All was quiet and still, bathed in the eerie blanket of black. Silverbreeze shivered and wrapped her tail tighter around herself, gazing out through the two boulders and onto the plains. Though guard duty wasn't her favorite part of life, there was something inexplicably special about being out here, with nothing but the night wind and distant stars for company.
Not distant stars. StarClan is up there, helping us. They sent Finchnose that warning in her dreams.
The dream was the reason that she was out here. A few days ago, Silverbreeze and the other members of the Hidden had found out that an old, traitorous enemy was on their trail, ready for vengeance. Aquatail was not someone to mess with. She knew their hiding place, and all their secrets; she had acted as a spy in their ranks for a long time. Finding out she was a GreenClan cat was like finding out your own sister hated you.
But Silverbreeze had gotten over it, mainly because she couldn't afford to be weak in the battle they were engaged in. The others needed her to be strong, and so she pretended that there was nothing wrong with this. Nothing wrong with planning the death of the cat she had served with so long, whispered with and told secrets to in the dark. Nothing wrong with killing the cat she'd once thought of as a sister.
A little sigh escaped her lips, and behind her she heard a sound.
"Strongheart? What are you doing here?"
The ginger tom padded towards her, moonlight playing across his tabby fur and turning it to a blend of shadows and orange spice. "I was patrolling the hallways, and thought you might need some company. I headed to the Observation Post first, but Ducksplash and Violentclaw were already there, and engaged in a lively debate I wouldn't want to interrupt."
Silverbreeze laughed. "I see. Well, you're welcome here; I'd enjoy the company."
Gratefully, he sat beside her. "All's quiet, I take it?"
With a nod, she reported, "Not a sound of anything. I'm really getting annoyed with all this; if she is going to attack us, why can't Aquatail hurry up with it?"
"You know her. She's cunning as a fox. She'll make us sweat first, make us so worn out with worry that we don't know what we're doing anymore. And then she'll strike."
Clenching her jaw, she mewed, "But we'll be ready for her still."
After a tentative pause, Strongheart said quietly, almost inaudibly, "Silverbreeze, you know how we were wrong about Tornadoheart? About how he gave up his life for us?" When she nodded, he continued, "Forgive me, but I just don't think that'll happen with Aquatail. When Finchnose described how she found Aquatail and Brightsong, that night we were trapped in the canyon, I just knew it. She was gone forever. She would've let us die, be poisoned with the Dark Fire. She wouldn't have cared. Silverbreeze, I know it hurts, but we must give up hope. Don't say you weren't hoping for her to change sides again; I can see it in your eyes. But she's lost. If the time comes... we have to be ready to kill her."
So that he couldn't see her face, Silverbreeze turned away. He was right. She had been hoping. Longing for her friend's return. "Okay. I'll be ready."
He looped his tail around her comfortingly. "Good."
Sitting there, with Silverbreeze's slight figure leaning against him, Strongheart almost forgot who he was, let alone what he was supposed to be doing; his heart was pounding so hard, and his pelt was unusually warm. So when Silverbreeze tensed and said, "Look! Over there!", he had to blink and refocus his eyes, roving the plains for what she had spotted.
Finally, he saw them. Two cats, lithe and shadowy, creeping through the grass. As they got closer, he could see their glowing eyes, fixed on him. "They've seen us. Quick, get out of here, so we don't lead them to the Tunnels."
Together, he and Silverbreeze trotted forward, out of the boulders and into the grasslands. Then they waited for the strangers to approach.
"I don't smell the reek of GreenClan," reported Silverbreeze.
Strongheart nodded, but added, "Don't let your guard down. They could be under a disguise, or just working with GreenClan for a little bit of extra prey. Cats will do anything nowadays, just to survive."
When the cats were within earshot, he took a step forward and called, "You two there! Say your names and your business here."
A great deal of murmuring followed his request. Finally, one of the cats, a pale ginger she-cat with cutting blue eyes, stepped forward. "My name is Blazesong, and this is Electricswirl. Our business depends a great deal on certain factors, so forgive us if we seem suspicious of you as well. I have one question for you: what do you think of Viperstar and GreenClan?"
Taken aback by her forwardness, and the coolness in her gaze, he said carefully, "We are... not thrilled about the subject. Why?"
"Then this is a... rebellion of sorts?" said the other she-cat, Electricswirl.
Though Strongheart was still reluctant to say so, Silverbreeze apparently felt no such qualms. Throwing up her chin with a hint of defiance, though curiosity and fear mingled in her wide blue eyes, she said, "Yes. We don't support GreenClan. Don't even bother reporting us; we outnumber you, and we'll take you down instantly."
Ignoring the threat, Blazesong said, "By any chance, is there a cat named Firesoul within your ranks?"
"Yes," Strongheart said in disbelief. "Why?"
Both cats looked satisfied. "Then our message did go through, and it's true she joined up with the rebellion. We knew she had left her post within the ranks of GreenClan when the wood-pile headquarters was destroyed, but we weren't sure exactly where she'd gone. Many cats were worried about her; now we can reassure them that she is safe and still working for the cause."
"Who are you?" Strongheart asked.
Beside him, a look of understanding dawned on Silverbreeze's face. "You work for the Network," she proclaimed, eyes wide.
Tentatively, Electricswirl said, "Yes. And what's it to you?"
As realization came to Strongheart as well, he said, "Well, we'd like to hear why you're here, for one thing. And how you found us."
"Tracking skills, coupled with a highly advanced information line. The Network connects, and it stays connected," Blazesong said.
From behind them, Birdsong and Bramblepath emerged, eyes blurry with sleep. "Guys, what's going on?" Bramblepath said. Instantly, she was on the alert as her gaze reached the two newcomers. "Who are they?"
"Relax," Silverbreeze said. "These are cats that have business with us, I believe."
When Blazesong and Electricswirl nodded, Strongheart jerked his head. "Come on in guys."
After she'd been aroused, Finchnose had made her sleepy way down to the Hall, where the rest of the Hidden were gathered. Their two guests, Blazesong and Electricswirl, sat in the middle of the Hall, seeming surprised at the number of cats included in the rebellion. Blazesong bent over and murmured something to Electricswirl; though Finchnose didn't think she was meant to hear, she picked up the she-cat's words: "Such a big rebellion! You know, if we connected the Network here, I think they'd have a really good shot of defeating GreenClan for good. After all the small groups we've met... maybe they actually have a chance." The thought was both thrilling and terrifying to peaceful little Finchnose, and she pushed it to a corner of her mind for now.
The Hall was filled with everyone's voices; Strongheart had to call for silence several times before he got it. "Thank you everyone," he said. "Now, as you know, we were helped a long time ago by the Network, when they sent Jaywalker, Angelcloud and Snowdrift," - here he smiled at the three loyal members of the rebellion - "to tell us about Firesoul's plan to destroy Viperstar's headquarters. Now, we welcome what they have to say. Take it away, my friends."
As he stepped back, a silence fell over the crowd. Finchnose listened intently, Reedfur on one side of her and Wetstream on the other, all apprehensive and eager.
"Thank you, everyone. Now, we've recently heard that there will be a brief lull in guarding at the GreenClan canyon headquarters. Thanks to our sources, we've found out that there'll be a shortage of warriors there; they'll be on some other mission, probably with Viperstar, trying to decieve more cats. We can take the place by storm!" Electricswirl's gray-blue eyes were lit up with spirit that was hard to resist; everyone else erupted into restless murmurs or cheers.
Turning to her friends, Finchnose saw that Reedfur had a thoughtful look on his face. Meanwhile, Silverbreeze and Strongheart looked triumphant. "We'll do it! We'll destroy Viperstar's last headquarters! He'll have nowhere to go, and we can take the offensive then," Strongheart proclaimed.
"That sounds like a really good plan," Finchnose said. Then, when her other friends said nothing, she added, "Reedfur?"
"I don't think we should do it," the black tom mewed, his green eyes shining with worry.
Explosively, Strongheart - who could be rather strong-minded, Finchnose knew - yelled, "What? Why? It's the perfect opportunity!"
Unfazed, as he was used to handling his tempermental friend, Reedfur said, "Think about it. Why do you think all those warriors will be missing from the canyon?"
The four of them stared at each other. Then, all at once, it seemed to reveal itself in all of their minds.
"We're very thankful for your offer, but we just can't take it up. I'm afraid we'll have enough to handle on the night you mentioned. You see, we think we know the reason all those warriors are going to be missing. They'll be attacking us," Reedfur explained grimly.
Electricswirl raised her eyebrows, and Blazesong gasped audibly. "Are you serious?"
He nodded. "It's a long story, but to make it short, we'll need everyone here to even have a chance of winning."
The two she-cats exchanged a long look. Then, as one, they turned back to face Reedfur and his friends. "By any chance," Blazesong said, "would you need anymore help in defending the Tunnels?"
Reedfur was the first to realize what she was offering. "Y- You'd like to stay? Doesn't the Network need you guys?"
"They can survive a few days without," Electricswirl said.
"Then yes. We'd love to have you."
As he, Silverbreeze, Strongheart, and Finchnose headed back to the Chamber, Reedfur felt moderately happy. He had prevented the Hidden from making a major mistake. Now they could devote all their energy on preparing for Aquatail's attack.
"I don't know about you guys, but I am so ready to sleep," Finchnose said with a yawn.
Silverbreeze nodded in agreement. She had a sleepy, dreamy look on her beautiful face that made Reedfur's heart thump. It was funny how he could remain so calm otherwise, yet be reduced to a mess by just one she-cat. But then again, that was just life.
Quietly, he said, "I guess we learned something; you can't trust everything you hear on the wind."
"Yeah," Strongheart said, a bit sheepishly. "I'm sorry for being a mouse-brain about it. I should've listened to you."
"You did in the end. Don't worry about it," Reedfur said.
A peace fell over them. Reedfur reached out his paw to part the curtain of moss that would invite them into the Chamber for a long night of rest, when a scream stopped him in his tracks.
"It's Aquatail! We're under attack!"