Sweet, gentle Dapplepaw has never known anything but the comfort of the little hidden den she lives in. She doesn't know why she must live her life in shadow, hiding from all the other cats she sees. Then she meets a bold, boisterous tom named Goldpaw, and her whole life changes. For good, or worse? After all, some secrets are best left in the dark, lest they hurt all concerned.
The misty cats parted like a claw through water, forming an aisle for the oncoming figure. Long, glittering lashes fluttered over dewy green eyes as the silver she-cat advanced, emanating and reflecting starlight like a diamond.
"Morningstar," said a gruff-looking black she-cat, her fur knotted and wiry even now.
"Yes Wildnight?" Morningstar inquired, her voice musical and lilting.
"We have recieved news. It is finally time for Spiderstar's fall." A few cats murmured among themselves. Morningstar's eyebrows arched delicately, but she motioned for the medicine cat to continue. "There will be two cats who bring about this change. One will be the golden sun, the other of the dappled shadows that no one sees. Together, they can change everything, and bring CloudClan back together." Despite her rough appearance, Wildnight's green eyes glimmered with emotion.
A ginger tom stepped out of the crowd, and Morningstar smiled thinly at her former deputy, who had died protecting her during one of Spiderstar's attacks. Some cats might say the act was useless, since she had died anyway, but she knew much better.
"I think we should try our best to help these cats, and make sure they meet," Sunstreak announced. "It's our only hope to save our Clan."
Morningstar nodded, meeting the tom's soulful amber eyes with what she hoped looked like friendliness and trust. "Yes, that would be good. Sunstreak, Wildnight, I'm putting you in charge of that."
Wildnight glowered at her. "Just what I need. Babysitting a couple of soon-to-be heroes."
"You'll be doing us a favor. Besides," Morningstar smiled. "You never had an apprentice. This'll be good practice."
The black she-cat looked away, hiding the small smile on her face. "Okay. But this better be worth it."
Morningstar looked down on the Clans, wincing as she recalled everything Spiderstar had done. But that was why this was so important. They had to save CloudClan.
"It will be," she said softly, the breeze ruffling her shimmering seafoam-colored layers. Morningstar turned frosty green eyes full of hope towards her friends. "It's our only chance."
Wind rippled across the moor, stirring the long thick grass. Dapplepaw sat on her little hill, bracing herself against its strong force. Though she was freezing, Dapplepaw wasn't ready to go back yet. The vast plains called to her, and her legs longed to race across it with wild abandon. This was how she often spent her free time, once she was done hunting.
Sighing, she turned away from the temptation. There was no way she could give in. Hopeflower would be furious. Sometimes, Dapplepaw wondered why she had to always stay on their little hill and the tiny woods behind it, with its small pond and the rock-pile they sunned themselves on during greenleaf. As soon as the notion crossed her mind nowadays though, she tended to push it away. When she was a kit, she would ask all the time. Now that she was older, she had picked up on the sadness that appeared on Hopeflower's face whenever it came up. The last thing she ever wanted to do was hurt the kind old she-cat, who had raised her like a mother her whole life.
"Dapplepaw!" a voice called. Turning, she saw a chestnut tabby she-cat walking up the hill towards her. A smile blossomed across her face.
"Hi Dapplepaw." Hopeflower glanced at her. "Enjoying the view?" Dapplepaw nodded, and the she-cat sighed, lost in thought for a few moments, as old memories danced through her head. When she spoke again, her voice was tired and tinged with regret, as if her spirit had just gone through a nerve-racking journey. "It's getting dark. We should probably get back home."
"Okay," the younger cat agreed. She led the way down to where their cozy burrow nestled at the base of the hill and scampered inside. Warmth seemed to radiate from the earthen walls and sandy floors, wrapping around her, mingling with the comforting scent of her and Hopeflower that lingered on the two comfortable-looking grass nests against the wall. A small pile of prey lay across from them, and as she waited for Hopeflower to catch up, she selected a plump mouse apiece and a squirrel to share.
Setting the fresh-kill down, she looked up to see her foster mother enter and shake out the chills. "Phew. I'm not as young as I used to be, and cold takes a toll on the elder." Giving a chuckle, the old she-cat lay beside her. "That looks good."
Dapplepaw grinned as she took a bite. "You're no elder. You're a dashing young beauty."
Hopeflower laughed. "The mouth on this one."
After they finished their meal, they went to bed. Hopeflower fell asleep instantly, but Dapplepaw stayed awake, listening to the wind's howling and moaning and looking about the enclosing walls of the den. They were protection, but they sometimes felt like a prison as well. Surely there was more to life then this?
"Uh oh." The smile slipped from the young apprentice's mouth, though the twinkle in his cheery golden eyes remained. "Looks like Dropfur isn't impressed with me skipping training." He paused on the outskirts of camp, trying to peer through the brambles. "Can you see what she's doing, Ashpaw?"
His sister bit her lip; he couldn't tell if it was out of nervousness or if she was trying to hold back laughter. "She's fuming and running around in circles. Checking the apprentice den... She's coming this way!"
"Let's get out of here!" Goldpaw led the way away from camp. Ashpaw hesitated, then followed. She wasn't as bold as her older brother, but she looked up to him enough to do just about anything for him. Even if it meant risking Spiderstar's wrath.
They stopped in a shady alcove to catch their breath, and Goldpaw collapsed in hysterics."She's going to be so mad! But if she tries to tell Spiderstar, she'll really get it. I've got her cornered! We have a free day. We can do whatever we want."
Ashpaw smiled thinly. "What about Palesun? She still expects me for training, and I don't want to let her down."
Goldpaw rolled his eyes, but didn't say anything mean. He knew Ashpaw could be sensitive. "Okay, okay. You can go back to camp. I'm gonna be out here for a while."
"Thanks." The gray she-cat struck out for CloudClan's camp. With a shrug, Goldpaw turned in the opposite direction. Today was a great day for exploring, and that was just what he aimed to do, Ashpaw or not.
Dapplepaw glanced about furtively, feeling like a criminal in her own home as she slipped down the hill. She wasn't exactly disobeying Hopeflower yet; she had only been told to never enter the plains. However, it could be said that there was an unspoken rule about venturing down the exposed, barren side of the hill that faced the Clan border. Still, she couldn't help it. She was tired of being trapped in such a small territory. She wanted to see some of the world from a different perspective.
Besides, Dapplepaw thought. No other cat would be out here right now. She had observed the Clan cats from afar for as long as she could remember, and rarely did they come to this border, especially in the afternoon.
With a gusty sigh, she flopped down at the base of the hill, hidden among the heather and taller grasses. Hey. I'm practically off the hill, and nothing happened. Getting up, Dapplepaw padded forward a few steps, standing on the plains, which seemed to stretch on endlessly now that she was actually there. The woods were a faraway blur of brown, and grass swirled around her paws like a churning sea.
"I'm free!" Dapplepaw laughed with giddy glee at her own bravery, turning somersaults down the hill and into the plains just to prove to herself that she could do it again if she wanted. She picked flowers with her teeth and tossed the petals in the air, watching the bits of pink and purple swirl around on invisible wind currents before tumbling to the ground. She rolled around in the sweet-smelling grass and sat up on her hind legs, letting the wind whip into her face.
Blinking against the sting, she frowned. Something was moving, coming towards her on the field. Her heart stopped, then sped up. She dropped down into the grass, but it was no use. The shape, showing itself to be a cat, was getting closer and closer.
"The one thing Hopeflower was adamant about, and I've blown it," she whispered. "Never let another cat see you. Never."
"I know you're there," Goldpaw called confidently. "You can stop hiding now." Silence. He tried again. "Hey you! Weird happy dancing cat! Show yourself."
A head popped out of the grass. He grinned and opened his mouth, but the cat cut him off. "Weird happy dancing cat? Say that again! I dare you!"
"Uh, I'm sorry. I..." He trailed off. The cat was a she-cat, about his age, and startlingly pretty. How come he had never seen her before? She certainly didn't meet everyone else's descriptions of ugly rogues, but she was definitely no Clan cat. She had soft-looking dappled gray fur, the kind that made you want to just rub against it, and large stormy blue eyes that were tinged with gray. He felt himself shrinking at the clouds of rage on her face. That wasn't possible. He had always been amazing with the she-cats.
Thankfully, her face softened at his apology. "It's okay. Who are you anyway, and what are you doing here?"
"I'm Goldpaw," he said, regaining some of his composure. "I'm just exploring a bit past our territory. What's your name?"
She seemed to hesitate, looking behind her, then she faced him again. "Dapplepaw."
"Dapplepaw?" he said, surprised. "But that's a Clan name."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you know what a Clan is?" Shockingly, she nodded. "You do? Well, we have... it's hard to explain, but Dapplepaw is an apprentice name. Eventually you'd get your warrior name- Are you a spy from another Clan? Or from rogues?"
She blinked slowly, then shrugged. "No... I don't know any other cats and-" She turned around, her ears pricking. "I have to go. I'm sorry. Bye!" And with that, she took off up the hill.
"Wait!" Goldpaw couldn't explain it, but he knew he couldn't let her go. "Come back!" He raced after her, completely out of CloudClan's territory, without giving it another thought.
Why is he following me? Fear set fire to Dapplepaw's paws, lending her extra speed. What have I done? What am I doing? I can't lead him straight to our home!
She skidded to a stop abruptly, whirling to face Goldpaw, only to find herself face to face with him for a split second, before he crashed into her and they both went sprawling.
"What is your problem?" she spat, jumping up. All her anger and frustration with herself for getting seen was spilling out. "Just leave me alone, okay? I don't need any Clan cats stalking me!"
He looked half-hurt, half-bemused. "Oh really? Stalking you?"
Embarrassment prickled through her fur, but she held his gaze stonily. "Yes. Go away."
"Sorry," he muttered, a flicker of sincerity appearing in his golden eyes. Dapplepaw could feel herself melting, though she tried desperately to stop it. He was cute. He had smooth, rippling orange-gold tabby fur, and the kind of muscular frame that made she-cats want to just lean against it. Snap out of it. If Hopeflower finds out-
As if on cue, she heard a gasp from behind her and whirled to see Hopeflower. The look on her face was terror and shock mingled. And there was something else. Disappointment.
Goldpaw looked back and forth between the two she-cats, confused. "Dapplepaw? Who is this?"
"Who are you?" snarled the older she-cat, flattening her ears defensively. "I'll deal with you later Dapplepaw, but can I just say that I cannot believe, after all we've been through, that you were so mouse-brained-"
"I'm sorry!" Dapplepaw wailed, her blue eyes filling with anguish and tears. Goldpaw felt something inside of him stir as he watched her pretty face crumble, tail drooping. "I know Hopeflower. I shouldn't have. It's all my fault, and I can't explain-"
"Wait." He took a step forward, gaze locked with the she-cat, Hopeflower, but watching her out of the corner of his eye. "It's not her fault. It's mine. I'm the one who came over here, and followed her." His fur prickled with embarrassment, but he pressed on. "I'll go back to CloudClan now. Sorry for any trouble I caused."
Hopeflower shook her head slowly, kindness returning to her eyes, her anger fading like a sudden newleaf storm, leaving nothing but sunshine and flowers behind. "No, young one, it's okay. You are not a part of this; you wouldn't understand. You should go now, and return to your home."
Goldpaw wanted to leave, but something was holding him back. "Okay... Will I see you again?"
A sad smile slipped across Dapplepaw's face. "I don't think so."
Why? he wanted to whine like a little kit, but instead he gave her a swift nod, turned, and headed back to camp. To his surprise, Goldpaw found his thoughts still lingering on Dapplepaw, though they'd barely met. He pushed them away; he would be in enough trouble with Spiderstar, his father, and Dropfur without she-cat troubles. Ashpaw had probably passed out from worry by now. With that, he squared his shoulders and reentered CloudClan's territory. Where he belonged. Sort of.
Hopeflower's silence hurt Dapplepaw more then anything. She didn't say a word as they made their way back home, just trudged along wearily, as if she had suddenly aged several moons in the brief encounter. Goldpaw had seemed nice, but no tom was nice enough to risk her adopted mother's feelings.
"I really am sorry," she said softly. Hopeflower raised her head, a gentle smile etched on her face.
"I know." She touched her nose to Dapplepaw's ear comfortingly. "Don't worry about it. I love you much too much to be angry."
Dapplepaw nodded unhappily. She would've preferred being yelled at and punished then this. It would make her feel less guilty, less like a horrible person. But that just wasn't Hopeflower's way. "So. What will happen now?"
"We can't risk him telling his Clan. Can't risk being discovered."
"Why?" she asked. She couldn't stop herself, despite the fact that she had never been told before. There was an urgency, a desperation in her tone, and Hopeflower seemed to sense it. Giving a sigh, the old she-cat sat down and curled her tail around her paws.
"I guess I've waited long enough. Dapplepaw, I owe you this. It's time I told you the truth, about everything. Yourself, your parents, where you came from, and why... why you can never go back there again."
"Goldpaw." Spiderstar's voice held barely concealed rage as he padded in. Next to him, Goldpaw's father, who happened to be the deputy of CloudClan, sat with a disapproving look on his face. I don't care, Goldpaw thought defiantly. He doesn't really care about me anyway, just what Spiderstar thinks of how he raises his kits.
Nearby, Ashpaw watched with sympathy in her eyes. Dropfur shot him an angry look; he was sure she had gotten in trouble with Spiderstar for letting him get out of camp unattended, but then his mentor gave him a look that said, You're in enough trouble as it is, so I don't even need to punish you, just sit back and watch the show.
Gulping, he raised his head. "Yes Spiderstar?"
"Where were you?" The black cat advanced slowly on him, flicking his tail back and forth, and holding his gaze with a pair of hypnotic, snake-like golden eyes.
"I was... er, hunting." Mentally, he slapped himself. He was a good hunter, and Spiderstar knew it. No way would he come back to camp without a single piece of prey. Why hadn't he thought of snatching one? Secretly, Goldpaw knew why. He had been too busy daydreaming about his chance meeting with the mysterious Dapplepaw. No matter how much he told himself that they would probably never meet again, that they meant nothing to each other, didn't even know each other, he couldn't push her out of his ind.
"Hunting, is it?" Spiderstar said casually.
"Yeah," Goldpaw swallowed. "Hunting."
The leader's eyebrows went up. "And where is the prey? That is what one usually brings back from a hunt, is it not? Correct me if I'm wrong."
Staring at his paws, Goldpaw mumbled, "Yeah. Sorry about that."
"Sorry fills no bellies," Spiderstar hissed, suddenly vicious-looking. "Windchaser, give Goldpaw a suitable punishment." With that, he stalked off to his den.
Windchaser nodded. Goldpaw glared back at his father miserably as he was sized up. "Cleaning out the elder's den by yourself for a moon," Windchaser said, his once-kind blue eyes hard and cold. "And for the rest of the week, you'll be the last one in the Clan to eat."
"Yes sir," Goldpaw mumbled sullenly, turning away.
Seething under his pelt, he met Ashpaw at the entrance to the apprentices' den. "What happened?" she asked worriedly.
"Nothing," he said. The last thing he wanted was for his sister to try to help him perform his chores and get into trouble herself. "I got off easy. Trust me."
Doubt filled her gaze, but she said nothing, only purred and rubbed her cheek against his. "I'll always help if you need it."
"I know. Thanks."
Sighing, he entered the apprentices' den and flopped down into his nest. Oddly, when he fell asleep, it was not thoughts of cruel Spiderstar or arrogant Windchaser that filled his mind, but the more sad prospect of never seeing Dapplepaw again. She's just one she-cat. What does it matter? But he knew he did. And he knew that somehow, he needed to visit her again. No matter what.
Dapplepaw tucked her tail around her paws expectantly, pushing down the sickening feeling in her gut. Why did Hopeflower look so scared? And what secret was so big it had been kept from her all her life? "Is this... Is this the reason we've lived here all along?"
Hopeflower nodded. "A long time ago, I knew a cat named Rosewater. She was my best friend. We did everything together. But... A dark secret haunted Rosewater."
Her interest caught, she raised her head. "What was it?"
"It was-" she paused hesitantly, "Don't take this the wrong way, but it was you."
"What?" Dapplepaw stammered. "You're going to have to explain a lot if you don't want me to 'take that the wrong way.' I was my mother's darkest secret?"