"It has to be done," I think.
I am in a line of some of the best hunters in my Clan. I am one of them. Rather than hunting, I would like to join RiverClan and learn to swim.
Instead, a threat looms over my Clan. Literally. I have been chosen to drag it down, kill it, and bring it back to the Clan for a feast of some sorts. I would be more excited if I wasn't so scared. This threat isn't a normal threat, like ShadowClan or a badger attack.
Rather, it is our prey making us its prey.
I look up at the sky. It seems clear, with few clouds.
The pretty tabby she-cat next to me, Brambleface, leans over and whispers, "Perfect conditions! Don't you think?"
"Yeah," I breathe back. "Just perfect."
"Just think, if it was cloudy..."
I nod as our leader, Tanglestar, comes walking down the row. I wrinkle my nose at his disgusting, gray, tangled pelt. His warrior name was Tanglepelt for a good reason. He speaks as he walks.
"You five warriors are part of an elite force, trained to be rid of the threat looming above us. Just yesterday, it killed Vinekit-"
A she-cat in the crowd behind us wails and is taken back to the nursery. Tanglestar speaks over her:
"All of you will survive." He looks into my eyes. "Even you, Birdbrain."
That is not my name, but I've been called by it so often now that I'm sure even StarClan recognizes me by it.
"I know," I tell Tanglestar, "no need to remind me of the nightmares."
Tanglestar and the rest of the Clan chortle. Tanglestar says, "I'm so confident in your abilities to kill this thing that I'm appointing you leader of the patrol, just under Woodclaw."
The dark brown, buff-looking tom to my left's nose twitches. "Are you sure?" he asks.
"Positive, Woodclaw," Tanglestar snaps back. He raises his tail. "Now, go, kill the bird!"
The Clan roars their excitement as we- the hunters- pad out of the camp.
The hunt has begun.
My name is Birdbrain. Well, actually, that's my nickname.
My warrior name is Birdheart. I was named for my high hopes for the future and for my whitish, feather-like coat. I almost wish my mother had named me Featherkit, because now I would be named Featherheart and I wouldn't have this horrible nickname.
When I was just a kit, my brother was taken by an eagle. Since then, I have had a supposedly "irrational" fear of birds. It's not my fault. I just see their beaks and their beady eyes and their sharp talons and I can't help but be afraid.
I know for a fact that Brambleface has a small fear of water, more obvious than the average ThunderClan cat. And Woodclaw has a fear of dying by greencough.
This is why I don't really understand why I'm the one teased. I'm still a good warrior and a fantastic hunter.
Tanglestar is a bully to me, too. I know he just wants to make me scared, but what if something really does happen to me today? How will he feel then?
I almost hope something would happen to me today.
Woodclaw leads us through the forest. I pad reluctantly next to him.
He is bigger than me, more confident than me, overall a better cat than me. My shoulders hunch in order to be next to him and give him the recognition he deserves.
"You'll be all right," he tells me. "Tanglestar wasn't being too great of a cat."
My ears perk. "Are you actually talking to me?" I ask.
"Why not?" he asks, glancing at me before looking at the sky again. "You seem nice to me."
I swallow my doubts in order to keep him speaking to me.
Brambleface's footsteps are heavy behind me. I can hear her talking loudly to Breezetail, a lithe, gray tom, and Foxclaw, also a tom, but ginger.
Woodclaw chortles. "Brambleface is your best friend, isn't she?"
I nod. "Yes."
"Does she call you...?" He leaves the question open-ended, apparently thinking he would offend me.
"Birdbrain?" I finish for him. "Of course, who doesn't? She only ever called me a different name when she was cheering in my warrior ceremony."
Woodclaw grimaces and turns his gaze towards the path before him. I begin to fearfully search the sky.
"Do you like being called Birdbrain?" Woodclaw asks quietly.
I glance at him and turn my gaze back up towards the clouds instantly. "No," I answer truthfully. "Not really."
We pad on in silence.
I have never talked to Woodclaw before, so I am surprised at his kindness.
We have always walked two separate paths in our lives. He has become friends with Tanglestar, and seems to be on the right path to be deputy, and I, of course, am Birdbrain.
Did StarClan put us together today? Did Tanglestar?
What if he's just being nice to me to get my hopes up? What if he has more sinister plans?
The thing that bothers me the most about him is that I confessed that I hate being called Birdbrain. It disturbs me to the point of beginning to hate him, too.
And to think, he almost had me won over.
Foxclaw has seen the bird. And, like my heart has told me, it is huge.
It is literally a warrior of the sky.
"Birdbrain!" Breezetail snaps. "Let's go kill that thing!"
I jerk my gaze towards him, and then at Brambleface, but Woodclaw seizes the moment and grabs me by the scruff. "Let's go!"
I snap free of his jaws and run with the patrol.
"We need bait!" Foxclaw calls from somewhere in front of me. "Somebody needs to bait the bird!"
"All the way down here?" I cry in surprise as I trip over a tree root.
"You do it, Birdbrain!" Brambleface called from behind me. "You'll run away and we'll attack it!"
"I like that plan!" Woodclaw calls from beside me. "But I'll bait, I'm the leader!"
I can hear Breezetail's scoff of annoyance behind me.
"You won't get away in time!" Foxclaw calls back.
"I'm sure I can!" Woodclaw snaps. He looks at me, but I am puffing too much to be able to thank him. Instead, I just nod my thanks.
We have reached the WindClan border, but at this point Woodclaw bounds ahead and skids into the empty moor. The rest of us wait behind the last few scraggly bushes in our territory.
The bird begins to circle.
And it dives.
"No!" I screech.
The warriors hear it as a command, and, thinking I said "now", jump forward, claws unsheathed.
Woodclaw's back is bloody. I can see the bird mauled by the warriors, but its wings are still fluttering.
"Stop!" I screech again. "Woodclaw's dying!"
The warriors let go of the bird. Brambleface's snout is covered in blood, both her own and the bird's.
"Dying," Woodclaw chokes. "What a joke."
The bird tries to fly away, but is so injured that it can't. There is blood everywhere.
"Thank you, Birdheart," Woodclaw chokes out. His eyes glow. "You made me see a light in life."
And then his eyes cloud over and he heaves his last breath.
We look at Woodclaw's body, then at the bird, which has stopped trying to fly away.
"Should we...?" Breezetail asks.
"No," Brambleface replies. "It's too bloody to eat, anyway. It'll die anyway, out on its own."
We watch as the bird screeches. Its cries for help echo over the moor, over the lake, towards the mountains. I can tell that cats' heads are looking up to listen.
"Let's bring Woodclaw back," I decide.
"All right," Foxclaw sighs.
We make our way slowly back into the world with the loss of a lifetime.
We have arrived back at camp. Cats look up all over, trying to see the dead bird.
But our patrol doesn't have one. It has Woodclaw, instead.
"Where is it?" Tanglestar asks, padding towards us. "Where's the bird? Where's our feast?"
We look at each other, then I step aside and reveal Woodclaw, dead.
"No bird? No Woodclaw?" Tanglestar cries. "And you!" he yowls at me, "You became leader of the patrol!"
I haven't realized that until now. "I did become leader," I tell Tanglestar coolly.
Tanglestar is angry beyond belief. "I can't... Birdbrain! Bring back the bird!"
"We only scared it away," Foxclaw answers. "Her name is Birdheart."
The Clan, which has gathered around by this point, gasps.
"Woodclaw went and did it, didn't he?" Tanglestar sighs. "Birdbrain, he was in love with you from the moment he knew you existed."
Woodclaw had been an apprentice when I was born.
"Birdheart," I correct. I don't reply to the statement about Woodclaw.
"He suggested your warrior name, too," Tanglestar said. "He rather liked it."
The Clan is dead silent. I can imagine what they are thinking: Woodclaw? In love with Birdbrain?
I nod. "The bird is gone," I pronounce.
The Clan begins to cheer our names. All I hear is my name: Birdheart! Birdheart!
I just turn away and pad into the forest to mourn my losses.
Until I see a bird. Then I go back to camp.