat did the same. “And yours,” Havenstrike replied, green eyes shining. Then she flicked her tail at her patrol, and they followed her into the depths of ForestClan territory. I watched them go, until I could see them no more, then I, too, left the place where we had discussed with one another.
What’s the problem with their Gathering place? I thought. And at that moment, I remembered what I had heard the previous Gathering, and I finally understood why.
It was only temporary. They need a permanent place. Their problem is evident.
A silver moon was high in the sky, dappling light on the ground as I crept through the forest. When the silver light met my pale gray fur, it flared up and made it silver in itself. My focus was not on the moon, however – it was seeing this Clan cats’ gathering. The talk with ForestClan had sparked up much curiosity. Unlike my first thoughts, it now seemed to me that the Gathering was not a threat – it was a talk between the two Clans, about things that concerned them. It was not my place to mess with them.
Tonight, I could change that, I thought wryly, as I continued to move through the undergrowth. I won’t be surprised if Hawkstar and Whitestar talk about the Gathering place tonight.
I tasted the air, and I could smell catscent ahead of me. I knew that this was no rogue scent – I had smelt this regularly since the Clans came to the forest. This was TreeClan and ForestClan scent. I realized I must be near the border.
Narrowing my eyes, I slowed down, and got closer. I could smell fresh ForestClan scent – they must have already arrived. TreeClan’s scent was less so – they mustn’t be here yet. Quickly, I turned to the nearest tree, and, as I unsheathed my claws, I leapt onto its bark.
I clawed my way up the tree, sometimes struggling to find a grip. Eventually, I reached a sturdy branch, and stepped onto it lightly. I looked down to see what was below me.
By now, TreeClan had arrived, their cats spread out in an arc behind Hawkstar, their leader. To one side, the deputy, Kestrelfeather, stood, and on the other was a wiry tom – the medicine cat, Woollyfur.
ForestClan’s cats were more in groups, huddled together in discussion. Their leader, Whitestar, stood at the head on his own.
Hawkstar shot her head back at her group of cats, and then she turned to Whitestar. As the black leader nodded, Hawkstar padded forward, and yowled: “Cats of the two Clans!”
At once, every cat at the border fell silent. The ForestClan cats got out of their groups, and stood facing the TreeClan cats with stony gazes. The TreeClan cats did the same back at them.
Up in my branch, I was starting to shake. What were the Clan cats going to discuss? Was it going to be about the Gathering place?
Whitestar stepped forward, his limp white leg dragging behind him. Addressing everyone, he began: “Welcome to this Gathering, cats from the two Clans. Before we move on to our Clans’ reports, though, I’d like to discuss something.”
Oh, what a surprise, I thought sarcastically, shooting a glance at Whitestar from my place up in the tree. You’re going to talk about the Gathering place, genius.
“Is it about the Gathering place?” called a dark tom from the ForestClan side. His black tabby fur was spiking out at all angles as he rose to his paws.
Whitestar shot a look at the black warrior that had spoken, and then he turned back to Hawkstar. “As Gorsetuft just mentioned,” he mewed sourly, “we need to find a permanent Gathering place for us all.”
Hawkstar gave a small nod. “True,” the brown tabby agreed. “But how, Whitestar? There are many places we can hold a Gathering – but we only need one. The border is unsuitable – it makes us vulnerable.”
“I was thinking of sending some our cats in a large group around the territories,” Whitestar sniffed. “Three cats per Clan. What do you say?”
For a moment, I was shaking so rapidly on the branch that I had to place a paw on the actual tree trunk to stop myself. They were going to go with the plan to find a Gathering place. And inside me, I felt a strange desire to help.
Hawkstar nodded. “Very well: I’ll choose my cats now. I choose Molefrost, Waterfall, and Cinderfire from TreeClan.”
Cinderfire! At the mention of the thickset gray she-cat’s name, my stomach lurched. Hawkstar trusted her enough to send her on this mission?
Whitestar was nodding slowly. He then turned his head towards his warriors, and called: “I choose Tawnydapple, Pouncestep, and Gorsetuft to represent ForestClan.”
At once, my eyes narrowed. I didn’t trust Pouncestep, not after his actions on that ForestClan patrol. Without thinking, I started to scrabble noisily down the tree.
As I reached the bottom, there was silence from the Clan cats. Then I heard a voice say: “What was that?”
“Probably just another squirrel searching for nuts,” sniffed another.
“Who cares?” added a third. “Weren’t we here to talk about the Gathering place, not just some stupid squirrel that’s looking for nuts?”
I felt insulted by their words. How dare they call me a squirrel!
Once again, without thinking, my paws carried me to the border. As I reached it – which wasn’t far – I saw many cats staring at me.
“Wisp?” asked Hawkstar, as the brown she-cat turned to stare at me, amber eyes wide. “What are you doing here?”
I dipped my head to Hawkstar as she spoke to me. “I can help your cause, if you will let me,” I said without thinking, not realizing what I was doing.
Only after I said it did I realize what it really meant.
What have I done?