Chapter One - Rainy
"Fox-dung! Crow-food! Badger-brains! Fish-guts!" Ashbird glared up at her escaped quarry. The squirrel, now perched safely in a tree above her head, chattered tauntingly down at her.
Whirling around, she found herself facing her Clan deputy. "Er- Rainclaw! I was just..."
The gray tom gave her a thin smile. "Yeah?"
Blushing, she glared at the ground. Way to go, Ashbird. "Will I be cleaning out the elders' den or harvesting mouse-bile for Sorrelfur?"
He thought a moment. "Neither. Surveys."
Ugh. Out of all the confounded punishments, why that one?
"Fine," she sighed. "Sorry about my language."
Rainclaw ignored her, stooping to pick up a rabbit he'd caught. "See you back at camp. Oh, and make sure you get at least one piece of prey before you return."
When his back was turned, Ashbird paused to make the most hideous, contorted face she could dream up at him before returning to hunting. She managed to catch a scrawny woodpigeon and two mice- good enough for one day, she reckoned.
Heading back to the StormClan camp, the gray she-cat ducked through the thickly-fringed, well-guarded thicket tunnel and into the rocky crevice. Rainclaw gave her a nod from where he was talking to Stormstar. She returned it with a steely gaze before padding over to the fresh-kill pile and depositing her prey.
Now she had to start surveys. Curse that deputy.
She had the questions memorized, of course. It was part of every apprentice's training - though they weren't supposed to need it. For as long as The Colony had existed, Council had requested "Statistical Reports" - otherwise known as surveys - from each Clan, every moon. The surveys were supposed to be taken by the leaders or deputies, but Ashbird couldn't remember the last time that had happened. There was usually some poor miscreant who got saddled with the duty as a punishment. This moon, it was her.
Might as well get it over with. In her mind, she reviewed some of the questions. What do you think of Council's latest policy? How has your Council Dispatch Officer - a.k.a. your Clan leader - been performing, according to you? How is your Clan's prey intake? And on and on.
If you asked Ashbird, she thought the questions were all a set up for Council to weed out any cat opposing them, and a failed plan at that. Like anyone would actually dare to say, "Your policy is stupid, my Clan leader sucks because you elected them, and my Clan's prey intake sucks- you better send Enforcers to get us off our lazy hind ends." Yeah right. She bet whoever had to listen to the survey reports got agonizingly bored of hearing the same-old responses kissing up to Council.
Deciding to start with the warriors, Ashbird padded over to the warriors' den, which was a deep niche in the side of the rocky walls. "Hello? Survey time."
An unanimous groan met her words. Chuckling, she trotted in. "Sorry guys. But Rainclaw said I had to do it, so here I am."
"Profanity, defying authority, or violating Clan boundaries?" asked a golden tabby named Sunstripe.
Did everyone know about her faults? Apparently so. "Profanity," she sighed.
He smirked. "Shoot."
Like a mindless clone, she droned out the questions in a monotone tone. The entire warriors' den joined in, shouting replies in over-eager tones and trying to outdo each other.
"How has Stormstar been performing?"
"Oh marvelous!" cried Songflower, a dark ginger she-cat. "She's an angel from above, let me tell you!"
"Nonsense! She's a divine being much higher then an angel! I just worship her," gushed Sunstripe.
Hiding her smile, Ashbird nodded. "So, that'll go down as 'performing according to Council standards'?"
Her Clanmates nodded.
"Sweet. I'll go tell the messengers."
After she'd finished giving her survey reports to Greenpaw and Briarpaw(this moon's messengers to Council) Ashbird decided she could treat herself to some prey. Approaching the fresh-kill pile, she selected the woodpigeon she'd caught previously, settling in a corner of the camp to eat.
Nearby, Stormstar finished her amazingly long conversation with Rainclaw and padded by. "Greetings, Ashbird. I heard you held surveys today- as punishment, that is."
"Yeah," Ashbird admitted, not daring to meet her leader's severe gray eyes.
"You really need to control that tongue of yours," Stormstar mewed strictly. Then her features softened a bit, a surprising happenstance. "Don't worry, you'll get there. I used to be just like you when I was younger."
Stormstar? Young? Ashbird's eyes flicked over the blue-gray she-cat's whitening muzzle and somber expression disbelievingly. Then, realizing she was being rude, she smiled. "I'll try my best, Stormstar."
Regaining her usual calm, haughty manner, Stormstar nodded and headed towards her den. Ashbird finished up her woodpigeon, stood, and stretched. I think I could use a nap about now, she reflected. There's nothing ese to do.
It was at that moment there arose a commotion from the entrance of the camp. Two frantic, disheveled cats burst into the ravine, eyes wild with panic and desperation. Rainclaw and a couple of other senior warriors raced towards them, quickly surrounding them. Rainclaw snarled, "DarkClan. What are you two doing on our territory? State your business quickly."
"Fire... Darkstar sent us," gulped the smaller of the two. Gasps echoed around the assembled StormClan cats.
"Please. We need help," pleaded the other cat.
Rainclaw curled his lip. "And why on earth would we do that?"
Just then, Stormstar elbowed her deputy out of the way. "Rainclaw! You know that under the Clans Uniting Proposal, we have to help them. Assemble a patrol."
Deflated, and slightly rebellious-looking, Rainclaw glanced about the camp. "Fine. Thornstrike, you lead the patrol. Heartbreak, Bramblewhisker, and Ashbird, you go with him."
Grateful expressions appeared on the two DarkClan cats' faces. "Come on! No time to waste!"
Without stopping to glance back at her Clan, Ashbird charged after them.
Chapter Two - Robo
To most Clan cats they were just an opportunity to suck the hinds of The Council, the only path for them to reach leadership. But Heartbreak found them disgusting. She found The Colony, Council, The Clans... all of it so disgusting.
Her life was disgusting.
She made her legs carry her forward, run faster. She was determined to get to that camp, to save others from her own fate. The rest of her Clan may have been running for the sake of the Clans Uniting Proposal but she was running for the past, for her memories.
Every second they wasted getting there could cost to a life. Could bring pain upon pain to some members of the Clan. Could bring exactly what she had been named after; Heartbreak.
The DarkClan cats ran ahead of them, their paws carrying them like the wind during one of StormClan's worst storms. Heartbreak figured they both had loved ones in that fire. They were both scared of loss. She had once been scared of loss too…
But now she had nothing left to lose.
As they crossed the border everyone began running faster, throwing their paws ahead of each other, aware of what might happen if they were too late. The DarkClan cats were obviously worried about their Clan and StormClan must have feared a punishment from Council if they were unable to aid their neighboring Clans.
It wasn't always like this. We didn’t always help each other, save each other from tragedies. We used to just let each other die. We would cheer when disaster struck other Clans. Their weakness would be our strength. We would be the biggest threat to each other.
Heartbreak often wondered what that kind of a life might be like. Putting guards outside of camp not in case Council decided to make a visit, there was an intrusion by some sort of wild animal, or a storm struck, but because you were scared of being attacked by other members of the Colony. By your own kind.
It baffled many, but she was pretty sure she could understand it. It didn't seem that hard to imagine. There were so many people in her life she could just attack. she could kill-whom she would kill. Her father, her mother, the badger that struck her sister down the day she lost the adventurous sense found in all kittens, the stupid, prissy, pampered kitty her brother left the Clan, left her for, Jadeeyes, the tom who she thought could be the cure to all of her troubles, and that stupid worthless medicine cat who let her kitten die. The medicine cat who was still living, still working as a medicine cat after all the misery she had put Heartbreak through.
She could kill them, attack them, jump on them and storm their dens at night if she had the chance to do so. If she knew that she wouldn’t be sentenced to death by Council for over fifty reasons.
“Heartbreak!” Thornstrike snapped, and she turned to look at him, “Aha, so you are in there.”
Blushing, Heartbreak looked down at my paws in embarrassment. Once popular among the Clan, she was now the mouse to push around and toy with.
Heartbreak pulled to a stop alongside the rest of the patrol as they neared the edge of camp. Looking ahead, she realized the fire was not something that could be stopped. It was raging, and she could feel the heat sizzling through her pelt even from quite a bit afar.
Repeating her thoughts, Thornstrike sighed, “There’s no way we can put that out. What we’ll have to do is get the cats out of there. I can see some trying to escape, and there must be a few that have already made it out, but they don’t have much energy and we can focus on getting them out of there.”
The five of them nodded and Thornstrike glanced around for a moment before indicating at Ashbird and Heartbreak with his tail, “You two stay here and try to help the cats who we can get out of camp,” He turned to one of the DarkClan cats, “Return to our Clan and get Frogleap, our medicine cat to come here with cobwebs and other herbs which may treat burns, scratches, bruises and hurt throats,” Finally he spun around to face the larger DarkClan cat and Bramblewhisker, “We're going to go in there and get the cats out.”
They all nodded, and the four others ran off while Ashbird and Heartbreak remained where they were, waiting for the first of the DarkClan cats to get out of the fire so that they could help them.
“I can't believe they left me out of the action!” Ashbird sighed, and Heartbreak braced myself for a long line of curses which quickly followed, and somehow Ashbird never failed to impress her with just how colorful she could make her language.
“Some DarkClan cats are coming,” Heartbreak claimed, lying just to shut Ashbird up, and she snapped her head up before frowning and rolling her eyes playfully, “Sorry, I can’t help myself.”
“Yes, well,” Heartbreak offered her a smile-perhaps my first in the past moon, before snapping her head back up, “Look, Ashbird, there really are cats coming this time!”
“Let's go!” Ashbird called, and the two of them ran towards the two young toms who were coughing loudly as they tried to get as far away from their camp as possible, both stumbling in weakness.
Ashbird and Heartbreak quickly approached them; slipping under one of their arms, and helping them get far out of camp. Behind them, Heartbreak could hear more cats trying to run as far as they could, and detached herself from the tom she was carrying as soon as he was far enough that she knew the fire couldn't do him any harm.
In the distance she was pretty sure she could see the cursed medicine cat approaching alongside the DarkClan cat.
Turning back around, she tried to help the rest of the DarkClan cats escaping, giving them gentle nudges, carrying the weakest ones on their back and the kits in their jaws, and pushing them as far away from DarkClan's burning camp as quickly as she could.
It wasn't long before Frogleap and the DarkClan apprentice had returned, and the apprentice wasted no time throwing himself into the fire, in order to save any friends or family that may be in there.
Frogleap quickly began to attend to the cats, starting from the kits, elders, queens and those who had the worst injuries.
In the meanwhile Ashbird and Heartbreak continued to escort the cats as far away from their camp and they could, and after a while, the four cats who had delved into the fire emerged, pelts burnt and coughing loudly.
“Five dead,” Thornstrike sighed, “But there was no way we could possibly save them. Three of them were elders, there was one kit and one warrior. But I’m pretty sure we got the rest.”
“My kit!” A she-cat screeched, “My kit is still in there! He was supposed to become a warrior today-you can't let him die, not without getting his ceremony!”
Thornstrike exchanged a glance with Frogleap, they were clearly debating if it would be worth returning into the fire.
But Heartbreak could recognize the pain in the mother’s tone-it was something she had felt so many times before, and she knew that she couldn't just walk away when there was a chance she didn’t have to live through that.
“I’m going in there,” She claimed, and was throwing herself into the fire, before Thornstrike could tell her to stop.
As soon as she had entered the burning camp, she realized it might have been a rash decision. I can’t turn back now, she reminded herself, I have to find that apprentice.
“Hello?” She shouted into the fire, coughing a little as her eyes watered because of the smoke. She could feel the heart scorching her pelt already, “Is anyone there?”
“Help!” A young voice called.
“Where are you?” Heartbreak shouted back, “Are you stuck?”
“I’m in the entrance to the apprentice den which is just by the clearing,” The voice called back, “A large branch of a tree fell on me!”
She quickly ran in the direction of the noise, the air in her lungs growing shorter with each step, and she was soon able to make out a pair of sharp blue eyes. Speeding up, she managed to make it next to them, and, mustering all of her strength, pushed the branch that had fallen onto the apprentice off him.
Moments later, she was carrying him out of camp, his nearly limp body lying on her shoulders and quickly rushing him to Frogleap, who wasted no time pulling out herbs and attending to the apprentice.
“Blackpaw!” His mother screeched in excitement, dashing towards him, relief and love clear in her eyes, as she covered him in licks while Frogleap asked her to back away while she worked and the apprentice let out an embarrassed 'mooom'.
Watching the expression on the mothers face, Heartbreak couldn't help but wonder why she hadn't been able to feel that emotion as well.
Why for her, it had always ended in ultimate loss.
Chapter Three - Stormy
Gray peals of smoke rose over the camp, turning the sky from a gentle blue gray to a dark storm. He shivered, even though the atmosphere was warm. Despite Nightwhisker's antisocial exterior, he felt genuine worry for his Clanmates who were on patrol, helping the DarkClan cats out of the fire.
Suddenly, excited squeals rose up.
"I'm going to rescue the cats from the fire, because I'm a better fighter!"
"Are not! And you don't need fighting skills for a fire rescue!" Honeypaw and Ivypaw were scuffling through the clearing. Nightwhisker felt a huge weight land on his tail.
"Oops. Sorry!" Honeypaw mewed, and scrambled up. Nightwhisker let out a low growl, and scooted away.
"Hey! Your Clanmates are in danger, and this is what you do to give them the proper respect?" Sunstripe yowled at them.
He really hated it when kits, oops, apprentices, always got in every cat's way and acted completely immature, except when around younger cats. It drove him insane. Nightwhisker was hardly more than an apprentice himself, but he had always taken a strong dislike to cats younger than him.
"They wouldn't be if Stormstar would listen to Rainclaw more often," Sleetfall scoffed.
"That's not what you stated on survey this morning," Songflower pointed out sharply. One sensible voice in a sea of babbling.
Another thing that Nightwhisker despised was how most cats never shut up. He probably thought of twice the things they did, but didn't go telling the whole world about it. Because who cared? Certainly not him.
"Well, yeah, but..." Sleetfall continued awkwardly. Well, yeah, but who answers the questions honestly on those StarClan - forsaken things anyways? I think that's what he's trying to say. Who does? Nightwhisker's own survey that morning didn't go very well. All he wanted to do was go for a cheerful hunt in the forest. But no. Ashbird, the unlucky cat who had the displeasure of giving out the fox dung questions of the survey, stopped him and gave him the stupid thing, which took longer because he spent most of the time trying to find a way to get out of it.
"It's all a heap of badger droppings." Lucky Rainclaw and Stormstar are in their den, trying to discuss important things.
As he was about to contribute to the rising argument, he began to choke, as a warm sensation slid down his throat. Thin layers of smoke were beginning to settle into the camp, causing everyone's eyes to water. He turned away, and became the first to notice Stormstar standing elegantly on the Meeting Boulder through the mild gray.
"Is Stormstar going to make us evacuate?"
"Oh wow, really?"
"But what about my kits?"
"Oh yeah, I'm sure Stormstar is going to make us evacuate just because of a few wisps of smoke. Oh, and that will obviously cause your kits to combust." Sunstripe mewed. He finished by shooting a glance at Spottedflower, the queen who had cried out about her kits. Nightwhisker didn't bother putting out that smoke like that could make small kits sick if inhaled too much. But Spottedflower's kits were nearly six moons, so he didn't bother.
"I have an important announcement to make!" Stormstar yowled out to her bickering Clan. Nightwhisker wrapped his tail around his paws, and looked up at her, trying to hold his breath in order not to breathe any smoke.
If he ever would want a mate, he would like a she-cat with the personality of Stormstar. However, he didn't particularly want to commit himself to being part of a couple. Things like that always seemed to lead to heartbreak, as one of the more mysterious she-cats in the Clan, Heartbreak, taught them. He had loved someone once, but, well-- he'd rather not think about it.
"I assume that you are all familiar with the Uniting Proposal?" she called out. Mechanically, the Clan nodded. Some were looking a bit shifty though. He could only assume that they were wanting to play a customary game of poke-the-cat-in-front-of-you-with-your-tail game.
"The Uniting Proposal it is what binds the Clans together in friendship in times of hardship. This has brought us to send a helping patrol to the smoldering DarkClan territory, let us keep them in our prayers. But now I must do something else, what me and Rainclaw have both agreed on." Judging by the scowl on the deputy's face, Nightwhisker doubted that was true.
"Wonder where this is going," Sunstripe muttered.
"Shut up!" he hissed under his breath. Just some cats....
He instantly froze up in hearing his name called out. "Yes?" he mewed haughtily.
"It seems like you need something else to do other than sitting around camp and being ornery. So you can go on a patrol to check on FlameClan, who may need some help, along with...." Stormstar stopped for a moment to think. "Sunstripe. You can go with him."
Oh joy of joys.
Soon he found himself plodding alongside Sunstripe through the smoky forest, towards DarkClan's neighbors, to see if they were okay.
"Well this sure is great," Sunstripe mumbled sarcastically.
"Yeah, right," Nightwhisker replied, in the same manner.
It began to drizzle.
Like this day couldn't get any worse.
The rain would bring up the terrible smell of ash, along with just being horrible and annoying in general and just rain. Nightwhisker hated the rain. He hated how it seeped into his fur, and turned everything into mush, making the world seem like a heavy, wet wasteland. The gray skies made him feel nauseous as well.
But Sunstripe didn't seem to be bothered, his gold and brown fur rippling as he walked.
The border seemed to be almost too quiet. FlameClan territory didn't show any signs of the fire, although the smoke was thicker, so thick that it made the pair retch. They exchanged a frustrated glance. For a moment, he almost felt a sense of partnership with the annoying tom.
As soon as they striaghtened, Sunstripe's ears pricked.
"Did you hear that?"
"Not a thing."
This time, Nightwhisker did hear a faint rustling, almost like water tumbling over stones and slapping the edges of a brook.
It was muffled pawsteps. He readily tensed, waiting to face the attacker. But Sunstripe had other ideas.
"It's fine. They're probably FlameClan cats. We came to see them, didn't we?" He relaxed, thinking how stupid he was being. You're on the FlameClan border, idiot. Of course there will be their cats here.
But when the patrol came out of the foilage, he instantly realized that it didn't consist of any FlameClan cats he knew or could smell. It appeared to be a group of sleek, muscular cats, claws unsheathed, led by a singular she-cat. But the most curious thing about them was that mud seemed to be splattered across their faces, hiding their main features.
Just like they're trying to conceal their identity.
The she-cat came forward. But when she opened her brilliant amber eyes, Nightwhisker couldn't choke back a cry of disbelief.
"Poppyclaw?" he whispered. All the pain and guilt and betrayal came crashing up all at once, like a tidal wave that would never stop crashing over him.
The bile rose in his throat. Blatantly, she ignored him and nodded to her group.
Before him and Sunstripe could do anything to defend themselves, two burly toms came forward, both with dark tabby stripes. He tried to move out of the way, but another warrior blocked his escape. His weight nearly made him fall over.
And just like that, the one in front of him struck out a paw, landing a blow right across Nightwhisker's shocked face.
Like a total eclipse of the sun, everything went dark.
Chapter Four - Darky
Camp was quiet, with little conversation. It seemed that out of panic, many were silent. Some stayed in small, quiet talk though.
Pinepelt sat in a corner of a bramble, eating a mouse. His wiry dark gray fur bristled in worry. What if the patrol to DarkClan doesn't come back?
He lay down in silence, waiting, until he got the faint smell of DarkClan and StormClan mixed. Looking up, he saw the patrol, who rushed over to Stormstar. Black-furred Heartbreak told Stormstar all the details of what happened in DarkClan, while Thornstrike, a brown tabby, sandy-colored mottled Bramblewhisker, and Ashbird, a dark gray she-cat, all sat behind Heartbreak.
Pinepelt cringed. Is there something wrong? Was anyone injured?
Cats were standing together, surrounding the patrol in a bustle of questions. Watching from behind the bush, Pinepelt saw the cats talking at once, and, all of a sudden, it seemed that the commotion had run through the camp, leaving behind the empty tranquility.
Frusturated by all the cat's questions, Pinepelt clenched his teeth and put his paws near his ears. Just shut up! Shut up!
The talking died down slightly, and progressively got quiet after a bit. Rainclaw's meows were quiet as he talked with Stormstar.
Pinepelt pricked up his ears, listening to the two cats speak.
"Yes, rebellion...." Rainclaw muttered.
"Really? How would this affect us?" Stormstar's voice was hoarse.
"I don't know. We'd have to find out if it happens..." The deputy replied.
Pinepelt looked at the cats. Stormstar sat in front of Rainclaw, sitting on the foot of a rock, while Rainclaw was giving out details.
"What about the Council?" Stormstar asked.
"I don't know much..." Pinepelt's eyes widened as Rainclaw spoke. "But they're worried, I know that for sure."
Pinepelt stopped, and quickly went back behind the bramble, thinking about what he just heard.
The Council is worried? They've never had any weaknesses before. Why should they be worried?
Maybe a walk in the forest will clear my mind? Pinepelt walked through the forest path, trying to get rid of the negative thoughts.
"How low does the Council get?" He thought, growling. "Soon they'll be jumping around thinking they're rabbits. If something happens to the Council, the Clans will fall apart. I'm glad I left the Clan as an apprentice."
His whole life, everything that had happened was a mess. Terrible, horrifying, atrocious. But then he had to come back as Pinepelt.
Council is worried.... council is worried...
"If the Council is so worried about something, then something happens to them, the Clans will die off!" He hissed. He stopped, hearing a squeak. A vole was chewing on a leaf.
"I know, vole." Pinepelt straightened his tail. "Everyone's mouse-brained. A measly group of cats can't protect the Clans. They seem powerful, but they'll get scared out of their pelt if they see a fish in the river. They're giving us our deaths, that's what they're doing!"
He stared at the vole, then leaped up on it, giving it a sharp killing scratch, then ate it's meat.
He continued walking, licking vole fur off his face. He caught the scent of StormClan. He tried walking away from it, but it still lingered, along with the scent of DarkClan. He knew that the Clans would be in his life forever. A dark life. StarClan is said to give the Clans bright, eager paths, but not for him. It was like he was being tortured. There was nothing good happening to him, and it would only get worse.
The fire in DarkClan... a patrol of StormClan going into DarkClan.... all no good. Something bad would happen, he thought. "I'll be lucky if StarClan takes me now..."
Maybe I should go back to camp now?
He turned around, walking the path again. 'I wonder what joys await me at camp," He growled, his green eyes bright, but narrow. "More murder of the heart?"
Chapter Five - Brighty
Sunlight streamed through the den. Songflower blinked open her sleepy eyes and looked around the warriors den. All seemed quiet.
Songflower silently pull herself out of her nest, brushing against Ashbird's pelt. She rolled over, but didn't wake up. The ginger she-cat stepped outside, blinking, the bright sun getting into her eyes.
She started to walk over the the fresh-kill pile, when suddenly she heard the same heaving noise from the elder's den. Songflower ducked behind a bush near the fresh-kill pile and watched through the leaves. Once again, Fishtail was dragging himself out of the elder's den. Once again, she winced for causing him to stay there.
"Look! It's the kittypet!"
"Why is she still here? It's clear no cat wants her!"
"Does she think she knows everything?"
"Hey Songpaw! How does it feel to be a kittypet?"
Songflower braced herself, but the memories of what she did were still strong.
"Shut it Fishpaw!" She shrieked as she bit down on his hind leg.
Fishpaw screeched and wailed, but Songpaw still clamped her teeth to his leg.
"Songpaw stop!" Mewed Ashpaw with alarm. The gray she-cat lunged forward and knocked Songpaw off Fishpaw.
Songflower could see him getting closer. She wanted to say she was sorry for hurting him. But it was far too late…
"Songpaw! What in the name of StarClan are you doing?!" Growled Stormstar. "Are you attacking a clan-mate?"
The other apprentices nodded, and scrambled away. Fishpaw lay motionless on the ground.
Stormstar hissed at Songpaw. "For your crime, you are banished for a moon! You have nearly killed a cat of your own Clan, you beast!" She spat. "Now leave! And hope Fishpaw recovers!"
Songflower still regretting hurting him. Causing him to never be a warrior. But the past is the past. What's done is done. But she still hated herself for it. That would never change.
"Hey Songflower!" Mewed Ashbird. "Come out from that bush! The apprentices are busy, so we have to check the elders for ticks!" She was probably the only at on earth who could be happy about that. Grumbling, she pulled herself out from the bush and padded into the elders den. Ashbird already had a load of mouse-bile.
"Here Songflower." She mews. "Take this, and get Nightclaw. I'll take care of Whispfeather." Songflower took the moss and began to rub it down Nightclaw's shoulder.
"Keep your claws sheathed!" Spat the old, black tom. Songflower rolled her eyes, but attempted to be more gentle. Whispfeather flicked her tail kindly. "Don't mind him. He'll always be a grump."
The pair finished with the ticks, and began to clear out the bedding. While they were in the forest, Ashbird mewed, "What do you think happened to Nightwhisker and Sunstripe? Their patrol should have been back ages ago!" Songflower nodded absently, trying to focus. But Ashbird was right. They should have been back a long time ago. What's happened to them?
They had just gathered enough moss, when two shapes ran in between them and knocked all the moss over the forest floor. Songflower spat a loud of moss out of her mouth, and looked upon Greenpaw and Briarpaw. "What in the name of StarClan are you doing?!" She spat. It took forever to gather that moss! You pieces of fox-" She broke off as Ashbird silenced her with a look. That's right. They'll report anything I say back to the Council. She composed herself and mewed, "What are you doing?"
Briarpaw mewed, "We have a message for Stormstar from the Council! It's urgent!" Her amber eyes showed fear, and Songflower quickly forgot about the moss. She turned to Ashbird. "Come on. We don't want to leave the Council waiting." She mewed, almost sarcastically. Without another word, the four cats faced back to camp.
"Stormstar!" Mewed Greenpaw. "The council has called a meeting! You must attend!"
Stormstar leaped down from her den, nodding to the apprentice. "Rainclaw! You are in charge of the camp while I am gone!" She mewed. Then she bolted out of camp, the messengers at her heels.
The sun began to set. Stormstar had not yet returned from the meeting, and Nightwhisker and Sunstripe were still missing. Songflower knew that they had to be found. She padded up to Rainclaw. "We need to send a search party for Nightwhisker and Sunstripe. They've been gone far too long." She mewed. Rainclaw shook his head. "There's no point. They'll be back soon enough. We don't need to waste our cats on ridiculous missions like this." Then he padded away.
Songflower felt enraged. They're our Clanmates! We have to help them! She turned around, only to spot Ashbird flicking her tail angrily. "I heard everything that mouse-brain said. We have to find them. Other wise, what are we? Nothing but a bunch of rouges." She fixed Songflower with a strong gaze. "We're going to find them, no matter what." With that, she raced out of camp.
Songflower tilted her head. She noticed that Ashbird had said we'll. But she shook her long fur and charged after her, not knowing if she had any plan at all…
Chapter Six - Firey
Sunstripe and Nightwhisker huddled in the corner, trying to figure where they were.
Grabbed by two strong rogues, they were dragged over to Poppyfrost. Nightwhisker seem to tense as they approached Poppyfrost. The she-cat stared back at him, but didn't move. "Nightwhisker, Sunstripe. Today, you are here to witness our cause."
Sunstripe moved slightly, but the next words stopped him.
"Rebellion against the Council."
"What?" Nightwhisker was struggling against his guard, glaring at Poppyfrost. "Rebelling against the Council? Are you all mad?"
One of the rogues growled. "The Council has ruined our lives. We are like living in the shadows of them. This isn't how the Clans should work. We want peace and our freedom."
Nightwhisker glanced at Sunstripe. The ginger tom didn't move. Then, looking up, he murmured, "But the Council has all the power, there isn't a way to escape from them."
A brown tom mewed. "Yes there is. If we get enough rebels, then we can oppose to the Council." The tom had said Council with so much hate, Sunstripe wondered if this rebellion thing has gone into them.
Poppyfrost stepped forward. "We represent the rebels of our Clans. We all think that this Council has gone too far. They control us, they torture us. But they don't let us have our freedom. They connect all the Clans, but in a separate way. The Clans should have their own life. Not one that the Council gives them."
Sunstripe noticed that Poppyfrost had said, "them" not "us". Did she consider herself not a member of the Clans?
Another she-cat, one with black stripes hissed. "The Council are wretched cats. All they do is feed on prey and order us with these cruel laws. What is the point of surveys? They do nothing. Only make the cats more tortured then ever."
"No. This shouldn't happen. The Council may control us, but at least we have our home. Haven't you wondered what might happen to the Clans if you rebel? What will happen to your family and friends if you fail?"
Poppyfrost stared at him. "Our cause has it benefits. We can strike when the Council is weak. We have the advantage over battle."
"How?" Sunstripe asked. "The Council must know that some cats are rebelling. After all, they have witnissed things that can cause rebellion. And, don't you think such a strong force would not be prepared for rebellion?"
"Strong force. Ha." Another cat snorted. "The Council is nothing more than a group of puny cats you eat and sleep all day. We can easily beat them."
"You still have to be cautious. Who knows what power they hold?"
Poppyfrost nodded. "This, I have considered. I'm desperate for freedom. The Council has held us for too long. Even you, Nightwhisker. Haven't you thought about how wretched the surveys are?"
Nightwhisker stopped, frozen. "Everyone's thought about the surveys. They may do nothing for us, only benefits for the Council, but do they harm us?"
"Of course they do. One mistake in a survey, and the Council swoops down on you. You have to do everything they wish, or you suffer."
Inside, Sunstripe was thinking. What if these cats are right? That the Council can be defeated, and the Clans go free?
Nightwhisker began to yowl and thrash. "There isn't a way. Can't you see? The Clan can live in peace just like this. You don't have to risk so many lives with your rebellion."
Poppyfrost growled. "How would our Rebellion affect you?"
"By rebelling, the Council will try to find a way to hurt you. In reality, they would go to your families that you left behind in the Clans."
Poppyfrost blinked. "We fight for our cause. If the Clans suffer, then they will rebel with us."
Sunstripe bristled. "So you're willing to waste so many lives so the Clans will rebel with you? You're willing to make us suffer?"
"Well, you could've joined us, the rebellion, and live on. You don't have to side with the Council."
"That is nonsense." Nightwhisker threw off his guard and growled. His claws slid out, scraping the hard stone floor. He glared at the rebellion, at Poppyfrost. "You cats are sick. You would risk our lives for your tiny cause."
Poppyfrost waved her tail. "We aren't here to harm you. We are here to talk."
"And that is what we are doing." Sunstripe mewed. "But..." He couldn't continue. Inside, he was still thinking about this rebellion idea.
Nightwhisker hissed, but sat down. But there was a rustle. Ashbird and Songflower popped out, flinging rebels away. "Come one Nightwhisker, Sunstripe! Let's get going."
Poppyfrost stood up. "Fine, you may go, but remember, where there is anger, there is rebels."
Ashbird flicked her tail, and they sprinted away. Sunstripe stretched, glad he was going home. But then he remembered what Poppyfrost had said. Home was where the Council was.
Ashbirn was talking to Nightwhisker, while Songflower was right next to Sunstripe. "So, what did they do to you?"
Sunstripe glanced at the pretty she-cat, and murmured, "They plan for a rebellion. One that could cause our death."
Nightwhisker nodded. "They shouldn't. The Council isn't worth it trying to rebel."
Ashbird shrugged. "Yeah, but let's hope they don't cause anymore trouble."
Sunstripe mewed. "And why is that?"
"Stormstar left for a meeting with the Council."
Chapter Seven - Rainy
Ashbird was awoken to a ruckus from within the warriors' den. Blinking blearily, she stumbled to her feet and glared at her Clanmates, who were gathered by the entrance, all pushing to get out into the camp. "What the heck is going on? What's the hurry?"
Songflower flicked her tail in reply, green eyes glowing. "Stormstar's back from Council!"
"She is? Outta my way!" Bulling her way through the crowd, Ashbird glanced hastily around the camp. Sure enough, Stormstar was seated above the Clan on her special rock, blue-gray pelt glowing in the sun. Rainclaw sat below her, with his usual sulky look on his face.
Is she going to tell her what Council wanted with all the leaders?
Apparently not. Though the leader continued to watch the Clan from her post, she didn't call them together. Curiosity made Ashbird's paws tingle. Was she really going to leave them in the dark about this?
"Hey. Do you know what Stormstar was called out of camp for?" asked Pinepelt, another warrior.
She shook her head. "I wish. She has to tell us, doesn't she?"
"Our Council Dispatch Officer doesn't have to tell us anything," Sunstripe said snarkily from beside her, and she was a bit surprised at the sarcasm dripping off his tone. Sure, she knew he didn't particularly like Council. No one did. But to be that open about his scorn for them? Somehow, she thought this might have something to do with what had happened yesterday, with him and Nightwhisker getting captured. Was he upset that Rainclaw had refused to send a patrol to help them without Songflower and her inteference? "All Stormstar has to do is make sure we know exactly what Council wants us to know."
Pinepelt stared at him. "Um. What?"
Elbowing Sunstripe, Ashbird whispered in his ear, "Look, I don't blame you for feeling like that, but you better watch it. You've got a mate and kits to think about."
The ginger tom glanced towards where Dreamcloud, his mate, sat outside the warriors' den, grooming her coat; then his gaze traveled to Honeypaw and Ivypaw, who were wrestling with Briarpaw and Greenpaw. "Right. What'll Council do to me if they hear I've been badmouthing them? Cancel any chances of me ever being Council Dispatch Officer- aka leader?"
Okay. Even she wasn't this flippant about Council. She knew that though they were a bunch of old hogs, they had power. Enforcers. They could get you to do what they wanted you to, whether you liked it or not.
"I'm just saying," she said quietly. "You might want to be careful."
It was noon by the time Stormstar finally called StormClan together. "Finally!" Ashbird exclaimed as the summons rang out across the camp. "Now maybe we'll learn what was so important that Council had to call her away so soon."
"Might have just been to discuss the DarkClan fire," suggested Nightwhisker doubtfully. None of them believed it, and he knew it.
"Aw man!" Nearby, Pineclaw was glaring balefully at the fresh-kill pile, or at least, the place where it used to be. "What happened to all the food?"
Ashbird shrugged impatiently, wishing he would stop talking so she wouldn't miss the beginning of Stormstar's speech. "Maybe you ate it in your sleep again."
"Thanks Ashbird," he said sarcastically, but he was cut off by Stormstar.
"As all of you are aware, I was called away to an emergency meeting by Council just yesterday," their leader began, her gray eyes distant as flint. "I am not allowed to divulge the exact nature of that meeting, or the details, but I am supposed to enforce a few new rules. Things will be changing around here, and very soon. You see, Council has just captured two mangy cats. Ex-Clan cats. Does anyone want to know what they are?"
Mangy ex-Clan cats? You made that pretty clear, Ashbird thought to herself cynically.
"They call themselves rebels. Traitors. They're Clan cats that go around spreading lies about our marvelous Council. And they're spreading. Growing. Don't ask me how; I don't know why anyone would join against Council. Doing that is like siding against The Colony itself." Her face showed us exactly how we were supposed to feel about that: appalled. "If anyone meets any cat meeting this description, you must capture them at once. They will be dealt with appropriately, and you will have done The Colony a huge favor. That is all for now. Dismissed."
That was the big deal? So-called traitors? Well, maybe it was a big deal... at least, it would be to Council. It was a power threat. That was what it was all about. That was what everything was about with Council.
Heartbreak, a sleek black she-cat, glanced over and frowned. "Sunstripe? You okay? You don't look so good."
Coughing, the tom glanced away. "I'm fine. I just..."
Suspiciously, Ashbird regarded him. "Sunstripe, who were those cats who captured Nightwhisker and you yesterday?" When he didn't reply, she read his silence easily. "They were rebels. But... you're not telling on them?"
His eyes flamed. "No. Not just yet. And you won't either, Ashbird. Please? We have to... they... you have to trust me on this."
Trust him? Was he nuts? What reason did she have to trust him?
"As if! Stormstar needs to know!"
Dryly, Heartbreak said, "And since when are you Stormstar's little pet, Ashbird?"
"I-I'm not," she spluttered. "But still-"
The she-cat stood beside Sunstripe, eyes cold and calculating. "I'm with Sunstripe on this one. Don't tell for now."
"Why do you care? You didn't even meet the rebels!" Ashbird exclaimed.
Stiffening, Heartbreak turned to go. "Don't bother," she said softly. "You will never understand my reasons."
Both Sunstripe and Ashbird watched her leave. Then, turning to Sunstripe, Ashbird sighed. "Fine. You have a deal. But I'm only keeping quiet as long as the rebels do. If they start acting up, I spill everything I know."
He nodded at her briskly. "Fine."
As she headed away, Ashbird hoped they wouldn't get caught. She didn't know what the penalty was for hiding things from Council.
And she really didn't want to find out.
Chapter Eight - Darky
The day was hot and dry. Pinepelt walked around slowly, his eyes droopy.
"Pinepelt!" A voice mewed.
"What?" Pinepelt growled, locked in Rainclaw's stare.
"I need you to take a hunting patrol." Rainclaw pointed his tail at the fresh-kill pile. "There's no food left in the fresh-kill pile."
Pinepelt turned around. "Fine... I'll get some cats."
Pinepelt walked through the forest with his hunting patrol, which was Nightwhisker, Sunstripe, and a few other cats.
As they hunted, Pinepelt noticed an anger scent on one of the cats."
"I just can't believe them," Sunstripe growled.
Putting his head up, Pinepelt looked at Sunstripe. "Who?"
Sunstripe glared back. "Stormstar, the Council...."
Feeling a prick of anger, Pinepelt sat up. He shouldn't be mad at Stormstar, or the Council. They keep us together... "How come?"
After he said that, Pinepelt was caught in a stare with Sunstripe, who held the scent, expression and gaze of a passive-agressive fury so strong that Pinepelt couldn't contain it. Finally, Sunstripe just growled, and continued the hunt.
He has to have a reason... what's wrong with him?
As they hunted, the air got much more dry and humid, and the sun got stronger. Every pawstep was a struggle from the heat. "It needs to start raining soon..." He grumbled. "So dry.... hot..."
Even stepping on the grass seemed uncomftorable, due to it being dried up, and everything in the forest was hot. The dirt, the rocks, the wood.... for at least one second, it felt like everything was going to catch fire. Something scurried past, catching Pinepelt's attention.
A small, scrawny rat rushed by the grass. Sneaking up on it slowly, Pinepelt jumped up and grasped it under his paws, giving it a fast and painless killing bite.
"Caught one!" His words were muffled from holding the rat's corpse. The smell of prey feels so soothing on a hot day like this...
"Can we go back now?" A brown tabby she-cat asked quietly.
"Sure, just a second." Pinepelt sat in the center of the path, to form the cats into a line. Pinepelt dropped the rat he caught in the middle, and 2 other cats dropped their prey near it.
"2." Pinepelt mewed softly in frusturation. "Along with mine, we caught 3 fresh-kill."
He got up, and went into a scattered bunch along with the rest of the patrol, carrying the prey. "Come on, let's go back to camp."
As they walked slowly in dread, the camp came in sight.
"Here, at last." One of the cats groaned.
The cats all huddled up at the camp entrance, panting and slouching as they sat.
"Did you bring some prey back?" A cat called from across the camp.
Pinepelt droppped his share, and the other prey made a thud as it hit the ground. He looked down. It had disappeared. The only thing left from the remains of the prey was dust.
"Did that just turn to dust?" Sunstripe snarled from the back of the patrol.
"It did..." A black cat replied.
The patrol growled in anger, but walked into the camp. But Pinepelt stayed there, staring at the dust.
"This must be a sign from StarClan..." He sighed.
Watching the Clan in anger, he looked up at the clear, white clouds.
What are we doing wrong?