Ravenflight paced frantically back and forth in front of the medicine cat's den. He couldn't lose her. Not after losing Sweetkit and Larchkit. She was too precious to him.
As soon as Bumblewhisker's apprentice, Comfreyleaf, made her way out of the den, he was on her. "How is she?"
The ginger she-cat didn't meet his eyes. "Ravenflight, you'd better come see her."
A cold knot of dread formed in Ravenflight's stomach as he dashed into the den. It reeked of sickness and herbs, but above that was the delicate perfumed scent of his beloved.
Mintberry was stretched out in her nest. Her silver-and-white flanks struggled for breath. Her soft mint-green eyes were closed. Bumblewhisker looked up and saw him there. "She's leaving us Ravenflight."
"No!" The black tom collapsed by his mate's side. "Mintberry," he whispered. "Speak to me my love. You'll be all right." His thoughts flashed back to their younger days, how lively and healthy she'd been. He could see her perfectly, eyes dancing, delicate and lithe as she pranced around him. How could something like greencough take that lovely she-cat away from him and replace her with this poor cat struggling to cling to life? "Stay with me, darling."
Mintberry's eyes met his. For one moment her old spirit returned, a flash of youthful vigour. Ravenflight could see all her love burning brightly in her gaze. "Ravenflight, I wish I could stay, but StarClan beckons me. Don't be sad. I love you." Her head fell back into the nest, and she took one last shuddering breath.
Ravenflight didn't believe it at first. "No! We can start again! We'll have more kits! Mintberry!" He was saying anything, anything at all, trying to keep her with him. But he could tell she was gone.
Outside, the rain poured in a sudden violent outburst, as if the whole world was weeping for the wonderful life lost.
Throughout it all, the vigil, the burial, Ravenflight had been numb. But now the pain wracked him, huge, shuddering sobs. He lay alone, away from the camp, on the border of PineClan's territory. Alone with his grief, memories, loss. Alone. He had never felt so abandoned. And yet, he somehow resented the thought of the company, and sympathy, that his clan offered. A burning anger started in his heart.
I can't- won't, go back. StarClan hadn't saved Mintberry. Bumblewhisker hadn't saved her. The warrior code hadn't saved her. He wasn't sure if they could have, but they hadn't. He couldn't face them. She, the light of his life, was gone. He wanted no more part of clan life. Of social life. Every time you opened your heart to someone, they were snatched from you. His parents. His sister, Swanpaw. And now Mintberry. He had no one left. Nothing left to live for, but himself.
Slowly, Ravenflight got to his paws. He stalked stiff-leggedly over PineClan's border, turning up his nose at their pathetic attempts to claim their own land. Living for others just didn't pay.
It was time for the new Ravenflight.
The sun shone brightly down on Paris's ginger coat as she stepped out of the house and into the bright spring day. She stretched blissfully, feeling the warm, wet earth squelch between her paws, and bounded across the garden.
Paris climbed onto the fence and gave a little sigh as she looked out at the woods beyond Twolegplace. Across the Thunderpath, ever symbolizing a freedom that she could not understand, but longed for everyday.
None of her friends could understand her fascination with the wild. Not that they had reason to. Her housefolk treated her well, she had to admit. But Paris couldn't explain why she was drawn to the woods, why an invisible force tugged her paws towards the outer fence. So she just accepted it as an unfullfilled part of her life.
"Good morning Paris." She heard a cheerful voice and turned to find herself looking into a pair of laughing blue eyes.
"Hello Misty," she meowed. The she-cat was named more for her looks than personality, for she was nowhere near as demure and peaceful as her ghostly silver coat and lithe figure suggested. No, Misty was definitely all sunshine and rainbows, Paris thought to herself.
"Fine weather, isn't it? Although it was fun to curl up on my folk's lap while it rained last night," Misty said.
Paris shook her head. "I much prefer this weather, though I'd even have sheltered outside in the rain if my housefolk let me."
Misty rolled her eyes. "Paris, you are the oddest cat I have ever met. And my uncle Cliff was extremeley odd," she added.
"That's nice," Paris said hastily. She did not want another story about Misty's many wacky relatives.
Misty didn't take the hint. "This one time, there was this stove, see, and-"
"Oh, sorry Misty, I think I hear my food bowl being filled," Paris interrupted.
"No problem," Misty chirped. "It can wait."
Paris hurried back into the house, though she had no intention of eating the rabbit-droppings her Twolegs filled her bowl with. Her own garden held a delightful supply of mice and rabbits, and sometimes she was daring enough to climb over the fence and hunt in the strip of grass between it and the Thunderpath. That was more then enough.
Avoiding all attempts on her Twolegs part to pet her, Paris wove her way through the house and sat down in her bed. She then proceeded to wash one white paw, but there was so surpassing the fact that she was so bored she might as well be dead.
Paris sighed, giving up on her attempt at grooming. How could the others stand it? Not doing anything but loaf around the whole day, eating from bowls, getting petted and fondled by clumsy Twolegs. Just thinking about it made her claws unsheathe and work into the soft fuzzy stuff the floor was lined with. She had yet to find a way to escape from it. But someday, she vowed, she would.
"One, two, three, win!"
Ravenflight let go of the brown tabby tom's neck, spitting blood out of his mouth. He listened with grim satisfaction as Buck continued. "And now Ravenflight's in the finals! He'll be competing against Demon next week."
With that, the alley cats broke up, leaving Ravenflight to stalk out triumphantly. He allowed himself a brief glimmer of pride, then staunchly cut it off and headed down the streets towards his favorite garbage cans.
His thoughts, as they often did when he was alone, turned back to the forest. No! He'd finally made a place for himself here, using his fighting skills to dominate the alleys. There was no time in his life for foolish sentiment; all these rogues needed to be constantly put in their place.
A small gray tom was rooting about in the garbage when Ravenflight arrived. He gave a nervous start. Ravenflight peeled back his lips and let out a low, threatening snarl. "Get lost Pete."
Pete nodded, picked up a piece of crusty bread, and dashed away. Ravenflight stalked to the pile of crow-food and rooted about till he found a nice chicken leg. Then he took his treasure to a secluded corner of the alley and began to eat, always alert for any sign of the hoarde of rats that occupied the place.
After his meal, he decided to take a little stroll down by the Thunderpath, near the Twoleg fences. With a yawn and a stretch, Ravenflight trotted away from the dark alleys, towards the Thunderpath. For a second, his eyes strayed to the woods, then he shook himself and trotted onwards.
Suddenly, a rank scent reached his nostrils. He stiffened. A second later, two stinking, flea-bitten cats appeared. Ravenflight flattened his ears. These were two goons of Demon, and they always made trouble for him. Unsheathing his claws, Ravenflight tossed his head defiantly and met their beady glare.
"Good morning, Dexter, Strike," he said cordially. His green eyes mocked the two simple cats, who seemed to realize finally that he was being sarcastic.
"We no care for good morning," hissed Dexter. What the large tabby tom lacked in brains he made up for in size and power. Strike was quicker and stealthier; they made a deadly combination.
Ravenflight was ready for Dexter when he pounced. He dodged out of the way, then used the momentum of Dexter's own attack against him by shoving him from the back and sending him flying into a bush lining the fence.
Strike darted in, snarling. The ginger tom bit open an old wound on Ravenflight's leg. Letting out a howl of pain, Ravenflight slashed at him. But by this time, Dexter had gotten back to his paws. He thundered into the middle of Ravenflight, knocking him sprawling.
As soon as he got up, Dexter and Strike were on him again, slashing for all they were worth. Ravenflight became a whirling buzzsaw, but he was no match for two angry cats.
Demon's going to enjoy hearing about this, Ravenflight thought as he made a beeline for the fence.
Paris crouched in the long grass, unmowed and thick, outside of the confinment of her Twoleg's yard. The mouse was nibbling on a stalk of something, completley unaware of her.
Suddenly, the mouse perked up. Paris froze, but her prey darted away. With a snarl of frustration, she got up, just in time to see a black tom running in her direction, before he slammed into her and sent her head over heels.
She got up snarling. "What is-" She was cut short by two other toms, who thundered past her. One of them, a dark brown tabby, stepped on the black cat's tail as he scrambled for the fence. Paris felt anger rising within her. She didn't know the black tom, she'd never seen him around the neighboring yards, but she did have a keen sense of justice, and no cat was getting ganged up on while she was around. With a yowl, she sprang onto the tabby's back and sunk her claws in, thankful that her Twolegs hadn't clipped them yet.
The tom let out a screech of pain. "Get off me kittypet!" He swiped at her, but she only dug in harder. Meanwhile, the black tom and the ginger tom were wrestling on the ground.
"Get lost!" The black cat sent his opponent sprawling. The ginger scrambled to his feet and went streaking away, along the Thunderpath.
Paris felt the tabby hesitate, then he shook her off and followed suit. Paris felt a wonderful thrill as she watched them run away. She'd fought, and won, her very first battle! Turning, she found the black tom staring at her with hostile green eyes.
"I didn't need your help, kittypet!" he snarled.
Paris bushed out her tail and spat at him vehemently. "Didn't need my help? They would've shredded you if I hadn't been there." The tom looked mildly surprised, as if he'd expected her to run of crying to her housefolk. It was what Misty or any of Paris's friends would have done. But Paris stood her ground, too angry to be scared. How dare he!
The tom rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Just run back to your kittypet home before you actually get hurt."
"Hold on just a minute," she snapped. "You're not brushing me off like a flea. I'm not budging till you say thank you."
The tom looked amused, but stalked off with a grunt. Paris glanced at the fence leading to her yard, then brushed it off and ran after him. After all, she'd longed to escape the bonds of her Twoleg home, and now she really felt free, invigorated by the fight. She wasn't sure how she would survive out here, but something told her the first step was to stay with this black tom.
He turned around with an expression that was half amused, half annoyed. "Don't you have anything better to do?"
Paris ignored him. "Did I hear a thanks? Perhaps a thank you, even?"
"Maybe you should get your ears checked. And your brain. Following people is creepy and wierd." But Paris detected a twitch of his whiskers.
"What's your name?" she asked.
He studied her, sizing her up. "What's yours?"
"Paris," she meowed freely.
The tom let out a snort of laughter. "I've heard some really dumb names around here, but yours wins first prize."
Paris narrowed her eyes and hissed, "Well, what's your name then?" When he hesitated, she taunted, "Coward. You scared a wittle kittypet like me is gonna eat you?"
"Ravenflight." The tom watched her, daring her to say something.
"That's actually a really nice name," she admitted. Ravenflight looked surprised, but he didn't say anything.
"Don't you need to go back? I mean, thank you or not, you can't be serious about walking away from your housefolk."
Paris smirked at him. "Yeah right. I've been waiting all this time for an oppurtunity to get out of there."
"But you were already out when I ran into you. Waiting for the right tom?" Ravenflight's eyes were full of mischief.
"But I never did find him, so I took pity on you," countered Paris. Ravenflight shrugged and trotted ahead. Paris made no move to keep up, but didn't fall behind either. She followed as he walked away from the posh place where her house was, and into a dark, rank alley. Her legs began to ache, but she was determined not to fall behind. She'd show him!
Finally, Ravenflight turned. His voice was low and eerie in the caverns of the crow-food strewn alley. "Really Paris. This is no place for a little kittypet." Though most of the scorn was gone from his voice, Paris still took it as an insult.
"No! Just say thank you!"
He looked exasperated, but appeared to be as stubborn as her, because he turned around and continued walking without meowing the requested words.
Paris had never been so miserable. Her legs were wet from walking through puddles, her paws caked with mud, and her pads scratched and worn from the cracked gravelly floor.
Ravenflight glanced at her, and she squared her chin, determined not to let her weariness show. But his green eyes softened anyway. "We can rest now." He seemed to have accepted her as a temporary factor in his life. "How about in that opening in the alley walls, where it crumbles away?"
Paris glanced at the dirty opening, but was too tired to complain. Ravenflight let her go in first, then huddled on the outskirts, purposely staying away from her, though that left him little room to sleep.
Paris only had a brief moment to wonder whether she'd done the right thing by following the black tom. She steeled her heart. Of course she had. It was what she had longed for her whole life, and she would face the new adventure with all the spirit and courage she had. But there was something else too. Something that pulled at her heart, telling her Ravenflight needed her as much as she needed him to survive.
Pushing these thoughts to the back of her mind, she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Ravenflight watched her, his claws sheathing and unsheathing frantically against the stone. He should just kill her now, or at least wound her, and run away. But he couldn't bring himself to do it. Even with her coat dirty and mud-stained, she was still beautiful. He shook the image out of his mind, but it was still there. Her mischievous, spirited amber eyes, light ginger coat with the delicate white paws, finely formed head. It was all imprinted into his mind.
And he'd lied about her name. It was the prettiest kittypet name he had ever heard, and felt like music rolling off of his tongue. He wouldn't say thank you now if she pressed her claws to his throat; the thought of her leaving made his belly clench. But he didn't know how she could possibly survive out here. Spirited and brave she might be, but she had too much of a sense of justice and honor to be a rogue of the alleys.
Just then, he saw her stir. She raised her head, and he quickly looked away, not wanting her to think he had been watching her. With a yawn and a stretch, Paris got to her feet. "I'm so sore," she meowed. Her eyes looked around dazedly, then yesterday seemed to catch up with her. She smiled at Ravenflight, and his heart gave a queer leap.
He masked it by saying curtly, "Well, you must've gotten enough rest, snoring like a hog the whole night and well into the day."
"Oh please, it's barely past dawn," her normal tone returned.
"Well, you can sleep the day away, but I've got food to find," he said, trotting away. A second later, she was at his side, with all the curiosity and excitement of a newly made apprentice. Ravenflight was reminded of his old apprentice, Sorrelpaw. She must be a warrior by now. Yellowleaf had probably taken over her training; the young she-cat had been wanting one for a long time.
Paris broke into his train of thought. "Do you hunt everyday? What other kinds of prey are there around here? Can you show me the best stalking techniques? For some reason, most creatures hear me before I can catch them. Of course, yesterday that was your fault."
He blinked at her, taken aback by the stream of questions. "Well..." he began slowly. "I don't hunt everyday. You have to go to the Twoleg dens to do that, where the grass grows. And no respectable cat goes near there." He threw her a meaningful glance, and her hackles raised. Before she could say anything, he pressed on. "So mostly we eat forage-food."
"Well, back in the Clans we called it crow-food." He realized too late that he had said the wrong thing.
"The Clans! You've been with them? Of course, I should've known from your name. They live terribly far away, don't they? Oh, Ravenflight, are you a warrior?"
"I was," he muttered, not meeting her shining eyes. "But it's too long a journey anyhow."
She looked puzzled. "Why did you leave?"
"None of your business!" he yelled. She didn't look taken aback at all.
"But it is my business. I want to become a Clan cat. To serve. To live by the warrior code. To lay down my life for others."
He sighed. "You have no idea what it's like Paris. It isn't some free-for-all kittypet club. They wouldn't accept you, and even if they would, you would never make the journey." Instantly her tail was the size of a tree trunk.
"I would, I can, and I will!" Her eyes flashed vehemently. Then her face softened. "Ravenflight, would you take me to the Clans?"
"No," he repeated. "I'm never going back there again. You wouldn't understand, Paris. All your life you've been pampered. You don't know what it's like to lose-" he choked back the words, and the tears.
Paris was too angry to notice. "Fine! I'll just find them myself." Before he could stop her, she had turned and run out of the alley.
She'll come back, he told himself, but doubt prickled in his paws. After five minutes had passed, he padded out of the alley. Monsters shot past him, rocking the Thunderpath and belching disgusting fiery fumes. There was no sign of a ginger she-cat. Worry filled his mind. Where could she have gone? She couldn't possibly find her way back home, let alone make the long journey to the clans.
That's not my problem, he thought. Curling up in a ball, he proceeded to shut out the sounds of the outside world and go to sleep.
He found himself standing in a familiar clearing surrounded by pines. The scents were achingly dear to his heart, but then one that he treasured far more reached his nostrils.
Ravenflight let out a gasp as a beautiful silver-and-white she-cat walked towards him. Her frosty mint-green eyes glimmered, and soft white light seemed to radiate from her pelt.
"Mintberry," he whispered, as if talking loudly would make her vanish like a puff of cloud.
"Ravenflight." She ran the last few steps and reached him. For the first time, he noticed two gray bundles running after her. One was charcoal, the other silver with white paws.
"Sweetkit, Larchkit!" He licked both of them over the head.
"Daddy," purred Larchkit, rubbing her dark head against his legs.
"Ravenflight," Mintberry murmured, after they were done rubbing against each other and purring. "It's time to go back."
"What?" He had been drinking in her sweet scent open-mouthed, but now he stared at her dumbly.
"Back," she repeated. "to the Clans. To PineClan. To your old life."
He continued staring, so she went on. "Ravenflight, I still love you with all my heart. But it is time to build a new life. Find Paris. Bring her to the clans with you. I know you can make it together. Your destiny is not here, on the streets of Twolegplace. You belong back in PineClan, as a warrior."
Many questions were swirling in Ravenflight's mind, but his love for his family stopped him from blurting them out. And then Sweetkit sealed his decision. The little she-kit hopped up and touched her nose to his. "Go Daddy. Be a big warrior and make us proud."
His heart warm, Ravenflight licked his kits one last time. Then his gaze met Mintberry's. She nodded once. "And one last thing Ravenflight. I'm not the only she-cat there is."
She gave a sad smile, as if she knew she was losing something, but the sacrifice was worth it. "Don't be afraid to open your heart to love." With that, they vanished, and the next thing he knew, Ravenflight was waking up in the alley.
Bounding out, he quickly picked up a faint thread of Paris's scent and followed it. He didn't know the why or the what of what he was doing, except that Mintberry had told him too. And though she was in StarClan, his beloved mate's wish was still his law.
Ready or not PineClan, he thought. Here I come.
Paris huddled in a clump of weeds. She couldn't tell whether it was she who was shaking, or the ground, every time a monster roared past. It was evening, almost night, and she had resolved to make it across the Thunderpath before darkness fell. She'd spent most of the afternoon talking to cats around Twolegplace and trying to find out things about the clans.
She had mostly met dead ends, but finally a grizzled old brown tom, a kittypet, had told her something of interest. She recalled what he had said:
"Well, young 'un, I don't remember the clans that much anymore, but it's embedded into my heart, that's for sure. My name's Whiskers now, but back in GrassClan they called me Speedstar." Here he had sighed. 'If only I had the courage to... but never mind that. One day, when I was on my last life, I wandered away from camp. A storm came up, and these Twolegs found me. I should've run, but I just didn't think the warrior life was for me anymore. I've regretted it many times, but I can't say I'd go back if I could."
Speedstar. Last life. Paris wasn't sure what exactly those words meant, but they gave her a wonderful thrill. Whiskers had told her that he had been the leader of GrassClan once. Privately, Paris didn't know how he could settle for being a pampered kittypet after the excitement and nobility of being a warrior. Just as she didn't understand why Ravenflight didn't want to return to the clans. Maybe if Whiskers talked to Ravenflight, he would listen to reason, she thought.
But Paris had other things to worry about. And she wouldn't go back and admit to Ravenflight that she couldn't do it alone for anything in the world.
"You know, if you want to cross the Thunderpath, it would help not to fall asleep."
Paris opened her eyes and focused on the owner of the taunting voice. A black tom came into focus, his emerald eyes dancing with amusement. "Ravenflight!" She couldn't keep the joy out of her voice, but quickly subdued herself. "What are you doing here?"
He grinned ands stretched comfortably. "Oh hon, you have so much to learn. I own the place. And as a high official, they asked me to see a certain little kittypet to the clans. She might fall into a well otherwise, see."
Laughing, Paris bumped against his shoulder. The sun had almost set now, but though the flow of monsters was slower, it was still there. "I see," she said. "Well good luck finding her. She sounds like a lovely soul."
Ravenflight smiled for a moment, then his tone turned serious. "Come on, let's hurry and cross before it's too dark."
Nodding, Paris followed him to the edge of the Thunderpath. Though she tried to keep herself steady, her legs shook as a monster roared past, it's bright eyes gleaming eerily. Ravenflight watched her reaction, and she steeled her gaze, trying to radiate self-confidence.
"As soon as I run, come with me and keep running. You ready?"
Paris took a deep breath and smiled. "Let's do this."
Ravenflight waited for the next monster to pass, then he flicked his tail at her and dashed across. Paris was on his heels, trying to ignore the overwhelming stench and the unfamiliar hard substance digging into her pads.
The next thing she knew, she was on the other side, safe and sound. Letting out a joyous whoop, she leaped high into the air to celebrate, then rolled around in the grass, ectasy coursing through her.
Finally, she got to her paws and shook grass off her fur. Self-conciously, she noticed Ravenflight staring at her, and realized how foolish she must have looked. Turning away, she muttered, "So are we going to find a place to camp out now?"
He seemed to come out of a trance. "Huh? Oh right. Well, it would be better if we went further into the woods, just to be safe. Come on."
"Okay," she sighed. They padded into the dark shadowy woods. Overhead, the stars of Silverpelt cast their silver glow on the two unsuspecting members of a carefully plotted couple.
Ravenflight yawned and stretched. The first rosy flush of dawn had barely touched the horizon, but he'd had all his sleep for tonight. Getting up, he shook the pine needles off his pelt. They had camped under the sheltering boughs of a large fir. Paris still slep peacefully, her ginger flanks rising and falling evenly.
He padded out into the still woods, deciding to hunt. It would be nice to have some fresh-kill, and prove his hunting skills. A few nagging doubts came into his mind about this journey. How could he just disappear from the alleys without a trace, leaving his old life completely? Would Demon take over now? Pushing them away, he concentrated only on the sacred memory of his mate. She wanted him to go back to PineClan. At least if he didn't want to stay, he could drop Paris off there, and she'd be out of his hair. Ravenflight wasn't sure what it was about the she-cat that made him want to help her, perhaps it was only StarClan's will, but he was a determined cat, and he would make it happen.
He quickly killed a thrush, and then a sparrow. Picking up the two limp birds, he hurried back to the pine tree. Paris was sitting outside, grooming a paw gingerly. She looked up and smiled as he approached.
"Breakfast," he mumbled, ignoring the way his stomach flipped when she smiled.
"So you can hunt," she joked, and walked over to him. For a second a shadow flitted through her amber eyes. "But I can find my own prey you know."
Ravenflight was about to retort when he remembered how stubborn she could be. They couldn't afford to waste time. "Sure you can. But just hurry and eat so we can get started."
"Fine," she sighed. "Next time, I'm hunting."
Pushing the thrush towards her, he began to eat the sparrow without replying. He seriously doubted that she could hunt, after being raised with housefolk to feed her.
Seeming to guess what he was thinking, Paris glowered at him. "I will hunt next time, and catch enough prey for both of us, too."
"Whatever you say," he taunted. She swiped at him with sheathed claws.
"Which way now?" she asked.
He looked about him. "North," he meowed. "Come on." He set off deeper into the woods. Seconds later, she was by his side, looking around with delight. He couldn't keep his gaze off her, with her kit-like happiness and curiousity. Her eyes were wide with awe, and she was almost prancing.
"It's so beautiful. And you lived out here all the time?"
"Not here exactly, but a woods much like this. Prettier even."
She turned to him breathlessly. "Why did you leave?"
The question hit Ravenflight like a blow to the chest. He turned away abrubtly. "No reason!" he snapped. "I was just tired of it, okay?"
For once she was silent, and he regretted lashing out at her like that. Still, Paris could never understand his pain, with her pampered, soft little heart. She was so expecting, so sure PineClan would accept her with open arms. And determined, he had to admit. She was braver then any kittypet he had ever met before. But bravery wasn't enough to survive as a warrior.
After a few minutes, he ventured, "So what would you like your warrior name to be?"
She turned back to him, the sparkle returning to her amber eyes. "I don't know. We don't get to pick, do we?"
Ravenflight shook his head. "Not usually. But I was just wondering."
Paris seemed lost in thought. "It will be odd to have my name changed. I've been Paris all my life."
Just then, he froze. Had he heard it? It came again, this time unmistakable. Paris read the fear in his gaze. "What is it?" Ravenflight didn't respond. Seconds later, two cats emerged. This time it wasn't Dexter and Strike.
Ike and Ivan advanced slowly, their ears flat and their eyes narrowed. "Did you think you could escape Ravenflight?" snarled Ivan, unsheathing his claws. Three more cats jumped out of the brush. There was no sign of Demon, but Ravenflight knew the tom must be close.
"Paris," he hissed through clenched teeth. "Run!"
Ignoring Ravenflight's words, Paris blinked at the urgency in his tone. She turned to the five cats walking towards them. "Who are you?" she asked coldly, her tail bushing up instinctively.
"Paris!" Ravenflight screamed, almost hysterically, just as a white tom with black ears leaped towards her throat. The black tom shoved her backwards and turned to face the tom, clawing his throat so that scarlet beads of blood appeared on the milky fur.
For a few seconds Paris continued running, as if her mind had been set to a command. Then she heard a howl of pain and turned to see Ravenflight being mobbed by all five cats. Her blood was heating with the urge to fight. She sprang back into the fray and slammed her body against two of the toms, knocking them sprawling.
"Leave him alone, you cowards!"
"Oh, look at this. A little kittypet. Hey Ravenflight, do you mind if we kill your girlfriend? Didn't think so!" A black tom jumped at her. She swiped at his cheek, freezing for a split second as she saw blood spray out. Shaking her head, Paris reminded herself that this was a battle. She'd have to get used to it if she wanted to become a warrior.
Mustering all her strength, she shoved him backwards into a bramble which snagged a clump of his thick black fur, then scored her claws down his flank. With a wail, he raced away into the woods.
Turning, she caught Ravenflight's green gaze. He gave her a short nod, whatever other emotion she'd seen in his eyes disappearing instantly.
"We will let you be for now," hissed Ike, the white tom. "But only because Demon wants the pleasure of killing you for himself." With that, the rogues turned and disappeared into the woods.
Paris turned to Ravenflight. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he grimaced. She walked over and began to lick the raw, bloody gashes that ripped through his pelt. He stiffened at her touch, then relaxed and sat down while she washed out the cuts.
"Let me get something to put on that." Paris turned and began rummaging through the plants that grew around them.
"How would you know what to put? You're not a medicine cat, and kittypets don't use our remedies."
She glowered at him. "Do you want me to hurt you even more? Misty, my friend, her Twolegs have a garden full of herbs. I know the uses for some of them. Let's see, yes this one." She quickly nipped off a few leaves and chewed them up, regarding Ravenflight coolly. "This might sting a bit."
As soon as she pressed the poultice in, the black tom went ballistic. He yowled and spat furiously at her. She gave a smirk. "Are the little leaves too much for the great warrior to bear?"
"You're an evil, cruel cat, you know that?" But he smiled as he said it.
"So, how do you think I fought?" she blurted without thinking. Mentally, she slapped herself. I don't care what he thinks. I don't need his approval.
He studied her carefully, as if sizing her up. "Not bad actually. Really well... for a kittypet."
Meowing in amusement, she lay next to him, but far enough so their pelts didn't brush, and closed her eyes. "Can we rest a bit before moving on?"
"Yeah." He lay his head on his paws. "Good idea."
Ravenflight was dreaming, and he knew it, but it was so vivid that he didn't care. He was running through a familiar woods, the pine branches calling out to him, yet there was an urgency to his mission. He had to find something, but he wasn't sure what he was looking for.
Then he saw her. Mintberry. She was sitting on top of a hill, the sunlight gleaming off her silver-and-white coat with dazzling brilliance. Her soft mint green eyes met his. "Mintberry-"
Demon! The tom appeared without warning. An evil sneer was on his face as he crept up on Mintberry. Ravenflight ran harder and faster, but he could never get there on time. The evil brown cat turned on his precious mate and raised his paw, claws unsheathed. And then... something happened. The pools of green were replaced by the sharp of amber, the shining silver fur by fiery orange.
"Paris?" Ravenflight skidded to a stop, utterly bewildered. He watched as Paris attacked Demon. Just before the brown tom faded, he raked his claws down her throat.
"No!" He raced up to where she lay, tears welling in his eyes. Her fur was matted with blood, and it didn't seem to come only from the wound. Blood, its reek filling the air, clogging her fur, dribbling over her closed eyelids. What's going on?
"Ravenflight." This time he knew it was her. Mintberry stood a few feet away, her eyes a whirlpool of emotion. "Don't run away. Please, for me. Don't wait till it's too late."
"What do you mean?" Ravenflight asked, but the dream was fading, along with the smell of blood, till only the echo of the words remained.
"Paris!" He woke up and glanced around frantically. She was gone! He raced outside yelling her name. "Where are you?"
"Ravenflight?" He heard a confused meow from behind him. He turned and relief flowed through him as he saw her standing there with a large rabbit in her jaws. "Is something wrong?"
A hot flush crept up his neck as he realized how stupid he'd been. "No."
"Okay..." she blinked. Then her normal spirit returned. "Told you I would hunt next time." She laid the fresh-kill down between them. "With the might warrior all hurt and in bed, I figured the lowly apprentice might fetch some grub."
"Very funny," he said, though secretly he was impressed she had managed to bring down such large prey. "I'll bet you're quite proud of yourself now."
"Oh it's no big deal," she meowed airily. "I consider this barely a morsel." Chuckling, the two of them bent over the prey and began to eat.
"So, about Demon and his rogues. You know they're nearby."
Her face turned serious. "Yes."
"And... I don't think it's safe for you to face them again. I mean, I'll do my best to protect you but I can't against all those cats. Maybe you should go on ahead alone. I'll stay here. It's me they want." Ravenflight held his breath. Would she listen to him for once?
No, she wouldn't apparently. Her tail began to brush up. Her amber eyes flickered with hurt, then anger. "What? I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. Do you honestly think I'm such a coward or so weak that I'd let you face them on your own? You have no idea what you rescued me from. My Twoleg home. And your problems are mine now..." She trailed off, her ears filling with tears. Ravenflight stared at her in shock. He had never seen Paris cry before. Did she really care that much?
Before he could say anything, she turned and fled, letting out a wail he recognized from his dream. What have I done?
Paris ran headlong through the woods. The fact that she was crying infuriated her, which only served to send more hot tears of mingled anger and sorrow down her cheeks. Finally, she tripped over a dead branch and went sprawling across the floor. Her chin and forelegs scraped painfully on the ground, and she hit her chin on a rock. Tasting blood as she got up, she wondered if things could get any worse.
Paris didn't understand why the emotions had hit her so hard when Ravenflight suggested she go on without him. It couldn't be that she didn't want to leave. They weren't that close. Yes, she told herself. It had more to do with him hurting her pride then anything else. But a little voice in her head commented that anytime before her pride and been assaulted, she'd done just fine springing up in her own defense. This felt different, like a claw had raked across her heart.
"Paris!" Her ears pricked as she heard Ravenflight's voice, getting fainter as he went in the opposite direction of her trail. After how much he boasted about his warrior tracking skills.
Just then, she became aware of another presence around her. "Who's there?" Her voice was clearer now, and the tears were drying on her fur.
Two toms stepped out of the brush. Paris' heart sank as she recognized them. "Time to take a walk, little beauty," Ivan meowed.
"Where am I?" Her head throbbed as she struggled to her paws. A dark tom stood over her, the two other toms at his side. Behind them were the two cats she had fought when she first met Ravenflight, Dexter and Strike. "What do you want?" she hissed.
"You're not in any position to be making threats darling," cooed the dark tom.
"You're Demon aren't you?"
His eyes widened in mock surprise. "I didn't know I was that famous. Why yes I am little kitty. Will you be wanting a pawprint?"
"Don't call me little kitty!" she yelled. She took a step forward, but was quickly forced to stop, not by Demon's minions, but by the pain that lanced thorugh her head.
"Anyway," he said to his followers as if she wasn't even there. "Where little Miss Precious goes, Ravenflight will follow. Then, I shall kill him and prove to all those idiotic mange-pelts that I am the true ruler of the alleys. He cannot run from me!"
Paris felt her heart twist. She wanted to believe that Ravenflight wouldn't do that. That all their fights had been real and he didn't give a mousetail for her. But she simply couldn't. Somehow, when she looked into his green eyes, she could see past the elusive front he put on. There was much much more to him.
She was jolted from her reverie by Ivan. "Let's get her some place safe, where we can decide what to do next."
"Leave enough of a trail," said Demon. "And then we'll arrange for her to have a little date with our friend." Paris snarled into his taunting face, but she was overpowered and forced to march.
As she plodded along, she had only one thought. Keep Ravenflight safe.
"Paris!" Ravenflight bellowed one last time over the echoing woods. Only the echoes of his own desperation came back at him. She was gone. But where? Finally, he collapsed beside a fallen log. His head shot up. Paris's scent was present here, but it was mingled with something more sinister.
"They've got her," he whispered. Horror stirred him into action again. He opened his jaws and strained to catch their trail. As night fell though, he was forced to stop and rest. How could I have let her go?
A small part of him seemed to whisper that he could go on to PineClan alone, or even back to the alleys and round up some cats who adored him to defeat Demon. But even as he thought it, he knew he couldn't do it. Why? What was so special about this one she-cat? In the heat of the chase, he hadn't had time to question his own motives. But now, huddled under a tree alone, they came back to haunt him. He closed his eyes, but the image of her sweet face was there, like the backdrop of his eyelids, so real he felt he could touch her. A sharp pain so physical he gasped cut through his chest. What's wrong with me?
Tucking his tail around himself, he tried for sleep that wouldn't come. Tomorrow, he would follow the trail. And find her. No matter what.
When he awoke, a sharp, cold wind whipped around him, sending twigs and leaves skittering across the forest floor and blinding him with it's intensity. How can I find her in this?
But he didn't hesitate. Without a spare thought for his growling belly, he pressed his nose to the ground and picked up the trail. He knew it could be a trap. He knew it could get him killed. But he knew something even more important. Without Paris, life wouldn't be the same.
Closing his eyes and gritting his teeth, Ravenflight pushed on, the sharp wind biting his cheeks and flattening his ears to his head. The air tasted of rain and danger, crackling with electricity, but he didn't look for shelter. Ike and Ivan would be forced to stop now with so many cats, and he could try to catch up. He had to.
Soon the rain began to fall. First in fat drops, which quickly turned to driving sheets. Ravenflight was soon drenched, fur plastered to his skin, slipping and sliding in mud. Finally, he fell and didn't get up. Hopelessness was setting in. He could never find her now. The scent would be completely washed away. Paris was gone.
"Ravenflight. Arise. It's not over yet."
Ravenflight opened his eyes. The dull ache in his bones was gone, replaced by a new feeling of strength. He saw the glimmer of StarClan frost at the cat's paws and jolted up, expecting to see Mintberry. But it wasn't her. It was a young she-cat, sleek and lithe, with pure white fur more dazzling than the moon.
"Swanpaw?" he breathed.
"Ravenflight. I'm so proud of you." Her sapphire blue eyes filled with tears as she buried her face in his fur. He stood stock-still, afraid she would vanish if he moved suddenly. His throat constricted as he remembered how close they were and realized how much he had missed that. She pulled away eventually, urgency in her face. "Ravenflight, you'll find Paris. All I can tell you is to follow the raven's heart. There, you will find the sunset streaking the sky red, and make the choice of earth or sky."
"Look Swanpaw, I know you're a lot smarter than me but, huh?"
She laughed and head-butted him affectionately. "Sorry, that's all those old grouches will let me tell you." Thunder rumbled overhead, and she winced. "Sorry StarClan."
Ravenflight chuckled, but he was as confused and worried as before. "Swanpaw, what if I never find her? What if they hurt her-" He swallowed hard, surprised to find his voice cracking. "I mean, she's my friend now. Do you know how that feels?"
Swanpaw's gaze became far away. Then she said, "Ravenflight, do you remember Scorchpaw?"
He nodded slowly. "He was smitten by you. Did you like him back?"
She smiled sadly. "Yeah. That's why I died." When he stared at her in shock, she explained, "When I got hit by the monster," she shuddered, "it was because I shoved him out of the way."
"You cared that much about him?" Ravenflight said, unable to believe that his pretty sister had died for a tom.
Her gaze was steady. "When you love someone, you'll do anything for them. Anything. I think you know that feeling, don't you?"
"Yeah. Mintberry." She rolled her eyes. "What?"
"Nothing," she groaned. "Toms. Well, I have to go." She touched his nose with her small pink one. He closed his eyes, trying to capture the light sweet touch forever. Then she was gone.
Paris awoke to a dull ache in her head. Demon was speaking.
"Dumb rain. Lewis, Claw, go back along our trail and rescent it. With his sucky tracking skills and the rain, our guest might not make it if we don't help him along."
"You got it boss," Claw, a brown tom with an ugly scar across his face, nodded eagerly. The two toms disappeared into the woods, and Demon turned his ugly face back towards her. Instantly she peeled her lips back in a snarl.
"Good morning to you too, er, what was your name again?" Ike said tauntingly.
Demon gave a huge yawn. "Well, what's the matter? Cat got your tongue?" The three of them got a huge laugh out of that. Paris clenched her jaw and worked her claws into the dirt.
Ivan tossed her a soggy mouse. She didn't look at it. He shrugged. "Your call. But when you're starving, don't look at us."
"Ike, Ivan, you guard her. If you let her go, I'll slit your worthless throats," Demon snapped.
"Relax boss. She's too weak to do anything. We got this."
"For your sakes, I hope so," Demon growled. He turned and headed off. "I'm going to go hunt, and watch for Ravenflight. He'll be along soon. And when he does stumble into us, he'll be sorry."
Paris shuddered. She had to do something. Studying the two toms, she began to formulate a plan.
A few hours passed. The sun was high in the sky by now, and both toms were showing signs of drowsiness. Paris decided it was time.
Letting out a huge yawn, she put on a dreamy, half-delirious face, throwing all the sugary acting skills she could muster into it. "I miss my soft, cozy bed," she said, thinking of the odd, stinking contraption her Twolegs had given her to sleep in. "I miss the warm fireplace." She thought of the time her pelt had almost caught fire, and her smile grew sadistically wider. "I miss the food." Here she almost gagged, but held it together. "And most of all, I want to rest..." She let her head fall limply to her paws, and gradually slowed her breathing. It was torture not to open her eyes and check if they were watching, but she managed.
After a few minutes, she heard Ike's voice. "Do you think she's asleep?"
Ivan scoffed. "Of course she is. She's a kittypet. She doesn't know anything about surviving." His stomach growled so loudly even Paris could hear it, and she fought to keep from smirking. "Speaking of surviving, I'm going to go hunt. Keep an eye on her just in case."
Ike seemed like he was about to protest, then called, "Bring me something too!"
There were a few more minutes of silence, then Paris heard a scraping sound. Her suspicions were confirmed when there was a thumping sound as Ike flopped down, followed by a contented sigh. After waiting as long as she could bear, she opened one eye a crack. Perfect. Ike was out cold. Slowly, she got up, her heart thumping against her rib cage. Ivan could be back any second. She pinpointed the direction he had taken off in, then slipped into the woods in the opposite direction.
She went as fast as she could without making too much noise, which was hard. Every snap of a twig, every rustle in the bushes, made her freeze and look around wildly. Ashamed, she wondered if being a "kittypet" was really too big a setback for her to ever overcome. Things had gone more horribly wrong then she had ever dreamed, and now the full weight of her situation hit her. Yes, she hadn't been happy with her Twolegs, but she'd had all the basic needs required to live. Now there was no guarantee that she would even make it out alive. She hadn't realized how much she and Ravenflight had depended on each other. How had she been so blind? Paris felt sure she would give anything to have him by her side, with his sarcastic tone yet honest green eyes.
With a sigh, she pressed on, hoping somehow, in some way, her path would lead her to him. Not even the clans. Just him. On a branch in a tree above, a small black bird alighted and watched with keen eyes.
Ravenflight awoke with a start. "Swanpaw!"
Silence greeted his cry, but it didn't bring the familiar pangs of loneliness. Instead, it brought determination. He had no idea what Swanpaw had meant when she said "Follow the raven's heart", but he was going to find out.
Just then he heard a small noise. Looking upwards, he spotted a sleek raven, its plumage a glossy blue-black, staring down at him impatiently. "Oh!" he exclaimed out loud. The bird gave a cackle and flew away. However, it landed on a branch again, and looked back expectantly.
With a small, hesitant smile, he took a few steps in its direction. It flew a few more feet. Within seconds he was running, hope lending wings to his paws, following the raven towards the horizon. He could worry about the rest of the prophecy later.
After a while, he paused. The raven had stopped going onwards; it was perched on a branch, preening itself. "Well?" he said, frustrated, but it didn't budge. At that moment, his stomach growled again, and he realized he couldn't remember the last time he had eaten. The bird was taking time to refresh itself; he should too.
Scenting the air, he picked up the warm prey-smell of a vole, and within seconds he had the furry creature trapped in his jaws. He stalked and killed a mouse too, and then a sparrow. "Sorry," he said to the raven. "But I have to eat."
Lying down at the base of the tree where his guide perched, Ravenflight began to eat. As soon as the warm morsels touched his mouth, all his hunger erupted, and he began tearing into the meat ravenously.
Reenergized after the meal, he got to his paws. The raven looked down at him, stretched its wings, and took off again. Ravenflight bounded after it, hoping they would find Paris soon. He found himself missing her in a way he never knew he could, the sound of her laughter, the twinkle in her amber eyes, the spring in her step, the reflection of sunlight on her bright ginger coat; all of it was so familiar to him. No, he had used the wrong word. So dear to him, though never in a million years would he say that to her face.
And Mintberry? A small voice piped up in his head. What about her? Will you forget about her? Betray her and your kits? You couldn't protect them, nor Swanpaw. You're useless. Paris is gone, in the clutches of your worst enemy, and probably dead. You've failed again Ravenflight. You've lost her.
Letting out an agonized wail, Ravenflight sunk to his feet. The raven paused to stare at the black tom, who seemed intent on ripping himself apart. That was how he felt anyway. Like his heart was being torn apart.
A shiver rippled through Paris's body, but it wasn't from cold. It was from utter exhaustion. With a half-moan, half-whimer, she collapsed against a rock and slid to the ground, too tired to make a nest or get comfortable. How could she be comfortable anyway, when every bone in her body ached.
Her thoughts tried to turn to Ravenflight, as they did every spare second, but she forced them away. Instead, she focused on what she was doing this for. What she had started out doing this for, anyhow. The Clans. The hope that word brought was almost tangible. Ravenflight hadn't told her much about PineClan, his old home; the black tom somehow grew irritable and nervous whenever she brought it up, closing up like a clam, but she had pieced things together. Apprentices, young cats at least six moons, were trained to be warriors by their mentors. He had been a mentor. Briefly, she wondered what it would be like to be responsible for a young warrior. She chased the thought away. She would be lucky if PineClan even let her in, let alone entrusted her with any responsibility.
That was when she heard the voice. It was a low hiss, like a snake's, and made the hair along the back of her neck stick straight up.
"Paris... It's time for you to die."
When she awoke, Paris immediately wished she hadn't. Her right front leg hurt horribly, and her flanks were crisscrossed with scratches and bruises. Letting out a groan, she raised her head, and froze. Where was she? Sloping earthen walls reared up all around her, slick with mud and loose pebbles. She appeared to be in some kind of ditch or hole, and, by the jarring ache in her body, she had been thrown inside without much ceremony.
They've caught up to me, she thought, springing to her feet. Instantly, her leg collapsed from under her, and she went down, hitting her chin against the hard dirt as she did. It didn't feel broken, but it was definitely at least a sprained wrist. She began to feel sick. I'm trapped.
Coughing, she half-dragged, half-limped her way to a wall. Bracing herself against it, she looked up and yelled, "Let me out! Right now!"
An evil chuckle greeted her words. Demon's face appeared, flanked by Ivan and Lewis. Ivan had a sneer on his face, but there was a fresh scratch running down his cheek; obviously his punishment for letting her go. Feeling a faint sense of satisfaction, Paris faced them as bravely as she could under the circumstances. "Let me go."
Demon laughed. "I don't think so princess. Lewis and Claw have already laid the trail. Your boyfriend's on his way now."
She threw herself against the walls of her prison and almost screamed at the pain. Biting her lip till she tasted blood, she mustered the last of her energy. "He's not my 'boyfriend'. And if you hurt him I'll-"
Ike's voice interrupted her. "Sire, we've spotted him. He's heading our way."
A cold smile stretched across Demon's face. "Perfect." And before Paris could say any more, all three of the cats had vanished, leaving her screaming uselessly at the sky.
She slumped to the side, her breath coming in rasps. They were going to kill Ravenflight, and she was powerless to stop it. Then she spotted the vine, partially uncovered through a layer of dirt. Her gaze traveled upwards, and sure enough, its path traced towards the exit of the ditch. Painfully, but with unspeakable determination, Paris made her way towards it and clenched it in her jaws. "Hang on Ravenflight. I'm coming."
Ravenflight wasn't sure how to feel when he spotted Demon's gang up ahead. On one hand, there was the obvious fact that he hated them, and he would possibly be killed in an encounter with them. On the other hand, they had Paris.
He made up his mind. Starting down the rocky slope he called, as boldy as he dared, "Hey Demon! Over here!" The dark tom's head shot up, but he didn't look surprised. Of course not, Ravenfight reflected. He must've had spies watching me all this time.
A cruel smile slid across his adversary's mouth. "Ravenflight. How've you been? I hope you weren't disturbed by our last little run-in. We thought we might have offended you, and the thought just broke our hearts."
He gritted his teeth but said nothing, eyes fixated on the tom, but his mind rushing to figure out where he had hidden Paris.
"Not at all Demon. In fact I was afraid you enjoyed yourself a little too much. In fact, I believe you invited a friend of mine back for an encore. It hurt my feelings terribly that you didn't invite me as well. Aren't we still friends?" Two can play that game, you scroundrel.
His lips peeled back in a snarl. "Enough small talk. Ravenflight, since I'm such a fair cat, I'm giving you a choice."
The black tom flicked his ears. "And what would that be?"
"You can fight me, up on that hill, one on one. If you win, you can rescue your friend. Either that, or you face all of us, right now, in a desperate attempt." His eyes glinted viciously. "Not much of a choice, is it?"
Ravenflight glared at him while pondering this. There was a chance that he wouldn't be up against only Demon even if he took the hill; the tom had no morals, and would have no qualms with bringing in his hooligans to massacre Ravenflight if he thought he was going to lose by himself.
He recalled Swanpaw's words. "There, you will find the sunset streaking the sky red, and make the choice of earth or sky."
"Well," he said aloud. "Here I am, about to make the choice. Swanpaw, I have no idea what to do."
To his surprise, he felt a brush of a pelt against his. When he turned, there was no one there, but his sister's scent lingered in his nostrils, and a faint whisper said, "Turn around."
So he did. His heart stopped. The world spun. Lining the edge of the gorge, looking down on him, were cats he had hoped to never see again. But now... "What? How?" was all he could muster up energy to say. Then a wide-eyed calico she-cat came streaking toward him, her voice clear as a bell.
"Ravenflight! We've found you!"
Muddy and bruised, Paris stuck her head out of the ditch- and immediately wished she hadn't. Ravenflight was there, safe and well; that part overjoyed her. But a she-cat, a young pretty calico, was clinging to him, all smiles and laughter. He was smiling too; he obviously knew her. There was something close and familiar about their huddle that made her sick with envy. She almost lost her grip on the edge of the ditch, but managed to steady herself just in time. She had crawled out, dragged herself up the vine, in the hopes that she could help him. But now she could see more cats heading toward the happy pair in the middle, all of them smiling and jostling each other. There wasa similar look about all of them, though their looks varied greatly. They all had the same determinedness in their eyes, the same raunchy muscular build. She just couldn't put her paw on why.
Demon was watching the reunion with a mixture of chagrin and bemusement, his eyes cold and calculating, obviously trying to figure out a way to twist this unforeseen development to his advantage. He appeared to be failing; there were more then enough cats to rival his own forces, and all of them looked healthy and ready to fight.
Just then Ike turned around and spotted her. His eyes widened, and he galloped toward her. Paris bared her teeth in a half-snarl, though she doubted it would do much good. She was too weak to resist him.
"I don't think so, kittypet," he snarled in her face, breath stinking of rancid meat and blood. She curled her lip disdainfully even while fighting for a hold in the slippery mud. Part of her longed to cry out, to let Ravenflight know she was in trouble, but the stubborn part squashed the desire, reminding her of how happy he looked, with those cats. Without her.
Ike shoved at her, his powerful forelegs connecting with her chest and forcing her back into nothingness. But just before she fell, she latched onto his legs, dragging him down with her.
"One less for you to fight, Ravenflight," she whispered. Then they hit the earth with a bone-jarring thump, her on top of Ike, and, though she fought desperately to stop the waves of pain from sweeping her away, everything began to dim and grow black.
The last thing imprinted on her eyelids was the face of a black tom, his green eyes staring down at her pleadingly.
Ravenflight felt like he could never stop looking at all the familiar faces, Yellowleaf, Sorrelpaw, now Sorrelwind apparently, and... Scorchpaw. He narrowed his eyes at the gray tom, but then pushed away any trace of resentment. He could see the same look in the gray tom's eyes that he saw whenever he saw his own reflection. The look you got when the one cat you loved more then anything was gone. Even if you learned to continue living, the memory never left you.
Demon gave a cry of rage. "Big deal Ravenflight. A bunch of your puny friends. Are you sure they even want to fight with you anyway? You left them, remember?"
"Yeah..." He winced at the truth in those words, and turned to Sorrelwind. "I'm so sorry," he told his former apprentice. "For everything."
Her blue eyes were as honest and sincere as he remembered. "It's okay. I knew we had to bring you back all along, but no one would listen to me. So when StarClan sent a dream about you-"
"StarClan sent a dream about me?" Ravenflight said in disbelief. How much had he missed?
"Yeah. You, and there was another cat. A ginger she-cat."
"Paris," he said softly. Sorrelwind frowned at the name, but he had already turned back to Demon, a scowl on his face and his green eyes burning with fury. "Show me where she is before we attack!"
Slowly, he shot a questioning glance at Yellowleaf and the other warriors. The pale gold she-cat dipped her head. "You are in charge."
"Okay. Let's go." Then he said the words he never thought he would be able to have the authority to say, even as a warrior. "PineClan, attack!"
The cats surged forward in a wave, and Demon's eyes widened with fear for just an instant. Then he snarled, "Get them!"
Lewis collided with Ravenflight, and the two of them went down in a tangle of claws and teeth. He raked his claws down the dusty brown tom's coat, then tore at his ear.
"You'll pay for that, scum!" Lewis screeched, raking his sharp nails down Ravenflight's pelt. Stifling a screech of pain, Ravenflight hooked onto the tom's neck and brought him crashing to the ground, driving his teeth deeper and deeper into Lewis's throat.
"Tell me where Paris is, or you die," he hissed, his breath coming in hot, fast gasps.
Blood spilled out of Lewis's mouth as he gasped, "She's in that ditch... behind you."
The more savage, alley-hardened side of Ravenflight longed to kill the evil tom anyway, but he remembered the warrior code still, and more importantly, it was embedded in his heart. Jerking away, he raced towards the ditch, but suddenly, Sorrelwind was blocking his way. A bloody scratch crossed her cheek, and she was limping, but she looked oddly determined.
"Sorrelwind?" he said. "Get out of the way. I have to find Paris."
She closed her eyes, as if praying. "Is Paris a white-and-black speckled cat with a crooked tail?"
"No... You guys knew that it would be a ginger she-cat." He frowned suspiciously at her, bile rising in his throat. "What's going on Sorrelwind?"
Her blue eyes glistened with tears. "I didn't think she was. But I had to try. I couldn't let you see her like that..." She turned away, and a fat teardrop slid down her cheek.
"See her like what?!" He pushed past her and stared down into the ditch. At first he saw nothing but mud, mixed with something redder and more sickening. Then he saw it. Ike was moaning and groaning, barely concious. But the other cat was completely still, blood trickling down her forehead still. Even through the mud and dirt, he could distinguish patches of ginger fur, standing out like little bursts of flame. "NOOOOOOOO!"
"She's not a Clan cat. She's a kittypet. How will she survive? We don't even have a medicine cat."
A sharper voice, yet one Paris knew achingly well, cut in. "She has to. I can't lose her. Not again."
"Again? OW! What Scorchfur?"
"I'll deal with this. Ravenflight-"
She didn't hear the rest. Happiness flooded through her, despite her aching bones, and the fact that she felt as if someone had burst her head open on a rock, then stuck it back together using paste. Ravenflight. He's okay. He's here, safe. She tried to lift her head, to get a glimpse of him, but her eyes wouldn't open. The blackness seemed to lie over her like a blanket, blocking out everything else.
Then she heard the other two cats, whoever they were, leave, and the sound of a single set of footsteps coming towards her. A familiar scent washed over her, and Paris, stubborn and independent as she was, or was supposed to be, felt the sudden urge to bury her face in Ravenflight's soft black fur and cry her eyes out. Except she couldn't open them or move, and she hurt too badly to try.
"Paris," he said softly. "I'm not sure if you can hear me, wherever you are. But I have something to say. Well, a lot of things to say, but one thing in particular." He sounded uncommonly nervous, like a little kit asking to go out and play. Paris longed to see the expression on his face.
"Here goes." He took a deep breath. "First things first. Remember when we first met? You were mad and followed me because I wouldn't say thank you. Well, now I'm saying thank you. Not just for helping me kick Dexter and Strike's butt. For coming with me. For showing me that... that there's more to life then the past. That you can move on from anything, no matter how much it hurts. Paris, I need you to know the whole truth. Why I left the Clan. Why I was what I was before I found you. The thing is, I had kits. A mate. And I lost them."
Paris's head reeled, but she forced herself to listen to him, fighting the waves of dizziness and pain. He needed her now. By the end of the story, Ravenflight was crying. She could feel his body shaking beside hers, and his tears splashing against her coat. He needs me. And I have to be there for him.
Slowly, she began to raise her eyelids. The light was blinding, and she fluttered them a few times before she could focus. Then she raised her head. Each move felt like her muscles were burning with fire, and she felt like throwing up from the sheer weight of the pain, but all that seemed to fade when she looked into the incredulous face in front of her, green eyes wide, mouth agape.
"Ravenflight, it's okay," she tried to say, but her voice came out slurred, sounding not at all like her normal one.
"Paris!" She tried to stand, but her legs wouldn't support her, and she fell against him limply. Her throat was too dry to say anything more. He let her lay down gently and then joined her, their faces inches apart. "You're awake." She gave a weak nod. "Finally. I was so worried-" He seemed to choke up, then brushed his cheek against hers. "I could've lost you. Like I lost Mintberry." She tensed, and he seemed to sense it. "But all I could think about was you..." Now he seemed to be talking to himself. "She's in a better place, but you, you were here with me, and I thought- I thought maybe..."
Mustering her last bit of strength, Paris said, "You thought what?" The desperation seeped through her voice.
He frowned, then touched his nose to hers, quickly, as if they would be pulled apart by an invisible claw any moment. "I thought I could, well, live again. Survive. You touched some broken part of me I never knew could be repaired." He shook his head. "But you did it, Paris. You did the impossible. You captured my heart. I fell in love with you. I am in love with you." He gazed into her eyes, half-hopeful, half-scared. "I know I've been horrible, and failed you in more ways then one. You can come with us to PineClan regardless, or I will personally make sure you get back to your Twolegs safely. Either way... Do you-"
"I have one question," she said, trying to hide her pure joy. It wasn't working. "What happened to Demon?"
His eyes flickered. "He's dead. I killed him. And the rest of his cronies-" He was cut off as Paris, with strength she didn't know she had, jumped on top of him and bowled him over. She stood over him, laughing, and Ravenflight's expression went from shock to a dreamier state no cat who knew him would recognize.
"Thank you." She nuzzled him. "I love you too. I'm coming to the Clan with you. I'm going to be your mate, and no way are you getting out of it." And with that, she fainted on top of him.
The sun shone down on the quiet camp, save two boisterous young toms wrestling with each other. A ginger she-cat, her amber eyes shining radiantly, stepped out of the den and glared at them.
"Birchpaw, Branchpaw, behave yourselves," she scolded. "Or I'll have you cleaning the elder's bedding out for moons, till you're warriors."
"Oh, Mother," Branchpaw complained, licking her on the cheek. "We were just having a little fun."
She smiled to herself. "I knew a little kittypet who just wanted to have fun. And it changed her life." The two toms exchanged looks.
Ravenflight came up behind them and wrapped his tail around Paris. "Haven't you ever wondered why your mother doesn't have a warrior name?"
"I thought it was because she was too dumb-"
"I never said anything of the sort," he broke in hastily. "It's a long story, and we need to tell it together. We both have a part in it."
Paris butted him gently. "My part will be the best though."
"But I got the most out of this adventure," Ravenflight said. "I got a best friend, a mate, and the love of my life."
Up above, Mintberry wrapped her tail around her kits and gave a sad smile. Swanpaw watched Scorchfur and Sorrelwind playing with their kits with a similar expression on her face, but she looked peaceful too. He was happy, after all.
"Just consider it a present, dear Ravenflight," Mintberry whispered. "But not from me. This was all Paris. From Paris, with love."
Songfic: You Can't Take Me(I'm Free)
Sequel: Wishes From Seattle