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Half and Half The Dark Forest Returns


Essay
This page contains a fan fiction written by Bramblefire3118.
This page contains the opinions of the original author(s), and is not patrolled for factual accuracy.
Remember that this story is non-canon. It may contain false characters, plots, or locations.
Responses, comments & other feedback should be made on the comments section below.

This is the sequel to Half and Half: The Story of Halfstripe. Brams recommends that you read that first. :)


Blurb

Moons after Skystar got thwarted, the Clans are thriving. Halfstripe and Heronstar's kits are ThunderClan apprentices now - Shinepaw and Snakepaw. But not even death can stop Skystar from plotting revenge.

Snakepaw is one of the cats lured into the Dark Forest's trap. When Halfstripe intercepts him, he realizes that he's done something wrong, but he can't escape.

Halfstripe and Snakepaw lure up a plan to spy for the Clans. But when Skystar finds out, the Clans are threatened more than ever, as a battle to save the Clans begins.

This is a story by Brams.

Allegiances


Prologue

As the black tabby padded through the dark forest, he saw nothing but darkness. He knew he wasn't awake - this wasn't the ThunderClan camp he was in.

A putrid scent wrinkled the cat's nose. In disgust, he screwed it up.

A rustling noise alerted the cat to attention. Suddenly, he sat up.

"What's that?"

"It's me." A cat stalked out from behind a gnarled tree.

The black tabby tom thought she looked magnificent. She had short, blue-gray fur. White patches like clouds dotted her fur.

"Your ancestor," the she-cat continued, purring sweetly. "I have been looking forward to meeting you."

"So... you died before I was born?" the black tabby inferenced.

The she-cat laughed. "Obviously! I am the mother of your mother! Don't you know who I am?"

Maybe, said his thoughts, but at this current moment he couldn't remember his mother telling him about her.

She doesn't smell like ThunderClan, said another thought.

She smells like ShadowClan!

Now he could remember. His mother had mentioned something, but she had never said her name. She had told him, that like her, she was half-ThunderClan - however, there was a fact that she didn't know in life.

"Follow me," the cat beckoned, flicking her tail.

The black tabby followed apprehensively. Who was this cat?

.~*~*~.

The black-and-white she-cat heard echoes in her ear, as she lay down in the warriors' den. She tried to figure out what it was saying.

Beware... darkness will rise again... and a sky full of stars will lead the way...

That was what the she-cat thought it said, anyway.

Darkness?

What would the darkness be?

A sky full of stars will lead the way...

Her blood chilled. She could guess who that could be.

That was the cat who had given birth to her, the cat that had caused her so much pain in her life.

It had been twelve moons since she had died, and the she-cat was thankful. Her life had blossomed. Her kits were training to be warriors. She had an apprentice of her own, in her Clan by her father's blood.

Darkness will fall...

Did that mean that her mother would try to conquer the Clans again, like the time when her nine lives were stripped away by the cat she had loved, the cat that was her mate?

The father of her?

She rested into an uneasy sleep.

What's going to happen to ThunderClan?



Chapter 1

Halfstripe yawned.

The newleaf sun touched her black-and-white pelt as the sun rose. It dappled into the ThunderClan camp, bringing warmth to every cat.

Looking around, she could see activity from the cats nearby. The Clan deputy, Burningcinder, was organizing the day's patrols, while Heronstar, the Clan leader, watched from where he was lying on Highledge. Her fellow Clan warriors were going around the camp, seeing Burningcinder, or basking in the sun.

This is how life should be.

Looking back at the previous newleaf, Halfstripe was sure that she couldn't say the same. Last newleaf, she had been ShadowClan, trapped under the influence of Snakestar and his warriors, under Skycloud, who would go on to take Snakestar's life to become leader.

She wouldn't have left, if she hadn't seen the battle in which her ShadowClan mentor, Shinedusk, was killed by Oatclaw.

She was exiled unfairly - only to the knowledge of Skycloud. She'd fled across the border.

That was where she had stayed since.

"Hey, Shinepaw! Do it again!"

Halfstripe flicked an ear at the apprentice's conversation. Wingpaw - one of Flywing and Dawnstorm's kits - was speaking.

"Are you kidding?" came Shinepaw's voice. "That move's tricky. Vixenstep had to spend all day with me, just so I could get it right."

Some of those kits could have been ShadowClan, Halfstripe thought, all of a sudden.

After Skystar had murdered Snakestar, the former ThunderClan leader, Rosestar, had sent a patrol to the ShadowClan camp. After Flywing - Skystar's littermate - had found out about the parentage of her - Skystar had exiled him from ShadowClan. Flywing's apprentice had chosen to go with him - that cat was now Flywing's mate, Dawnstorm.

It had caused war between the four Clans - ThunderClan and WindClan against ShadowClan and RiverClan. ThunderClan and WindClan had won, after Skystar was killed by Nightshade - but at a price. Rosestar and Oatclaw, the ThunderClan deputy - had both died in battle, as well as Greenoak, the WindClan deputy.

After the battle, ThunderClan was left leaderless, until a sign came from Shimmerwater, the medicine cat. Heronstar - then Heronflight - became the leader of ThunderClan, and Burningcinder had become the deputy.

I'm happy that that's over.

Halfstripe stood up, and stretched in the sun. It was about time that she got out into the forest. She had Stormpaw to train - Wingpaw's littermate.

At the same time, she saw the other mentors - Waspstrike, Foxpad, and Vixenstep - going to fetch their apprentices. Halfstripe joined them.

"Where's Snakepaw?" Foxpad asked Shinepaw, his amber eyes narrowing.

"He's sleeping again," Stormpaw interrupted. "He's got more scratches again."

"Again?" Foxpad sighed. "I swear he's been fighting in his sleep, that tom! He's been getting scratches every day for the past half-moon."

"Again?" Halfstripe echoed. She was starting to get concerned for her son's safety.

"Looks like we'd better go without him again," Vixenstep mewed.

Why, Halfstripe thought, and how, can Snakepaw - my only son - be getting injured in his sleep?



Chapter 2

He was slashing his paws in the air, fighting at his opponent. Blood splattered at his paws, and clawmarks were scored down his legs. He wanted to stop - but what would these cats say?

"Stop."

Skystar's call rang through the air. Snakepaw paused, taking care not to sheathe his claws. His opponent - a spike-furred tom - did the same.

"That's enough," Skystar purred, fixing her ice-blue gaze on Snakepaw. "It's dawn. Snakepaw, get out of my sight."

Snakepaw made no comment. He wanted to be the best warrior he could be - but what was this place?

Dragging his paws, he turned away. Darkness was in the sky. Everywhere Snakepaw could see, there was darkness. There was no light in this place.

Closing his eyes, he wished for some peace, but it was interrupted.

"Snakepaw! Snakepaw! Wake up!"

Snakepaw struggled to open his eyes: they were heavy. Pain pulsed through each part of his body. Wincing, he stood up, and stretched.

"Snakepaw?" Foxpad poked his head into the den. "Snake - oh not again!" The dark ginger tom looked agitated. "How did you get all those scratches? You're going to have to see Shimmerwater again."

Snakepaw groaned. He didn't like going into the medicine den. "Do I have to?" he complained.

"Yes," his mentor replied. "And be quick about it - the other apprentices have already gone out for training."

Snakepaw moaned softly as his feet whisked across the dusty floor of the apprentice's den. His tail trailing on the ground, he left it.

The ThunderClan camp was bright and sunny as usual. The occasional cat was scattered around the clearing. Lightningheart's kits, Spikekit, Havenkit, Slightkit, and Hootkit were play-fighting outside the nursery, Briarflame and Lightningheart watching them. Flightpaw, the medicine cat apprentice, was with them. The ginger-and-white she-cat was talking with Briarflame.

"Shimmerwater wants to see you." Snakepaw heard Flightpaw's words as he started to drag himself over to the medicine den. "Your kits are only a half-moon away..."

"Really?" Briarflame sighed. "Did my mother have to go through all this?"

Snakepaw pictured Briarflame's mother, Mistsong, in his head. The black she-cat had died due to greencough last leaf-bare.

"Yes..." Flightpaw mewed in reply.

Snakepaw switched off from their conversation as he approached the medicine den. No cat was there, as far as he could see.

"Shimmerwater?" he mewed quietly. There was no reply.

"She's not here," Flightpaw mewed, as she gazed over. "She's out collecting herbs."

Snakepaw groaned softly. Shimmerwater was always off collecting herbs at the wrong time.

He sat down, and curled his long black tail over his paws. Today was going to be a long day, he could tell.

But why was he being visited in dreams by Skystar?

What was the reason behind it?



Chapter 3

After a day of training Stormpaw, Halfstripe wandered back to the ThunderClan camp, dragging her paws along the ground. Today had tired her out - Stormpaw had insisted that he trained all day, and being his mentor, she had to obey his request.

"Halfstripe!" Stormpaw scampered through the undergrowth towards her. The dark gray tom was still full of energy.

"Oh, Stormpaw," Halfstripe sighed wearily. "What is it?" As she spoke, Halfstripe could see the looming walls of the ThunderClan camp moving towards her.

"Flywing promised me," Stormpaw puffed, as the young cat reached Halfstripe's side, "that he would tell me more about Skystar tonight when we got back from training."

"Why?" A chill ran through Halfstripe's blood at the mention of her mother's name.

"He said he'd tell me all about her past," Stormpaw added, as the two cats reached the bramble barrier.

I never really known what happened in Skystar's past.

The sudden thought hit Halfstripe with a pang. In fact, she realized that she didn't know what happened before she was born - what happened before her rise to power. Of course Flywing would know - they're littermates.

"Stormpaw! You wanted to hear about Skystar?"

Halfstripe flicked an ear as Flywing spoke. At once, Stormpaw bounded over to his father, begging: "Tell me! Tell me about Skystar!"

"Skystar?" Shinepaw poked her head out of the apprentice's den. "I'd like to listen." The half-dark brown, half-white she-cat padded over to where Flywing was with Stormpaw.

"I'd like to hear this, too." Heronstar meowed, as the large tabby set his blue gaze on Flywing. "Tell us."

Halfstripe padded over and joined the group, just as Flywing started to speak: "We - Skystar, Whiteflight -"

"Wait," Heronstar interrupted. "Whiteflight is your littermate?"

"Yes," Flywing snorted. "Let me continue."

I remember Whiteflight, Halfstripe thought. She was still a warrior of ShadowClan.

"As I was saying," Flywing continued, cutting into Halfstripe's thoughts, "Skystar, Whiteflight, and I were born in the chilliest leaf-bare the Clans had ever imagined. Our father was Cloudsky - and Skystar is the spitting image of him. However, we thought our mother was a cat called Thistleberry."

"Thought?" Heronstar interrupted the white warrior's speech again. "What do you mean by thought?"

Flywing looked down, and took a deep breath. Finally, he spoke: "Thistleberry wasn't our mother. When Cloudsky died of greencough, he told Skystar, then Skycloud - that Thistleberry wasn't our mother."

"Do you realize," Shinepaw sniggered, when Flywing had finished speaking, "that if Skystar's end of her warrior name was the first bit, and same with the other, that her name would've been Cloudsky?" As she finished speaking, the young she-cat giggled under her breath, Stormpaw joining in.

"At this time," Flywing continued, ignoring the apprentices, "the Clan suspected Skycloud of sneaking out of the camp at night. Soon enough, about two moons after Cloudsky's death, a kit turned up in the camp." As he spoke, he looked into Halfstripe's eyes, triggering all the other cats who were listening to also stare at her.

So that's why Skystar was so unforgiving, Halfstripe thought. She didn't know who her mother was.

"Twelve moons later, everything changed." Flywing's voice dropped to a whisper. "Halfstripe was exiled from ShadowClan. Crowsong, the ShadowClan deputy, retired, and Skycloud became deputy. And in less than two moons, Snakestar was dead." Flywing panted as he spoke. "Skystar's annihilation had begun."

"Tell us more!" Stormpaw begged.

"Enough for now," Flywing decided, swishing his tail along the ground. "I'll tell you more later."

The group of cats broke up. But Halfstripe didn't move. Only one thought was on her mind:

Who was Skystar's mother?



Chapter 4

"Now, Snakepaw, tell me the cats on the Stick of the Fallen."

Snakepaw was tired - yet again, after another night training. Herbs were slicked to his black tabby pelt - a torture which he now despised.

"Come on, Snakepaw," Foxpad mewed, his amber eyes round. "Surely you'd know them by now? Stormpaw knows them, and he's been training for a moon less than you."

Snakepaw sighed, but fortunately Foxpad didn't hear him. He stared at the Stick of the Fallen - a memorial that was created by the ancient ThunderClan medicine cat, Jayfeather, after the feared Dark Forest battle. The six clawmarks on it were to represent the six cats from ThunderClan who had died because of the battle.

"Okay..." he mewed hazily, pointing a claw at the bottom mark. "This one is for..."

In the corner of his vision, Foxpad raised a paw, beckoning for him to continue.

"Uh..." Snakepaw hesitated. He did remember that the first one was a ThunderClan elder at the time, after having given many days of service to her Clan. "Isn't it... Furmouse?"

Foxpad sighed, while Havenkit, one of Lightningheart's kits, bounded over. "It's Mousefur, you mouse-brain!" she yowled.

"Havenkit! Don't bother Snakepaw and your father!" called Lightningheart from across the camp. Havenkit shot an annoyed glance at her mother, before the black-and-white she-kit stomped away.

"Havenkit was right there, you know," Foxpad mewed quietly, almost growling at Snakepaw. "At least you only got them round the wrong way..." He straightened up, then continued: "Anyway, how did Mousefur die?"

Snakepaw thought about it for a moment, then spoke: "Did she die fighting a tom from the Dark Forest?"

Foxpad gave an approving nod. "Good work, Snakepaw."

Snakepaw's thoughts drifted back to the Dark Forest. Skystar had been training him fiercely. But he was sure he wasn't the only one. He'd seen a cat from each of the Clans - Yarrowflight from ShadowClan, Mallowsplash from RiverClan, and Tumblespring from WindClan. All were older than him - well, they were warriors, after all.

"Snakepaw!"

Snakepaw jolted awake at Foxpad's voice. The dark ginger tabby tom seemed agitated, for a reason Snakepaw didn't know.

"Snakepaw!" Foxpad repeated. "Where have you been lately? I really need to have a talk with Heronstar about your appalling behavior over the past few days..."

Snakepaw groaned. Heronstar would easily listen to Foxpad's words, and punish him fairly - he treated Halfstripe like any other cat, despite them being mates. His father wouldn't favor him.

"Let's just get this over and done with first," Foxpad intercepted, as Snakepaw opened his mouth to reply. "Which cat is represented here?" Vixenstep pointed at the scratchmark above Mousefur's.

This was the easiest one for Snakepaw to remember, and he got it in a flash. "That scratchmark was for Hollyleaf. She left the Clan, at some point, but then returned. She died intercepting a blow from a Dark Forest tom, saving a cat's life."

Foxpad's mouth hung open. "That was more than I ever told you," she rasped. "Who did you get all that information from?"

Snakepaw didn't say anything. He had learnt it off the elder Eelfish - before he had died of the greencough bout that had swept through the Clans.

Smiling to himself, he was sure Foxpad wouldn't tell him off now. But would any cat find out his secret - that he was training in the Dark Forest itself? Turning away from Foxpad, he gazed out into the distance - a place of home, sanctuary - and, quite possibly, war.



Chapter 5

Halfstripe leapt onto the Gathering island, the greenleaf breeze ruffling her fur. Looking around, she only just realized how long ago was the last time she had visited.

This was the first time she'd been to a Gathering since she gave birth to Shinepaw and Snakepaw.

"Hey Halfstripe!"

Halfstripe heard her name being called. WindClan was arriving on the island. The speaker was Rabbitswift - the WindClan deputy.

When the windswept warriors had come onto the island, Rabbitswift bounded over.

"Hi, Halfstripe!" Rabbitswift mewed, as the pale brown she-cat approached. "I haven't seen you for a while at the Gathering."

"I had kits, remember?" Halfstripe cut in.

Rabbitswift smiled. "Oh, of course... I forgot that Heronstar announced that moons ago." Rabbitswift's eyes were alight with happiness. "How's the prey running in ThunderClan?"

"Fine, thanks," Halfstripe replied.

Rabbitswift looked at Halfstripe, then turned away, and joined Burningcinder where the deputies sat.

Paws hit the ground. Halfstripe turned to see the ShadowClan warriors. Their paws thrummed across the island as they moved around. Two - a small tabby she-cat and a black-and-white tom - went to see her.

"Littlewhisker." Halfstripe dipped her head to the tabby.

"Halfstripe." Littlewhisker's eyes were friendly, yet hostile.

The black-and-white cat snorted. "She's ThunderClan. Why are you so -"

Littlewhisker shot a fierce glance at her Clanmate. "Beetleflight, a reminder that you two were apprentices in ShadowClan once."

Beetleflight snorted crossly, but said nothing.

Halfstripe beckoned for the cats to sit down, and they did so, Beetleflight reluctantly. There was a noise coming from nearby.

"Where's RiverClan?" complained a ThunderClan warrior, Flashrunner. The ginger tom was unimpressed by the wait - Halfstripe guessed he wanted to head back quickly to see his mate, Briarflame.

"They'll come," yowled Toadspring, the ShadowClan deputy. "RiverClan's not usually late."

"Look!" called Applestar, the WindClan leader, making all the cats fall silent. "I can see them! RiverClan's coming!"

All the cats turned, including Halfstripe.

A large cat was at the head of the RiverClan group, his dark brown fur sleek, and shiny. There was silence, then:

"Hey, where's Bravestar?" called a WindClan warrior from among their crowd.

The RiverClan cats were unusually silent at the WindClan cat's words. Finally, after a silence that Halfstripe thought would last forever, ceased. The dark brown tom opened his mouth, and spoke:

"Bravestar is dead."



Chapter 6

Snakepaw felt his mouth drop open in surprise. The RiverClan leader - as some ThunderClan warriors had said - was going to live for longer than this!

Wingpaw nudged Snakepaw in the ribs anxiously. The white apprentice's gaze was stern. "Don't let the RiverClan cats let you see that!"

At once, Snakepaw shut his mouth. Elmfall - the RiverClan deputy, he had heard Nightshade say - was leaping onto the Great Oak, where Applestar, Eaglestar, and Heronstar were sitting.

Well, of course, if Bravestar's dead, wouldn't he be Elmstar? Snakepaw thought quickly.

Before he had realized it, there was silence. Obviously Elmfall - or Elmstar - was going to speak.

"For all the cats who are wondering what's happened to Bravestar," the dark brown tom meowed, "what happened was that he got an unknown sickness. He got killed swiftly, for which we are all thankful for. We never wanted Bravestar to suffer pain as he lost his last life."

A few murmurs came from cats from other Clans, but Elmfall waved his tail for silence.

"With the help of our medicine cat, Gingertail, I have got my nine lives at the Moonpool. I am now Elmstar."

At this, a lot of cheering erupted from cats of all four Clans, especially RiverClan. Cheers of "Elmstar! Elmstar!" split the air. Snakepaw didn't join in. Looking around, he noticed that his mother, Halfstripe, was cheering along with the majority of the cats.

Does she know Elmstar from something? Snakepaw thought.

"Dustthorn is my deputy," Elmstar yowled over the noise of cats.

There was silence at this, as all the cats turned to face a brown cat, which had black legs. As the cats on the island turned to look at him, Dustthorn shrank away nervously, obviously uncomfortable with all the cats glaring at him.

"In the past two moons," Elmstar went on, "we have a new warrior - Mallowsplash. That is all."

Snakepaw recognized Mallowsplash from the meetings with the Dark Forest. He wasn't in the mood to cheer names, so he stayed quiet.

The Clans hadn't meant for a while, because last full moon clouds had covered the silver orb. The Gathering had been cancelled.

There was silence as Elmstar stood back, and Heronstar took his place.

Snakepaw bit his lip in apprehension. Please don't mention me, he thought. Not like my first Gathering.

"In the past two moons," his father meowed, "ThunderClan has got three new apprentices. Wingpaw has been apprentices to Waspstrike, Stormpaw to Halfstripe, and Flightpaw to our medicine cat, Shimmerwater."

Beside Snakepaw, Wingpaw shrunk back as her name was called. For once, Snakepaw joined in with the cheering: "Wingpaw! Stormpaw! Flightpaw!"

He looked around. The cats in ThunderClan were cheering wildly - and to Snakepaw's surprise, ShadowClan.

I thought they were mouse-hearts! thought Snakepaw. Why are they cheering?

When the cats had quietened down, and Heronstar started to talk about Briarflame expecting kits, Snakepaw turned to Wingpaw. "Why did all the ShadowClan cats cheer for you and your littermates?"

"You don't know?' Wingpaw mewed, surprised.

"About what?" Snakepaw replied, confused.

Wingpaw dropped her voice to a whisper. "Flywing and Dawnstorm," she said quietly, "were both ShadowClan born."



Chapter 7

Halfstripe was walking through a thick patch of forest. Twisting under trees, stepping under roots, she wondered why she hadn't been here before.

I've never seen this in ThunderClan territory.

It was true - not even ShadowClan was this dense. Why were there so many trees?

"This isn't ThunderClan, Halfstripe."

"Then what is it?" Halfstripe yowled back.

"It's StarClan," the voice replied, and in front of her, Halfstripe could see a clearing. Sprinting over the remaining trees, she bounded in, to see a dark cream she-cat sitting there. Her green eyes were bright, and her fur was brighter than it had ever been in life. Dotted on the cat's fur were many stars.

Halfstripe recognized the cat at once. "Rosestar!" she gasped.

The dark cream cat purred. "It is good to see you again, Halfstripe."

"But..." Halfstripe's voice faltered. "Why am I here? Normal warriors usually don't get dreams from StarClan."

"You're definitely not a normal warrior," Rosestar purred. "Your life has been harder than most. I don't entirely blame you."

"Well, whose fault was it, then?" Halfstripe challenged. "Skystar? Cloudsky? Thistleberry? Skystar's mother? You?"

"It is a combination of them all," Rosestar mewed calmly. However, despite her calmness, Halfstripe swore that she saw Rosestar flinch.

"But Flywing and Whiteflight didn't -"

Rosestar flinched again. "Skystar chose the wrong path," she mewed simply.

"Maybe I shouldn't have told her about the truth about her mother, then."

"You shouldn't have," growled Rosestar in reply, as a blue-gray tom with white patches - the spitting image of Skystar - and a spike-furred white she-cat slid into the clearing.

"I can't do anything about it now," the blue-gray tom sighed. "And now..."

"She wants revenge," hissed the white she-cat. "I looked after her, Cloudsky. I treated her as if she was my own. It is her fault for causing this. Don't blame yourself."

Halfstripe gasped. Cloudsky! He was the father of Skystar!

"It is," Cloudsky complained. "She should've been raised in ThunderClan with her mother, not with me." He shot a glance at Halfstripe as he spoke, then at Rosestar.

"But... why wasn't she raised with her mother?" Halfstripe asked, her voice shaking.

Cloudsky turned towards Halfstripe at her words. "She was too busy to have kits," the blue-gray tom meowed. "And too much responsibility. If any cat found out she had kits with a forbidden mate, she would be exiled by her Clan." Cloudsky's gaze then turned to Rosestar.

"And why is Rosestar involved with this?" Halfstripe hissed, dropping into a crouch. "It's none of her problem."

"It is, actually." Rosestar trotted up to Halfstripe, and they stood in front of each other, face to face - green against amber and blue. Finally, Rosestar stepped away.

"It is my problem," Rosestar repeated her green gaze widening. "It is time for this to be known. Skystar, Flywing, and Whiteflight... are the kits of Cloudsky and myself."



Chapter 8

"So, are you sure about this?"

Snakepaw's head swung in the direction of Wingpaw, as they bathed in the evening sun. How could it be that Wingpaw had ShadowClan blood?

"Yes," Wingpaw huffed. "You never listen half the time. Shinepaw knew that ages ago." The white she-cat brushed one of her paws against the ground.

Snakepaw was silent, too shocked to believe. "Why?"

"As I state once again," Wingpaw pressed, "you don't listen half the time. I swore Dawnstorm told us many times about this when we were kits."

"She did," answered Stormpaw, who was sunbathing nearby with Shinepaw. "You're ignorant, Snakepaw." His gaze flickered to Halfstripe, who was nearby, and trying to get Flywing's attention. "Do you know what's up with your mother today, Shinepaw? She looks really eager to talk with Flywing about something."

"I wonder why," Shinepaw mewed thoughtfully, swishing her tail along the ground.

"She was wanting his attention all day," Stormpaw groaned. "She asked Burningcinder if she could go hunting with him, and take me with you guys battle training, but Burningcinder said no." The dark gray tom sighed. "She made me hunt instead."

"I like hunting better," Wingpaw sniffed.

"Flywing? I really need to talk to you."

Snakepaw's head turned, and so did the other three apprentices. Halfstripe was speaking. The black-and-white she-cat was at Flywing's shoulder - and it was quite obvious to Snakepaw that it was at Flywing's dislike.

"It's important," Halfstripe insisted, her fur rising.

"Does it have to be now?" Flywing complained. "I was just about to -"

"Oh, yes, it definitely has to be now," Halfstripe snapped, cutting Flywing off. "You've been avoiding me all day. Get a piece afterwards."

Flywing sighed. "Fine... what is this about?"

Halfstripe led Flywing away, her voice dropping to a whisper. Not able to hear their conversation, Snakepaw turned away from the two cats, and towards Shinepaw, Wingpaw, and Stormpaw again.

"That was weird," Stormpaw muttered. The other three apprentices nodded in agreement.

"Bet it's going to be a shock," Shinepaw challenged.

"Bet it isn't," Stormpaw retorted. "It's bound to be -"

At that moment, Snakepaw saw Flywing break off, and start to pace rapidly in a tight circle. The white tom looked shocked.

"I never would have guessed," Flywing was saying. "I never would have guessed she - she was -" Flywing broke off from his own speech, and sat down, trembling. All the ThunderClan cats were staring at him.

"What's going on?" Heronstar asked. The dark tabby tom bounded down from the Highledge. "Flywing, what did Halfstripe just tell you?" At that moment, Heronstar shot a scorching glare at his mate.

"It's just a shock -" Flywing insisted.

"No, tell us what she said," Heronstar replied. "I insist."

By now, Flywing's trembling was very noticeable. "She told me who my mother is," he gasped. "It's Rosestar -" At that moment, Flywing collapsed to the ground, barely moving apart from the rise and fall of his chest.



Chapter 9

"You're kidding."

Halfstripe never would have guessed that a cat like Rosestar - noble, brave, loyal Rosestar - would have broken the warrior code. It was impossible. Halfstripe felt her mouth hang open.

A feathery tail brushed along Halfstripe's flank. "Snap out of it," huffed Rosestar irritably. "There's no time for this."

At Rosestar's command, Halfstripe snapped her jaws shut, still in disbelief.

"I was a ThunderClan warrior by the name of Roseheart when I first met Cloudsky," Rosestar began. "It was at a Gathering. We had so much in common - a desire to have a mate, be loyal to our Clans - maybe even be leader someday."

Out of the corner of her eye, Halfstripe saw Cloudsky nodding vaguely. Obviously the blue-gray and white tom was uninterested in him and Rosestar's love story.

"We agreed to meet up at the border," Rosestar went on. "We realized that we loved each other. We kept on meeting - but soon after, we both got apprentices within our Clan. Our time together was very limited. And at the worst possible time, I became ThunderClan deputy."

Halfstripe's breath caught in her throat. Sometime along this line, Rosestar's going to be expecting Cloudsky's kits...

"We still managed to meet up. But then, the leader of ThunderClan, Kestrelstar, died, and I became ThunderClan leader by the name of Rosestar. At this point, it was easier for me to sneak off to meet with Cloudsky, as none of my Clanmates would suspect me of doing such a thing."

"Get on with it, we don't have all day," Cloudsky growled, his tail flicking.

"Keep your fur on," Rosestar hissed. Turning back to Halfstripe, she continued with her story: "A few moons after I became ThunderClan leader, however, the thing that I had been dreading would happen, happened. I was expecting Cloudsky's kits."

And one of them was Skystar, Halfstripe thought bitterly.

"I had to hide the fact that I was expecting. It was hard, but I managed it. And on the night that I gave birth to my three kits..." Rosestar sighed wistfully, remembering the moment. "I snuck over to the ShadowClan border, and the kits were born in front of him - two she-cats and a tom. The tom and one of the she-cats were white, and the other she-cat was Cloudsky's spitting image. No cat would guess that I was their mother."

"Yes, because I like to think that they look like me," Thistleberry growled. The white she-cat's green eyes blazed. "I raised them, Rosestar."

"But they are still mine," Rosestar purred softly. She then turned back to Halfstripe. "You know who they are, Halfstripe. The white tom was named Flykit, the white she-cat, Whitekit, and the blue-gray and white she-cat..." Rosestar's voice faltered. Taking a deep breath, the dark-furred she cat continued: "Was Skykit. They became Flywing, Whiteflight, and Skycloud - warriors of ShadowClan. The respected kits of Cloudsky, now ShadowClan deputy, and Thistleberry - or so they thought."

"That's right," Cloudsky mewed, cutting off Rosestar. "But then, that fateful leaf-bare that I died of greencough, I told Skycloud my secret. That's what drove her to be evil. I didn't tell her what Clan her mother was in, but I told her that her mother wasn't ShadowClan. And then..."

"She turned evil," Thistleberry finished. "Not what I raised her to be."

There was silence after Thistleberry's words from all four cats. Finally, Halfstripe had the courage to speak:

"Should I tell Flywing?"

Rosestar's green gaze looked thoughtful. Finally, she nodded. "It is time for him to know. One day, Whiteflight will know as well, but the time isn't right just yet."

Halfstripe shot one last look at the three StarClan cats, and then she turned away. Now Halfstripe understood why Skystar had turned evil.

But it definitely wasn't the wisest choice.

Chapter 10

"Snakepaw!"

A voice sliced into Snakepaw's dream. Fidgeting, he mewed: "Go away..." He didn't want to be disturbed. He was having a golden night of peace - away from the Dark Forest, away from Skystar...

"No, I'm not," repeated the voice, sharper than ever. "You are going to speak to me now, Snakepaw. I know something's up with you."

Snakepaw grumbled. What did Halfstripe want with him? Sighing, he mumbled: "I'm coming..."

"You'd better," Halfstripe hissed from the walls of the apprentice's den. "This is important. I think I know the issue of why you're getting battle scars in your sleep."

Snakepaw felt his blood chilling. Did Halfstripe know he was training in the Dark Forest? Opening his blue eyes, he stepped out of his nest and stretched.

Well, whatever Halfstripe wants from me, it's going to be revealed soon enough, he thought.

As he padded out of the den, he saw himself coning face-to-face with Halfstripe. The black-and-white she-cat looked unimpressed, her odd-coloured eyes blazing furiously.

"So you're finally up," she sighed. She flicked her tail at Snakepaw. "This is a conversation I cannot have in the camp. We must head out of the camp for this."

In his mind, Snakepaw reluctantly agreed, but in the world, he hesitated. "Does Foxpad know about this?" he asked. Fear was taking him over. Does Halfstripe know about me and the Dark Forest? he thought again. It was impossible for it to stay out of his mind.

Halfstripe gave a little nod at his words, but she didn't reply to his unreadable thoughts. She flicked her tail for Snakepaw to follow. He obeyed, and trailed behind her.

It felt to Snakepaw that he and Halfstripe were walking through the forest for a whole moon. Thoughts were flying through his mind. Skystar. The Dark Forest. The meetings with her.

Snakepaw had this feeling in his mind that this was growing to be brought up. Fear built up in him. He didn't want Halfstripe to know his secret. And if she did - how did she know? It was a mystery to Snakepaw.

Finally, Snakepaw saw Halfstripe turn into the mossy clearing. He followed, wondering why Halfstripe had chosen to hold the meeting here.

"Sit down," Halfstripe ordered, flicking her tail. Snakepaw obeyed his mother's instructions reluctantly. "Why are we here?" he asked.

"We must not be overheard," Halfstripe whispered urgently. "Not even Heronstar should overhear this."

"And what is this about?" Snakepaw mewed boldly.

Halfstripe's eyes blazed with a burst of surprise: Snakepaw was proud of himself. What had caused his mother's surprised reactions?

"You need to stop risking yourself, Snakepaw," she whispered.

Snakepaw was taken aback, and he backed up suddenly. "Why?" he stammered.

Halfstripe's gaze was serious as she stared at him. Silence was golden, in Snakepaw's mind. He didn't want his mother to speak - whatever it was going to be about.

Please not about the Dark Forest, he thought. You don't need to know...

Finally, to Snakepaw's dislike, he saw Halfstripe's mouth fall open. The words she spoke filled Snakepaw with dread and horror:

"You've been training with the Dark Forest."



Chapter 11

By the looks of Snakepaw's sudden reaction, Halfstripe was sure that her suspicions were correct. Her son's mouth fell open in shock, his blue eyes wide. Finally, after moments of silence, Snakepaw gasped: "How do you know?"

"The myths of the first battle," Halfstripe mewed hazily, paw scraping against the ground. "I'd always believed that it happened, even though some Clan warriors refuse to believe in it. They were fighting against the Dark Forest, the four Clans..."

Snakepaw's black tail ran along the ground. "And what is the Dark Forest, exactly?" he mewed quietly.

Halfstripe wanted to groan: she had hoped that Snakepaw wouldn't have brought that up. Reluctantly, she mewed: "I learnt this from Rosestar, the previous leader of ThunderClan... the Dark Forest is cats that that are too evil to go to StarClan, and are rejected by them. They have their own hunting grounds, and instead of helping the Clans, they like to plan their revenge."

The memory of Rosestar telling her this was still fresh in her mind. She had grown up in ShadowClan about the Dark Forest battle - every night when the first owl called, they would say the names of the ShadowClan cats who had died in that fateful battle. In ThunderClan, it was different. Rosestar had trained her in learning the names of the six ThunderClan cats who had died - and now her apprentice, Stormpaw, was learning them as well.

The names will be remembered forever, Halfstripe thought. They sacrificed their lives for us, for the Clans today.

Halfstripe jolted away from her thoughts, and turned her attention back to Snakepaw. His black tabby fur was bristling. "Rosestar is the mother of Skystar," he growled. "You revealed that to Flywing, and he got stuck in the medicine den with shock."

Three sunrises had passed since the day when Halfstripe had told Flywing who his true mother was. Yesterday, he was permitted to return to the warriors' den, but he was still evidently shocked. Shimmerwater had told him to go easy on his warrior duties, and all the cats were sympathetic for him - especially his mate, Dawnstorm, and their three kits.

She nodded. "That's true," she started off slowly. "However, I didn't mean to hurt him. Tomorrow, Heronstar mentioned that he might be sending a patrol over to ShadowClan to tell Eaglestar - and Whiteflight, especially."

Snakepaw sat in silence, as he comprehended the meaning of her words. Distracted, Halfstripe licked one white front paw, and brought it over her head. She could wait all day for Snakepaw's response, if she had to.

Finally, Snakepaw lifted his dark head, his icy blue eyes burning into Halfstripe's amber and blue ones. "So what are we going to do to stop the Dark Forest, then?" he mewed quietly. Halfstripe noticed that the apprentice's body was trembling. "I don't want to go back there..."

"Skystar might kill you if you leave her," Halfstripe replied, a plan unfolding in her head. "No, I have a batter idea."

Snakepaw's eyes lit up. "What is it?' he asked.

Pits of dread opened up in Halfstripe's mind, but she forced herself to speak: "You could spy for us in the Clans," she whispered, looking down. She kept her voice quiet, so that only Snakepaw could hear her. "You could give us updates on what's happening with them - you never know, there might be another Dark Forest battle. However, this would be at great risk to your life, and you must never - and I mean never - let Skystar know about this."

Snakepaw was silent for a moment, before he asked Halfstripe: "What will happen if I tell her?"

Halfstripe gulped. "She will not be impressed," she hissed. "You would have broken the Dark Forest's trust in you. You could get yourself killed - if there is going to be a battle, we could be unprepared. It is a grave prospect, that I do not wish to talk about." Halfstripe lifted her head, so that she was staring straight into Snakepaw's eyes. "Do you promise to give me updates on what's happening with the Dark Forest?"

Halfstripe kept her paws rooted to the spot, as she waited for Snakepaw's reply. Her mind thought that Skystar wanted a battle, and if Snakepaw said no, it would greatly disadvantage the Clans. But if he said yes...

Finally, Snakepaw replied: "Yes," he sighed. "I will spy for you."

"Good." Halfstripe gave an approving look at her son, then she dropped her voice again. "Don't tell any other cat about this conversation, okay?"

Snakepaw nodded. "I promise," he whispered. "I promise." Then the black apprentice turned her back on her, and disappeared through the ferns, heading back to the ThunderClan camp.

Halfstripe gazed in that direction for one last moment, before she too rose to her paws and followed. The Clans would greatly benefit from Snakepaw's decision, but she could sense an uncertain future.

What's going to happen to ThunderClan?



Chapter 12

Snakepaw's fur bristled with excitement as he reached the border with ShadowClan. The patrol beside him stood to attention, as they stood at the border.

"Should we go into their territory?" Foxpad asked anxiously. "I think this message for Whiteflight is important enough. We're not going to attack them, or anything - since Eaglestar became leader, everything's been peaceful."

"Halfstripe knows the way to the ShadowClan camp," Stormpaw butted in. "And Flywing."

Snakepaw turned his head towards the dark gray apprentice, whose eyes were bright with excitement. He was behind his mentor, Halfstripe, and next to his father, Flywing. At the front of the patrol, Halfstripe and Heronstar stood, the two cats' pelts brushing.

"Flywing, Halfstripe, what do you think?" Heronstar called from the front of the patrol.

By now, Flywing had completely recovered from his earlier shock, and the white tom was eager to get back into warrior duties. Training in the Dark Forest had also been peaceful - Skystar hadn't found his secret that he was spying, however he had noticed that he had seen a few more warriors from other Clans training there.

"There won't be another patrol passing for a while," Flywing replied. "The best idea is to head straight into the camp."

"Okay, then," Heronstar meowed, and Snakepaw's father flicked his tail at the patrol to go into ShadowClan territory.

Snakepaw had to admit that he felt a thrill walking through enemy territory. Large pine trees spanned their forest, their needles lying all over the ground. The reek of ShadowClan wasn't as strong here, but Snakepaw could still smell their distinctive scent.

I can't believe that my mother could've smelt like this once, the black tabby thought, shooting a glance at Halfstripe. And Flywing and Dawnstorm, for that matter. Stormpaw has obvious ShadowClan blood in him, and his siblings.

But I'm also part ShadowClan.

"Halt!" A sharp mew pierced the air.

Snakepaw immediately froze, and the rest of the patrol did the same. A white she-cat narrowed her green eyes as she started at the ThunderClan patrol. A long-furred dark tabby, a golden tabby, and a small black tom were with them.

"What are you doing on ShadowClan territory?" she hissed, her eyes wide as she scanned the patrol. Snakepaw watched her intensely, and he noticed her gaze dropped when she spotted Flywing. He wondered why the ShadowClan cat had done so.

"We wish to see Eaglestar," Heronstar mewed calmly. "It is something that involves Skystar and her parentage."

The dark brown tabby that was waiting behind the white she-cat stepped to the front of the patrol. He dipped his head to Heronstar and meowed: "Of course you can see Eaglestar, Heronstar. We'll escort you to our camp."

"We know your way to your camp, thanks," Snakepaw heard Halfstripe hiss under her breath as the dark ShadowClan camp went to the front of the patrol. The white she-cat that had spotted the patrol fell into step beside Flywing, the black tom and the golden she-cat nearby.

At once, Snakepaw saw the white she-cat bend over to Flywing. "This involves our mother, doesn't it?" she hissed. "The mother that we never knew?"

That white she-cat must be Flywing's sister, Snakepaw thought. Goodness, I still have some of my family in ShadowClan!

Flywing's amber eyes flashed. "Yes, it does," he mewed quietly. "And she was no cat I expected."

They - the ThunderClan patrol, and the ShadowClan one - trekked through ShadowClan territory until they got to the camp. A dip in the ground - which Snakepaw nearly didn't notice - sheltered the camp. Brambles were around it, and Snakepaw couldn't resist gasping as he walked inside.

He looked around, and realized that ShadowClan was more like ThunderClan than he thought. They still had their dens: the nursery, apprentices, warriors, leaders, and elders. The fresh-kill pile was near the center, stocked with mice and frogs. Snakepaw grimaced: he wished he would never have to try a frog in his life.

"Is Eaglestar here?" called the dark tabby tom at the front of the patrol. "A patrol of ThunderClan warriors wants to see you."

"I'm here," murmured a voice, and a silver tom slipped out from inside the leaders' den. Snakepaw recognized Eaglestar from the previous gathering. The ShadowClan leader's blue eyes flashed as he scanned over the ThunderClan patrol, his gaze resting on Halfstripe, then Flywing.

"Heronstar?" Eaglestar meowed, evidently surprised. "Why are you here in our camp?"

"The reason why I have come into our camp involves some things to do with Skystar," Heronstar meowed. "Your former leader has her eyes set on revenge on the Clans, and we are preparing for an attack from the Dark Forest. We have found out some important details about her past - some which have never been told - that we must discuss."

Eaglestar sighed. "Fine," he mewed. "I'll gather my Clan, and we'll discuss this together."



Chapter 13

"Let all cats gather below the Clanbranch for a Clan meeting!"

Halfstripe watched in awe as Eaglestar gave a mighty leap onto the branch that spanned the camp. ShadowClan cats came out of dens, huffing. Not all the cats were in the camp - that was obvious - but there was enough to get a decent lot for the meeting.

Memories whirled through Halfstripe head: memories from when she was a member of ShadowClan. One of these particularly stood out:

A lot of scornful faces were staring at Halfkit as she waited beside the nursery. No cat - not even her mother - was willing to take her up to Snakestar. Nevertheless, she had to be trained. She was six moons, and old enough to defend her Clan.

"Halfkit." Snakestar's scornful meow snapped the black-and-white she-kit to attention. "Come forward."

Halfkit's legs trembled as she padded up to the Clanbranch. Snakestar's gaze was still fierce as he stared at her.

"Halfkit," Snakestar mewed, almost hissing with fury, "from this day forward you shall be known as Halfpaw. Your mentor will be Shinedusk."

There was a very long, lengthened pause, before a brown-and-white she-cat stormed to the front of the crowd. Her green eyes were burning unmercifully as she stared at Halfpaw. Reluctantly, Shinedusk touched noses with her.

No cat cheered for her.

"Some ThunderClan cats are claiming that Skystar is plotting revenge on the Clans, even though she is dead."

Eaglestar's mew jolted Halfstripe back to the present. The ShadowClan cats had all gathered in the middle of their camp, their gazes flicking between their leader and the group of ThunderClan cats sitting off to the side.

"How can she do this?" Eaglestar continued. "How can she plot revenge?"

"She's in the Dark Forest!"

A mew from behind Halfstripe jolted every cat in the clearing to attention. All the ShadowClan cats turned to stare at the ThunderClan patrol, who - including Halfstripe - had moved off to the side, except the cat who had spoken.

Halfstripe recognized the tom at once. Snakepaw!

Eaglestar shifted along the Clanbranch. "And who are you?" he asked, his blue gaze narrowed to slits.

Halfstripe watched as Snakepaw dipped his head to the ShadowClan leader. "I am Snakepaw," he mewed, "son of Halfstripe and Heronstar."

After this, Halfstripe saw a whole group of ShadowClan eyes move over to her, and she wanted to cringe away in embarrassment. Snakepaw, you didn't have to do that much explaining, you mouse-brain!

Eaglestar stared at Snakepaw for what seemed like three sunrises, then he nodded. "Carry on."

"Skystar is recruiting cats from all the Clans, to train in the Dark Forest," Snakepaw started quietly. His voice was louder as he continued: "It's like the first battle that was fought between us and them. The same thing is happening, and we must be prepared."

After Snakepaw's speech, there was some murmuring between the ShadowClan cats. Halfstripe watched as she saw Yarrowflight, a young warrior, turn away from Beetleflight, who was trying to talk to her. Was Yarrowflight training in the Dark Forest?

Eaglestar gave a small nod. "You also said something about... her past." Eaglestar's eyes then switched to Heronstar.

In reply to Eaglestar's gaze, Heronstar moved away. "No," the ThunderClan leader mewed. "I'm not going to speak. It's Halfstripe who knows about this one."

At this, Halfstripe forced herself to move out of the group of ThunderClan cats. The cats of ShadowClan - some of whom she knew all too well - were all staring at her, urging at her to speak. She paused, and then she forced herself to spill it out.

"Some of you think you know Skystar's mother," Halfstripe began. "You all thought that Thistleberry was the mother of Skystar. But I can tell you this right now: this fact is wrong. Thistleberry is not her mother."

"I knew that!" yowled a voice. Halfstripe watched as she saw Whiteflight - Skystar's sister - shoulder her way out of the crowd. "We kept it quiet, so that no cat would know." The white she-cat's green eyes dimmed as she finished speaking.

There was another spot of murmuring between the ShadowClan cats, but Eaglestar silenced them again. "So who is the mother of Skystar, Flywing, and Whiteflight?" he asked, his gaze set on Halfstripe and again.

Halfstripe took a deep breath: "The mother of Skystar was Rosestar."

There was a sudden reaction from the ShadowClan cats, especially from Whiteflight. The white she-cat gasped: "What? Cloudsky's not a traitor! She must be lying!" and then she disappeared back into the crowd of ShadowClan cats.

"Silence!" Eaglestar hissed at his warriors, and they fell silent: obviously Eaglestar was having trouble keeping his warriors quiet today. He then turned his head - once again - towards the ThunderClan warriors.

Taking over, Halfstripe continued: "Not knowing who her mother was, Skystar set down a path of fury. All she wanted was to know her family - and that was what cost her."

"Well," mewed a cat in the ShadowClan crowd. "you're not meant to love a cat in another Clan. They were meant to keep it quiet, weren't they?"

Eaglestar glared at his warrior, and they fell silent. "So what you're saying is..."

"Skystar is in the Dark Forest, because of her evil deeds set when she didn't know who her mother was," Heronstar summarized. Halfstripe felt her mate shove past her as he went to the head of the ThunderClan cats. The ThunderClan leader dipped his head to Eaglestar as he went on: "All I want to say is this: if there is another Dark Forest battle, will you join our side? For better or for worse, I think the Clans need to be saved again."

For once, every cat was silent as they gazed at Eaglestar. The silver leader had a thoughtful look on his face, and then, after many moments of silence, he finally dipped his head to Heronstar. "Very well," he mewed. "If there is another battle, ShadowClan will join you. Have you notified the other Clans yet?"

Heronstar shook his head. "Should my warriors do that?"

"If there is going to be a battle, you should," Eaglestar mewed. His gaze turned to the ThunderClan cats. "You can get back to your own territory now, but if you need to use the lakeside to get to RiverClan, you are most welcome to."

"We appreciate your offer, Eaglestar," Heronstar mewed dipping his heat. Quietly, the ThunderClan leader flicked his tail, and turned to the ThunderClan cats. "Come on: let's go."

Halfstripe padded behind Heronstar as the patrol exited the ShadowClan camp. One Clam was down: only two more had to be seen.

WindClan shall be next.



Chapter 14

Snakepaw felt his black fur being tugged by the wind.

Obviously, WindClan territory is more blustery than I thought, the black tabby apprentice thought as he followed the patrol - led by Burningcinder, there was also Cedarclaw, Firelight, and Snakepaw's mentor, Foxpad. Every step he took into WindClan territory made Snakepaw even more envious of the patrol that was heading to RiverClan. On that patrol, there was his parents, his sister, Shinepaw, and her mentor Vixenstep, and Oakrise.

"Come on," Burningcinder grunted to the patrol, turning his head back. The smoky gray tom's amber eyes were like fire to Snakepaw. "The sooner we're at the WindClan camp, the sooner we can get out of here."

Snakepaw didn't reply to Burningcinder's words - he just grunted. This wasn't as fun as he thought it would be. ShadowClan was a lot better - but then again, he was part ShadowClan, and there was no drop of WindClan blood in his veins.

"I see something." Foxpad's mew jolted Snakepaw out of his trance, and he looked ahead. There was four blurs in the distance, and they were all nearing to them.

At once, Burningcinder stopped the patrol. Snakepaw, who was too busy looking at possible WindClan warriors, didn't notice. He continued walking, and crashed right into Foxpad with a thud.

"Snakepaw!" Foxpad hissed furiously, as Snakepaw fell backwards, tumbling over. The dark ginger tom turned towards him, his amber eyes blazing. "Pay attention next time!"

Snakepaw, annoyed, rose back onto his four paws, rubbing his cheek. "Well," he mewed icily, "you could've warned me that you were going to stop." In defiance, Snakepaw turned to look at Foxpad, then at Burningcinder, then going back to Foxpad. Foxpad just snorted, and turned his back on Snakepaw.

They continued padding through WindClan territory, but not much progress was made, due to the strong winds that were starting to come. At once, Burningcinder sat down on the ground, having had enough. "Let's have a quick break," the ThunderClan deputy insisted, his thick-furred tail flicking. "With this wind, we'll exhaust ourselves. When it dies down, we'll go forward again."

Snakepaw sat down with the rest of the patrol, refusing to look at his mentor. He was still angry with Foxpad about what had happened earlier.

"Never faced these sorts of winds before," Cedarclaw grumbled. The dark tom rubbed one paw over his ear as she spoke. "But then again, we aren't WindClan."

"But then again," Burningcinder added, "you've still only been a warrior for six moons, more or less. You still have a lot to learn." He stood up to shake out his fur, and then he sat down again. "You were too young to go visit WindClan last time, in the battle against Skystar."

Skystar. The name chilled Snakepaw to the bone. She was one of the Dark Forest cats who trained the Clan warriors - of which the numbers seemed to grow every day. He knew she was related to him somehow - but he didn't exactly remember how.

"Burningcinder, the wind's dying down. Shall we go?" Firelight's words jolted Snakepaw from his thoughts. The ginger-and-silver she-cat had risen to her paws, flicking her tail at Burningcinder - her father. Her amber eyes were narrowed as she waited for an answer.

For a few moments, there was silence from Burningcinder, and then the gray tom sighed. "Fine," he groaned, and then he rose to his paws.

The rest of the patrol did the same, but just then, Snakepaw saw something in the distance. It was starting to approach them, and it continued to get bigger. At once, Snakepaw flicked his tail, and mewed to Burningcinder: "Excuse me, but... I think you'd like to look over there."

At once, Burnongcinder's head whipped around in the direction of where Snakepaw had indicated. He narrowed his eyes as he saw the shape in the distance. "It's a WindClan patrol," the deputy murmured. "We'd better tell them to send us to -"

Abruptly, Burningcinder fell silent, as a cat snarled: "What are you doing here?"

A wiry WindClan warrior was standing over them, his brown-and-white pelt bushed out. Snakepaw recognized Tumblespring, one of the WindClan cats who trained in the Dark Forest. His tteth were bared at the ThunderClan patrol, and his pale eyes shone like fire.

"We want to see -" Burningcinder announced, but Tumblespring cut him off again.

"Prove it!" he hissed, and with unsheathed claws, he barreled himself at Snakepaw.

Snakepaw saw Tumblespring move towards him, but he was too slow. The brown-and-white cat landed on him, and Snakepaw closed his eyes, expecting death.

Oh StarClan, give mercy to me!


Chapter 15

One unsteady black paw dipped into the water, and then shot out, spreading water droplets into the air as it came out again. Halfstripe quickly lapped the paw - getting wet was not her type of fancy - and then she jumped over the puddle, making sure not to step in any more.

Beside Halfstripe, she saw Heronstar shaking his head. "Must've been raining over here..." the dark brown leader sighed. "Well, we'll keep a lookout."

Two patrols had been sent out to make the remaining journeys to RiverClan and WindClan, after ShadowClan had been successfully convinced of the Dark Forest's return. Burningcinder was taking the patrol to WindClan, while Heronstar was taking the one to RiverClan - the one that Halfstripe was on.

Back in reality. Heronstar grunted. "We're pretty much there. Now, we have to cross a stream to get into their camp." Halfstripe noticed an edge to which Heronstar had said the word stream - it was obvious that he had a distaste for the water like her.

At once, Shinepaw protested. The half-dark brown, half-white she-cat's green eyes widened. "I'm going to get wet!" she whined. "Do I have to cross the stream?"

Halfstripe rolled her eyes at Shinepaw. She told her daughter sternly. "You have to cross it. Come on, or Elmstar will stare at you - RiverClan cats do this all the time. Deal with it."

Shinepaw rolled her eyes back at Halfstripe, and stormed to the front of the patrol. The cats lined up to cross the stream: Halfstripe ending up in the middle, between Shinepaw and Oakrise.

She watched as Heronstar crossed the stream first, looking unsteady. He then called for Elmstar's attention, which caused Shinepaw to step back in fright and nearly trod on Halfstripe's tail. Halfstripe nudged her daughter forward. "Cone on Shinepaw, don't make a fool of yourself in front of the RiverClan cats," she whispered.

Shinepaw nodded, and then trotted across, but Halfstripe could tell that her daughter was uneasy. She then crossed the stream herself - then Oakrise followed, and finally Vixenstep brought up the rear.

By now, Elmstar had made his way forward. The dark brown leader was flicking his sleek tail at the ThunderClan cats, his eyes narrowed. "ThunderClan," the tom whispered slowly, and then he repeated it, louder and stronger the second time: "ThunderClan." He then turned to Heronstar, and asked: "Heronstar, why have you brought some of your cats into our territory? Is this important?"

Heronstar hesitated slowly, not respecting such a curt response from the other cat, and then he dipped his head. "We don't mean to disturb your Clan, Elmstar, but this is important," he replied. "The events from the past have returned."

The last sentence that Heronstar had said made Halfstripe know that Heronstar was giving an indirect hint to Elmstar about the Dark Forest. She watched as Elmstar screwed up his face in confusion for a moment, but then he realized.

"Ah." Elmstar's dark eyes lit up, and to Halfstripe it seemed unnatural. "Do you mean the Dark Forest?" The dark tom beckoned the patrol over to the edge of the RiverClan camp, and Halfstripe and the rest of the patrol followed. In front of them was a patch of ferns. Why did Elmstar want to show them this?

There would have to be some significance, Halfstripe realized to herself. Why else would Elmstar show us to this place?

"The ferns show us in RiverClan the warriors who died in the first battle," Elmstar mewed proudly. "Age shall not weary them, as the years condemn - we will remember them." The dark tabby shook his head, before going on: "However, I thought that all those moons again, they said that this battle was never going to happen again... is that all a lie?"

There was a hesitation, before Heronstar nodded slowly. Halfstripe herself followed suit, which then led to the rest of the patrol joining in.

Elmstar gave a sharp intake of breath. "I never would have thought this would happen..." he mewed unsteadily. "They said..." Elmstar's voice trailed away.

For a moment, Halfstripe felt compassionate for the RiverClan leader - her friend. She was also reminded of her life in ShadowClan by this - but Halfstripe just couldn't understand why.

"...I'm not entirely convinced," Elmstar admitted finally. The tom lowered his head, and went on: "I would like to discuss this further. Can your whole patrol come and meet with me in my den now?"

Heronstar nodded, and turned to flick his tail at the patrol. Halfstripe followed - and she could hear from the thrumming of pawsteps that Shinepaw, Vixenstep, and Oakrise were following. She sighed softhy, and pleaded to Elmstar silently to join their cause.

Join us, Elmstar. They are comong back. And with you, maybe we can defeat this group of vicious beasts for the second time.


Chapter 16

Snakepaw waited with dread for the blackness to overtake his vision. He was sure, with the look Tumblespring had given him through extremely narrowed eyes, that he was going to be killed - or injured greatly. Fearing the worst, the black tabby apprentice closed his eyes, waiting for the moment... waiting, waiting...

"Tumblespring! What are you doing? Get your paws off that cat right now!"

The pressure got released immediately, and Snakepaw blinked open his eyes, staring in surprise as Tumblespring scrabbled off him and scarpered off to a cat in the near distance.

He couldn't see who the cat was - Snakepaw's vision had suddenly gone blurry, and the black tabby had to blink a couple of times before he could see properly again. When he could again, he scrambled back to his paws.

Four WindClan cats had come up to the patrol, and were now questioning Burningcinder about what they were doing on their Clan's territory. Snakepaw hurriedly joined his Clan, before taking a good look at the patrol. Tumblespring was on it, as well as three other cats he didn't know: a black tom with white legs: a very pale ginger she-cat, and a tortoiseshell she-cat who had a white face.

"We need to see Applestar," Burningcinder mewed to the pale ginger cat, who was leading the patrol. Snakepaw detected the weariness in the deputy's voice. "It's important... it's for the safety of the Clans."

The she-cat looked unconvinced. "Hmph. I don't exactly believe you." She sat down on her haunches for a moment, testing the weight on her paws before she did so. Her leaf-green eyes were narrowed. "How many Clans have agreed to what you're doing?"

Burningcinder flicked his tail anxiously. "ShadowClan has already agreed to what we are about to propose, and as we speak Heronstar is taking a patrol over to RiverClan to ask them the same offer. You need to listen to this, Lightsky, it's for the benefit of all four Clans."

The cat leading the patrol - Lightsky - still didn't look very happy, but in the end, she nodded curtly. "Fine then, Burningcinder, we'll listen to it. We'll take you to our camp, but I don't know how Applestar will react."

Burningcinder nodded. "I'm sure your Clan will not regret it."

Lightsky glared at Burningcinder for a moment, before turning around and flicking her tail at the WindClan patrol for them to return to camp. They gathered in, and Snakepaw saw Lightsky turn to the tortoiseshell she-cat, and tell her: "Flashdusk, please go back to camp and tell Applestar that the sunhigh border patrol is returning with ThunderClan cats."

The tortoiseshell cat nodded before she started running off into the distance.

Following this, Lightsky turned back to the ThunderClan patrol. "Follow us: we'll take you to our camp."

The five ThunderClan cats joined the three remaining WindClan ones, and all eight cats were silent as they set off. Every cat, except for one, that is - Snakepaw, as he padded through WindClan territory, could hear Tumblespring growling nearby.

That growling made Snakepaw especially nervous.

He knew that Tumblespring was one of those cats who was training in the Dark Forest. The way he attacked him earlier... it was vicious. He'd seen some Dark Forest moves... the way he was attacking him...

He was really suspicious of Tumblespring, even if he wasn't in his Clan. He really seemed like a Dark Forest warrior... yet only living.

Snakepaw was so busy thinking about Tumblespring, in fact, that he didn't realize where he was until he heard Lightsky's terse mew again: "We're almost there. Come on, I'll take you to Applestar."

A wall of gorse surrounded the area, and Snakepaw could smell lots of different cat-scents through the entrance... at once, he knew that this was the WindClan camp.

A large group of warriors was standing at the entrance to the camp as the ThunderClan cats came through the entrance, the WindClan cats beside them. Their eyes were cold as they stared at the ThunderClan cats, and the sensation of being looked at rippled along Snakepaw's pelt, making him want to dusk his head and hide away - but he knew that was not an option.

"ThunderClan?" A mottled brown she-cat padded out of her den, her green eyes narrowed at she stared at the visitors. "Flashdusk told me that they've found you on your territory..." Her gaze set on Burningcinder. "Where's Heronstar?"

Snakepaw watched at Burningcinder dipped his gray head at the WindClan leader. "Heronstar is visiting RiverClan at the moment, giving them the same message that we are going to tell you. He wishes he could be here, but he is unable to make it."

Applestar paused for a long moment, before nodding curtly. "Very well." Her voice seemed stretched out as she spoke, the words somewhat smoothed out. "Burningcinder, bring your patrol into my den so we can discuss this. Rabbitswift, you will also listen in on this meeting."

Rabbitswift, the WindClan deputy, sprang down from a nearby boulder, nodding at her leader as she went into Applestar's den, Applestar herself and the ThunderClan cats following.

Snakepaw felt nervous. Even if ShadowClan, and both WindClan and RiverClan approved, he was worried. Were the Clans doing enough to win it for the second time?

Or would they all just be doomed to fail?



Chapter 17

"Well, thank StarClan that was a success. At least we have three Clans on our side, at least - we'll just need to wait for Burningcinder to give his verdict about what happened in WindClan."

Halfstripe wasn't really paying attention to Heronstar's words - it was obvious to her that her mate was ranting a little too much on the success of getting Elmstar and RiverClan to join their side when the battle between them and the Dark Forest would come. She didn't get why he was so... cheerful - why would they want to go into battle, anyway?

To Halfstripe, it was just a big issue. She'd never been big on battle, and especially more so when she'd seen her father kill her mother in that battle, as he ripped her nine lives all away from her at once.

She didn't want to see that moment again. That moment - somewhat - had scarred her.

In the background, Heronstar was continuing to rant - quieter now - as the rest of the patrol silent as the ThunderClan cats padded through the edge of RiverClan territory, getting closer to ShadowClan's land with every step taken.

Halfstripe let herself continue to pad forward. She could hear Oakrise and Vixenstep muttering behind her, and she could see Shinepaw beside Vixenstep, trying desperately to get her mentor's attention as they talked. Heronstar was still ranting in a whisper.

Halfstripe sighed. She was nervous... what would WindClan say?

^~^

It took a while for the group of cats to get back to the ThunderClan cat, and it was getting towards sunset when they finally returned. There were yowls in the air as they returned - but obviously not battle yowls. Halfstripe was sure that she knew what this was before she even entered the camp, and was told by a frantic Nightshade - who had been left in charge of camp - at the entrance.

"Never mind that, Briarflame's just kitting," the black warrior mewed hurriedly as he saw Heronstar come in through the camp entrance. Heronstar nodded curtly at his warrior as the rest of the cats came in, Halfstripe knowing that Nightshade had his gaze firmly set on her.

I thought so, Halfstripe thought, as she saw Flightpaw's tail poking out of the nursery. The medicine cats had obviously vacated the nursery to leave the queen to kit in peace, as Lightningheart's kits were outside with their mother, Spikekit asking frantically why they weren't allowed to go inside.

She then sat down outside the warriors' den, closing her eyes for a moment, trying to let everything sink in. Today had been a very busy - and long day.

The noises didn't help, but she was doing the best that she could...

...but all that she really needed to do was to think. Think about... everything.

"Have Burningcinder's patrol returned yet from their expedition to WindClan?" Halfstripe faintly heard Heronstar ask Nightshade, the dark tabby leader's tail flicking anxiously. "I don't see him around camp at the moment. I need to tell -"

Halfstripe angled one ear in the direction of Heronstar and Nightshade, at the same moment that Briarflame let out an earsplitting shriek from the nursery, which cut off Heronstar's words at once.

After a moment, when it quietened down again, Nightshade took the moment to intercept Heronstar's talk. "No, they haven't returned," he mewed, his head shaking. "Their heading out got delayed a bit - Cedarclaw was a little reluctant to go, seeing as his sister was due to kit."

Another yowl came from the nursery - but this time, following it a few moments later, a small, thin mewling sound came from the nursery. Halfstripe sighed in relief. ...At least Briarflame has a kit that's come safely, thank StarClan.

"He'll be annoyed that she started without him," Heronstar grunted. "They're very close for siblings." He then paused. "At least RiverClan got persuaded."

At this, Nightshade relaxed a little bit. "Oh, thank goodness, another Clan down." He then bared his teeth. "If Skystar's involved with this... Dark Forest business" The black tom stalked away, hissing as his voice trailed off.

The hatred in his voice shocked Halfstripe greatly, and she flinched at this. Skystar and Nightshade... at one point, she knew that they were close. Closer than friends, closer than Clanmates, even though they weren't in the same Clan.

They were mates. They were the two cats that had borne her. And now, they were sworn enemies, despite one being alive, and the other dead.

And even though Halfstripe didn't like Skystar at all, it still hurt a little bit.

Halfstripe was deep in thought. Everyone in ThunderClan was in deep thought that that moment, thinking about something important or another. They were so indulged in their own minds that they didn't even notice as the paws thrummed on the ground, and five cats came in to a now-quiet camp - Briarflame having just finished her kitting - their faces fearful...

...Something was wrong.



Chapter 18

"So, ThunderClan cats. What is this thing you wish to speak with me about, that you have told the other three Clans?"

Snakepaw stood behind the rest of the ThunderClan patrol, his heart feeling as if it was racing at a million miles an hour. This could be it...

This could be the last Clan that could be persuaded to join the side to fight against the Dark Forest. This could mean that all the Clans could be on the same side in the battle... and that was what Snakepaw wanted.

He then snapped back to the front of the patrol. Burningcinder was staring at Applestar with his fierce amber gaze, meeting the mottled brown leader's green ones with ferocity. They stayed this way for a few moments, before Burningcinder finally spoke:

"Applestar... ThunderClan has some grave news. It is something that will affect all the Clans."

At the mention of 'affect all the Clans', Snakepaw saw Applestar's ears suddenly prick up, and her eyes widen. She then shuffled her paws slightly, nervously. "What?"

Snakepaw gulped, while Burningcinder nodded slowly. "Yes, Applestar... the past is repeating itself. The Dark Forest has returned."

There was a pause for a moment. Snakepaw could see in Applestar's eyes that the WindClan leader was reeling in shock. Her claws unsheathed and sunk into the sheepswool that surrounded the leader's nest, the white fluff getting pulled up as she kneaded the wool in a panic

"W- What? How is that possible?" Applestar was shuddering slightly now. "Our ancestors... The great Onestar... he told WindClan that this wouldn't happen again, after he battled in that battle, many moons ago, at the helm of his Clan." The leader then paused. "Was this all a lie?" She looked up at the roof of the den, as if she was expecting to see a StarClan warrior appear suddenly from the sky.

Rabbitswift stood by her leader, the she-cat looking tempted to console her Clanmate. Snakepaw could see the worry in the WindClan deputy's eyes, and not baring to look at the two cats anymore, he glanced back at the camp entrance...

...And he swore that he could see two eyes, narrowed to slits, poking out from the shelter of a small bush that was near the entrance to the den.

Snakepaw, at once, was suspicious. Who - or what - could that be, if there was anything actually there? Trying to forget about it, the black tabby turned his gaze back to the discussion.

"It is," Burningcinder was mewing, his gaze fixed firmly on Applestar. "Never mind what our ancestors said, because if they said that, it's not true anymore." His tail twitched, obviously annoyed, at Applestar, who still looked shocked.

Another moment of silence followed, and almost every cat now had their gaze directly fixed on Applestar, who was staring at her paws. Finally, the leader looked up.

"...I don't know what to believe, Burningcinder. I just want something... something to prove what side my Clan should take. There's no proof for what you just said, after all."

...Yet another moment of silence.

Snakepaw suddenly froze to the spot, his ears pricked in Applestar's direction. He was sure that he'd heard incorrectly... he couldn't have heartd that. If WindClan didn't join...

His thoughts were cut off - and the silence was too - as a cat spoke from the den entrance: "Applestar? Can I get Rabbitswift for a moment?"

Snakepaw turned to the entrance, recognizing the voice. Tumblespring padded into the den, shouldering past the ThunderClan patrol with no consideration for them. Burningcinder hissed angrily at the WindClan warrior as he got bowled over by him, and he got to his paws again, cursing.

Applestar narrowed her eyes. "Tumblespring? That was disrespectful."

Tumblespring said nothing. He turned to face Rabbitswift.

The next thing that Snakepaw knew, he'd swiped at Rabbitswift's throat.

A choked cry escaped Rabbitswift's mouth as he swiped, connecting sharply. Shakepaw shuddered, and everyone else who was in the den stepped back. Scarlet blood dripped onto the floor of the den, and on the sheepswool, as Rabbitswift's body fell to the ground.

The deputy was dead, and Snakepaw knew it as he saw her body, lying limp on the ground, blood now pooling from her throat.

Applestar stared at shock at her warrior, while the ThunderClan cats were now cautiously backing towards the exit - Snakepaw included - in feat that they would also be attacked. Snakepaw was shaking as well - he recognized that move as soon at he saw it...

...It was the killing bite - the killing bite that Dark Forest warriors told their trainees to do. Snakepaw knew it, but... he would never dare to use it. His suspicions about Tumblespring were right all along.

"I'll deal with you later," Applestar hissed, before turning back to Burningcinder and the ThunderClan patrol. "...You're right, I guess..." she whispered. "...Maybe this is a sign from StarClan, maybe... WindClan will attend this battle, I'll make sure of that."

Snakepaw immediately sighed in relief. ...Thank StarClan...

Despite his relief, he was still tense as to what Tumblespring had just done. It took an act - an act of death - to convince WindClan to join. He knew this was going to be a hard battle...

...and that there was still more to come.



Chapter 19

For one long moment, it was deathly silent in the ThunderClan camp, no cat speaking or making a sound. Halfstripe's ears were flattened against her skull as she stared at her paws, secretly feeling miserable and guilty, a mix of emotions coursing through her thoughts. She didn't know why she felt that way, but still...

Eventually, the silence was broken, by a sharp, agitated voice. "...Why is the camp so silent for once? It's never this quiet."

Soft scuffling of paws then erupted, a soft hissing of dust below cats' paws as they turned to the cat who spoke. Halfstripe turned as well, pricking her ears: her gaze settled on Burningcinder, with the patrol that had ventured to WindClan to ask for Applestar behind them. Halfstripe was shocked to see their faces: their eyes looked somewhat sunken into their heads - and more shockingly - Snakepaw had a small cut that scored across his shoulder, it being caked with a small amount of dry blood. At once, Halfstripe knew that this patrol had not encountered a very ordinary trip to WindClan.

Something's happened, for sure, Halfstripe thought, the half-black, half-white she-cat suddenly narrowing her different-coloured eyes. ...They wouldn't usually be like this.

Suddenly, a bolt of fear struck through her. ...What if WindClan declined the offer to join the other three Clans in the battle with the Dark Forest!??!

That was one of the things that Halfstripe feared the most of all at the moment - one of the Clans refusing the offer. From what she had gathered about the previous battle, even with all four of the Clans, it had been a rather long, exhausting fight for all four Clans to defeat the Dark Forest - and that was with help from StarClan, their warrior ancestors. Halfstripe was sure that if WindClan refused, they were doomed.

There was a soft cough in the background, and then Heronstar stepped out, his dark blue eyes narrowed at his deputy. "Oh hello Burningcinder, I didn't notice that you were there... What is the verdict from WindClan?"

Burningcinder sucked in a tense breath, and Halfstripe saw this. He knew he was going to say something bad, and Halfstripe could sense it...

Oh, StarClan, please don't make Burningcinder say that WindClan refused!

However, the response that Halfstripe ended up getting was not what she was expecting. "WindClan has approved the request to join the other Clans in the Dark Forest battle."

At this, a few cats erupted in cheers from the area in camp where a few young warriors had gathered to talk. Most notably, Flashrunner was not among them - he would usually be there, but Halfstripe knew that he'd probably be visiting his mate in the nursery at the moment, with their newborn kits.

She also knew that she was ought to be happy about the news that WindClan had joined them - and she was. But this feeling of happiness had been largely obscured by a feeling of dread, as the group that had been on the patrol - looking a bit happier now - still looked extremely drained for some reason.

...So it can't be to do with WindClan refusing... so what was it then? Now, Halfstripe had no idea of what to expect from this patrol at all. What had happened?

Heronstar gave his deputy a curt nod at this, still looking - somewhat - displeased. "That's good, we've got all the Clans on our side for the battle, that's great." At the mention of this, Burningcinder nodded, his amber eyes starting to burn a little bit brighter. "...But you all look exhausted. Did something happen?"

The light that had been in Burningcinder's eyes moments before suddenly dimmed, so much that his eyes looked dark. The deputy shuddered a bit, and behind him, the rest of the patrol tensed - especially Snakepaw, who looked like he was about to jump out of his skin. Halfstripe wanted to reach forward and comfort her son at the look on his face, but she knew that now was not the time to do that.

Another sigh escaped from Burningcinder's lips, as he turned to face his leader. When he spoke, his voice was very soft - which was unusual for him. "...We were talking with Applestar, and Rabbitswift in their den, when... this silly WindClan warrior comes into the den, and for no reason, goes along and kills Rabbitswift for no good reason! It was..." His voice trailed off again as he looked at the ground.

Silence met this, and Halfstripe dipped her head. Rabbitswift...! No! She'd been one of the first cats she had met from the other Clans, at the first Gathering... she'd always been friends with the WindClan deputy after that.

"...That's not all, sir." Burningcinder looked back at his leader again, his gaze burning fiercer again now as he demanded his attention.

Heronstar shuffled one paw across the ground, obviously looking impatient. "...What is it?"

Burningcinder nodded, before sighing again. "...This cat that killed Rabbitswift attacked Snakepaw on the way to the WindClan camp... and on the way back, Snakepaw told us that he is working for the Dark Forest."

At this, a cat yowled angrily at the back of the camp, causing there to be a couple of shrill cries come from the nearby nursery. "This is worse than I thought," they hissed. "The Dark Forest is taking over!"

There was some anxious murmuring following this, and now Halfstripe wasn't so sure of anything either. The battle was getting closer with every day, and that just made the situation worse.

I'm nervous. How will we survive?



Chapter 20

A blast of ice-cold wind woke Snakepaw from his slumber, as he arose into the dark forest that had been training him in fighting for nearly three moons now. He felt sick to his core: he'd known, ever since Halfstripe had told him the Dark Forest's true intentions, that he shouldn't be wandering through these dark forests in his dreams.

More than a moon had passed since ShadowClan, WindClan, RiverClan, and ThunderClan had all agreed to join up again for this second battle. WindClan had a slight reform in Clan positions after the incident in their camp: Snakepaw had heard since that Swiftstep had been named WindClan's new deputy, and that Blackstripe, the old medicine cat, had apparently taken on an apprentice. However, for some reason or another, Applestar hadn't exiled Tumblespring - and this had caused a lot of outrage at the previous Gathering, particularly among ThunderClan.

Burningcinder had hissed at Applestar. "Didn't you see what that cat did to your deputy? That was no accident, Applestar."

Applestar had narrowed her eyes at the ThunderClan deputy in response. "Tumblespring has always been a loyal WindClan warrior and I respect that. He is under close watch, and if he does something else bad, then I will exile him - but not before."

Burningcinder had then turned tail on Applestar, refusing to look at the mottled brown leader for the rest of the Gathering, causing Heronstar to act quite annoyed to his deputy over the next few days.

"Oh, there you are, Snakepaw. Come, on, training. I've got a few new recruits for you to show some battle moves to tonight, and then we can go through some practise runs."

That cold mew jolted Snakepaw out of his thoughts, and the black tabby staggered to his paws and turned. Skystar was standing behind him, the Dark Forest cat's sky-blue eyes dark. He blinked a few times before sighing.

"What moves, Skystar? I don't know what moves you're talking about."

Skystar hissed in frustration. "Oh, come on. Silverdusk is over by the rock pile, and she's got them new recruits. She'll tell you the battle moves that you need to teach them. I need to check on another group that one of my acquaintances is running before I join you." Snakepaw froze for a moment, in which Skystar hissed angrily and swiped at him with claws unsheathed. "Go. Now!"

Skystar had connected when she'd swiped at Snakepaw, and now he had a small scratch running down the side of his cheek, oozing a trail of blood. Snakepaw licked his paw and tried to dab the blood off, before he turned around quickly and raced off in the direction of the rock pile. He knew his way around the forest well - which was thankful, as Silverdusk would probably attack him if he was late.

And Snakepaw knew for sure that he didn't want to be attacked again. Not after what Skystar had done to him. He was still bleeding, but he ignored it as he ran through the dark forest, his ears flattened against his skull as he raced along.

He was out of breath by the time he reached the rock pile. As he arrived, he saw Silverdusk at once. The silver-gray she-cat was shouting at a few new recruits, who were all cowering at the she-cat in fright.

"You're learning battle moves today, with one of the best of our Dark Forest trainees. See look, he's here now." Silverdusk flicked her bushy tail in Snakepaw's direction, and he too cowered. One of the new trainees gasped in horror - a white she-cat, apprentice-age - but Silverdusk quickly silenced her. "Wingpaw, this isn't the time to talk. Shut up and listen."

At once, Snakepaw wobbled on his paws as he recognized the she-cat. Wingpaw... No, why did they recruit her!?! He stared in shock.

No way was he going to teach battle moves to Wingpaw. She was too vulnerable for this sort of thing. And Snakepaw wouldn't permit it.

He knew, at once, that he was going to take a stand.

Silverdusk then turned to Snakepaw again. "Go teach them the leap-and-twist," she growled at him, her green eyes narrowed. "I'm going to discuss with Skystar about something first. I'll be back in a minute." She then stalked off without another word.

The new trainees all turned to Snakepaw. Wingpaw seemed as if she was almost trembling on her paws, the white she-cat looking as if she was going to fall to the ground in fright. Then, one cat spoke up, a brown tabby tom: "The leap-and-twist? What's that?"

Snakepaw shivered. For a long, long moment, he stood there, looking at his paws. Finally, he looked up, and gasped: "...I'm not reaching it to you. This is the Dark Forest, you're not safe here. All of you."

Wingpaw shivered as she looked up at her fellow Clanmate. "...So, then... what are we going to do, Snakepaw?"

Snakepaw took a deep breath. "We're going to try and escape."

The other cats - who all seemed like warriors from different Clans - scowled at Snakepaw's proposal, their ears flattened. "Graycloud says that last time, once they were in it, you can't escape," a slate-gray ShadowClan tom fretted, his ears flattened against his skull.

A RiverClan she-cat, whose blue-gray fur was fluffed up in fright, stared at the tom. "My Clan's elders say that a cat tried to escape from the Dark Forest last time, they got killed!" Her blue eyes were round.

Snakepaw turned to the blue-gray she-cat. "Whatever we do this time, we will make it succeed," he growled back at the she-cat, who then nodded and cowered again. "We need to find away around these Dark Forest cats, to get back to our own Clans."

"I think we should just run for it," Wingpaw squeaked quietly. "I want to get out of here." The white she-cat, petrified, scuttled behind the ShadowClan tom, who scowled at the apprentice.

There was a silence from the rest of the cats, until the brown tabby who had started the conversation spoke again: "I suppose," he grunted, before turning to his Clanmate, the blue-gray she-cat. "We'll get out of here, Rainpelt, I'm sure of it."

Rainpelt nodded weakly at the tabby, looking frightened. "Let's get out of here..."

Snakepaw grunted softly. He, unlike Wingpaw, disagreed - surely the Dark Forest warriors would notice...! - but, when Snakepaw assessed his options, he could find no other way to get these cats to escape. He then, slowly, turned to the group. "...Fine, fine... we're going to be making a run for it..."

Wingpaw and Rainpelt looked dizzy with relief at this announcement, the brown tabby also nodding in agreement. However, the gray ShadowClan cat disagreed. "Hmm? Are you sure that is a wise idea?"

The brown tabby also turned to the ShadowClan cat. "If this ThunderClan apprentice says it's okay, he is right. Admit it: he knows better than you here, Hailstorm," he growled.

"Snakepaw," Snakepaw mewed, clearing his throat irritably.

The brown tabby looked nonchalant. "We'd better get going before that monster of a she-cat comes back: I don't like the look of her. Shall we go?"

From the other cats, there was a murmur of assent: Rainpelt breathing: "Okay, Addereye, let's get going, then" under her breath. There was a scuffling of paws on the ground as the small group got to attention, Snakepaw included.

"Are you ready, all of you?" Addereye called, the RiverClan warrior's tail high. Snakepaw was happy for the tom to take over.

Before any cat could speak again, there was the sound of claws scratching the ground, and Snakepaw heard a voice, his blood suddenly going cold: "Let's see what Snakepaw has taught those apprentices what to -"

"They're coming!" Snakepaw hissed irritably. "Go, go, we have to escape!"

The rest of the cats took off at once: Rainpelt keeping an eye on Wingpaw. Snakepaw felt himself gather speed, wind building in his fur as he ran along with the rest of the group. He had to get out of here -

"Skystar! Skystar! Snakepaw and the new recruits - they're getting away!"

Snakepaw turned his head back at the sound of Silverdusk's yowl, and suddenly he was distracted. While he looked back, he felt a shooting pain on his paw, and he grimaced as he fell flat on his face, landing on the cheek which Skystar had wounded him on - which, consequently, started to bleed again.

Great. Snakepaw licked his pawpad again and licked his wound on his cheek, looking for the rest of the group... They'd gone. Fear at once struck his heart...

"...Snakepaw. How nice to see you. Now, may I ask: what in the name of all of this have you been doing with these new recruits?"

Snakepaw staggered to his paws, and whirled around to face Skystar. He saw a twisted root below his paws - he must've tripped over that, what was he thinking? - as he swept his gaze towards the Dark Forest cat, who was staring at him coldly.

"Tell me now, Snakepaw, or face the consequences."

Snakepaw sighed softly. He knew that saying the truth would come at a deadly price - but so would lying. He wasn't really sure of his motives anymore, but... "The recruits ran away from me because they were scared." That bit was true.

"And why were you with them?"

"I..." Snakepaw paused. "I was trying to get them back here." That was a lie, and Snakepaw knew it. He felt guilty as he said it, but he tried not to let it show to Skystar's face.

The blue-gray she-cat's gaze now seemed somewhat twisted. Her blue eyes were narrowed to slits. "Hmm, I'm not so sure," she hissed. "It definitely didn't look like that, I must say... my my, Snakepaw, it looked like you were running alongside them."

Snakepaw flinched, and his mouth hung open, his throat dry. Skystar knew the truth about what he had done... and that wasn't good at all. Now what was going to happen?

"I thought so," Skystar mewed triumphantly. "You'll see about that, you and all your Clanmates and friends in the other Clans. You'll see..." She then purred - a long, cold, and high-pitched purr, which made Snakepaw's fur stand along his spine. And with that, she turned tail on him, and padded back into the Dark Forest without one look back at him.

The last thing that Snakepaw saw was Skystar's white-tipped tail flicking around a corner before his vision receded to pure black once more.

What have I done?



Chapter 21

Clouds were covering the sky, their dark, gloomy colour seeming to drag down the whole camp and Clan, despite the fact that it was mainly covered by overhanging tree branches. It was also unusually cold - making Halfstripe shiver as she exited the warriors' den that morning. She would've rather stayed inside to keep warm, but she was required to go on patrol soon.

It's never this cold at this point in newleaf, the half-black, half-white she-cat thought, as she sat down in a sheltered corner of the camp, away from the cold wind. Leaning over to lick the dark side of her pelt, Halfstripe felt herself getting lost in her own thoughts.

Unfortunately for Halfstripe, the thing that her mind seemed to want to think about was the Dark Forest.

She sighed in between licks. Sure, she shouldn't really be worrying about them at this point - according to Snakepaw, he said the group was planning to attack in half a moon or so. Plenty of time, it seemed - but Halfstripe was more concerned. There had been lots of rumors floating around the four Clans about the first battle, and she wasn't sure what was true and what wasn't.

Yes, there were some funny rumors - like a badger actually helping cats instead of fighting with them - but some of them made sense, like StarClan coming down to help fight with the living. Dead cats can fight dead cats, can't they? But that badger rumor's just... no, just no.

Unsuccessfully trying to get those not-so-nice thoughts out of her head, Halfstripe let out yet another long sigh. Oh, how she wished that she could leave this all behind. However, for her it was just too hard for her - especially when her mother was behind it all.

Slowly arising back onto her paws, Halfstripe sidled out of the corner.

Camp seemed busier now. Lightningheart's kits - who had been apprenticed a quarter-moon ago - were running around: Havenpaw looked as though she was about to fall over as a gust of wind blew past her. Nightshade, Havenpaw's mentor, was eyeing up his apprentice with a curious look. He and Halfstripe met gazes for a moment, nodding before looking away.

Meanwhile, Spikepaw and Slightpaw were play-fighting, with Hootpaw watching. The black she-cat watched with round eyes as her brothers play-fought, before padding off to seek out Cedarclaw, whom she'd been apprenticed to. However, Spikepaw's and Slightpaw's mentors - Burningcinder and Dawnstorm respectively - were nowhere to be seen.

Halfstripe purred softly under her breath. I remember when Shinepaw and Snakepaw were like that... they're so grown up now.

That was when she felt her son brush against her.

She knew it was him - judging by his scent, his black tabby tail softly touching the side of her face. Turning as she felt it, she took a while to detect the urgency in Snakepaw's icy eyes.

"Halfstripe," he whispered softly under his breath. "I, like, really need to talk to you. Can we go out of camp and speak?"

Halfstripe tilted her head to one side. Why out of camp? "...Does it have to -" she started to ask, but Snakepaw swiftly cut her off.

"Yeah, kinda," he mewed awkwardly, looking behind him as if something was going to appear. "Come on, let's go now. I have a bad feeling that if I don't, I'm going to regret it."

Letting out a grunt, Halfstripe shook out her fur. "Fine - but it better be quick, I've been asked to go on patrol." She then proceed to heading towards the camp entrance.

There, Snakepaw took the lead as they padded out into ThunderClan territory. Halfstripe noted that the tom's tail was twitching quickly from side to side, and it made her concerned, too.

What's the news, Snakepaw? What's the news? she thought, concerned for her son.

Finally, he stopped. Halfstripe noted that they'd reached the lakeside: she could see the rippling blue water in front of her. Turning, she saw Snakepaw inhale and exhale a few times.

"Something happened in the Dark Forest last night," he finally confessed, still breathing rapidly. "Something bad."

At once, Halfstripe felt her eyes widen. Oh no. Not good. This could be nasty, she knew - knowing the Dark Forest... "What happened, Snakepaw? Tell me."

"Well..." Snakepaw started awkwardly, shifting his gaze to his paws. "Skystar -"

"Was getting some new recruits when he ruined it all." A soft, smooth voice purred behind Halfstripe, cutting Snakepaw's words off.

Both cats turned at once - and beside her, Halfstripe saw Snakepaw reeling back in fright. She, too, was worried - she could accept his fear. She hadn't seened this cat... well, since she'd been alive. Almost choking, she spat out the cat's name:

"Sk-Skystar."



Chapter 22

From the side, Snakepaw watched as his mother turned towards Skystar, the half-black, half-white she-cat's fur fluffing up defensively as she did so. The black tabby apprentice could sense Halfstripe's wariness: and he could sense his own.

He knew this wasn't going to turn out well. After what he'd done in the Dark Forest... he knew that Skystar wouldn't be pleased. He had been one of the Dark Forest's most loyal followers... up until last night, when he betrayed them. However, at the same time, Snakepaw knew that he'd done the right thing.

There's no way in StarClan I would've let Wingpaw into the Dark Forest. She's too precious. At the though the white she-cat, a burning intensity built up inside him. No way would she -

"Yes, Halfstripe, it is me." A soft purr - Skystar's purr - broke the silence that had been created moments before. The blue-gray she-cat gaze was fixed onto her daughter's, a menacing look in it. "You and your father may have killed my living body, but you haven't finished with me yet."

Halfstripe didn't reply: and neither did Snakepaw. Both cats stayed in silence.

"I haven't been able to finish off what I had started in ShadowClan," Skystar went on, the she-cat starting to pace as she spoke. "I want to make sure every cat knows I am much better than they all think I am. You stopped that!" The last bit was a snarl aimed at Halfstripe, and Skystar's teeth were bared furiously at the ThunderClan warrior's.

In response, Snakepaw watched as Halfstripe flicked her tail coolly. "Sure, Skystar. Snakestar was a better leader than you ever were! He -"

"- was the leader that set you apart from the others? Saw you as the different one?" Skystar questioned, smirking. "That's what he did. That's not the qualities of a good leader."

A look of hurt flashed across Halfstripe's different-coloured eyes, and Snakepaw knew that Skystar had hit a sensitive spot. Then, the look of hurt turned to fury. "At least Snakestar didn't kill his predecessor to rule the lake," Halfstripe spat. "You... you killed Snakestar. Every cat knows that you did! That's not a sign of a good leader! He was a better leader than you ever were!" By the end, the she-cat was yowling, trying to get her point across.

Despite all of this, however, Skystar looked completely unfazed. "I'll prove it to you when I lead the Dark Forest to victory... a victory that should've happened the first time around," she snarled loudly. "The battle will be held earlier than we first thought... it shall be held tonight."

At once, Snakepaw's moth dropped open. No, no, no... what have I done!??!

"Yes, that's right, Snakepaw," Skystar mewed, and the black cat knew that Skystar's gaze was on him. He looked up, meeting her sky-blue gaze. "The fate of the Clans rests on you, Snakepaw... and if you lose, it will be all your fault."

And then, without warning, Skystar vanished into thin air, leaving the two cats to comprehend what had just happened.

.~*~*~.

"She said what?"

As soon as Snakepaw and Halfstripe returned to camp, they'd reported straight to Heronstar's den to tell the ThunderClan leader what had happened. Now, as they told them, the leader looked annoyed: his blue eyes hinted at disbelief.

"It's true," Halfstripe mewed to her mate, her bicoloured eyes with a sad look to them. "The battle... is happening tonight."

Snakepaw's father grumbled irritably. "...Hmph. I'm going to have to let the Clan know about this... last-minute change." He looked at Halfstripe while saying this, before turning to his only son and looking him in the eye. "However... I am proud of Snakepaw. He managed to stop more cats from getting sucked in by the Dark Forest... and if this hadn't happened, the situation could've been worse."

Snakepaw could see a proud glimmer in his father's eye. He'd done something good for once... something that would help ThunderClan - in fact, not just his Clan, but all the Clans. "Thanks," he mumbled while dipping his head, embrarrassed.

"Not many cats can show bravery like that... especially in front of a cat like Skystar." Heronstar mewed, before flicking his tail briskly. "Come on, then. We need to start preparing for this battle that we'll be facing tonight... a battle to save the Clans once more."

"Yes, Heronstar," Snakepaw mewed flatly, rising to his paws. Beside him, Halfstripe got to her paws as well. They padded out slowly.

Snakepaw was lost in thought. Now that he was out of the conversation, Skystar's words had come back to haunt him again. If you lose, it will be all your fault. The words echoed in his head, making him feel cold.

He couldn't let the Dark Forest win. He couldn't let Skystar win.

Tonight, he knew, was the night that would either prove to be his victory or his downfall.



Chapter 23

As dusk settled over the lake, Halfstripe shivered. Tonight felt so cold... colder than normal. There was no denying in herself that she was scared.

Pawsteps dragging, she looked ahead. Heronstar had told the cats that he was sending a few of them to help other Clans... and she had been sent back to her former Clan to help, along with her son. From the corner of her eye, she could see him: Snakepaw, looking slightly hesitant as he padded through ShadowClan territory.

"I don't understand how..." the black tabby gasped, jogging slightly as he caught up to Halfstripe, "...ShadowClan cats cope with pine needles in their territory! They're weird."

"ShadowClan warriors are used to them," Halfstripe mewed dismissively in response as she looked ahead. They were nearly at the ShadowClan camp, and she knew it. Although she'd left this Clan long ago, she still knew the territory well. "Now, come on, we're nearly here. Eaglestar will be expecting us."

Snakepaw's only reply was with a snort. The two cats fell back into silence as they approached the ShadowClan camp. They could see the entrance now from where they were.

There was a soft rustling nearby. Pausing, Halfstripe tasted the air. There was a strong SahdowClan scent in the air, yes... but there was something else. It was...

"RiverClan and WindClan's choices," Snakepaw mewed, breaking the since and echoing Halfstripe's thoughts. As he spoke, he saw four cats emerge.

The WindClan cats Halfstripe recognized at once. One of them was Flashdusk, a warrior that Halfstripe had seen at a Gathering before, but hadn't really talked to. The other... well, Halfstripe didn't trust this cat. Beside her, Snakepaw tensed - she knew he didn't trust this cat.

The cat stepped forward. "Halfstripe and Snakepaw... what are the chances," the tom sneered, causing Flashdusk and the two RiverClan cats - whom Halfstripe didn't recognize - to stare at him funnily for one long, silent moment.

"...I don't trust you, Tumblespring," one of the RiverClan cats - a dark gray she-cat with a white leg, face and tail-tip - mewed awkwardly, breaking the silence. "What's the problem with Halfstripe and Snakepaw?" Turning to the ThunderClan cats, she introduced herself as Grayfeather, before falling silent.

"...Shall we go in, then?" Halfstripe meowed, trying to break the tension between them. They all nodded - including Tumblespring, who looked hesitant - and with that, the half-black, half-white she-cat turned and padded into the camp's entrance, the other five cats behind her.

As they padded in, the camp fell silent. The soft buzzing of cats' voices seemed to halt as the six of them arrived: silence had, it seemed, taken over. Cats turned to stare at them, and Halfstripe could feel it: a burning sensation on her pelt.

Finally, a voice broke the silence. "The other Clans have arrived."

A small tabby warrior approached the cats, amber eyes bright as she looked at the cats. "You're the cats that have been sent to ShadowClan from the other Clans?"

Immediately, without any discussion, there was a murmur of agreement from all of the cats. Halfstripe grunted as an answer. That is obvious.

"Good." The tabby nodded. "Soon, I will be telling Eaglestar of your arrival, and who you are... he deserves to know." A pause. "For those who don't know me, I'm Littlewhisker, a ShadowClan warrior. I've talked to some of you before," she mewed, her gaze sliding over to Halfstripe for a moment, "...but others, no." Littlewhisker's gaze flickered to the WindClan cats. "...You are?"

The WindClan cats were on Halfstripe's left. Flashdusk ducked her head and muttered her name quietly. Tumblespring was bolder, but after he mentioned his name, Littlewhisker narrowed her eyes.

"I'll be keeping an eye on you," the brown cat mewed firmly at the WindClan warrior.

Halfstripe figured that this lack of trust had been triggered from the incident in the WindClan camp, when Tumblespring had attacked and killed the deputy of his own Clan. Good call.

"...I know you. Halfstripe." The ThunderClan warrior was jolted out of her thoughts as Littlewhisker spoke to her. "ThunderClan... and I'm assuming this is your Clanmate?" Her gaze was set on Snakepaw, who was to her right.

Hastily, she nodded: and beside her, her son did the same. "That's Snakepaw."

For a moment, Littlewhisker stared at Snakepaw - for whatever reason, Halfstripe didn't know. Finally, she turned to the RiverClan cats. "Names?"

The two cats had been pressing into each other's sides, and at Littlewhisker's brisk tone they broke apart. Halfstripe could tell that they were quite close. "Grayfeather of RiverClan," Grayfeather mumbled, her dark head bowed, "and this is -"

Grayfeather didn't finish her sentence - instead, her Clanmate finished it for her. "- Shadowpelt." The tom - a black tabby - gave a sharp look at Littlewhisker. "And before you and your warriors ask - we're mates, so deal with it."

Halfstripe blinked at the RiverClan warriors. Mates? Her mind then blanked for a moment, before she came back and added something else to her thoughts. ...That explains it.

"...Well, okay then." Littlewhisker didn't really seem to care much about Shadowpelt's words. "Anyways... I'm going to tell Eaglestar about your arrival. Get ready to fight is all I have." The tabby warrior shrugged. "We don't know when exactly the Dark Forest will attack... but we can presume when they will." Before any cat could speak again, the warrior turned and went towards her leader's den. Halfstripe watched her disappear into its blackness.

At once, a fluttering came into her stomach. The battle was coming, and Halfstripe was undeniably nervous. She dreaded its start.

However, she had no choice.

.~*~*~.

A moon, a moon that was just under half-visible, glittered above in the sky. Night had truly fallen, but barely any of the cats in the ShadowClan camp were sleeping. All were alert, all were anxious.

They all knew that soon the battle would start. They all knew that. All of them were just waiting for the time when they would surge forward into battle, defending not just ShadowClan, but all of the Clans.

Halfstripe felt sick to the stomach. The ThunderClan cat was not looking forward to this at all. This was worse than the last battle she'd been in... which was when she and Nightshade had defeated Skystar the first time. She never would've guessed, after that, that the next battle that she would be in would be facing her again.

Never would I have dreamed... A small sigh floated out from her. She couldn't believe it.

Nearby, Halfstripe could see a large cat standing nearby. She knew that he was nearly a warrior... and when the time came, she knew that Snakepaw would serve well for ThunderClan, for every blow. Her son had grown up... and now was the time for him to prove his worth.

He was brave, her son. He could do this... he could save the Clans. Halfstripe knew he could...

"...ShadowClan." A snarl came from the main entrance.

At once, Halfstripe - and every cat in the clearing, for that matter - turned towards the entrance. A silvery, yet shadowy cat stood at the entrance, multiple cats following her lead. Halfstripe saw the paler parts on her pelt... she couldn't deny who this was.

The former ShadowClan leader bore her teeth, shooting a cold glare at Eaglestar, who approached his predecessor. "Your Clan will lose to us," she hissed.

For a moment, the silver tabby was silent, pelt bristling. Then, in reaction, Eaglestar snarled. "...You really are cruel, attacking your former Clan. There were your cats once... and now you want to harm them!?"

From behind their leader, a few ShadowClan warriors cheered at their leader's comment. Others, shooting annoyed glares at Skystar, hissed. The rest were silent.

There was no reply from Skystar, only a deft flick of her tail. Their ranks surged forward.

"Warriors, attack!" Eaglestar's call followed - and Halfstripe, still feeling sick, leapt forward, determined to save her former Clan - and all the other ones as well - from this current attack.

You won't win. I won't let you.



Chapter 24

Catching his breath, Snakepaw panted as he turned to look up at the sky, which had ever so slightly started to lighten. Have we been really fighting for that long?

The moon was rising when they'd started this battle: night was falling. Now, the night was fading: and he could - indeed - see the moon starting to sink slowly towards the horizon. This battle has been going on for ages.

Of course, they'd paused to take a break a few times - to get wounds treated by Primrosewing, ShadowClan's medicine cat, to grieve for the dead. A few bodies had been set off to the side, losing their lives to the Dark Forest - as he took a breather, Snakepaw could see a ShadowClan warrior mourning over a small body - probably a young apprentice, Snakepaw guessed, from the size of it.

He felt his stomach sink at the sight - the warrior giving a mournful yowl as they pressed their fur to the apprentice's body. This is terrible... and it's not just ShadowClan. Back at home... He shuddered at the thought. ...I really don't want to think about who could've died back in ThunderClan.

Shaking himself, Snakepaw went out of his thoughts. I've rested enough. Let me get back into this battle! Stepping back into the battlefield, the apprentice, turned, looking for a Dark Forest cat to come up against.

There was no denying that there were a lot of Dark Forest cats. There was not enough to be outnumbered, yes - but there was about one of them to every Clan cat in the ShadowClan camp. Plus, Snakepaw knew they were vicious, and well-trained fighters. He'd have to be careful.

He finally set his sights on a Dark Forest cat, a rather faded tortoiseshell-and-white she-cat who almost looked as though she wasn't even there. Snakepaw had never seen her before. How long has she been in the Dark Forest for!?! Deciding that he was going to go for her, Snakepaw weaved in between many groups of fighting cats to get to her.

But before he could get there, he felt something shove him in the side, Suddenly, he felt himself hit the ground, and unsheathed claws sink into his pelt. Letting out a loud hiss, Snakepaw writhed under his attacker, whom had managed to pin him down in his struggle.

"I should've killed you the first time, when I caught you in WindClan territory!" the cat hissed, as Snakepaw looked fearfully into the warrior's eyes, still trying to get free.

"You shouldn't be turning on your Clanmates!" Snakepaw snarled in response at the cat. "You're not even a Dark Forest cat!"

Inside, Snakepaw was cursing. Tumblespring, you traitor!

Tumblespring's blue eyes burnt like fire. Purring sweetly, he mewed: "But this isn't my Clan. I belong to WindClan..." A pause. "Oh, wait! My loyalty's to the Dark Forest now. I don't care about the rest of the cats in these Clans. I might as well just kill you instead!"

Snakepaw gulped nervously. ...Oh no.

Closing his ice-blue eyes, Snakepaw feared for the worst. He knew writhing around would be no use - Tumblespring was a lot stronger than he was, and he knew that he was no match for him. He paused, waiting for pain to flood through him...

"I knew I couldn't trust you!!" Snakepaw could barely hear a cat scream as it leapt at its opponent.

...But it never came. In fact, at that moment, the pain appeared to ease for a bit. Blinking his eyes back open, Tumblespring was gone. What?

The apprentice rose slowly... and then he found his answer. Tumblespring laid nearby, barely breathing, with four cats nearby - Grayfeather and Shadowpelt pressing into each other with their gazes set on the body, Flashdusk snarling furiously at her Clanmate, and Halfstripe staring defiantly as the WindClan cat took one last breath and fell still.

"That traitor deserved it," Flashdusk breathed softly, as Halfstripe kicked Tumblespring's body furiously.

"WindClan will not honour his death," Halfstripe added, causing Snakepaw to nod from where he was now standing. "This proves that Rabbitswift's death was indeed no mistake that he made." The ThunderClan she-cat growled at the tom's body, before turning to Flashdusk. "You're his Clanmate. What will happen to his body?"

The WindClan tortoiseshell shrugged. "I'll decide later. For the meanwhile, let's move it off to the side."

While Halfstripe and Flashdusk dealt with the body, Grayfeather and Shadowpelt went back into battle. As this happened, Snakepaw paused, blinking up at the sky. It was definitely lightening now... night was falling, day was coming. Something about this told Snakepaw something: this battle wasn't going to take much longer.

Turning his direction away from the sky, Snakepaw looked around the battleground again. This time, he spotted a very familiar cat nearby, at which a few ShadowClan warriors were staring at. The cat was hissing at a few of her former Clanmates: "Eaglestar's lost three of his lives to me tonight. He's not such a tough leader, hmm??" She then stalked through a group of cats, obviously not wanting to fight them... she went past every single cat, in fact, until she was right in front of him.

"You got one on me earlier, I'll grant you that," Skystar hissed, fangs bared. Snakepaw stepped back, intimidated. "But that's not going to happen again!"

And for the second time in the same night, Snakepaw was being attacked by a cat that he really feared...

...first Tumblespring, and now Skystar.



Chapter 25

Ducking just out of the ShadowClan camp, Halfstripe and Flashdusk left Tumblespring's body outside, to keep it away from all the other cats. After deciding it should at least have some coverage on it, they found some foliage, and together Halfstripe and Flashdusk put it over the WindClan tom's remains.

"I'll..." Flashdusk panted, dropping a couple of pine needles onto Tumblespring's brown-and-white pelt, "...I think I'll still bring him back to my Clan's camp. They... they deserve to know what happened to him." The WindClan cat looked exhausted, her amber eyes dull.

Halfstripe silently listened, and nodded. They did deserve to know, despite his actions. For a moment more, they placed some more leaves onto his unmoving body, before pausing again. "...Should we head back now?" Halfstripe finally asked, after a long silence.

Flashdusk nodded briskly in reply. "...Yeah, let's finish this," the tortoiseshell mewed with a sigh.

Shaking out her black-and-white pelt, Halfstripe waved her tail as a sign of acknowledgement, before turning back into the ShadowClan camp.

The yowls of cats were louder now that she was back in the camp. Halfstripe paused, thinking about her next move; meanwhile, Flashdusk - suddenly more energized - had gone back into the fray. I know I have to fight some cat... but who? Slowly padding towards the battle area, she looked around.

She should probably go and help someone...

"I'll never surrender to you!"

Halfstripe jumped in surprise. She recognized that voice. Padding forward a few more paces, she saw the speaker: Snakepaw, who was under the paws of a blue-gray-and-white Dark Forest cat. At once, the she-cat's blood ran cold. No, you will not touch my son!

"I'll fight you until I make you surrender," Skystar hissed at her grandson. "That means death. I don't care whether we're related by blood... you will fall to me." Her fangs were bared at the black apprentice, her blue eyes unblinking.

Halfstripe padded forward cautiously: one step, two. Meanwhile, she could only watch as Skystar raised one unsheathed paw at her opponent, who was wriggling in her grip in protest, trying to escape. Protective instinct rushed over the warrior, causing her to blurt out:

"You leave my son alone!"

Seeing Skystar lower her paw in surprise, she exhaled in relief, though it caught inside her as the former ShadowClan leader turned to her. "And you... you won't kill me a second time. You wouldn't dare." The former leader let go of Snakepaw, before turning to Halfstripe's direction: She padded towards her, until both cats were nose to nose. "You can't kill me again. I'm already dead."

Inside, Halfstripe was angry, but she tried to keep a level head. She'd dealt with this before, especially in her younger moons. "I do dare. You're a terrible mother, and you deserved it," she hissed, stepping back before continuing: "You killed Snakestar. You warred on the Clan your daughter was in, a battle that caused all four Clans to fight. You caused havoc to the lake, and it was peaceful until you decided to terrorise all of us again."

By now, a lot of cats - ShadowClan, visitors, and Dark Forest alike - had stopped fighting, to watch this argument. A few cats weakly cheered at Halfstripe's comment.

A snarl came from Skystar's throat, and she leapt at her daughter. "You Clans deserve it!" she hissed, mid-flight.

Sensing the blow was coming, the ThunderClan cat dodged the blow. When Skystar realized she missed, she looked furious. "You can't escape from me that easily, Halfstripe!" The Dark Forest cat charged again.

This time, though, she wasn't prepared. Seeing her mother charge right at her, Halfstripe hesitated, throwing her off. Unsuccessfully, she tried dodging, but she felt claws dig into her dark shoulder. She hissed in pain, trying to throw Skystar off - but her battle power was too strong.

Suddenly, however, she felt the pain release. Blinking, Halfstripe gazed over at her shoulder. Blood was pooling from it - she'd have to go see Primrosewing for those wounds. But just then, she heard a soft voice, mewing into her ear:

"Don't worry, Halfstripe. The Clans aren't lost yet... in fact, this battle will soon be over."

Slowly turning, Halfstripe saw a white she-cat, her fur studded with stars. Thistleberry. Her voice lowering, she whispered: "Are you sure...? Skystar..." Halfstripe's voice faltered: she couldn't bring herself to say that she was -

"She's not invincible," the former ShadowClan cat whispered. "...Look over there." Her spike-furred tail flicked.

Doing as she was requested to, Halfstripe raised her head... and for once, she couldn't see Skystar pinning down another cat. Instead... Snakepaw, Snakepaw, was the cat that was now struggling to hold Skystar underneath his claws. At once, her heart soared: maye the Clans did have a chance after all.

The tabby apprentice finally gained control over his opponent, looking triumphant. "Maybe you should surrender to all of us in the Clans," he hissed, raising a paw, claws extended as far as they could go...

Then, before Halfstripe could do anything, Snakepaw's front paw plummeted back down, before inflicting a nasty wound down Skystar's side. The Dark Forest cat gritted her teeth in pain, and there was a furious look in her eyes.

"For once... I must admit defeat," she whispered, her blue-gray-and-white head lowering slowly. Silver blood trickled out of her - not real, but fatal to her.

Snakepaw, meanwhile, got off her body at last, before pausing by it. "Yes... you did," he mewed softly, as Skystar fell still. "I beat you... and now you can't return." By his paws, her body was starting to fade: slowly, slowly... until it was gone.

Lost for words, Halfstripe stared. Skystar... was gone. She'd been defeated at last. She felt happy, as now, she knew that no cat could get hurt by her mother again, as the dawn light filtered in through the pine needles. Beside her, Thistleberry nodded to her once more before she faded into the mist: like the rest of the Dark Forest cats who had fled.

The battle is over... and we won. The Clans are safe again.



Epilogue

Twenty-four moons after the Dark Forest battle...

"Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather below the Highledge for a Clan meeting!"

Heronstar's call rang around the ThunderClan camp, summoning the cats out of their dens. Snakefang paused at the call, waiting outside the nursery, from where he heard an excited call:

"I'm finally going to be an apprentice!"

"Snipkit, calm down, this isn't going to make your ceremony come any sooner." A firm voice of a she-cat responded to the voice. Then there was a pause, and then: "Okay, you're all ready. Come out, you four."

Her four kits behind her, Wingscorch emerged from the nursery, approaching Snakefang. "They're really looking forward to it," the white queen mewed, stretching, "and I'm looking forward to getting back into my duties."

Snakefang nodded. "Of course you are," he purred, as Wingscorch sat down, leaving their kits nearby to wonder about their imminent ceremonies. "They'll be fine, all four of them. They'll be great warriors of ThunderClan when the time comes."

By now, most of the cats had settled down, and Heronstar was starting to quieten down his cats. Snakefang fell silent, and so did every cat.

As silence held for a moment, Heronstar cleared his throat on the Highledge, and shuffled his paws before speaking: "Cats of ThunderClan, as we know, we treasure ceremonies. When new apprentices and warriors are made, we celebrate, and this is what we will do today. We have four kits who have reached the age of six moons, and are ready to come apprentices. Snakefang and Wingscorch's kits, I ask you to come forward."

At that moment, Snakefang watched as his four kits came towards the Highledge. Snipkit was leading them: the black-and-white tom's chin raised confidently as he stepped forward. His littermates seemed more cautious as they followed him, looking more unsure.

Heronstar's gaze turned to Snipkit first. "Snipkit, from this day onwards until you receive your warrior name, you shall be known as Snippaw. You will be mentored by Nightshade, whom I hope will pass on his skills to you."

There was a pause as Nightshade stepped out from the ground. The warrior was ageing: Snakefang had seen that his muzzle was starting to fleck with silver. "Nightshade, you are getting older now, but I feel that you deserve at least one more apprentice. Snippaw will be yours to train, and may you pass on your skill and courage."

Snippaw beamed at Heronstar, before shooting a cheeky look at his littermates, as to boast about his new rank to them. Only after all this did he turn to Nightshade, and to touch noses with his new mentor, before they stepped back.

Next, Heronstar beckoned for one of Snakefang's daughters: Storkkit, a primarily white she-cat who had some black on her. "Storkkit, from this day onwards you shall be known as Storkpaw. Pearheart will be your mentor."

A brown tabby she-cat rose from the crowd, looking surprised as she stepped towards the Highledge.

"Pearheart, you deserve your first apprentice, and I ask you to mentor Storkpaw. Pass on your intelligence and kind spirit to her, and train her to be a good warrior of ThunderClan," Heronstar continued.

"Certainly," the warrior mewed softly in reply, before turning to Storkpaw and touching noses with her.

Snakefang nodded in approval. Compared to her brothers - Pinewhisker and Poplarwing - Pearheart was quiet, but nonetheless a good warrior. Maybe this will be good for her. Jolting out of his thoughts, his gaze set on Ravenkit, his second son, as Heronstar beckoned him forward. The white-patched kit looked worried, and it was obvious to Snakefang that he was quite nervous.

"Ravenkit, from this day forward, you shall be known as Ravenpaw. Your mentor will be Shinetail." From the crowd, Snakefang's sister stood up, and padded towards the Highledge. "Share your fairness and enthusiasm with Ravenpaw. You showed Pinewhisker that back when you trained him, and I'd like you to do the same with your new apprentice."

Ravenpaw now seemed more relaxed - his mostly black fur not fluffed up anymore - as he touched noses with Shinetail. Maybe he was just nervous about the ceremony. Snakefang shrugged off the thought, gaze on his final kit, his final daughter. Out of all of them, she was the one that Snakefang wanted to know who she got.

Finally, she was called forward: nervously, she stepped forward slowly, white head raised. On the Highledge, Heronstar hesitated.

"I have thought hard about who should mentor you," the leader mewed slowly, carefully. "You have a great name, a name that has been tainted by one who has had it before you. You're not a bad cat, and I hope that one day, you will live up to it, being a great warrior of ThunderClan." There was a pause, and Heronstar inhaled and exhaled, before speaking up again: "Skykit, from this moment you shall be known as Skypaw, and your mentor will be Dawnstorm."

In surprise, Snakefang saw Skypaw turn around, white fur fluffed out as Dawnstorm approached from behind. Dawnstorm lowered her head: the apprentice hesitated, not sure whether to accept or decline it, before pressing her nose to her new mentor's. In response, the Clan started to cheer for their four new apprentices:

"Skypaw! Ravenpaw! Storkpaw! Snippaw!"

Snakefang joined in with the cheers, happiness ballooning inside of him. They're finally apprenties. He let his fur brush Wingscorch's, purring.

This is how the Clan should've always been. This is why I'm happy the Dark Forest has been stopped...

However, as his gaze settled on Skypaw once more, he knew that it would be remembered for generations. That didn't matter, though - that was in the past, and he'd moved on from it.

...The Clans are safe now... and that is all that matters.


The End.



Author's Note

this literally took me two years and three months to finish. haha, that took a long time to write... oh well, I've finished it now :P

So, I've finally finished the sequel (after a loooong time ahahaha). I love Halfstripe <3 and I'm going to miss her (because I don't think I'll write a sequel to this, and if I do, it's quite likely that she won't POV it). Snakefang, too, is cool, although at the beginning he's such a derp, if I must say so myself xP.

As for some notes in the epilogue - Pearheart, Pinewhisker, and Poplarwing are the kits of Briarflame and Flashrunner, if you were wondering c; I'll also say here that Wingscorch's littermates also got their full names - Stormshine and Flightblaze - and Lightningheart's kits became Haventail, Spikepelt, Hootbreeze, and Slightshade. I was going to fit this into the epilogue, but I couldn't find a place to do it, so I thought I'd let anyone who was wondering that here C:.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this, and comment if you want to (although if you do, constructive criticism comments are appreciated :D). <3

Until next time,

so look out down below

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