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Beyond
Preceded by:
None
Hidden In Fire Succeded by:
Whispers In The Dark

Hidden In Fire

Prologue (Zaffie)

"This is all your fault, Devon," a voice hissed from the shadows. Astro stood perfectly still, not daring to move a muscle. He knew that if he turned around, he would see a white pelt glowing in the dark - see the elusive cat who was the self-proclaimed leader of their little band - but he wouldn't turn. Devon wouldn't either, he could see from the rigid way his brother held his head. Only Lollipop had ever seen Silthrim, and she had told them little about him.

"I know," Devon said, trembling. "I'm sorry. I will do better next time, I promise!" His voice rose sharply in pitch at the end of the sentence, and Astro winced at the fear obvious in his brother's meow.

"Sorry doesn't fix the problems, Devon. Do you know what does, though?" There was silence. "Astro? Do you know?"

Astro jumped. "Um...," he stuttered, his brain wheeling through the possibilities.

"Killing the mistakes," Silthrim murmured, his voice deceptively smooth. "They aren't supposed to be here. No trace was supposed to remain of the Clans. So you must remove them."

Astro gazed down towards the blaze. The fire he had helped start was still burning, and his pale grey pelt was streaked with ash. Here and there, along the shore of the lake, he could see small figures stumbling, and his heart clenched within him as he steeled himself to what he had to do.

Chapter 1 (Bird)

Blackpaw ran from the fire, and he refused to look back, the horrifying scenes playing back in his head.

That was so horrible. Death.. Everywhere, he thought with a hiss Everyone I knew and was close to, dying in front of my very eyes.

Even my closest friends are dead, why did they have to die? Blackpaw thought sadly, glaring around as he jumped over a fallen log as he continued to run from the fire. Everything was pretty much burnt.

Why did I run? I could have stayed and helped more, but noooo I had to run like a scaredy cat, he thought. I could have saved my friends.. Instead I ran like a coward.

Blackpaw had stopped running, but he had run out of breath, and looked back, some of the flames still shining through the trees that weren't horribly burnt.

Why us? What have we done? he thought, then continued walking, hoping to find water That's what I need, too much smoke in my lungs. He sighed, sniffing the air, but only smelled the fire.

Blackpaw decided to take his chances finding the water. I shouldn't bother with looking for cats, he thought angrily, digging his claws deep into the ground.

Blackpaw stopped when he heard water, he ran toward it, not hesitating, and started to lap from the water. And it seemed to wash away the smoke that was inside him, clearing his lungs.

The black tom looked up suddenly, narrowing his eyes. Why do I get the feeling.. I'm being watched? he thought as he looked in the undergrowth, seeing nothing.

Must be my nerves, the apprentice thought dissmissively, it was more likely to be something harmless watching him, not something that wanted to eat him.

I don't think I'd be tasty anyways, I might taste like ash and smoke, he thought, trying to calm himself. His friends would think he was going crazy. Who wouldn't after seeing what I saw?

Blackpaw decided to get out of there, not wanting to be eaten, if it was that type of animal that eats cats just because it can.. Great StarClan animals of that type are annoying, he thought.

Badgers and foxes included, he added smugly. I wish I could sink my claws into one of those nasty animals. He continued walking.

Blackpaw sighed, then continued walking, a grumble sounded from his stomach, and there was not a scent of prey on the breeze. He hissed in frustration, and his ears twitched angrily.

And I still have the feeling I'm being watched. Blackpaw looked around suspiciously, but held back the nerve to yowl out to whatever was watching him.

He just ignored the naggy feeling. I hate nagging, he thought, since everyone in his clan seemed to nag him... a lot, which got on Blackpaws nerves.

Blackpaw was not usually one to just say "Oh, I'll do that just because I was told to." No, that's not how it works. I mean, I'm all for sacrificing my life for my clan, but sometimes it's questionable, which made me.. not very liked. But still, the few that were my close friends... At least they didn't nag me all the time, he remembered.

He sat down, then licked his fur, then coughed. Ugh, smoke fur. Blackpaw gagged up some ash then coughed once more.

He sighed, there was still smoke on the air, but it seemed distant... Either that or he got used to the smell, which he thought was likely bad for his health.

I hate fires, he thought to himself, but really, he was stating the obvious. Who wouldn't hate fires after watching everyone they care about and their home being burnt to the ground, and I am not exaggerating either, I really saw cats burn, horrid sight, never want to remember it.

"I bet Twolegs did it" Blackpaw muttered to himself, Twolegs always did crazy things like that, but then again, if he was muttering to himself, he thought that him himself was likely going crazy.

Not that he wanted to admit that though, he had seen cats crazier than he must have been sounding. I mean seriously, who talks to themselves loudly and in front of everybody.

Not me that's for sure.

Well I guess we all have those days.

Chapter 2 (Arti)

"Bramblepath, Bramblepath, Bramblepath!"

The voices of her Clanmates are free and happy, honoring her for her sucesses and telling her her failures are behind her now. They are welcoming her as a warrior of ThunderClan, as one of them. Then they turn to screams, terrified yowling and screeches. Some cut off abruptly and she wails.

"Get out of the camp!!!"

There are flames, hideous flames of unnatural size. Bramblepath rushes around the dens, screeching, "Get out! Get out!"

She has always been told ThunderClan warriors are the best.

Now she is watching them burn.


Bramblepath wakes up, her heart pounding and someone is screaming. She realizes it is her and stops, but her throat is raw from the smoke and the shrieking. She has had nightmares before, but this was different. This happened. Her warrior ceremony, interrupted by the death of everyone she knew. She tried to get them out. But ThunderClan burned that night and so did everyone else.

I am the last ThunderClan warrior, she thinks. But she secretly hopes that she is not alone, that maybe someone survived. That maybe Swiftwind or Littlepaw or Amberflower is alive and trying to find her. But she knows that they're probably all dead.

I watched them die, she thinks. My first act as a warrior was to watch the death of my Clan. I watched my mother vanish in the smoke. I saw my brother burn to death. My best friend is probably gone too. Poor Amberflower....

She gets up. The smoke still hangs in the air, heavy and silent, drifting forward. Bramblepath knows she needs to get away. She stumbles forward and shuffles away, barely noticing when she leaps the stream and crosses into WindClan territory. All she can think of is all the cats she failed, all the cats who loved her, who guided her and trusted her to protect them for the night. She has failed them. Are they watching her now? She can't see the stars through the haze, but she hopes they can see her. She longs for their protection even though she hasn't earned it.

She begins to run, tears streaming blindly form her eyes. She can barely see but she trusts her paws to guide her as they always have, through snow and rain and water and forest. She runs till she can run no further and then she just sobs. But she knows she must keep walking.

Bramblepath shivers. The night is warm from the fire, but she is cold and she can't seem to get warm. She wonders, not for the first time that night, what it is like to die. Apart of her longs to join her Clanmates and family in the stars, but another part knows she must keep going. If she is the last ThunderClan warrior, she must make her Clan proud. She will die an honorable death, not for herself, but for ThunderClan.

When Bramblepath runs into the barn, the first thing she does is call herself almost every bad name she knows. She feels stupid for running into the thing and for not doing her duty. Then pain explodes across her left cheek and she hisses, patting it with her paw. She looks up and a word comes to mind though she hasn't really heard it until now.

Barn.

She looks around and scents the air. Not smelling anything, she circles it once. Then, when she is sure it is safe, ducks inside.

It is warm and she can't smell the smoke anymore. She climbs up on a haystack and surveys the place. It is dim, but she can comfortably see everything. It's just hay and hay. She can scent mice so she knows she will be okay. She lays her head down on her paws and daydreams, remembering....


Amberpaw catches up to her. "Bramblepaw! We're getting our names!"

Bramblepath turns, her eyes wide and happy, "Really?" When Amberpaw nods, she asks slyly, "Is Swiftpaw getting his name as well?"

Amberpaw grins, "Of course he is. You and your Swiftpaw will both get your names."

Bramblepaw flops on her back and smiles.

"Today is perfect."


"Swiftwind," Bramblepath whimpers, breaking out of her reminiscing. "Amberflower."

Her crush and her best friend. The cats closest to her besides Littlepaw, her brother, and Petalpelt, her mother. All dead, all gone. Because of her.

No, Bramblepath thinks, filling with hatred, it was because of the fire.

She curls up, ready to sleep even though she knows she won't. She looks outside the barn door, searching for the stars. But they're not there.

I'm sorry, she thinks, a tear rolling down her cheek as she closes her eyes. I'm so so sorry.

Chapter 3 (Birchy)

Birdsong ran.

The crackle of fire in the distance was still ringing in her ears.

What happened? She wondered, and stopped. She was panting heavily. She hadn't been affected by the smoke too much, since she knew to duck down where the smoke usually didn't reach. She lay down on the dew-laden grass, thinking about what had happened.

"Birdsong!"

She turned around to her name, seeing Cloudpaw, the medicine cat apprentice, and Ravenwing, a newly made warrior, and also Cloudpaw's sister.

"We're going out to find some herbs! We'll be back before sunset!" Cloudpaw called. Birdsong nodded.

"Okay, be careful! There could be bears," she purred. It was a joke between her and the two sisters. Cloudpaw and Ravenwing bounded out of camp. Birdsong nodded before walking over to Frostnose and Nightbird, two senior warriors.

"How are Dovepaw and Thornpaw coming along?" she asked.

"Pretty well. I think that next moon Dovepaw will be ready for her final assessment," Frostnose meowed.

"Thornpaw is the same. Just a little more training," Nightbird added.

"Good. I'll come with you to training tomorrow, and see how they've progressed," Birdsong smiled, dipping her head and turning to the camp entrance. She sat down, taking a deep breath, when she tasted something... bad. She looked up, seeing a dark grey fog starting to settle over camp. She looked around, when she saw it. The amber fire.

She jumped up into action, and yowled, "Fire! Evacuate the camp!" Warriors snapped into action, but a couple of apprentices stared at her like she'd called an eagle a friend.

"Now!" she ordered. They jumped and dashed to the elder's den. Birdsong followed the three young cats and helped to get Foxsplash, the oldest tom in WindClan. She hurried him outside camp, and she stopped at a rock with a puddle next to it.

"Rest here," Birdsong meowed to him. He grumbled, and Birdsong raced back to camp. The fire had moved on, nearer to ThunderClan, but it had left its mark on the camp. She stared in horror. Her clanmates, lying on the floor, burnt. She walked over to Nightbird, who lay motionless on the floor outside the medicine cat's den. Birdsong looked at the sky.

"Why?!" She yowled, pain seeping into her heart. Not one of her Clan was alive. She ran back to Foxsplash, but he was coughing and spluttering in the smoke. Birdsong had started to appraoch him in a stalking manner, but when she got there, he'd gone too. She wailed, before running to the lake.

Birdsong opened her eyes. She should have stayed with the camp, or with Foxsplash! Then she wouldn't have been the last from WindClan! She stood up slowly, and continued walking to the lake. She was walking where the fire had already blazed.

What if there's someone alive in the other territories?

Birdsong looked towards ThunderClan, easily spotting the trees, even through the smoke. The fire was spreading rapidly through the forest. She sighed, and was about to turn away when she heard a wail. A kit's wail.

I can't leave a kit there! Birdsong started to run again, anxious to save the kit's life. She couldn't help think terrible thoughts about the poor kit, trapped in the fire. It made her run faster. She started to walk as she crossed the river that seperated ThunderClan from WindClan. She ducked into the water, hoping it would help to keep flames away from her a little.

Birdsong swerved around trees, and called out, "Hello?!" Silence. "Anyone?!" Only the fire crackling. She walked deeper, lifting her feet quickly so her paws didn't heat up. Then she heard the wail again. Much louder. She ran again, hearing the wails of the kit. She looked about frantically, then realised the kit was in the midst of the fire.

Birdsong built up her courage and leaped through an opening into the orange mob of heat. She kept her head low, following the wails. She spotted the kit crouched on a tree branch, the flames gaining higher up the tree.

"Jump!" Birdsong cried. The kit trembled, looking down at her with fear.

"Come on- I'll catch you!" Birdsong encouraged. The little kit edged to the end of the branch, but it started to break. She whimpered, clinging on with her claws. Birdsong looked up. Come on, jump...

The branch fell, and Birdsong leaped up, and the kit tumbled down onto her. Birdsong jumped up from the ground and picked the kit up, hurrying away from the flames. She wasn't paying attention to where she was going. All she knew was that she was heading back into WindClan.

I hope this little kit's okay... Maybe she has family alive, or any clanmates... She's lucky to be alive... I'm glad i found her... I can't believe my entire Clan is gone... I wonder how the other Clans are...

Birdsong's head was pounding. The kit squirmed out of her grasp and tumbled down onto the ground with an 'oof'.

"Are you okay?" Birdsong asked, licking the kit's head.

"There's a safe place there!" she meowed. "I'm Sunkit. Let's go there!"

Birdsong followed the little cat's gaze through the smoke. Drifting and hazy, she saw the outline of a barn. Is it possible...

"C'mon!" Sunkit meowed. Birdsong shook her pelt and picked Sunkit up again, before hurrying to the barn.

~~

Birdsong slowed to a walk as she reached the barn. She put Sunkit down. "Stay with me," She whispered, tired and aching from so much running. She entered the barn warily, and seeing no other cats, curled up in the hay. Sunkit curled up around her, and Birdsong smiled tiredly. Her throat was burning from the smoke, and her whole body was too warm, both from the fire and running. But she was safe. And so was Sunkit.

"I hope we're not alone," She murmured, before laying her head down and promptly falling asleep.

Chapter 4 (Stareh)

Dewfur looked up, sniffing the air. He'd left the smell of burning and ash behind, and the air smelled of nothing but coldness. The sun had gone down, and now the sky was a pretty cobalt blue, the stars bright white speckles on the surface of a twilight ocean. He managed to scrape some bracken and moss together in a shallow dip in the ground; he spiraled down into the makeshift nest, covered his nose with his tail, and tried not to think about the horific events of the day.

{C {C}The gray tom's paw flashes into the water, plucking a wriggling silver fish out of the river. He drops it on the hard surface of the boulder, and bites it hard behind the head, killing it.

"Nice catch!" a voice trills. The gray tom looks up, one paw on his prey, and purrs. A white she-cat and a small gray and white tabby are weaving their way across the boulders to stand in front of him.

"Thanks, Skylight," he murmurs, nudging his fresh-kill. "Do you two want to go down to the lake? It's too hot today to just hang around." The slender white she-cat bounces on her paws with excitement, and the gray tom seems to have trouble keeping his eyes off of her; the gentle breeze is making the she-cats white fur billow around her like a soft cloud, and her eyes are bright and lively. The younger she-cat nods eagerly, her eyes bright.

"Sure!" The white cat, Skylight, purrs. "My pelt is too thick for this weather!" She takes off down the rocky slope, heading away from the river and towards the lake. The tabby follows, pausing to leap into the air to bat happily at a butterfly, her movements carefree. Purring, the gray tom follows his mate and daughter. The white she-cat doesn't hesitate before launching herself into the water, her paws moving in steady rhythm. Her tabby daughter wades in slowly, letting the water support her weight, floating along.

The gray tom sits on the pebbly shore, watching his mate and daughter paddle through the waves with a heartbreaking grace. {C {C}He shifts uneasily. What is that smell? And why is it so hot? {C {C}The gray tom turns and yowls alarm.

The trees in ThunderClan territory are ablaze, the amber tounges licking up the emerald of the leaves. He turns back to the water, but the two she-cats are gone, both heading off to different directions. The gray tom tries to chase his daughter, but a flaming tree lands in front of him. He yowls as hot sparks fly from the tree and burn into his skin. He whirls of his heels and darts off to WindClan territory, the only place he can see that isn't burning.


Dewfur jerked awake, pelt hot and sticky. He layed still for a moment, moaning. His beloved daughter, Icepaw, and his precious mate, Skylight, lost forever to the merciless flames. Icepaw had pelted off to ShadowClan territory, but Skylight? Who knows where she went. Dewfur got shakily to his paws, panting hard. He had to keep going. Icepaw and Skylight might as well be dead. Dreaming about them wouldn't bring them back.

The gray tom climbed to the top of the hill, eyes downcast and tail drooping. A smudge of brown appeared at the edge of his vision, and his head snaped up. {C {C}Looming at the bottom of the hill was a small barn. {C {C}Blinking, Dewfur headed down the hill and towards the brown Twoleg place. He needed a place to stay now more than ever.

Dewfur poked his head inside, blinking. Inside, the den was dingy and dim, but the outlines of many cats couldn't be missed. Dewfur slid inside carefully. "Hello," he called cautiously. "I'm Dewfur. Of RiverClan."

Chapter 5 (Zaffie)

Sunkit cowered back into the bush, keeping still and quiet just like she'd been taught. If the fire hadn't come, she would have passed her stalking test for sure, but now she was putting her skills to real use, hiding in the charred remains of the ShadowClan nursery.

She could hear yowls of pain and grief, and she wondered if they belonged to other cats, or if they were echoing in her head. Fire was one of her greatest fears, and it always had been. Now her fears had become a reality.

A grey-and-white tabby she-cat stumbled through the smoke, and Sunkit shrunk back. It didn't look like a ShadowClan cat! Of course, all the scents seemed changed and distorted by the stench of smoke clinging to everything, but this small she-cat looked like an apprentice, and Sunkit knew all the apprentices of her Clan. The cat wailed, and there was singed black fur around her paws. The ginger kit shuddered, imagining the fire licking at her flesh, and turning her into a burnt monster like the other cats of her Clan. Like her mother.

The apprentice squeaked, suddenly, and Sunkit's attention was back on her. There was a slender cream-and-brown tom pinning her down. His blue eyes gleamed brightly even through the smoke, and he held his head high. When he spoke, his voice carried a strange twinge that Sunkit had never heard before.

"Have you seen any other cats around here?" The little apprentice didn't answer, just trembling and staring ahead blindly. "Answer me!" the tom boomed.

"N - no," the she-cat stammered. "I'm Icepaw. Of RiverClan. I lost my parents in the fire...," she trailed off, before starting anew. "Who are you?"

"My name is Sushi," the tom hissed, and snaked his head down close to her face, pressed into the sooty ground. "And I can heal your pain." With a lunge, his jaws closed on the back of her head. Icepaw stiffened, before going limp, and Sushi rose from her body, triumph on his face. He looked around, and Sunkit froze.

"Cats notice movement, Sunkit. If you stay still, they won't see you, even if you think they already have. Just stay still as still. Like a stone." The words of Sharptail, her mentor, echoed in her mind, and she tried to stay calm and still.

Sushi hissed with frustration, and bounded away. Sunkit closed her eyes and sent a silent prayer to StarClan. I better get out of this alive, buddies, or I'm gonna shred you all when I get up there.

Sliding out of the cover of the branches, she padded deeper into ShadowClan territory. Walking in a straight line seemed like a really good idea, and she didn't know where else to go, or what to do. The smoke disguised all scent and familiarity, and the little kit didn't even notice when she crossed the ThunderClan border. Catching sight of a short, stunted tree still standing, she clawed her way up it and settled down to sleep.

Sushi won't find me up here, she promised herself.

When Sunkit awoke, the flames were blazing around her. She yowled, in fear and dismay, and waited desperately for an answer, but none came. Please, please, please! She yowled again, louder this time, and a clumsy shape crashed through the bushes below her. Sunkit peered down through the smoke. She could hardly hear above the roaring of the fire, but she thought the cat said to 'jump!'. Mama? Sunkit wondered. And then there was a snap as the branch broke, and she was tumbling to the ground, seeing the world become black and fuzzy around the edges.

***

"Who are you?" a female voice snapped. "All of you!"

"Well I just introduced myself," a tom pointed out. "Do you want me to do it again?" Sunkit liked him. He sounded funny.

"This isn't the time for jokes!" another, younger voice insisted.

"Maybe it's his way of dealing with stress," a gentle she-cat pointed out. Sunkit knew that voice. That was the cat who had saved her.

"Look, when I arrived here there were no other cats," the first voice said.

"You must have been asleep when we got here then," Sunkit's rescuer said. "I'm Birdsong, and the kit who is still sleeping through all this noise is Sunkit."

The ginger she-cat immediately closed her eyes and pretended she was still sleeping.

"Birdsong? As in deputy of WindClan?" the joky tom asked.

"That's right."

"I'm Blackpaw," the younger tom said nervously. "You're Bramblepaw!"

"Bramblepath," the she-cat corrected. Sunkit opened her eyes to sneak a peek. "Remember, the fire started during my warrior ceremony."

"I'll say again, I'm Dewfur," said the tom Sunkit liked. "Of RiverClan."

"We're from ThunderClan," Bramblepath said. Her green eyes burned with fury.

"I'm from ShadowClan!" Sunkit piped up. "That's the best Clan!" She leapt to her paws. "I hid in my nursery when the bad cat came, and he said 'Icepaw'," she made her voice comically deep. "'Icepaw, I'm going to eat you!' And then he chomped her on the neck and she died." Sunkit shivered suddenly - the memory felt cold.

"Icepaw?" Dewfur asked desperately. "My daughter?"

Sunkit shrugged. "I don't know. She was tabby. Kinda greyish."

Dewfur gave a wail, and collapsed in a heap, as if his legs had been cut off. Sunkit trembled, backing into Birdsong and cowering between her front legs. "Sorry," she whispered. "I'm sorry."

"Look," Bramblepath said in a bossy voice that Sunkit recognised. "Clearly, we're all alive. But there might be other cats out there who are alive too! We should go and look."

"Maybe we should stay here, where it's safe," Birdsong countered. "Don't forget, I was a deputy before. You're only just a warrior."

Bramblepath wrinkled her nose. "So?"

"Maybe Bramblepath and I could go looking," Blackpaw suggested.

"I should go with her," Birdsong said. "I'm older. You can stay here and look after Sunkit. We'll be back soon."

Bramblepath padded over to Dewfur. "Are you coming?" she asked him gently.

The tom nodded, and climbed to his paws with an effort. "Yes. Let's find any cat left alive in this mess."

Sunkit watched the three of them leave. She hoped she'd see them all come back.

Chapter 6 (User Quit)

Shimmerpaw staggered to her paws, gazing wide-eyed at the destruction the fire had left behind. A cat nudged her shoulder gently.

"Come on," the RiverClan tom meowed. "It doesn't get any better if you keep looking."

Dewfur. She knew his face, his name. She had been friends with his daughter. "Icepaw?" she stuttered, trying to make sense of the mess around her.

Dewfur's face fell. "She's dead. Murdered, by the sound of it."

Shimmerpaw stiffened at that word, carrying those memories and bringing old feelings to the boil again. "M-murdered? By who?"

The white she-cat beside her turned sympathetically towards her. "Let's not talk now, Shimmerpaw. We'll get to the barn first."

"No, we should search for more cats!" a slender brown tabby argued instantly. "We already found two, there could be many more alive!"

"Bramblepath," the WindClan deputy sighed. "It's getting late. And cold, and dark. And there are murderous cats on the loose."

"Or so a kit says," Bramblepath snorted. "Birdsong, we need to find survivors!"

Birdsong. That was her name. I saw her at my first Gathering. My only Gathering.

Dewfur shook his head, muttering under his breath. The other cat in the patrol, a lean, dark tabby, walked alongside without a comment. She looked sad and nervous, clearly worrying about someone.

My sister. And my mother. Oh, StarClan, everyone I knew is gone!

She matched Dewfur's pawsteps as he strode along beside her. At least one member of her Clan was still alive. Maybe she would find more. Maybe most of the Clan had survived - after all, they loved and thrived in water for a reason.

"We're here," Birdsong said at last. She and Bramblepath seemed to have resolved their argument, although there was tension in the air still. "The barn."

Shimmerpaw stumbled in on weary paws. They had walked for an age to get here, and she wondered if she'd ever have the energy to make it back to Clan territory. Following the other cats, she padded into the barn. It was huge and dark, filled with warm, musty scents. It seemed very old to her, and there were piles of dusty grass stacked up against the walls. The rustling of mice pushing through the dry stalks was almost as loud as her own breathing.

"You're back!" a black tom leapt down from atop a hay pile, followed by a squeaking kit tumbling down with flaying legs. "You should have let me come too."

"You're too little," Bramblepath said, miffed.

"Bossy nag," he said. "Fox-dung to you."

"Don't be rude, Blackpaw," Birdsong chastised. He mimicked her silently behind her back.

"Are we safe here?" Shimmerpaw asked, speaking up for the first time. "Safe from those other cats?"

"What other cats?" Dewfur asked, instantly alert.

The kit crept closer to them, pressing her tiny ginger body against Birdsong's leg. "Sushi? Is he back?"

Birdsong touched her nose gently to the kit's head. "Don't worry, Sunkit."

Tigerstripe pricked her ears up at that. "Sunkit? Ivypelt's daughter?"

"Uh huh," Sunkit nodded. "Are you from ShadowClan?"

"I'm Tigerstripe," the she-cat said kindly. "You probably don't remember me."

"What's all this about other cats?" Dewfur asked Shimmerpaw quietly.

"Timberpaw. They murdered him, and I saw it."

Silence instantly fell on the barn. Sunkit cowered away from Shimmerpaw, and after a pause, Birdsong gripped her by the scruff of the neck. "I'll take her to sleep," she said.

When Birdsong returned, fear filled the air of the barn. You could almost taste the anticipation.

"So, Timberpaw?" Blackpaw prompted.

"He was in my Clan. We escaped from the fire together, but then we ran into some cats we didn't know. At first we just assumed they were from another Clan, but they soon proved us wrong.

One of them, a tall, cream-and-brown tom, told me and the other tom, a grey tabby, to go and hunt. We left quickly, but as soon as we were out of sight, I heard a yelp. I ran back, and hid in some bushes. They had no leaves left, but they were enough cover. I saw the skinny, tall tom bite down hard on Timberpaw's neck. He nodded at the tabby, then turned and left.

I was shaking with absolute fear, but I tried to be brave as I looked at the tabby. He lunged at me suddenly, pinning me down and pressing my face into the ground so I could hardly breathe. He hissed in my ear, telling me that it was his duty to kill me, and all the Clan cats who had survived the fire right down to the tiniest kit. But then, suddenly, he released me. I was too scared to even turn around, and by the time I did there was no trace of either of them anywhere. Just me and Timberpaw's body, alone in the ash."

As she finished her story, Birdsong and Dewfur exchanged anxious glances. Bramblepath was crouching low to the ground in shock, and Blackpaw was sliding his claws in and out nervously. Only Tigerstripe seemed unfazed, gazing into the distance as though her thoughts were somewhere untouched by the fear, pain and misery of the past three days.

Chapter 7 (Tigerstar)

Tigerstripe watched as Sunkit reappeared from where Birdsong had left her.

"Sushi was cream-and-brown!" she meowed, scrabbling down to the floor of the barn. "I saw him kill Icepaw."

The small RiverClan apprentice stiffened. Tigerstripe had heard her story, and the horror of it all wighed her down.

"Icepaw," Shimmerpaw whispered. Dewfur, too, bowed his head like he was grieving.

Tigerstripe mewed,"I think I might have seen Sushi in ShadowClan territory. He pinned down a senior warrior, and killed him. I don't know why he would do that."

"Maybe he and that gray tom wanted something from the apprentices," Dewfur said thoughtfully.

"Maybe those cats are the ones who started the fire!" Blackpaw suggested eagerly. "That makes sense!"

"No, it doesn't," Bramblepath said scornfully. The others replied with yowls of "No way!" and "That's ridiculous!" The black apprentice stomped away from the others and fumed angrily in a corner of the barn.

Tigerstripe trembled with fear, remembering the cats she had left behind. "I - I have to go!" she stammered. "I have to find my mate!"

"It's far too dangerous out there," Birdsong protested.

"Weren't you listening? There's a bunch of cats trying to kill us!" Bramblepath yowled.

"We can search again for survivors in the morning," Dewfur reasoned.

Tigerstripe hissed, "I demand you to let me leave right now!" Turning on her heel, she stormed out of the barn door.

Once outside, she ran as fast as she could to ShadowClan's camp, finding it still smouldering gently. She looked through the dens, seeing bodies of dead ShadowClan cats. Eventually, she looked inside the warrior's den to find the bodies of her brother Ashstripe and her mate Mudstorm.

"No," Tigerstripe whispered. "It can't be. They can't be dead." She yowled with grief, "Everyone I loved is gone!" "It's ok, Tigerstripe. I am still with you," a voice soothed.

"Mudstorm?" she mewed in surprise. His pelt was dappled with stars, and his eyes shone like moons. "You're alive...no, you can't be... you're dead...." She walked away from the StarClan cat and the ShadowClan camp, stopping only when she felt something wet on her paws. She looked down to find blood staining her fur, and she trembled in fear. She took a closer look at the gory puddle to find a dead snake in it, twisted and disembowelled. Mudstorm reappeared and solemnly intoned, "The tiger snake must be sacrificed to save the Clans. There is no choice, Tigerstripe."

Suddenly, everything faded, even the ground beneath her paws. She felt herself falling, and then...

"You're awake!" Birdsong exclaimed. "Are you feeling alright?"

"What happened...?" Tigerstripe asked groggily.

"You fainted after yelling that you had to go and search for your mate," the WindClan deputy replied. She touched Tigerstripe's forehead with her nose, and announced,"You have a fever. I'll get you some water, but you should really rest."

Tigerstripe let her eyes close. It was just a dream! Mudstorm and Ashstripe could still be alive, but... Mudstorm is a StarClan cat now, I saw that. Maybe Ashstripe died as well... The prophecy echoed in Tigerstripe's mind. Should I tell the others about my dream?... No...I shouldn't...they'll probably think I'm crazy, especially if I already have a fever. Delirious. Maybe I am ... but the prophecy...it could be important...StarClan, what should I do?

Chapter 8 (Mystery Chapter)

It was dark in the sky. Smoke still hung heavy in the air, like an uncomfortable blanket. The land was silent, quietly waiting out the night. No birds sang their last songs, no squirrels scampered around, and no cats were talking on patrols. The only sound was the wind rustling through what had once been leaves on trees, but now was little more than bare branches.
The sky had a faint amber glow to it, though it was close to moonhigh. Its reflection gleamed against the blackened grass of the moors. In the midst of the smoke, five small shadows appeared.
Three of the shadows were bigger than the others, three adults and two younger shapes.
The creatures were thinking about food. Word travelled quickly, and they had heard about the fire. Friends from the lake area had talked about easy prey, cats without homes. The dark creatures had decided to travel there from their own territory. Their land was running low on prey.
The two young creatures squeaked and chased each other, but an adult warned them to stick close, and they scampered back to their mother.
They were closer to the burnt forest now, sniffing for food. They ignored the silence.
Two of the adult creatures went on ahead, lumbering through the dark smoke. The mother stood guarding her little ones when she heard the screech.
The screech of her friends.
The mother ran to the rescue, and found her mate and sister lying on the floor, motionless and bleeding. A small twitch in the shadows made her turn around.
And it struck.
A long, nimble beast, with a curling, snake-like tongue darted towards the lumbering creature, snapping at her neck. The mother squealed in pain, sending a warning to her little ones. The nimble beast kept its strong grip on her, twisting her around. This was something she had never encountered before, and she didn't know how to fight it. The mother's eyes went glassy, and then dull. The beast let her fall, and writhed around her, moving onwards towards the fresher, younger scent.
The mother creature was lying next to her family, and she twitched once more, before becoming the third limp creature.
The two youngsters had watched their mother die, and scampered off. One tripped, falling on his nose and letting out a squeak, and the nimble beast faced in their direction. It had a hunt.
The youngsters skirted away, sticking close to one another, with the scaly, long-tailed monster in close pursuit.

Chapter 9 (User Quit)

Shimmerpaw followed Dewfur slowly. Her paws were dragging on the stony ground, and her tail and ears were drooping. She felt like she was practically walking in her sleep, and her eyes kept closing of their own accord.

"Ho!" Birdsong called, and the party halted.

"Ho? What do you mean, ho?" Bramblepath asked, shoving her way to the front beside the deputy.

"It's what we call in WindClan when we want a patrol to stop," the older warrior explained.

Bramblepath rolled her eyes. "Well, we're not all WindClan cats here. Maybe say 'stop' next time."

"Enough bickering already!" Blackpaw yelled from somewhere behind Shimmerpaw. "Can we just get a move on?"

The Clanless cats were moving away from the barn, and the lake. The decision had been made late last night, the warriors talking in hushed and worried tones while the apprentices and Sunkit slept together, huddled in an exhausted pile.

"We have to stop," Birdsong replied to the aggrieved apprentice. "We're all tired, Sunkit most of all, and no one has the strength to carry her anymore."

Blackpaw grumbled, but Shimmerpaw got the sense that he was relieved to stop. She let her head droop wearily, and sunk to the ground. Fur brushed her side, and she glanced up to see a blurry Blackpaw settling to the ground beside her.

"Hi," he muttered. Shimmerpaw murmured a reply. She liked the bolshy apprentice, and felt that he was right to challenge the warriors the way he did. Bossiness wouldn't get them anywhere.

Letting her gaze wander from the shiny black pelt, she absorbed the other cats; Dewfur sitting up and picking burrs from his pelt, Sunkit lying comfortably sandwiched between Birdsong and Tigerstripe, and Bramblepath sitting upright, staring in all directions and doing her best to keep a good warriors vigil.

The journey from the barn had been mostly quiet, apart from one very disturbing incident when they had stumbled across the rotting corpses of three full-grown badgers. All of them were lying beside each other, and all were killed in much the same way - necks broken and twisted, bodies mangled and partially eaten. A little way on, they had come across a single badger cub paw, nothing else, just the paw with one bloodied and bitten end.

Closing her eyes against the heat of the dying sun, Shimmerpaw sighed, rolling away from Blackpaw, onto her back, and letting her paws flop over her face. She could hear her heart beating steadily, feel her breath throguh her body, and the warmth of the sun on her fur. There was silence around them, as though the birds which had been singing earlier had suddenly decided to disappear, leaving the cats in peace.

Something lunged from the shadows of a bush.

Jaws closed around Shimmerpaw, and only her upper body was left. She stared up at the monster holding her in its mouth, seeing dark, pitch black eyes, and a mottled green-and-brown body with black lines running across it like cracks in the hot sand of the lake shore. A forked tongue darted across her back, and she shivered, feeling the spittle encasing her body. The yowls of her friends faded into the background, and all she could hear was her heart.

Beat.

Beat.

Beat...

...

Chapter 10 (Tigerstar)

Tigerstripe stared at the place where Shimmerpaw had vanished in horror. "She's dead!" the ShadowClan warrior yowled with grief.

Dewfur stared at the dead cat and mewed in shock, "Shimmerpaw is dead," and yowled to the others, "Shimmerpaw has been killed by a freakish beast!"

Sunkit stared at Shimmerpaw's body with sheer terror and wailed, "Why? Why did this have to happen to us? First we have a dangerous fire that wiped the Clans out, and now there's this giant lizard that wants to eat us all! Why does life have to be so unfair?"

Birdsong solemnly walked closer to Sunkit and murmured, "I don't know, Sunkit."

Tears began to fall from Tigerstripe's eyes as she reluctantly meowed, "We have to leave before it kills us all! The barn might not be safe anymore, but we can always find a new home."

One by one, the other cats nodded their approval, with Dewfur replying solemnly, "That may be our only option." He dashed ahead of the others, and yelled impatiently,"Hurry up! Do you want to get eaten?" The others ran up to him, and together, they left the only home they knew.

As the cats walked farther away from home, they continued to talk about Shimmerpaw's death. "I've never seen anything like that fox-hearted beast before," Bramblepath mewed with fear.

Blackpaw yowled, "Maybe Sushi is involved with this lizard's rampage. It would make sense."

Tigerstripe hissed with frustration, That's what you said when you thought they started the fire! That's not even practical!"

Sunkit mewed,"What about the Twolegs? Maybe they released that fiend."

Dewfur replied, "Now that makes sense."

"Twolegs are mousebrains," Birdsong meowed with anger.

Tigerstripe complained, "Can we stop now? I'm feeling sick to my stomach."

"Me too!" Sunkit replied.

Meanwhile, Dewfur coughed, and Bramblepath collapsed onto her side.

Birdsong meowed, "We need to move a little farther. There's nowhere that we could rest safely here."

They travelled on through the night together, the stronger cats supporting the weaker ones as best they could.

Meanwhile, Tigerstripe was talking to Birdsong. "Lately, I haven't been feeling so good."

Birdsong interrupted her, replying,"None of us have felt good either, but the reason why you haven't felt good is because of a different reason."

Tigerstripe weakly meowed, "Why?"

"You are expecting kits."

Chapter 11 (Arti)

Bramblepath had instinctively taken the lead since Birdsong and Tigerstripe had dropped behind. She squinted ahead through the dark, then said, "Guys, I think I see a really big-"

Sunkit, who had taken a few steps ahead let out a meow of surprise.

Bramblepath sighed. "Tree," she finished. She and the others cautiously padded forwards. Bramblepath waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness.

"Hey, what are you all-" Birdsong and Tigerstripe had returned and almost everyone let out a gasp. Dewfur seemed unimpressed, but he couldn't stop his eyes from widening and even Birdsong's professional behavior dropped for a moment.

The tree was huge.

The trunk was so large it was bigger then probably eight or nine of the biggest trees in ThunderClan territory all combined! The cats looked up. The tree reached high into the sky, disappearing somewhere in the darkness. Bramblepath wondered how tall it was and she felt an itching to climb it. But she restrained herself. Smirking slightly, she turned playfully to Blackpaw.

"Bet you can't run around it!"

His eyes narrowed playfully, "I'll race you!"

"Now I really don't think-" Birdsong began, but the two younger cats had already pelted off.

It felt good to run, especially with someone from her own Clan. Bramblepath remembered races like this in the nursery and then the apprentices den. But Blackpaw will never get his name now, she thought sadly.

They leaped over twisting roots and nuts. Bramblepath could hear the chittering of squirrels and a few bird calls in the night. Her stomach growled but she felt comforted by the fact that there was food here. The mice in the barn seemed like forever ago and the food here seemed plentiful and unaware.

Blackpaw had gotten ahead and he turned, making a face at her, "I'm gonna beat you-ahhhhhh!" he tripped and fell, skidding on some leaves. His body lay still but Bramblepath couldn't see his head. A sick terror rose inside of her and she remembered the lizard-beast. And Sushi. She'd left the rest of the group and they were at least half-way around the immense tree, a long way away from the others.

"Blackpaw?" she nervously approached him.

"My head is in a hole!" he yowled.

Bramblepath breathed a sigh of relief, rolled her eyes, then dragged him away from the tree. She did see a small hole, big enough for a grown cat to squeeze through. She cautiously sniffed it.

"Dare you to go in," Blackpaw meowed, his eyes glowing.

Bramblepath was considering it when the others rounded the corner.

"Don't run off like that!" Birdsong hissed, coming up to them, "We have to stick together! And Bramblepath, don't go sticking your nose in strange places! Did your mentor teach you nothing? Or did you forget everything while you were standing vigil?"

"You're not a deputy anymore, so don't act like it!" Bramblepath fired back hotheadedly. She pushed her way inside and sniffed. It smelled like fungi and old leaves. She was relieved. She poked her head back out. "It's safe,". She looked back in.

Moonlight streamed in through holes in the tree, making the whole place dance with beautiful silver light. Bramblepath realized the entire tree was hollow, all the way to the top where it closed up a little more. But there were shelves made of varying colors of brown and yellow fungi and leaves crisscrossed in random patterns. Because of the tree's immense size, there would have been plenty of room for all of ThunderClan to sleep comfortably, let alone just the six cats.

"Never pull a stunt like that again!" Birdsong hissed in Bramblepath's ear, "I might not be deputy, but I can still-"

"Sorry, sorry..." Bramblepath murmured. "But look at this! There's room and ledges....This place is fantastic!" The fungi gleamed softly, a shining pale orange-silver color. It was beautiful.

"I don't know if I like it..." Tigerstripe meowed, looking about carefully.

"Well I do," Blackpaw meowed.

"I think we've found our new home!" Bramblepath meowed proudly.

Chapter 12 (Birchy)

Birdsong yawned as she awoke. They'd spent the night in the tree. Birdsong herself hadn't been sure of it, but soon warmed up to the idea of a safe place to rest. Now, it was just morning. Sunkit was snuggled up to her, pressed against Birdsong's fluffy chest.She sighed, her belly rumbling.

I guess we'll need to hunt. At least it seems to smell of prey here... She wondered, looking to the gaping hole in the side of the tree. And there's that. We need to have that covered, with brambles and thorns. And there's a whole new area to explore...

She closed her eyes, trying to forget about that right now. She was tired from the walking, but she didn't want to complain. She opened her eyes, and stood up carefully. Sunkit gave a little mew, but curled up into the mossy ground. Birdsong padded to the edge of the tree, and looked around.

It was very big. Wide, and could easily fit more than thirty cats comfortably. She pressed against the bark, and it felt... soft. Obviously not weak, but she could have clawed it off with enough force. Most of the lower bark was covered with pale green lichen, the kind she'd seen on rocks before, and higher up were large ledges of orange fungi. She'd noted it was shimmery last night, and provided a little light. The ledges they made as they stuck out of the tree were thick, and looked strong enough to hold a cat, or two. She'd test that later, with one of the lower ones.

Birdsong looked up. The tree stretched upwards for many, many fox-lengths. She'd expected it to be darker as it went on, but little holes were dotted about, letting light into the den. The light wasn't a golden tint, but more of a cheerful greenish-yellow, and shiny with dust particles.. Cobwebs streamed into corners of the tree, blocking the top of the tree from view. The sunlight made the webs shimmer. It was quite pretty for something usually ordinary.

She took a deep breath. A sharp, fresh forest scent filled her nose, reminding her of the island where gatherings had taken place, although the smell wasn't pine. There was also a subtle scent. She couldn't name it exactly, but it was like trees after rain, stripped of old smells and leaving new ones. Prey was also around, but not too close. No doubt, they'd scared a good amount away from their den when Bramblepath and Blackpaw were chasing each other. She remembered that moment, telling Bramblepath off. She regretted sounding so harsh, but it was out of worry for their safety.

She looked back to her comrades. They were still sleeping, but it was sunrise now. If they wanted to explore, they'd need the whole day.

"Come on, wakey wakey," she meowed. Sunkit roused from her sleep almost instantly, giving a little yawn. She scrambled to her feet unsuccessfully, stumbling into Tigerstripe. She raised her head suddenly.

"What?" Tigerstripe questioned.

"Nothing, I fell into you, that's all," Sunkit explained, sitting down and licking her chest fur. Birdsong smiled and nudged Bramblepath with her paw.

"Mrrph, I want to sleep in, Amberflower," Bramblepath complained.

"Bramblepath, I'm-" She stopped herself. She might make Bramblepath upset by mentioning her lost Clanmate's name. "We need to get started."

Bramplepath sighed and sat up, blinking, her face confused slightly, when she realised where she was. Birdsong moved on to wake Dewfur.

"Dewfur, wake up." Dewfur remained sleeping soundly. Must be a heavy sleeper... Birdsong thought. She nudged him harshly, and he groaned, but still slept. An idea occured to Birdsong.

"If you don't wake up, I'll eat this yummy fish by myself."

Dewfur jumped up. "What?" he meowed loudly.

Birdsong purred with amusement. "Sorry Dewfur, no fish yet. "

Dewfur huffed. "Well, we'll have to sort that out." Birdsong nodded, turning to Blackpaw.

"Get started with what?" Bramblepath asked. Birdsong prodded Blackpaw, who opened his eyes.

"We need to hunt. I suspect you're all hungry. And there's also the need to explore. For all we know, we're on the edge of a fox or badger den." Or worse, she thought. "There's also the big hole in the side of the tree. We'll need brambles to hide it."

"Oh yes, we must hide!" Blackpaw mimicked her voice. Birdsong was about to tell him why when Dewfur spoke up.

"Blackpaw, unless you want all sorts of creatures coming into the den, we need to cover it up."

"Plus it will keep bad weather out," Tigerstripe added. Blackpaw muttered something undetectable.

"Right. Tigerstripe, Blackpaw, you gather the brambles and thorns. I'm sure there was a bush of thorns nearby. Sunkit got a few thorns in her pelt last night. Dewfur, Bramplepath, we should go hunting and exploring."

"But what about me!" Sunkit exclaimed. "Stay here for now. You can help Tigerstripe and Blackpaw if they let you," Birdsong purred.

"Hang on, I don't really want to be stuck with a silly task like this. Why can't I go with you? I'm strong, fast, smart, brave!" Blackpaw protested.

"And hot-headed! Oh fine, you go with Bramblepath and Dewfur. I'll stay here," Birdsong sighed. She'd wanted to go looking about herself.

It doesn't matter, I can go after I've finished, she thought. Blackpaw dashed on to the trees in the distance, and Bramblepath and Dewfur hurried after. Birdsong sighed, looking at Tigerstripe.

"Let's start, then," She meowed. She padded a little distance from the tree, and spotted the thorn bush.

"Now..." She meowed quietly, before lowering onto her belly and stalking forwards. She reached the bottom of the bush, and bit into the thornless branch. It fell away easily, landing onto her. She jumped up, and the thorn branch fell off.

"Ouch," Birdsong blinked, picking a thorn from her shoulder. She picked the branch up again and carried it to the tree. Tigerstripe had climbed the tree slightly and was biting off ivy vines. They fell down to the ground, landing in a messy pile. Birdsong put the branch against the tree, tucking part of it under a root to hold it in place.

By the time they'd finished, the hole was undetectable. Thorns covered it each side, looking like just another messy thornbush, but ivy vines dangled from the thorns, and if you pushed your way round the side and through them, you could enter the tree.

"Good work," Birdsong nodded. Tigerstripe was purring with satisfaction.

"Much better," Tigerstripe agreed. "Should we make some proper moss nests?"

Birdsong smiled. "That would be a good idea," She padded into the tree, but Sunkit was gone.

"Sunkit?!" she yowled, but her voice echoed emptily around the tree. The little kit had disappeared.

Chapter 13 (Zaffie)

Sunkit padded cheerfully away from the tree. She could hear Birdsong and Tigerstripe talking behind her, and she snickered quietly to think that she had tricked them and slipped away.

"But she can't have gone out the hole! We were working on it the whole time!" That was Birdsong's voice. Sunkit liked her. She was nice, and fluffy too. Redkit had been fluffy like that.

"There's no other way out... unless she's still in the tree!" Tigerstripe called. Sunkit tilted her head, then set off eagerly along Dewfur's scent trail. She liked the joky RiverClan tom, and she wanted to find Bramblepath as well. Blackpaw... she wasn't too sure yet if she liked him or not. But hunting and exploring sounded like fun!

Darting through long, brown grass, she glanced up at the stems waving overhead. They looked happy, just like she felt! Grass was happy a lot, Sunkit figured. Hurtling out onto flatter, greener grass, she paused, one paw in the air, to look around. There were a lot of rocks around, and straight ahead of her was a huge forest. Some of the trees had huge, shiny green leaves, while others just had a lot of smaller brown or grey ones. None of them looked anything like the trees she remembered from ShadowClan territory. The trees there had been tall and pointy, with sharp claw leaves. Redkit said they were called needles. Pine needles. Sunkit almost wished there were some pine needles here now. Everything looked unfamiliar and strange.

There was a screech above her, and she looked up quickly, cowering back under one of the rocks. Tales of the eagles and hawks taking kits had been a part of her life since she was tiny. You always had to be careful. But this big white bird with its silly yellow head and curving beak looked nothing like the eagles of stories. It screeched again as it soared overhead, and Sunkit watched it in awe.

Quiter squeaks to the side drew her attention to smaller birds sitting in the grass. They were a dull grey on top, but when she sneaked closer and pounced, they fluttered away, revealing brilliant bright green undersides.

None of this was anything like Sunkit had seen before. She was starting to get frightened. If even the birds were different, what if there was no prey at all? Trembling, she pressed her skinny body close to the ground. Something scuttled past her paws, and she leapt back with a squeak. It was a huge, hairy brown spider, almost half her size! She whimpered. Swivelling her head around, she craned her neck until she could see the tree. It was so big it towered above all the shorter ones, and she ran back towards it in relief. Shoving through the ivy she somersaulted inside and stopped, looking up and around. Birdsong was crouched high above her on one of the orange ledges.

Curiosity got the better of fear, and Sunkit asked, "What are you doing?"

Birdsong stared down at her, then started to purr. "Looking for you, mouse-brain. Where have you been?" She leapt off the ledge and fell towards Sunkit, landing lightly on her feet.

"I sneaked outside," she admitted. "And it's really big and scary! There was a white eagle which said 'Reeeeeeeeaw!' and a gigantimous spider, and a bird which was all green!"

Birdsong frowned. "That does sound scary," she agreed. "Come on. We've made some nests - well, Tigerstripe did most of it. You're probably tired after such a scary walk."

Sunkit nodded. "Uh huh." She settled herself down in the nest Birdsong had prepared and yawned. "We should find feathers for the nests," she said sleepily. "From the big white birds. They looked kind of fluffy. Like clouds."

"Okay, little one," Birdsong said soothingly. She sat by the kit as she drifted off to sleep.

***

"It was like no forest we've ever seen!" Blackpaw said enthusiastically. "It was all green, and wet... you should have come!" he added, glancing at Birdsong.

"I stayed here in place of a reluctant apprentice, remember?" she told him sternly. "But I'm glad you had fun."

"The prey was mostly rabbits and birds," Dewfur said. "Most of the birds were too fast for us, but we caught this one." He gestured to a pink bird with a white head and grey wings. "It seemed too stupid to fly away."

"And two rabbits," Bramblepath added. "They were fast, but not fast enough." She gave a satisfied purr.

Awake again, Sunkit crept timorously out of her nest. "Is that one of the big scary birds?" she asked, prodding it with a paw, then jumping back in case it tried to eat her.

"It's not that scary," Bramblepath promised. "Just a bit bigger and pinker than we're used to."

"Well I think it's way too scary," Sunkit decided. "I want to go home."

"We have no home left, remember?!" Blackpaw exploded. "Stop being a mouse-brain!"

"Don't be mean to me, you fox-hearted traitor, you," Sunkit said crossly. "Take that! And that!" She launched herself at his ears and batted at them with her soft little paws.

"Ooh, it's so painful," the apprentice mocked. "I'm so scared. It's a little tiger!"

"Uh huh, that's right," Sunkit told him proudly, clambering back to the ground. "I am the fiercest warrior you've ever seen! Just you wait until I get my warrior name!"

Silence fell on the tree. Cats sat with eyes turned towards their paws until Dewfur spoke. "We can still be a Clan, you know," he said. "Just not one of our old Clans."

"We don't have any proof that StarClan are here with us," Tigerstripe said, her voice rising towards the end of the sentence. "They might have abandoned us to die!"

"StarClan wouldn't do that," Birdsong meowed faithfully. "We just have to find a special place where we can speak to them. They'll tell us what to do."

"Until we find that place, I suggest we appoint roles," Dewfur added. "Birdsong is the only one of us with experience in charge, so she should be temporary leader."

Bramblepath and Blackpaw exchanged glances, but neither of them spoke in protest.

"Thanks, Dewfur," Birdsong said. Sunkit got the feeling she had been expecting this. "And, as senior warrior here, I appoint you temporary deputy."

"What about us?" Blackpaw asked, gesturing to him and Bramblepath.

"Well unless either of you wants to be medicine cat, I suggest you stay what you are - warrior and apprentice. Blackpaw, Dewfur can be your mentor. And Tigerstripe can be our first queen."

Dewfur turned to Tigerstripe in surprise. "Congratulations," he meowed.

She ducked her head shyly. "Thanks. My mate and I were hoping to have kits before... before."

"I'm sure they'll be beautiful," Bramblepath purred.

"I'm going to be a kit!" Sunkit meowed. "And then when I'm an apprentice Bramblepath can be my mentor!" She huddled up to the bigger cat's leg, making pleading wide eyes at Birdsong. "Please?!"

Birdsong purred in amusement. "We'll see. You still have a moon and a half to go, remember?"

Sunkit rolled her eyes. "Yes, I remember."

"Great! Only one thing left to do," Dewfur said, pleased. "We need a Clan name."

"ThunderClan!" Blackpaw and Bramblepath chimed together.

"The Roaring Bird Clan," Sunkit said thoughtfully. "Or The White Screeching Eagle Clan."

"FireClan," said Tigerstripe quietly. "We survived fire to get here. Fire is quenched by a river, and helped by a wind. It burns more brightly in the shadows, and starts in a thunder storm. Fire has created our Clan."

Birdsong nodded, impressed with the deep thinking. "Very well. FireClan."

"FireClan!" Sunkit squeaked, leaping into the air. "Sunkit, greatest warrior of FireClan!"

The others snorted, and Bramblepath shoved her playfully. "Of course, you'll have to grow a little first."

The cats sat in the tree talking until the moon rose above them, sending silver light into the hollow, and making the fungus ledges shine. All around them were the unfamiliar croaks, squeaks, and vibrations of strange, new insects, and bird, and other animals they had never known. But within the tree they were peaceful, and together, and a Clan once more.

Chapter 14 (Stareh)

Dewfur sniffed the air, frowning. Though he'd never admit to the others, this new forest quite scared him. The prey was unnatural and fast, and Sunkit's tale of huge spiders and big white eagles had chilled his blood.

But he couldn't deny that he loved his new Clan. FireClan was getting along well, and he couldn't have been more shocked when Birdsong had named him her temporary deputy. He glanced down at Blackpaw, who was eyeing a bush speculatively. Bramblepath was scraping earth on top of the rabbit she'd caught only moments earlier.

"Should we mark the borders now?" She suggested after a moment of silence, eyes scanning the forest. "We could set a marker there." She pointed with her tail at a tree, not as big as the one in FireClan's new camp, but still big. Dewfur nodded wordlessly and marked the tree, turning to Blackpaw.

"Go with Bramblepath and help her set markers that way-" He pointed west with his tail. "And I'll set borders to the east." The two young cats nodded and dashed off, mewing to eachother. Dewfur shook his head and headed in the opposite direction, forcing himself not to jump at every little noise.

A crisp, fresh scent tickled his nose after a while. Dewfur narrowed his eyes and parted his jaws, drawing the air over his scent glands. He nearly mewled with joy.

Fresh water was nearby!

He hoped it was a river, though that was unlikely. He couldn't hear any sounds of rushing water. Maybe a lake, or a pond? He could deffinetly hear waves crashing over a shore. Dewfur shuffled his paws and shot off.

Sure enough, it was a lake, small, but still big enough to provide for the new Clan. Even a few foxlengths away, Dewfur could see fish flitting about just under the surface. His belly rumbled, reminding himself of how hungry he was. He glanced around. He wasn't a hunting patrol, he had the right to eat. He grinned and settled himself at the waters' edge, waiting for a fish to near the surface.

A few moments later and Dewfur was sitting on a sunwarmed stone, gnawing an unidentified fish happily. It tasted like fish, at least. He finished off the scraps and set markers just outside the far edge of the lake. This would deffinetly need to be part of FireClan's new territory. Satisfied, he marked a few more borders, caught some fish to take back to camp, and trotted off, belly full and heart open.

Chapter 15 (Bird)

Blackpaw was staring up at the tree, after marking the borders. He was still amazed at the size and he thought, Maybe if we could learn to climb this thing...

Blackpaw thought of the new warior code they had been working on. They had only come up with a few so far, and one of them was "Kits will be sent on special kit missions every so often to prevent boredom." Needless to say, Sunkit had had a lot of input.

He jumped onto a rock and called "Hey, Bramblepath!"

The brown tabby warrior came out of the tree, padded toward him, and asked "Yes?"

Blackpaw looked up and down at the tree "Is it possible that we could learn to climb this thing? Even though it could be dangerous?"

Bramblepath looked at him, then looked at the tree up and down, and mewed, "No, the tree is way too big." She looked at him. "I heard from Dewfur there was a river, so maybe we could learn to swim instead?"

Blackpaw wrinkled his nose. "No thanks, I'd rather keep my paws on dry land," he mewed in a grunt.

Bramblepaths gaze hardened. "It's a good skill to learn," she mewed.

"Huh, so is climbing," he muttered. I hate bossy cats, he thought, flicking his tail, staring at the tree.

Bramblepath mewed "Come inside."

Blackpaw just stared at her, and looked at the other trees around them "Maybe we could climb the trees around here?" he asked.

Bramblepath nodded, "Well, yeah. They are a lot smaller then this one."

Blackpaw jumped down, and followed her back to the entrance, and he mewed, "I hate water."

Bramblepath asked him "Have you even been in water?"

"No, have you?" Blackpaw asked.

Bramblepath nodded "I love swimming," she mewed.

Blackpaw snorted, and continued to follow her, but they both stopped when a cat stumbled out of the bushes, bleeding heavily, and looking very weak and tired.

Bramblepath mewed to Blackpaw "Go get the others!"

"Why do I have to do it?" Blackpaw growled, and Bramblepath just sighed.

"Do it Blackpaw!"

Blackpaw grumbled while getting into the tree and telling the others, they followed him out to where the cat was quickly.

Bramblepath asked, "Who are you?"

The tom was shaking "Sorry. My name is.. Stickyfoot. I just got attacked by rogues! They tried to kill me - I had stumbled into their territory... oh, StarClan." He shook with the memories, before taking a deep breath and continuing. "I tried to run, escape. I heard them talking about a prophecy - and how they have to kill all the Clan cats to prevent it from being fulfilled!" He took in their faces. "It sounds crazy, I know, but that's what they said. Honestly!"

Blackpaw thought, his story sounds way too weird.. he jumped when Stickyfoot collapsed suddenly.

Dewfur mewed, "We need to get him healed, so he can tell us more, if he can."

Blackpaw shrugged. "I guess."

The cats took Stickyfoot back into the tree, and Blackpaw thought So some random rogue wants to destroy us for some unknown reason and a prophecy... he snorted Rogues were always weird, but now they crossed the weird line.

Epilogue (Zaffie)

It was dark and cold in the cave. Astro was alone - well, him and the kits, anyway. Silthrim's kits. He wondered if evil was genetic.

They were going to find the Clan cats, and then they were going to kill them all. At least, that was the plan. Astro didn't know where they had gone, but he had no doubts Silthrim would find out. The white tom had eerie talents towards his enemies.

Silently, Astro rose to his feet, padding towards the entrance. Outside the moon shone on the ash-filled water of the lake, turning it to liquid silver. Everything was quiet, except for the soft hooting of a single owl. Out there, in the dark, were the remnants of the Clans. And if Silthrim was right, the prophecy was already starting with them.

The grey tom gazed up at the sky. Stars speckled his eyes, and he stared unblinkingly. He knew now what he had to do. He was ready to take on his mission.

"I promise I will do what I can," he told the world at large. "I will do my duty with courage. I accept my fate with humility. I will not defy my destiny any more. My time has come."

As if in answer, a wind howled around his ears, ruffling the white fur on his throat. The night waited, filled with silence and secrecy, and Astro stood on the edge of it, waiting to be sucked in. Once you hear the sound of the dark, you can never turn back.

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