This is for Nighty's contest. Hope you like it!
Heronpaw stretched and blinked in the early sunlight pouring into the apprentice's den. Getting out of his nest, he made his way out into the camp, where warriors were already hurrying about busily.
"Good morning Heronpaw," called his father, Oakswoop. The large reddish brown tom was helping repair RainClan's nursery, which had been partially destroyed in the last flood. He was working with Heronpaw's mother, a pretty, jovial ginger she-cat named Cherrybeam. The two of them were laughing and talking as they worked like old friends.
Waving his tail in greeting at both of his parents, Heronpaw walked over to the fresh-kill pile, where his best friend Eaglepaw was devouring a shrew. "Can I have some?" he said, sitting beside his friend.
Eaglepaw gobbled the last few bites. "No."
"Fine then," Heronpaw laughed, selecting his own mouse. "We have fight-training together today, don't we?"
Eaglepaw nodded. Then he nudged Heronpaw, a cocky smile blooming on his face. "Look who it is."
Heronpaw raised his head and immediately his fur grew hot. Willowpaw had just emerged from the den. "So?" he muttered, nudging Eaglepaw back.
Eaglepaw watched as Willowpaw, along with her pretty sister Robinpaw walked towards them. Then he sauntered over, a regular ladies cat. "Hello," he purred with that crooked smile that always flipped their hearts.
Heronpaw turned away before he was sick. He was less then graceful with she-cats, and tended to trip over his tongue and his paws. Then he felt a rush of sweetly-scented air, and Willowpaw was standing in front of him, her green eyes bright. "Hi Heronpaw."
"Oh, um, hi Willowpaw. It's going how? I mean-"
She let out a tinkling laugh. "You're so funny."
"Right." He wanted to slap himself, but decided it would only make him look more crazy. Meanwhile, Eaglepaw and Robinpaw were laughing and play-fighting dizzily. StarClan help me.
"Willowpaw!" Her mentor, Duskfall, emerged from the warrior's den. "There you are! Come on, we have to gather rushes and grass to patch the nursery. We're going down to the banks."
"Okay," Willowpaw meowed. She flicked her tail lightly against Heronpaw's shoulder lightly, giving him another glorious whiff of her perfume. "Bye Heronpaw!"
"Bye," he called several seconds later, when her slender gray shape had already vanished.
Eaglepaw was at his side instantly, laughing hysterically. Heronpaw felt himself growing irritated, but he let his friend have his fun. "Wow," Eaglepaw said when he could breathe. "You're really a charmer Heronpaw."
"Thanks," Heronpaw said glumly.
The apprentices huddled together as they watched the rain pour down in buckets.
"Well," meowed Robinpaw after a few minutes of silence. "No one can say our clan doesn't live up to our name."
Willowpaw gave a faint smile, a fleeting light illuminating her pretty, daintily-featured face. For some reason, Heronpaw felt a need to see her smile, laugh, be happy. It gave him a pleasant feeling inside. "Those evil rogues that live down by the marsh will find a way to blame us for it, you can bet."
Instantly the light was snuffed out of Willowpaw's eyes. "I don't like them. They're up to no good."
"As if," snorted Eaglepaw. "You just worry too much."
Willowpaw frowned. "There's a difference between worrying and knowing."
Wanting to change the subject, Heronpaw meowed, "Well, maybe it will clear up soon and we can go outside. Who wants to go for a walk by the lake?"
Robinpaw wrinkled her nose. "In this weather?"
"Sure, why not?" Eaglepaw nudged her playfully. She smiled, then gave an exaggerated sigh.
"Fine. But if we all get sick, I'm not responsible."
"Willowpaw?" Heronpaw said, then felt his fur grow hot as he realized how childish and hopeful he sounded.
Luckily, she didn't seem to notice. "I'm in. I love the world after it rains, it's so pretty and mystic. I wouldn't want to live anywhere but RainClan."
"Yeah," Heronpaw agreed. Robinpaw purred, and glanced at Eaglepaw, but the brown tom seemed suddenly lost in thought, his eyes focused on something else.
Finally the steady drum of rain outside slowed, then stopped. The four apprentices crowded out of the den and stretched their legs. Oakswoop stepped outside the warrior's den, listening good-naturedly to his friend Badgerstripe's complaints about the wetness.
"Let's go," mewed Willowpaw. She headed down the thickly-planted slope that led up to RainClan's camp, which was on a little penisula that jutted out from the mainland. The big lake stretched out endlessly all around them, it's water smooth and gray-blue. They entered the thick, leafy woods.
The air was fresh and moist, a mist-enchanced breeze blowing cool vapor into their faces. The ground was soft and spongy underpaw. Droplets of water slid off fat dark green leaves and onto the cat's fur. Willowpaw turned her face up, her green eyes starry and filled with wonder. "It's so beautiful," she said, her face bathed in the emerald light filtering down through the thick forest canopy.
"Yeah." Heronpaw tried to focus on the splendor around him instead of her.
"Are you two soft-hearts done?" crowed Eaglepaw from up ahead. "Come on! Hurry up, will you?"
"Coming," Heronpaw said. But Willowpaw didn't budge. "Willowpaw?"
"Sorry," she said, shaking few raindrops off her whiskers. "But Eaglepaw's too bossy. I want to just enjoy this day."
Heronpaw paused, glancing at the place where Eaglepaw and Robinpaw had disappeared into. "Then let's walk on our own," he offered.
She beamed at him. "Sure," she meowed. "Can we go down to the Moonlight Meadow? We can hunt there too."
"Okay, race you!" Heronpaw took off into the woods. Seconds later she was at his side, matching each stride. He had to admit she was fast, but his pride wouldn't let her overtake him. They both galloped out onto the meadow and skidded to a stop on the slippery grass, panting.
The Moonlight Meadow was called that because of it's silver appearance during the night of the full moon. Since there were no other clans nearby, RainClan didn't attend any Gatherings, but they did go to the meadow every full moon and have their own event. Today, the lush green grass was springy and bright, thriving on the rain that new-leaf had brought. Wildflowers dotted the emerald ocean, nodding buttercups, smiling daisies, and clumps of bluebells.
The two apprentices sat next to each other and gazed out over the fields contentedly for several minutes. Then they slowly made their way back to camp.
"Hey guys," Robinpaw said as they entered. "Want to share this rabbit with me?"
"Where's Eaglepaw?" asked Heronpaw as they joined her.
She shrugged, looking puzzled. "He went off on his own, so I headed back. I thought he was going to find you."
"He'll probably be back soon," said Willowpaw, taking a bite.
"Right," Heronpaw said, but he was a bit unsure. It wasn't like Eaglepaw to not find them, even in the rain. He knew Heronpaw would be likely to go the Moonlight Meadow; they were best friends and knew everything about each other. Maybe something else had come up.
With a shrug, Heronpaw began to eat. At least he had gotten some alone-time with Willowpaw. They hadn't said much, but what could be better then that?
Heronpaw was wandering through a shadowy woods. Voices came from somewhere in it's depths, cold and low. As he got closer, he realized that one voice was very familiar. Eaglepaw?
He finally spotted the cats standing in a small clearing, and crouched behind a bush. Something told him this was not the time for a happy reunion with his friend.
"We will strike soon Eaglepaw. You will join us?"
The other cat, a black tom with golden eyes, gave a curt nod of approval. "Good. Exactly what I'd expect to hear from my son."
"You have taught me well Father."
Heronpaw's mind reeled. Father? How could this strange cat be Eaglepaw's father? His friend had come to RainClan as a little kit without any trace of family. How had his "Father" located him? How long had Eaglepaw known?
The cat was speaking again. "We will do away with the clans and their nonsense. It is time for a new era. RainClan is only one clan, bound by the silly notions of a warrior code. We shall overtake them easily. From there, we can extend our territory into Twolegplace. We'll be all set. And you can be my deputy son, if you play your cards right."
Eaglepaw didn't even flinch at his father's words. His face was grim and set, completely unlike the friend Heronpaw had always known.
"Sad isn't it?" Heronpaw jumped as a misty tortoishell she-cat appeared beside him. She flicked her tail and suddenly they were both transported to a sunny meadow. Far in the distance, ghostly cats played and frolicked together.
"T-this is StarClan." Heronpaw took a step back.
"No. I wasn't a clan cat, so I could never go there. But... something along that line, yes." The tortoishell sat down. "I suppose I should introduce myself. I am Eaglepaw's mother, Sweetpea. I died when he was only a few days old, of sickness. The marsh was really a terrible place to live. But before I died, I took my kit to your borders. I hoped he'd be safe there, safe from his father. I thought that a clan was just what I wanted for my son, something I had never had. I was wrong."
"Why are you telling me this?" Heronpaw asked.
"Because I truly believe that you're the only one who can help him."
"What should I do?" he asked. But Sweetpea was disappearing into the mist, leaving only a trace of her scent behind.
"Got it!" Eaglepaw's head emerged from the bush, a mouse dangling from his jaws.
Heronpaw stared at him. He couldn't get the image of his friend talking with the strange tom. His father.
"What?" Eaglepaw asked, blinking curiously.
Heronpaw shook himself. "Nothing. Great catch."
"Okay then. Let's get back to the camp."
Heronpaw nodded and fetched his prey, noticing how much bigger Eaglepaw's pile was. Shaking away the twinge of jealousy, he padded side by side with his friend. But something was different. Something had changed. The knowledge of what Eaglepaw had agreed to. He couldn't quite wrap his head around it yet, but he couldn't deny it. "Eaglepaw?"
Eaglepaw turned, his eyes flashing almost dangerously. "What?"
"Uh, never mind." Heronpaw gazed after his friend, who sped ahead, eager to show off his catch. He had never mistaken Eaglepaw for anything more then a little prideful. Surely the tom he had grown up with couldn't be the same one he had seen? And what could he do to stop it, like Sweetpea had suggested? No cat listened to him, much less his headstrong friend.
But how much longer would it be before Eaglepaw's secret actually hurt someone?
The sky above was dark with ominous clouds. Heronpaw could hear sinister voices whispering around him, but there was no one there. Suddenly, a brown tabby emerged, his eyes cruel and relentless. "Eaglepaw..."
He was cut off when his friend pounced. "No! Stop! What are you doing?" Eaglepaw ignored Heronpaw's cries. He could feel claws embedded in his throat, blood gushing out. His vision clouded, and he felt his grip on the world fade as he tumbled into blackness...
Heronpaw sat up, panting with fear. Early morning sunlight was streaming into the apprentice's den. Eaglepaw was sitting up in bed, staring at Heronpaw with shock in his eyes. He had the same dream too, didn't he?
"I would never do that..." Eaglepaw said in a hoarse whisper. His eyes filled with fear, and he turned and raced out of the den. Heronpaw followed just in time to see him vanish out the camp exit.
"Wait!" Ignoring the cranky glares warriors coming back from the dawn patrol gave him, Heronpaw bolted after his friend. He couldn't let Eaglepaw run away like this. They had to talk. There must be some explanation.
Eaglepaw was crouched in a clearing, huddled in a lump. Needles of fear pricked Heronpaw's spine as he recognized the place. It was where he had seen him talking to his father. "Eaglepaw?"
His friend raised his head. "Heronpaw. I had the worst dream."
"I know. I had it too."
"I would never..." he trailed off, his eyes gazing into the distance. Then panic showed in his gaze. "We both had the same dream! It must mean something." A sob came from his chest, seeming to be ripped out of him. "Heronpaw, you don't understand. You died... but I killed you. My own best friend. Oh it was awful. I couldn't stop myself. I just couldn't."
Heronpaw blinked dumbly. What could he say? Contrary to what Eaglepaw might think, it was no fun getting killed either. "It's okay." He wanted to claw his own pelt off now. Of course it wasn't okay! His friend smiled wanly. Heronpaw wondered if he would confess about his meetings with his father, but he turned around and headed back to camp.
"Come on. We'll figure it out later."
"Okay," Heronpaw said hesitantly. He wondered again about Sweetpea. Would she want him to do more now? To bring up Eaglepaw's father? What was he supposed to say? It would sound like he had been following his friend, and Eaglepaw was hotheaded and independent; Heronpaw knew he would explode at that thought, no matter how bad the dream had been. Guilt would do only minor things to his spirit.
As he followed Eaglepaw back to camp, Heronpaw felt the odd sensation of being watched. Turning, he saw nothing, but was almost sure he saw a pair of golden eyes disappear from the bushes. What was going on?
Heronpaw stared miserably at the mouse in front of him, making no motion to eat. Across the camp from him, Eaglepaw joked merrily with Robinpaw, every trace of guilt gone like vapors in the wind. Willowpaw padded over and sat beside him. "Hey."
"Hey," Heronpaw yelped, a bit in shock that she had joined him. She made no comment, just took a bite of her vole.
"I have training soon," she explained. "So Duskfall said I should hurry and eat before we go."
"Cool," Heronpaw said. His own mentor, Shadewind, was stretched out lazily next to Badgerstripe, sharing tongues. "Have fun," he grinned.
Her green eyes sparkled. "Thanks, I will." She got up and padded over to ger mentor, and they exited the camp. Feeling more cheerful, Heronpaw finished his mouse and got up, scanning the camp. Willowstripe was watching as Pearlkit and Sootkit played outside. As he stared at the two kits, Sootkit's ebony pelt and Pearlkit's snowy pelt seemed to glow before him. A ghostly voice whispered in his ear.
"There cannot be light without darkness. Their cannot be good without evil. And there cannot be victory without loss."
Then he blinked and everything was back to normal, with Willowstripe yelling at Sootkit for throwing mud at Scratchfur and Pearlkit biting her mother's tail. Yet, as Heronpaw looked up, he saw a large white bird fly across the sky. A heron, pure and light as could be.
An eagle's screech cut the air as the heron disappeared behind the treetops, and Heronpaw's belly clenched. This had the ring of a prophecy, one he didn't want to think about.
Unfortunately, StarClan had other plans for him. Wherever Heronpaw went, he couldn't shake the haunting voice and words. Nor could he shake the feeling that it had someting to do with Eaglepaw. But Eaglepaw wasn't evil. Heronpaw had to have faith in his friend, no matter what else happened. Otherwise, he would have almost nothing left.
He padded wearily through the woods, the cool evening a welcome change after the hot sun of late new-leaf. The rains were gone, and now the ground was quickly drying as greenleaf approached. A squirrel was clamped in his jaws, and he was ready to bring it back to camp, but just then he heard voices from somewhere in the thickets to his left. Stopping, he slunk towards the source,sensing a need for quiet. The ground grew marshy now, and he left the squirrel at the base of a tree so it wouldn't spoil. As he approached the forest, a growing sense of dread knotted in his stomach. He knew who he would find even before he peered into the clearing.
Eaglepaw faced his father, almost exactly as he had been when Sweetpea had shown them to Heronpaw in his dreams. The black tom was talking. His words were even more sinister then they had been before. "We are strong now. We will take over soon, but first we have to weaken them. You will be our spy, our saboteur. Don't make it too obvious though. Your first assignment is to do this." As Heronpaw watched in horror, Eaglepaw's father leaned in and whispered something in his ear. The brown tabby tom's eyes widened, but he nodded calmly.
"I'll do it," he said.
"Good," the tom meowed. "Until next time my son." And with that he was gone. Eaglepaw turned to leave, and Heronpaw scrambled backwards, picked up the squirrel, and ran as if a pack of dogs were on his tail. His heart was thudding in his chest, even after he had collapsed in his nest and stopped running. How could Eaglepaw agree to betray his clan? And what was he planning? How could he stop it?
The prophecy rang in his ears again, and this time Sweetpea's scent drifted over him. He could swear he made out her ghostly silhouette vanish from the camp entrance. That's it. I'm going crazy.
Robinpaw and Willowpaw entered, chatting comfortably. "Hey Heronpaw," Robinpaw meowed.
"Hey," he muttered.
Willowpaw frowned. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said, looking away from her deep green eyes. It was a complete lie, and she knew it, but she didn't say anything, just lay down in her nest with a slightly hurt expression on her face. Heronpaw wanted to take it back, but he didn't know how. Shooting him a glare, Robinpaw sat next to her sister and began sharing tongues. He had never felt more alone or miserable in his life. Some cat was going to get hurt because of his best friend. But if he stopped it, and anyone even believed him, he was sure he would lose Eaglepaw forever. And what would happen then? He would certainly have let Sweatpea down.
Heronpaw woke with a start, straining his ears. This time he wasn't dreaming, though he'd been having nightmares all night of Eaglepaw and his father doing terrible things to RainClan. The shriek came again. "Oh no," he breathed. Scrambling out of his nest, he raced out into the camp. With a cold feeling, he noted that Eaglepaw's nest was empty. "Please no."
His belly clenched in horror when he saw Mothleap, a dusty brown tabby queen, stagger out of the medicine cat's den. Her dark green eyes were frantic. Heronpaw had never seen such desperation before. "I have to say good-bye to my kits!" she wailed. But before she could, she collapsed, foaming at the mouth, her body thrashing violently.
"Momma!" Sweetkit and Briarkit raced out of the nursery to their mother's side. For one second she glimpsed them and smiled. Then she fell limp.
"What happened?" squeaked Briarkit. Then their medicine cat, Softwillow, was there. Her blue eyes clouded over. She looked up and met Heronpaw's gaze. And he knew.
"No! Eaglepaw!" He whirled just in time to see his friend emerge from the dirtplace tunnel.
"What?" he asked, his eyes sickeningly innocent. "What was all that commotion about?" His eyes fell on Mothleap's body. He looked away. "Oh no."
Heronpaw was so angry he couldn't speak, but at the same time the wheels in his brain were spinning. How had Eaglepaw killed the queen? "You sound sad."
"What's going on? Oh StarClan!" Willowpaw and Robinpaw emerged from the den. Willowpaw looked like she was going to be sick. Instead, she wrapped her tail around Briarkit and Sweetkit. More RainClan cats were gathering. Oakswoop was furious.
"How did this happen?" he roared. Eaglepaw's face showed no sign of guilt. Heronpaw felt as sick as Willowpaw. How could his friend have changed so much? Was there really the same darkness in him as his father?
Sunstar appeared, her golden head bowed. "We will sit vigil for her tonight. Mothleap did not deserve this."
"But how could she just die like that?" Duskfall, Mothleap's sister and Willowpaw's mentor, looked distraught.
Softwillow examined the dead queen one more time. She swallowed hard. Heronpaw anticipated her words before she said them. "Mothleap was killed."
"How can you be sure?"
"She was poisoned," the medicine cat meowed. "By another cat."
Poison. Of course. Without another word, Heronpaw turned and ran back into the apprentice's den. He scrabbled under Eaglepaw's nest. Several bright red berries rolled out. He recoiled like they were a hissing snake. "Deathberries."
"You!" Heronpaw whirled to see his best friend, former best friend, standing in the entrance to the den, lips peeled back in a snarl. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Me?" he exclaimed in disbelief. "What are you doing with these? You poisoned her Eaglepaw. Just because your father told you to. What happened to the warrior code? To doing the right thing?"
"Nothing happened," he hissed, every bit as angry. "I just learned that there's much more to life then you'll ever see. Because it's over for you." Before Heronpaw could react, Eaglepaw was on him, teeth fastened in his throat, a horrifying snarl rumbling from him.
"Eaglepaw!" Heronpaw struggled frantically. He kicked at his friend's bulk, but it was no use. He was overpowered. Just then he heard a shriek.
"Let him go!" Willowpaw dragged Eaglepaw off Heronpaw, determination lending strength to her lightly built gray frame, allowing her to budge the muscular tom. Robinpaw stood stricken, her eyes wide and focused on the scarlet berries near Eaglepaw's nest.
"What is going on in here?" Cherrybeam entered. Her eyes flew open when she saw her son staggering to his feet, blood seeping from his neck. "Heronpaw-"
Eaglepaw blitzed past her, a brown blur. He shot across the camp and out of it. Heronpaw ignored his mother. He could only think one thing. This ends now.
Heronpaw was dimly aware of Willowpaw and Robinpaw following him, but his mind was too focused on catching Eaglepaw to slow down.
"Heronpaw! Look out!" Willowpaw's frantic cry came too late. He slammed into the black tom and went down hard. When he leaped back up, his blue eyes were burning. It was Eaglepaw's father. And by his side... Heronpaw looked away, but not before he caught the expression in Eaglepaw's golden eyes. There was no question about it. His best friend was gone, replaced by this monster.
They were flanked by five other cats, the ragged patrol that was supposed to take over RainClan. Their leader must have been banking a lot on Eaglepaw taking out plenty of RainClan warriors before they struck. Or did they have more, hidden and waiting? Willowpaw and Robinpaw flanked him. When Heronpaw glanced at Robinpaw, he saw his own torn heart reflected in her eyes. She loved Eaglepaw, he realized. But like himself, she was ready to lay it all down for the sake of their clan.
"Heronpaw." Eaglepaw's voice was cold and hard. "Go now, before we kill you as well."
His father glared at him. "You were discovered. You have failed your mission."
The apprentice suddenly looked as meek as a chastened kit. All his cockiness vanished. "I'm sorry Spider. Please don't punish me. I tried. It was him. All his fault."
"You care to talk to us before you accuse our son?" Oakswoop padded up, his tabby coat rippling impressively over smooth muscles, flanked by Cherrybeam and Mirrorfang, a sleek silver tom. Spider's eyes narrowed as he surveyed his opponent. Then, in one single flick of the tail, his cats attacked. Heronpaw was pounced on by a massive ginger tom. Instantly, his mother was at his side, matching him blow for blow, helping him drive the tom back.
Suddenly, as the fight progressed, he looked up to see Sweetpea, a pale ghostly form against the trees. "It's okay Heronpaw. Let him go. It's the right thing to do."
"What do you mean?" he cried. But she was gone. "Do I have to..." he swallowed hard. "Kill him?"
"Like you could if you tried!" Eaglepaw attacked him with such a vengeance Heronpaw could hardly believe it was the same cat who had played with him when they were kits. How much could someone change? Or had it always been inside of him all this time, a disaster waiting to happen?
"Eaglepaw... please. Don't do this to me. To yourself. You're better then this." He was pleading now, not just for his own life. He couldn't stand to see his friend like this. Eaglepaw was better then this. He had to be. Heronpaw wouldn't let go. Couldn't let go. It was too hard.
"Move over son." Spider shouldered him aside. "It's time to make you pay, you silly apprentice. For exiling my son. For being such a brat." Heronpaw saw the gleaming claws coming down to slice his throat. He heard Willowpaw, Cherrybeam, and Oakswoop crying out. But he was aware of only one thing. Eaglepaw, leaping in between them, shrieking.
"No!" His friend collapsed on top of Heronpaw. He could feel blood seeping into his own fur from the gaping wound, but he couldn't register what had happened.
"Eaglepaw?" He got up and stared in horror at the limp form. Turning to Spider, he cried, "You killed your own son!"
"He was a fool," the tom shrugged. Heronpaw saw red. He leaped at Spider, his outstretched claws seeking to kill. He was aware of nothing besides the feel of blood and fur in his jaws. He barely felt the claws scoring down his side, nor did he notice when he toppled over. Then everything went black.
Heronlight stood outside the nursery, his brow knitted in worry. As soon as Softwillow called him in, he was at Willowstream's side. "They're perfect."
His mate smiled up at him, her green eyes full of love. Two tiny bundles, one a dark gray tabby and the other brown tabby curled at her belly. "I'd like to name the gray she-kit Streamkit."
He nodded approvingly. There was only one thing the other one could be. "Eaglekit," he said softly. "After the cat who gave up his life for me." She nodded.
He walked outside. Robinwood smiled at him. "How is she?"
"She's fine." Over time, both of them had gotten over Eaglepaw's death. But they would always remember their precious time with the brown tabby tom, while the rest of the clan celebrated their victory over Spider. After all, without darkness there is no light, and without evil there could be no good. Their victory came with loss. And it would always be a part of them.
Overhead, the heron and eagle took off together, as the sun broke the first rays of light into the dark sky, the perfect contrast. "Always," he whispered. "We are together." A lone star, the last of the night, twinkled in answer, at the border where light and dark met.