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Flashes of Fire

Book two of Solitude <3

Prologue ~ Firey

Fernflight let out a growl of frustration.

They had been sitting in the forest, talking about good plans for charging the camp. Stardust and her rogues were circling us impatiently, and Miststorm was berating herself over the fact that she had trusted Stardust. "Hurry up," Stardust snapped, "We don't have all day."

"We'll take however much time we want." Feathershade growled back, her hackles rising, "If you want our help, you'll get it the way we want to offer it."

Archer leaned in and murmured, "Maybe we should do what Rainstep said, pick off the outsiders."

Softstep shook her head immediately, "No way are we going to be able to do that before the rogues figure out what we're doing. We need a more elaborate plan."

Rainstep flicked her tail, "Like what?"

Fernflight glanced over at the drawing they had on the ground. "Maybe some of us should stay on the outside, or some of us will actually charge the rogues."

"I can't believe this is how we're going to finish our mission." Miststorm muttered.

"Hey, at least we'll finish it," Archer pointed out, glancing back at Stardust, who had started a nervous pace around them.

Softstep growled, "Let's just focus on this battle, okay?" She closed her eyes, "Let's try..."

Fernflight sighed, "Forget the plan, picking off outsiders is our best choice if we're to avoid it without casaulties."

Miststorm nodded, "Let's just get to the fun part."

Feathershade glanced worriedly at the camp, "I guess that's it?"

Softstep sighed, "Fine, fine, I'll admit, that's a good plan."

Stardust cut in, "Time's up, spit out the plan and let's go."

Chapter One ~ Cute

"So, we're going with the 'picking off outsiders' plan?" Stardust asked.

"It's the best idea we can go with, unless we want to just stroll in and get slaughtered." Softstep grumbled. The group had moved to an area that overlooked the rogue camp but was still far enough away that they could remain hidden in the grass. She could see a few of the rogues walking around the camp. She didn't like this idea at all, and somehow liked it even less now that they were right there. Her beat fast and she was terrified, but managed to keep a straight face.

"Let's split up here." Fernflight suggested.

"Yeah." Softstep's eyes scanned the surrounding area. "One group can wait here and be backup, the other group can circle around the camp and pick off the outsiders. If they're discovered or finished picking off all they can, they give the signal and both groups storm the camp."

"That sounds like it'll take too long." someone from Stardust's group muttered.

"Better than dying." Softstep replied.

"Fine. Let's start splitting up." Stardust started walking through the group, choosing which ones stayed here and which ones went forward to attack. Despite the protests, the clan cats all ended up being ones to go forward along with Stardust and a few of her rogues.

"Let's just go." Fernflight flicked her tail irritably, and the group moved ahead, sneaking through the taller patches of grass and moving like they were stalking prey.

As they got even nearer to the camp, Softstep's heart beat uncomfortably hard with panic. She had her own plan, the same plan she had with every battle; sneak away the first chance she got and come back when the battle of was over, if her side was victorious. Honestly, she didn't expect anyone was getting out of this battle alive if they didn't turn around and run now, but if the others wanted to get their pelts ripped off that was their business. She would not be fighting, thank you very much. Though she didn't think the others would appreciate her leaving them to battle on their own again. Not that she really cared about their approval, but since she had already pulled that trick once with the other clan cats they kept glancing at her the whole way and their suspicion was making it hard to escape. And Softstep did not like her chances of sneaking off once the battle had already started.

The group hid behind a bush near one of the rogues who was wandering around outside the camp. Stardust waved her tail to tell the rest of the group to stay put, then slipped through the bush and into the rogue's sight line. The rogue, a big, black-and-white tom, slid out his claws and ran towards her. "What are you doing here?!" he demanded.

Softstep flinched at how loudly the tom had spoken. Surely someone within the camp had heard him. However, Stardust didn't panic. She stood still as the tom ran closer, as if frozen in fear. When the tom got within a few tail-lengths, she let out a fearful squeak and ran through the bush. The tom followed her, not knowing her fear was fake, and ran right into bush. The group jumped on him, all attacking him at once. Softstep hung back, not joining in as it was clear everyone else had it handled, but she thought she saw Stardust catch this.

The tom got free and ran off in the opposite direction, away from the camp. The group continued on, doing similar things and picking off the rogues that were farther from camp. Softstep avoided battling at all, but got in a good swipe if the rogue tried to run back to camp and had to be chased in the other direction. It was going well until a rogue, about to follow Stardust into a trap, stopped walking. He must have noticed the group hiding behind her, because he suddenly turned tail and ran back towards the camp. "We're under attack!" he yowled.

"Fox Dung!" someone hissed.

"Come on, time to run right in!" Stardust raced after the rogue, the group following. Softstep felt pure terror at the thought of running right into that camp, probably full of rogues. Her mind flashed back to when she was a kit, hiding in a fallen log, watching... horrible wounds, blood staining the grass, the rogue licking the blood off of his long claws... Softstep shook her head, trying not to hyperventilate. She couldn't join in this fight... she just couldn't. As the group poured into the rogue camp and the second group came running from the other side, she fell behind and slipped into cover. No one seemed to notice her causal slowing down, and when she heard the yowls and screeches of battle, she figured it was safe to slink further away from the battle.

She settled in a rather safe spot, watching over the battle. She couldn't see very well, but she could smell the scent of blood. The battle only lasted a few minutes before she heard Stardust yell out, "Retreat!" Stardust, her rogues, and the clan cats came running from the camp, up towards Softstep's hiding spot. The rogues only followed a little of the way, so the group slowed a little. Softstep decided it would be fine to just slip into the midst of the group as they passed and no one would notice.

"Softstep!"

Except Stardust noticed. Softstep turned to face Stardust, who was glaring at her. "Softstep, you didn't battle! You hid out here!"

Chapter Two ~ Brighty

Feathershade's eyes widened, as Stardust stepped closer to Softstep's quivering body.

"You traitor!" Stardust's voice punctured the air, "Hiding in the bushes, while we fought!"

Softstep moved backwards, "Traitor?" She echoed, "No, I'm-"

Stardust cut her off, "Don't pull this on me. You're helping the rouges, aren't you? Is that why you avoided the battle?"

Softstep shook her head, too afraid to speak.

"Answer me!" Stardust growled, "How could you do this to us?"

"That's enough." Archer growled, stepping in, "Just because Softstep didn't fight, doesn't mean she's a traitor. Some cats aren't natural born fighters.

Stardust hissed, "No, she's a traitor! I can feel it, and I'm not wrong. We need to dispose of her, otherwise we'll lose everything we have."

Rainstep flicked her tail, "You know Stardust, you're a rouge too. Should we be accusing you? Last time I checked, Softstep was loyal."

"I trust her." Fernflight said dryly, "And that should tell you enough."

Miststorm grinned, "Stardust, you make me so proud. Accusing a cat who's afraid of battles, of being a traitor. Genius." Her stare dropped, and she mewed, "Don't make a mistake you can't fix."

Feathershade looked around at her group in wonder. They may have only known each other for a short time, but the way they stepped up to protect each other was heartwarming.

I mean... I'll never really be able to trust them. But here, they stood together like a family. They're not all bad, I suppose.

~

Stardust didn't come back after that. 

The six cats had returned to their makeshift camp, but a heavy wave still hang over the air like smoke.

Feathershade still felt bad about not stading up for Softstep, but there was no chance to remedy that. Softstep had disappeared after Stardust's accusations, claiming she was going hunting.

Of course, what Softstep really wanted to do, was make up for running out of the battle.

Feathershade sighed, and lay down on the ground, while the other cats filed in nearby.

What is this coming to? We can't trust the rouges, we can't trust Stardust... Can we even trust ourselves?

As her gaze flickered around, Feathershade doubted that she would ever be able to truly trust any of them.

"What are we going to do?" Rainstep finally asked, breaking the silence, "About Stardust, I mean."

"What is there to do?" Fernflight grumbled, "Stardust controls us."

Miststorm shrugged, "Well, we can't let her abuse us. Poor Softstep must feel awful."

Privatly, Feathershade agreed. She couldn't say so, but she knew it. Stardust was in charge, despite everyone's best efforts.

Archer mewed, "Well, we can't sit like ducks. What should we do? We need a plan. I don't want her to hurt Softstep - or anyone - again."

Feathershade's eyes narrowed, and she could spot the she-cat in the distance. 

"W-What we need to do," Feathershade cut in, "Is fight back."

Fernflight blinked at Feathershade's sudden forward suggestion, "Against Stardust?"

Feathershadow nodded, "There's not point in complaining. I mean... she's a rouge too. There's no point in letting her control us."

Rainstep sighed, "How do we do that without a plan?"

Archer looked over at Feathershade, "What do you think we should do?"

"I... I think we should rebel."

Chapter Three ~ Jet

“You... think we should rebel,” Miststorm repeated flatly.

Like that would work. What would we even do?

Feathershade nodded firmly. “We’re probably going to have to fight either way, so why not make the first move? Better to catch them off-guard than vice versa, right?”

“And if they overwhelm us when we do attack?” Rainstep questioned, “They did outnumber us earlier, and even if we do manage to take on, what, one on three, what if they have more next time? We don’t even have an enemy to pick off one by one like last time!”

“All we need is a different plan, then. Maybe draw Stardust to us, ambush her, take her hostage or whatever might work,” Fernflight concluded, then added a little dryly, “Yep, that’ll totally work.”

“No, really! Maybe that plan, or maybe something else, or…” Feathershade shrugged, letting her sentence hang as she seemed to try to catch a glimpse of something beyond the group then shrinking into herself as quickly as she’d interposed her idea, shaking her head slightly and murmuring under her breath, “or we could just give up and exe—”

“We can’t give up now!” Archer interjected, “Somebody’s probably already seen us gathering here like this, if we just break and continue they’ll probably just keep suspecting us until, I don’t know, we clash again or something.”

“Or they might think we’re gathering like ‘normal Clan cats tend to do’,” Rainstep muttered, “it’s not like they’re not used to it, right? Isn’t conversation normal for everyone? Don’t we usually talk sometime near sundowns each day?”

“‘Maybe they won’t suspect a thing! Maybe they’ll think us talking is normal, just like us arguing is normal!’ What are you implying, Rainstep?” Fernflight demanded, “We’re already stuck in this mess, we might as well try to get out of it as quickly as we can. Right?”

“Right.” Feathershade meowed, shuffing her paws a tinge nervously.

“Okay,” Archer agreed.

Rainstep paused, then nodded slowly. “...okay.”

“Fine by me.”

At least it’s something to do. Now all we need is one more vote, right…? Who’s the last...

...Ah, right, Softstep’s off hunting or something.

The cats stared at each other for a moment, before Miststorm broke the silence.

“Well. That’s settled, then. Need to find a plan, might want to get our pretend on, should probably figure out whether or not Stardust has any real position of power or irreplaceability in that gang of hers,” she concluded, then asked, “so does anyone have any ideas or should we just sit here like a bunch of brooding owls? Feathershade?”

“I’m… not particularly sure. Mostly just that we should probably usurp Stardust or some cat of authority? Take them hostage, force them to let us go, then we could maybe... er…”

Miststorm sighed, then turned a questioning eye to the others, as if asking someone to end Feathershade’s sentence.

...although…

“Maybe catch Stardust off guard, then capture her? Would that work,” Rainstep suggested quietly.

What if she’s already caught us off-guard?

“Hnn… Maybe,” Archer hummed, “Might want to iron out a few more details, though! Like how do we even get Stardust to remotely trust us again to lower her guard enough for us to catch her, what do we do after that, stuff like that?”

“Maybe Miststorm should work on Stardust,” Fernflight meowed a little edgily, “After all, she was the one who seemed to know that rogue first, right?”

…?

“Miststorm?”

—!

“Hey, where’s Softstep?”

Chapter Four ~ Eevee

"I thought she was hunting." Archer pointed out, looking over at Miststorm. Then he mumbled, "Then again, it has been a while since she headed out..." She was hunting alone... wait, Stardust snapped at her, and... that's it.

Before he could say what was on his mind, Rainstep suddenly blurted, "She might not be coming back." The small warrior quickly added, "What if Stardust caught her?"

"That can't be right." Fernflight snapped. "Even if she's a terrible fighter, she can't just get captured out of the blue." The ShadowClan cat twitched her ears as if she were about to add something, but didn't say anymore.

The five cats were silent for a short time. Miststorm finally mewed, "We should look for her."

Archer stood. "I'll go." he said quickly.

The black-furred warrior turned to leave, but was stopped by Rainstep's call. He looked back at her as she meowed, "It's dangerous to go alone. You should take somebody with you."

Maybe I should. Archer hesitated, then asked, "Feathershade, do you mind coming?"

Feathershade, who had been scoring marks in the ground with her claws, glared at him. For a second Archer thought she would refuse. But the RiverClan cat stood and padded past him. He followed, trying to match the she-cat's brisk pace.

The two walked in silence, stopping every few moments to check for any sign of the missing she-cat. Feathershade looked frustrated each time they didn't find anything, and Archer was starting to worry.

After a long while of searching, Archer let out a hiss. "Where could she be?" he mumbled, lashing his tail. The ThunderClan tom looked over to Feathershade. "Should we keep searching or--"

"No." the silver warrior sighed, turning away. "If we haven't even picked up a trace of her being here, then there's no way we'll even find her anytime soon. Let's head back."

"Right." Archer nodded in agreement and the cats turned back. Despite Feathershade's doubtful words, both still searched for signs of Softstep. Where could she have gone?

When the two reached the makeshift camp, Rainstep jumped to her paws, her eyes lighting up. She asked, "Did you find her?" Seeing the discouraged look on Archer and Feathershade's faces must have given her the answer, as her tail drooped. "Oh."

The other she-cats had taken the hint from Rainstep's reaction, as their gazes dropped to their paws. "No luck, huh?" Miststorm murmured under her breath.

Archer shook his head. "Sorry."

"It isn't your fault." Fernflight huffed, dragging her paw through the dust. Despite her tone, her eyes showed her worry. "No use in continuing the search, then. We should rest." she added, casting a glance at the setting sun.

The five cats agreed, but Miststorm was stopped by Fernflight. "You should go out and see if you can get Stardust to trust you," she explained. Miststorm nodded and headed out at once.

"And someone should be on guard, too." Rainstep suggested.

"I'll do it." Archer offered instantly, springing to his paws. No one objected, so the dark-furred tom settled himself near the middle of the "camp", his ears pricked. He nodded at Feathershade as she passed, ignoring her lack of a response.

When night finally fell, Archer almost regretted volunteering as guard. He yawned, then stared blankly ahead.

He had almost dozed off when a sudden movement startled him. His golden eyes narrowed to see a faint shadow, and a soft rustling sounded from ahead. For a heartbeat he thought it was Softstep, but it didn't look like her.

Archer slowly rose to his paws, hoping not to alert the intruder to his presence. He poked his head into the den and hissed, "Guys, there's something outside. Wake up."

Chapter Five ~ Holly

-tbc

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