"Leave them alone! Reedfur!"
Panting, sweat soaking her fur, Finchnose scrambled out of her nest, tripped over a sleeping cat - she couldn't see who it was in the dark - and continued in a wild dash till she ran into a wall. "Silverbreeze! Strongheart! It's Reedfur and the others! They're going to die..." She collapsed on the ground, tears racing down her cheeks.
Her friends, all the cats that slept in the Chamber, at least, gathered around her, concern plain on their faces. Finchnose wanted to speak, wanted to warn them of her dreadful nightmare, but she couldn't speak. Her throat was dry and hoarse with screaming, and her breath caught in her throat. Silverbreeze knelt beside her, stroking her back gently with a comforting touch. Gradually, Strongheart asked in a gentle tone, "Finchnose? Are you okay? What's wrong?"
Blinking sleep out of her eyes, Wetstream mewed, "Did something happen?"
"A dream..." Finchnose finally managed to croak out. "The special patrol... Reedfur..."
Silverbreeze's blue eyes grew as wide as moons. "Reedfur what?" she cried.
Defeated, Finchnose hung her head. "Dead."
"They're on our heels," Brightsong reported. The ginger-and-white she-cat stood rigid, facing into the breeze, her eyes narrowed at the scents it was bringing her.
"Then we'll have to hurry," Reedfur decided. He flicked his tail to the others, ushering them onwards.
On the outside, he hoped he didn't seem the quivering mess of fear that he was inside. The thought of being captured by GreenClan made him want to wretch. It reminded him of the time he had spent locked in Viperstar's lair, being beaten and abused. Almost unconsciously, he quickened his pace, as if he could outrun his fears as well as the GreenClan patrol on their heels.
To be caught would mean disaster. Not only did the GreenClan cats outnumber them, but they would also be angry and seeking revenge; Tornadoheart had drowned one of their top leaders, Aristo, and held up the rest of them singlehandedly. Reedfur knew what that would do to Viperstar's pride; the evil tom would have his best assasins on their tails. And they wouldn't stop till every single rebellion member was dead.
Instinctively, he glanced over his shoulder to make sure everyone was following and keeping pace. Wetstream met his gaze and gave him a brave smile, which he tried - and failed - to return. "We need to hurry," he muttered, half to himself.
"Obviously," Ivyfleet said shortly. He glared at her, was about to respond, then remembered Tornadoheart. Ivyfleet hadn't had time to grieve yet; they'd been so busy getting Spidertalon and his family to safety and evading GreenClan cats. Now, the small she-cat's face was pale and drawn in the early dawn light. Her eyes were sunken and tired, all the life drained out of them. Unable to find the heart to retort, Reedfur touched his shoulder to hers gently.
"It'll be okay," he murmured.
The look she gave him was so incredulous that he decided to just shut his mouth.
Suddenly, in the distance, they heard it. The sound that they had been dreading. The almost wolf-like baying of the GreenClan patrol.
There was nothing for it. Shooting a helpless look at his friends, Reedfur bellowed the word that had haunted his dreams. "Run!"
As he waited for the whole group of the Hidden to assemble in the Hall, Strongheart tried to steady himself. Ever since Finchnose had recited her nightmare to him, he'd felt like a complete idiot. How could he have even thought about sending out another secret patrol? Reedfur, his best friend, was out there in grave danger. Of course it was their first priority to send help.
After Birdsong finished explaining what had happened, Strongheart took a step forward. "We need a help patrol to combat the GreenClan cats and help out our patrol. I'm going."
"Me too." That was Silverbreeze, her eyes blazing with determination. Strongheart felt his heart give an odd jump as he looked at her.
Finchnose gave them a look that said she wanted to go, but knew her place was back in the Tunnels.
"I'll come," Violentclaw said.
"Me too," Jaywalker mewed, stepping forward.
A grim feeling settled over Strongheart. "Good. Come on guys."
While the other members of the rebellion looked on, he turned and bounded out of the Tunnels. The other members of the patrol were at his heels. Ahead of them, the plains loomed vast, daunting and endless. How will we ever reach Reedfur and the others on time?
But they had to, Strongheart knew. And with that thought in mind, he began to jog. Silverbreeze was at his side in an instant, her pelt brushing his lightly. For some reason, he found that slightly distracting. "Do you think we'll get there in time?"
Despite the fear he could smell wafting off her pelt, her tone was steady as she said, "Yes. We have to."
Above them, the sun climbed in the sky, marking the time that they were desperately racing against.
I hope we're not too late. We can't be too late.
Silverbreeze's legs ached and her breath rattled in her chest as she bounded through the woods, which were filled with the shadowy murkiness of late evening. They had been running nearly nonstop, pausing only for a few breaks. Behind her, Jaywalker stumbled, his eyes glazed with exhaustion. Violentclaw padded doggedly on, but his shoulders were slumped, and every few minutes he would pause and wince; he had gotten a thorn stuck in his pad before, and while it was out now, the cut was still bleeding.
Only Strongheart remained impassive, his amber eyes set with a steady fire, his pace relentless and unstoppable. As she struggled to keep up, Silverbreeze tripped over a vine. Letting out a cry, she felt her head slam against the floor. The breath whooshed out of her. Silently, a tear slipped down her cheek; it was the last straw.
"Silverbreeze? Are you okay?" Jaywalker bent over her concernedly.
"Fine," she muttered, getting to her feet.
"Come on guys!" Strongheart mewed impatiently.
Jerk! Reedfur would've asked if I was all right instead of rushing me. Silverbreeze had no idea why she was comparing the two toms, but the thought just randomly popped into her head.
Suddenly, a squall echoed through the woods. All the Hidden cats froze. Breaking into a run, Silverbreeze yelled, "It's Brightsong! We're close! Come on!"
All the pain in her body was forgotten instantly. She virtually flew over the ground as she raced towards the sound. There were more now; the chorus of a whole battle. Certainty enveloped her. They had come upon the special mission patrol. And by the sound of it, so had the GreenClan cats. All that remained was for them to stage the rescue. For them to be Reedfur's hero. Just like he was her's.
... If it wasn't already too late.