This is the first book in the Seasons Series.

HollyClan Allegiances

Leader: Moonstar silvery blue she-cat w/ gray eyes
Deputy: Swiftthrush brown tabby she-cat w/ white paws
Medicine Cat: Weedwhisker ginger tabby tom, golden eyes Apprentice: Scarletpaw
Violetbloom smoky gray-and-white she-cat
Starleap white she-cat w/ dazzling blue eyes Apprentice: Foxpaw
Burrfoot large tom w/ tufty brown fur
Twirltail silver she-cat; hazel eyes
Larkspring black she-cat w/ white chest, green eyes
Dustybriar dusty brown she-cat; bright blue eyes
Glidewings silver tabby tom; agile body Apprentice: Autumnpaw
Pouncefoot black-and-white tom, intelligent green eyes
Snowcloud fluffy white-and-gray she-cat
Furlmoss tortoishell she-cat w/ bright amber eyes
Talonswoop large brown tabby tom Apprentice: Flamepaw
Petalfur gray she-cat w/ gentle violet eyes
Whispernose ginger tabby-and-white she-cat(Kits: Shortkit, Nightkit, Mousekit)
Autumnpaw deep, blood-red she-cat w/ keen golden eyes
Scarletpaw red she-cat; smoky gray-brown eyes
Foxpaw bright ginger tabby tom w/ white-tipped tail & paws; glowing green eyes
Flamepaw long-furred pale ginger tom, light blue eyes
Blizzardmoon gray-and-white tom w/ white patch on forehead

BirchClan Allegiances

Leader: Hazelstar dusky broad-shouldered brown tom
Deputy: Clearfrost silver-white she-cat w/ dainty gray paws
Medicine Cat: Saturnleap fiery orange she-cat; glowing yellow eyes Apprentice: Briarpaw
Swiftgrass speckled gray-and-black tom
Longpelt brown tom w/ gray muzzle
Blackbird slender black she-cat; blue eyes
Thrustleap sleek black tom; blue eyes
Stormyweave tortoishell she-cat w/ cloudy blue eyes
Springlegs black-and-white she-cat, clever green eyes
Thriftwings small long-furred light gray she-cat w/ yellow eyes
Violetdust dusky gray she-cat
Tallbloom long-legged black she-cat w/ white-tipped tail and paws(Kits: Rosekit, Bloomkit)
Chaserpaw black tom; green eyes
Briarpaw small brown she-cat w/ white chest
Stonebelly muscular slate-gray tom; always hungry

Chapter One- Scarletpaw

"Scarletpaw!" My head jerks up and I find myself looking into Weedwhisker's golden eyes. "That's borage! Why are you putting it with the marigold?"

I glance at the crumpled flowery plant in my paws. "Sorry," I mutter. "I was daydreaming." I quickly slip the herb into its own niche.

"That's okay," my mentor soothes. He sweeps his tail along my red-furred flank. "We've been working since sun-high. Go help yourself to some fresh-kill, and bring me back a mouse if you can."

"Thanks Weedwhisker." I touch my nose to his cheek and trot out of the shady alcove where the medicine cat's den is and into the hustle and bustle of HollyClan's camp. Our camp is situated in a small, deep valley. It is flanked by solid, sandy wallls on all sides. There is a path out, a place where it isn't as steep. At the top of the valley are many thick bushes, sheltering us, except a small gap up the path. The fresh-kill pile is near the warrior's den, which is a large overhanging rock that juts out the side of the valley walls.

The apprentices sleep under a thick bush, the elders in a sandy pit in the most sheltered part of our den, and Moonstar, our leader, has a den in a cave a little ways up the wall. A rock ledge hangs out the mouth, and that's where she addresses the Clan.

I pad towards the fresh-kill pile, my mouth watering at the scent of prey, a welcome relief after the herby cloud in the medicine cat's den. No one else is eating, so I help myself to a large shrew. There's only a little prey left, but Talonswoop, one of the senior warriors, and my brother Flamepaw's mentor, has just taken out a hunting patrol.

After eating, I drop by my den with a mouse for Weedwhisker, and then head towards the Sand Pit. It's a shallow scoop, not as deep as the elder's den, where us apprentices like to play. True, since I'm the medicine cat's apprentice, I don't hang out there as much, but I still enjoy watching.

Foxpaw and Autumnpaw, my other two siblings, are rolling around. Autumnpaw is winning. Her dark red coat gleams in the early leaf-fall light as she wrestles our brother into the dust.

"Hi guys," I meow. Autumnpaw looks up, giving Foxpaw a chance to throw her off of him. They both turn to me, their flanks heaving.

"Hi Scarletpaw. Where have you been all day?" Autumnpaw asks. Out of us two sisters, Autumnpaw is the more outgoing, pretty, friendly she-cat. Toms go crazy for her light personality, deep blood-red coat, and clever golden eyes. I'm more of an in-the-back cat, but that's okay. I'm going to be a medicine cat anyways.

"I've been helping Weedwhisker sort out herbs. We need to be well-stocked for leaf-bare."

"Oh, cool," Foxpaw says, though he doesn't sound very enthusiastic. "Starleap took me out for a private fighting lesson. She's so awesome."

Autumnpaw and I roll our eyes. We both know Foxpaw is infatuated with his silvery-white mentor. He thinks anything she says is law. Foxpaw's green eyes narrow when he realizes what we are thinking, and with a laugh, he barrels both of us over. "As if!"

While I get the breath back in me, Autumnpaw simply leaps to her paws, perky as ever. "You know it's true." She staggers about the Sand Pit, a moony look in her eyes. "Oh Starleap, I'm just a worthless apprentice, but I'll never love anyone but-"

Foxpaw knocks her onto her back and pummels her belly, chanting, "Take it back, take it back!"

I smile and turn to leave. I know this is just fun, but it reminds me of the reason I chose to become a medicine cat. I want to serve my clan, but the thought of unsheathing my claws and hurting another cat gives me the shivers.

Just then, a rock falls to my paws. Four cats are skidding down the side of the valley; the evening hunting patrol. Talonswoop and Flamepaw land beside me and streak toward Moonstar's den. Seconds later, Dustybriar and Furlmoss follow.

"What's wrong?" I cry.

Dustybriar stops, her bright blue eyes filled with worry. "There are Twolegs with giant yellow monsters inside our territory!"

My heart stops. "What? They never leave the Thunderpath." By now, other HollyClan cats have gathered around to see what the commotion is about. Talonswoop is standing on the ledge talking with Moonstar and Swiftthrush, our deputy. Flamepaw waits below.

Foxpaw and Autumnpaw walk towards me, and I quickly repeat what Dustybriar told me. They look shocked, but before they can say anything, Moonstar is calling the clan together.

The few remaining cats emerge. Blizzardmoon sticks his gray-and-white head out of the pit and walks over, while Petalfur, her gray belly plump with unborn kits, helps Whispernose herd Shortkit, Nightkit, and Mousekit out of the nursery.

"Cats of HollyClan." Moonstar's clear voice rings out across the valley, and the clan falls silent. "Our hunting patrol reports that Twolegs, operating large yellow monsters, drove off the Thunderpath and onto our territory. They are lying in the clearing on the western border, taking up valuable hunting space." She waits for the yowls of shock and fear to die down before continuing. "From now on, no cat is to leave camp alone, especially not apprentices. Petalfur, Whispernose, watch the kits closely. I will post two guards at night, and every cat needs to be on the look out. Tomorrow, I will send a patrol to go check on the monsters. That is all. There is no need to be too afraid, our warriors will take on this new challenge with joy." She turnsand vanishes into the den with Swiftthrush.

I don't know what to think. I hear a scared whimper and turn to look into Mousekit's wide yellow eyes. We used to be best friends when we both lived in the nursery, and I wrap my tail around her. "Don't worry Mousekit. The Twolegs are just being crazy as ever. They won't hurt our clan." I speak with more confidence than I have.

Mousekit sighs. "I really hope so Scarletpaw." Waving a farewell, she follows her brothers into the nursery.

Chapter Two- Flamepaw

Now that the commotion is over, I'm free to lie in peace in my nest and relive the moment. Perhaps my imagination is a little to vivid.

The mouse in front of me scampered away, my first indication that something was wrong, and I remember the rank scent that filled my mouth. I can envision the monster perfectly, it's long black claws poised on the end of a long arm, a Twoleg standing beside it fearlessly, yowling in a strange language.

Shuddering, I push my way out from under the apprentice's bush and head towards my siblings. Foxpaw is chattering excitedly, while Scarletpaw looks on with concerned eyes and Autumnpaw plays with her tail. I grin to myself. My brother and sisters are so predictable.

When you line us up, you can see that our colors correspond perfectly. Autumnpaw is the darkest of us. Next comes sweet little Scarletpaw, with her red coat. Then Foxpaw, bright ginger. And lastly, me. I have thick, and embarrasingly girlish pale ginger fur. Not to mention large conflower blue eyes. People have mistaken me for a she-cat before, even with my broad shoulders and er, fierce disposistion. I do have one, you know.

"What do you think those Twolegs were doing on our territory?" Foxpaw turns to me. His green eyes are sparkling with excitement.

Scarletpaw doesn't look so happy. "What will the clan do without the prey? It's already leaf-fall. We might starve during winter!"

Autumnpaw lays her tail on our sister's flank. "Don't worry. It can't be that serious. But this is a problem. Those Twolegs can't just camp on our territory!"

"And monsters," I add. "That's going to cause even more problems."

"Ha! We'll show any fox-hearted Twolegs who dare to come near our camp." Foxpaw bushes out his tail and growls.

"We may not have a choice." We turn around. My mentor, Talonswoop, is standing there, his amber eyes grave. "Twolegs almost always get what they want. Andhey want our forest."


I'm open my eyes and spring to my paws. I'm not in any place I recognize. In front of me, there's rocky terrain. To my right, there's a large woods, and everywhere else, there's sloping plains like where BirchClan lives.

"Where am I?"

"The four colors of fall must come together and lead the leaves of the birch and holly to a resting place." I whirl around.

"Burnstar?" I gasp in amazement. HollyClan's old leader is walking towards me, her reddish-brown coat glowing and starlight glittering under her paws. Beside her is Jayswoop, our old medicine cat. She gives me a warm smile. "StarClan? Am I..."

"Dead?" chuckles Jayswoop. "No Flamepaw. You are merely dreaming."

"But what do those words mean?" I cry. "Wait!" The two old HollyClan cats are disappearing. The words of the prophecy echo once more, and then I'm back in my nest, my pelt drenched with sweat.

Swiftthrush is standing outside the warriors den. "Pouncefoot, Snowcloud, Larkspring, you'll be on the dawn patrol."

"Okay," Pouncefoot mumbles, yawning. The three cats head out. Autumnpaw is grooming herself outside our den. Her eyes meet mine and they are filled with... what?

"Whoa." Foxpaw is awake now. "I just had-"

"Guys!" Scarletpaw is bounding towards us. "You'll never believe this. StarClan sent me a prophecy. Already. I'm not even a medicine cat yet!"

"I got a prophecy too," Autumnpaw exclaims. Together we repeat, "The four colors of fall must come together and lead the leaves of the birch and holly and resting place."

"What could it mean?"

"Birch and Holly is obviously the two Clans," points out Foxpaw.

"But we don't need a resting place. Do we?"

"Flamepaw, keep your hind legs more tucked beneath you. You're a big cat." Talonswoop is puzzled, and I know he's wondering how I messed up when I've gotten the move perfect the whole week. But the truth is, I'm way too distracted for training. I can't stop thinking about the prophecy.

The practice session ends with Foxpaw in the lead. I'm usually the best fighter, but today, we're all of our game.

Back at camp, Autumnpaw has just come back from a hunting patrol, and drops a fat squirrel and mouse on the fresh-kill pile. Waving her tail to her mentor, Glidewings, she walks over to us. "Hi guys."

"What does it mean?" I blurt out.

Autumnpaw sighs. I know I'm being ridiculous, but I can't stand to not know things. "We don't know Flamepaw. The four colors of fall? What could that possibly mean? Fall has no four colors. All I can think of is red, orange, and yellow."

Foxpaw nods. "All we can do is wait."

Suddenly a warrior comes streaking down the sides of the ravine. Furlmoss skids into the clearing, her eyes wide. "Burrfoot was hurt by a monster!"

Chapter Three- Autumnpaw

"Oh StarClan."

Burrfoot looks terrible. His thick brown fur is matted with dark red blood, and his legs are splayed at an awkward angle. Furlmoss gives a whimper and curls up beside her mate.

"Move away everyone, give us some room." Weedwhisker and Scarletpaw crouch over him. Weedwhisker begins taking out herbs, while Scarletpaw licks away the blood and listens to his chest.

"He's breathing, but it's faint," she reports.

I can feel my heart pounding. It's sickening to see my clanmate like this. "What happened?" I murmur softly.

At first I don't think Furlmoss will answer, she looks so distraught. Then she seems to shake herself. "We were on hunting together. Burrfoot chased a squirrel towards the Thunderpath, but not right near it. We never expected... a giant yellow monster came roaring out of the woods. One of it's paws struck Burrfoot. I think his leg's broken."

Weedwhisker and Scarletpaw have bound Burrfoot's wounds, except for his leg. "We'll have to carry him back to camp," Weedwhisker said. Everyone pick a side, and be careful of his leg. I need to look at it in my den."

I put my shoulder beneath him, trying to ignore the lifeless way his leg hangs in front of me, blood splashing onto the ground. Burrfoot murmurs feverishly, and groans whenever we accidentaly jar him.

By the time we get to camp, I've had all I can take. I'm definitley not cut out to be a medicine cat; seeing a cat in pain paralyzes me. Scarletpaw and Weedwhisker are all buisness though. They take him into their den and start fixing him up. Petalfur, a gently gray queen, comfort Furlmoss, who looks like she's been hit with a mosnter herself.

I head over to Flamepaw and Foxpaw. They both look stricken, and angry. "I can't believe Twolegs have the nerve to intrude our forest and hurt our cats," rants Foxpaw. His tail is all bushed up, and his eyes are wild. "Burrfoot may die, or never be a warrior again. I can't decide which is worse!"

Flamepaw is calmer. "We can't let this happen. We're in danger here."

I stare at him, shocked. "Are you suggesting we move? Flamepaw, that's crazy. This forest is the home of our ancestors. We can't leave!"

Flamepaw's blue eyes are thoughtful. "I've been thinking about that prophecy, guys. A resting place. A new resting place is what it means. And we're the four colors of fall." He holds up a paw before I can object. "Look at us. Autumnpaw, you're the darkest red. Then Scarletpaw, with her bright coat. And Foxpaw, then me. I'm the palest," he said ruefully. "But we're all fall colors. Don't you see? The forest isn't safe anymore. HollyClan and BirchClan need a new home. And it's up to us to lead them to it."

Chapter Four- Foxpaw

I stare dumbly at the silver-blue she-cat in front of me. Who made her leader anyway?

Scarletpaw trys again. "Moonstar, we all recieved the prophecy. I talked it over with Weedwhisker and he agrees too. StarClan is telling us it's time to move."

Moonstar's gray eyes narrow. "Nonsense. Must've been a bad piece of fresh-kill. I am not moving my own clan, let alone BirchClan, when we should be preparing for leaf-bare. This forest has been our home for as long as any of us can remember. Besides, why would StarClan send such an important dream to apprentices?"

I can feel a wave of rage rising in me. Flamepaw steps on my paw, as if he knows I'm about to explode. I do anyway. "What! How can you blame this on a piece of bad fresh-kill? Burnstar and Jayswoop visited us! StarClan warriors! You can't be serious."

Now Moonstar looks angry, but she keeps her voice calm. "You are dismissed," she says curtly. "And I'll hear no more of this. I don't want you stirring up the clan. Twolegs can come and go, but we will not."

I lie in my nest, unable to go to sleep. On either side of me, Flamepaw and Autumnpaw sleep peacefully, their flanks rising and falling evenly. I slip out of the apprentice's den and into the silent hollow. My gaze turns to the moon, a silvery-white crescent suspended in the indigo sky. Somewhere up there, StarClan is watching. Waiting. For my littermates and I to lead both clans to a new home. We don't even know where to go! Suddenly, my normally carefree spirit seems crushed. It's such a huge responsiblity, and I'm absolutley sure I can't do it.

Up above, a single star twinkles, like a special wink just for me. I feel just like that star, small and insignificant among the millions of others. And yet, I've been chosen. And I have to do something.

With a sigh, I head back inside and curl up with my bushy tail around my nose. Maybe StarClan will send me another dream, so I'd better go to sleep.

Chapter Five- Scarletpaw

I glance anxiously at our stocks of herbs. Overhead, the perfect leaf-fall day is coming to a close. A cool breeze plays with my fur and whispers in my ears, bringing with it a sinsister hint of what is to come. The distant roar of Twoleg monsters has ceased for the day. Everyday it gets closer, but Moonstar refuses to believe that we have to leave. It's driving us all nuts, especially Foxpaw.

With a sigh, I put away the last leaves and go into the alcove, where Weedwhisker is finishing a plump vole. "Is something wrong Scarletpaw? You've seemed kind of depressed lately."

I tell my mentor about the prophecy, and how Moonstar wouldn't listen to us. He blinks at me slowly. "I think Moonstar's wrong. The Twolegs are taking over the woods. BirchClan's border hasn't been scent-marked because they're too busy hunting on the little land they have left, and we're not far behind. Burrfoot," he gestured to the tom, who lay asleep in a corner, his leg tightly bandaged, "will probably never be a warrior again."

I nod. "But what can we do about it?"

He looks out at the golden sky. His golden eyes are doubtful. "I just don't know."

I sigh. StarClan thinks we can do something about it. And I really want to prove them right. But I have no idea where to even start. Fighting the urge to curl up like a little kit and wail, I step outside the den and into the camp. Furlmoss is curled into a tight bundle, her eyes scrunched shut. She's been quiet ever since Burrfoot's accident. She looks just like I feel. Lost.

Beside her, Dustybriar talks with Swiftthrush in soft tones. Maybe we should tell Swiftthrush the prophecy, I think to myself. She's the deputy, and she might listen better then Moonstar. She seems to understand that something is going terribly wrong with our home. Maybe she'll do something about it with a little push.

I look around and spy Autumnpaw talking to Mousekit. Deciding to join them, I pad over. "Hey guys."

"Hey Scarletpaw," Mousekit says happily, her blue eyes lighting up. "I was just saying that when I become an apprentice, I'll miss not being able to share a den with you since you have to sleep in the medicine cat's den."

"Aw, thanks," I meow at her. "My loss."

"Oh, there's Shortkit and Nightkit. I better go join them; Whispernose wants us to come back inside the nursery soon." We watch her scamper away, then I turn to my sister.

"Do you think we could tell Swiftthrush about the prophecy? Maybe she would listen. Weedwhisker says he thinks we're in danger too, but Moonstar just isn't paying attention."

Autumnpaw nods slowly. "I think that's a good idea. It's our best shot anyway. Come on, let's go tell Flamepaw and Foxpaw." 

Chapter Six- Flamepaw

I studied my sisters cautiously. Beside me, Foxpaw is nearly hopping with glee. "Let's do it! I'm sick of Moonstar's silleness. She's just an old-"

"Foxpaw!" Scarletpaw says warningly, but there's a gleam in her smoky eyes. "She is our leader after all. We need to respect her, no matter what she chooses."

"Unless she makes the wrong choice that could get us all killed," Autumnpaw says, looking more serious then I've ever seen her. All three of them turn to me, like they always do. As the oldest, I usually have to give the final say on a decision. 

"We need to follow our hearts," I decide. "Let's do it."

"Swiftthrush? Can we have a moment to speak to you?" I venture, trying to keep my tone respectful, though Foxpaw, who is standing next to me, is about to have a seizure. The deputy turns, a tired look on her face, and I wince. Now doesn't look like a good time. But we have to. We have no choice. "Is something wrong?"

"No, no," she says hastily. Then her shoulders sag. "Yes. Violetbloom and Glidewings never came back from their hunting patrol."

Autumnpaw tenses when she hears her mentor's name. "Really? How long has it been?"

"I sent them out in the early afternoon," the deputy says, her tone betraying her worry. "It's evening now, and Glidewings isn't one to be late." Then Swiftthrush seemed to steady herself. "But don't bother yourselves about it. That's why us older warriors are here. Now, what did you want to ask me?"

Scarletpaw looks down at her paws, and Autumnpaw and I exchange glances. All three of us feel bad about heaping more onto her shoulders. It's Foxpaw who speaks up, his green eyes filled with boldness... or cluelessness. I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt and go with bold. "It's an important prophecy concerning HollyClan, and BirchClan. Weedwhisker thinks so too."

She arches an eyebrow, and I can see we have her attention now, so I take over the story. "This is what the prophecy said: The four colors of fall must come together and lead the leaves of the birch and holly to a resting place. We think this means, well, us." 

"How do you come about that?" she inquires dryly. Obviously she doesn't think StarClan would rely on apprentices.

"Our pelts," Scarletpaw explains, gesturing to her red fur. We quickly assemble into a line, starting with Autumnpaw and ending with me. It's not hard to see what we mean with our range of colors all lined up with each other. Swiftthrush's suspiciousness starts to fade away, and she nods once.

"I can see what you mean. But you really should tell Moonstar-"

"We tried," I sigh. "She wouldn't listen. We were hoping maybe you and Weedwhisker's opinions together would be enough to help us."

"Wait," she says. "What do you think the rest of prophecy means?"

Autumnpaw winces. "We think... we have to find a new home. I mean, with the Twolegs and everything-" she falters helplessly.

"Don't worry," Swiftthrush assures us. "I understand."

"You do?" I can't keep the surprise out of my tone. She actually listened! Foxpaw grins from ear to ear.

"Yeah. But I don't know if I can say the same for Moonstar." We all turn up towards the leader's den. "Time to appeal to her sensitivity."

I just catch Foxpaw's last comment as we trail after her up towards the cave. "If she has any." 

Chapter Seven- Autumnpaw

I can tell something's wrong the instant we enter the leader's den. Moonstar's back is to us, and her silvery pelt is slicked with sweat. When she looks up at us, her voice is choked as she says, "You were right. It is time for HollyClan to leave."

Swiftthrush is by her side in an instant. "What happened, Moonstar?"

"I had a dream- a nightmare actually." Her breathing is slowing, but her gray eyes are still uncharacteristically huge with fear. Seeing my leader like this makes me doubly scared. What's happening to our Clan? "There was blood everywhere, and above it loomed those horrible yellow Twoleg monsters. They didn't care about any of the dying cats..." A shudder ripples through her body. Foxpaw looks helpless. He was expecting a hard-headed cat to argue with, not this fearful, compliant shadow of our leader.

"Moonstar," Swiftthrush says, glancing at us uncomfortably. "Pull yourself together."

She raises her head and nods. "Okay. I'll listen to you four. What must HollyClan do to save ourselves?"

"Uh..." Flamepaw says. We hadn't thought that far ahead. Then I step forward.

"Since we need to find homes for both the Clans, I think we should send a patrol over to BirchClan territory," I say. "Tell them of the danger. The Twolegs will cross into their territory soon enough, if they haven't already. They should be ready enough."

"I don't think any of us are ready for this," Scarletpaw says softly.

Moonstar's back stiffens, and suddenly she is our fearless, bold, undefeatable leader once more. "But we will have to be. Swiftthrush, lead the patrol right now. We don't have much time." 

The deputy nods. "Who shall I take?"

My siblings and I raise our eyebrows expectantly.The ghost of a smile crosses Moonstar's face. "You can't all go. However, I agree that at least two of you deserve to go." She tilts her head, consideringly. "Scarletpaw and Foxpaw may go."

"Yes!" Foxpaw yells excitedly.

Swifttthrush doesn't look too pleased; my brother isn't exactly known for his good behavior. I have a feeling she'd rather Flamepaw come along, with his more reliable and dependable nature. I'm not too happy either, but mostly because I wish I was going. Scarletpaw is probably a better choice though. As a medicine cat apprentice, she would seem less suspicious to the BirchClan cats. I hate logic, but you can't argue with it.

Giving a nod to her deputy, Moonstar says, "Be there and back as quickly as possible, but do your best to convince Hazelstar. We won't have many shots at this."

Flamepaw and I watch as our siblings race after the deputy, then glance at Moonstar. I dip my head gratefully. "Thank you for listening."

Her eyes are surprisingly gentle for the work-hardened, strong leader she usually is. "I should've listened earlier."

Linking his tail with mine, Flamepaw says, "We'll just be going now-"

"No. I mean- You can stay if you'd like. You remind me of kits I knew a long time ago," she says in a voice barely above a whisper. 

I arch my eyebrows in surprise and exchange a look with Flamepaw. I can tell we're both thinking the same thing. 

"Okay," he says.

Moonstar gives a thin smile. "Really? You'll stay? You really don't need to, I was just..."

"We want to," I say. "I think you could tell us a lot of stories. Stories we'd like to hear."

It's worth it to see the way her face lights up. She tucks her tail around her paws shyly, and I wonder how long it's been since someone has just sat down and talked to her as a friend. I'm glad we can help our leader; she's going to need all her strength for what's ahead. And so will we.

But for now, we just sit in comfortable silence as she begins.

"Once upon a time, there was a she-cat with a special destiny..."

Chapter Eight- Foxpaw

"I'm just saying, if Hazelstar turns out to be a real piece of mouse-dung, then can I beat him up?"

Swiftthrush remainds impassive and unmoved by my campaign for fairness and justice against know-it-all leaders. Scarletpaw shoots me an amused glance; I return it with a wink. Without glancing back, the deputy mews, "Stop plotting, you two. We are on a mission of peace; we come under the white flag of truce."

I roll my eyes. "Yeah, but-" I'm cut off because I run into her. She's glancing around warily, and I know why; we've reached the BirchClan-HollyClan border. Scarletpaw sniffs the air cautiously.

"There's scent of recent patrols, but I don't think anyone's here now," I inform them. Sheesh, does it really take that long to come to that conclusion?

The glare Swiftthrush gives me could freeze molten hot lava. "I know that; I'm just making sure."

Together, we step over the border and freeze. There's no sign of approaching BirchClan patrols, and we all let out a tangible sigh of relief. Well, at least Scarletpaw and Swiftthrush do. I'm steady as a rock. Ignoring the fact that my legs are shaking and that my heart is pounding like a cornered rabbit's, I'm fearless. Absolutely, positively, without a doubt-

"What was that?" I yelp, jumping behind Scarletpaw.

Mildly miffed, she asks, "What was what?"

"A squirrel," Swiftthrush reports dryly, flicking her tail towards us. "Now come on, we don't have forever. Are you two coming?"

In an attempt to overcome my little, uh, "scare", I puff out my chest and strut ahead of them. "Of course. No problem. No need to worry about anything guys, big bad Foxpaw is here to- Gah!"

Can I just say that putting a twig where an innocent apprentice(like me) might step on it was the worst idea ever? I mean, what was this, a forest? Okay, maybe it was, but... Anyway, I sprang back up really quickly after I tripped, which just proved that nothing could keep me down for very long. And Scarletpaw had no reason or right to laugh at me. She really didn't.

After a small eternity - okay, five minutes - of walking, Swiftthrush signals to us that we're getting close to the BirchClan camp. I frown. Why has no patrol scented us yet? I know BirchClan's skills are very inferior to ours, but they should at least have noticed us coming so deep into their territory by now. What's more, the very scent of BirchClan is thin, just an underlayer to another, thicker scent. I pause and sniff the air more thoroughly. My eyes widen. Scarletpaw realizes what's going on the same instant I do.

"Twolegs," I whisper. "With Monsters."

Chapter Nine- Scarletpaw

See now, this is why I'm not a warrior apprentice. My legs have started shaking at the mere mention of danger. Forget Foxpaw's idiocy, I'm a complete coward. 

"Maybe," I say in a quavering voice, "this wasn't such a good idea after all."

Swiftthrush's face is grim. Her sharp amber eyes flit around, trying to distinguish from which way the Monster scent - and noise, now that I listen harder - is coming from. That's a hard task, because it seems to be coming from everywhere. The entire BirchClan territory seems to be polluted by it.

Obviously making a split-second decision, Swiftthrush breaks into a swift jog. I know she's slowing down so we can keep up; she's named for her lightning-fast speed. "Come on! If we can make it to the BirchClan camp, maybe Hazelstar can offer us protection."

One glance at Foxpaw tells me what my brother's thinking. The last thing he wants to do is appear weak in front of BirchClan. But there's no time for pettiness and pride; our very lives are at stake here. We exchange a glance, and I jerk my head towards our deputy's retreating form. He sighs, as if he has a choice, and we race after her. This may be humiliating, but it beats being eaten by Monsters, that's for sure.

Ahead of me, Swiftthrush makes an abrupt turn into a thick tangle of thorns and hanging vines. There's no time to hesitate; I skid in after her. To my surprise, my fur doesn't snag on anything, as there's actually a cat-sized gap in the thicket. I'm not BirchClan's hugest fan, but I'll give them this: they picked a great location for their camp.

Speaking of their camp...

"Wow." Foxpaw just about sums it up. The camp is like nothing I've ever dreamt of. Instead of our camp, which is in a valley and surrounded by towering walls of earth, this one is a flat clearing, but surrounded on every side(except the tunnel leading through the thicket) by a thick mess of trees with their roots and branches so intertwined that you can hardly make out where one starts and where one ends. There are bushes scattered across the clearing; they appear to be where the dens are.

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