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THIS IS A BOOK IN A SERIES. COME READ NIGHT OF THE WOLVES HERE.
Howl of the wolves

Prologue

Three cats with stars in their pelts were lying in a clearing, grooming each other, when the sky turned dark and grey, the birds stopped chirping, and the wind stopped blowing.

An elegant creature they had not seen before, a blue, grey, and white creature with a pointed muzzle and ice blue eyes appeared from the fog.

It spoke a strange language, although snippets were understandable.

“We are...take. Cats...give....kill.” They saw visions in the night. Visions of bloodshed, yowling...death.

“Cat...die...superior...we are.” Visions of cats fighting to the death. Protecting their territory from this creature.

All of a sudden, the mist thickened.

They could barely see beyond their own whiskers,

Then, it lifted.

The sky was blue, the fog was gone, the creature had disappeared.

The cats were bewildered as to what they had witnessed.

The cats decided to question one of the last surviving ancient leaders, Hollystar. If anyone could make sense of what they had envisioned, it was her.

The spotted cat described the strange animal to him, and his eyes widened in shock.

“A Wolf.” she muttered, seemingly out of breath.

“We saw them in our forest once, never again, many, many, many moons ago. I was just a young leader, when one night, at the full moon, we heard strange yowling.”

She shuddered. “I disregarded it, until the next full moon, when we heard it again, closer to our camp. I sent out a senior warrior and his apprentice to investigate, and when they didn’t come back the next morning, I led a patrol out myself, to find out why, only to stumble upon their mauled bodies. We smelled a foul stench...and-”

She gasped. “Th-they attacked us. Only two of us made it back.”

The StarClan cats realized that they may not be able to aid the clans in times like these.

The clans were on their own.

Chapter One - Moon

Starkshock crouched.

The mouse beneath her scrabbled around, not catching her scent. She smiled in triumph, leaping down from the tree branch she had been precariously perched upon.

The mouse startled and tried to run, but Starkshock was too quick for it to stand a chance.

"Great job," Came the appreciative purr.

Starkshock dipped her head at Hawkeye, who smiled at her. "Let's get this back to camp," He suggested.

Starkshock nodded, deciding to follow his orders. He was deputy, after all.

They padded back to camp in silence, Starkshock pondering why Hawkeye had decided to bail so early into the hunt. They had only caught the mouse and a squirrel.

"Are you okay?" She asked gently.

Hawkeye startled. "Oh, yes. I'm fine."

Starkshock bit back a retort, it was obvious Hawkeye wasn't. Ever since she had nearly killed Dewpaw in a sparring match, the cats of ShadowClan treated her like a rabid badger.

She was on probation, which was why Hawkeye was hunting with her.

She rolled her eyes, Pinestar took every little offense on a personal level.

She dropped the mouse on the fresh-kill pile, noticing Hawkeye keep the squirrel for himself.

She blanched. What a roll of fox-dung.

Sighing, she looked around the camp for Palewater, her sister. There was only one spot she could be, but Starkshock checked everywhere else in the camp first.

With a groan, she padded into the medicine den.

"Palewater?" She asked gently.

"Here," Someone mewed faintly inside the darkened den.

Sighing, she curled up next to the albino she-cat. "Palewater, you need to stop."

"But I can't!" She wailed quietly. "I can't! Everyone except Willowwing judges me!"

"Palewater, think. Medicine cats aren't allowed to have a mate. Mates with a she-cat? You'd be exiled!" Starkshock pleaded.

"Willowwing would come with me." Palewater said stubbornly.

Starkshock sighed. "You always said you wanted kits," She added.

"Having a mate isn't about having kits!" She shouted, blowing up. Palewater had nothing in common with Starkshock... save their explosive tempers. "Having a mate is about being in love. Being happy."

Starkshock opened her mouth to speak, but Palewater cut her off. "Of course, you wouldn't understand."

Starkshock stood and stormed out of the den, fuming. How dare Palewater - how dare Palewater what? She groaned quietly. None of this was her sister's fault.

It was all hers.

She curled up in her nest, squeezing her eyes tight to staunch the flow of tears that was welling up behind her eyelids.

"Starkshock?"

"Are you okay?"

"Is something wrong?"

The three mews at the same time jumbled together in Starkshock's mind and it was hard for her to settle them.

"Um..." She looked up. Three toms were staring at her; Beetlehook, her childhood friend, Hawkeye, the deputy, and Finchflight.

She stared at them blankly, before remembering the questions. "Oh, yes, I'm fine." She lied, repeating Hawkeye's words from earlier.

He winced. Beetlehook looked concerned, and she felt a swell of affection towards him. "Are you sure?" He asked, stepping closer. She nodded, "Mm-hmm."

None of them looked convinced, but dropped the subject.

As she drifted closer to the harbors of sleep, she heard snickers. She cracked open an eye, wanting to hear.

"Did you see her face?" Beetlehook cracked up. Starkshock almost attacked the glossy brown tom, but restrained herself.

Finchface laughed. "So embarrassed! She's never talked to a tom about anything, and now three of us 'cared' about her!"

Hawkeye grimaced. "We shouldn't have done that," He mumbled, before turning away and curling up.

Starkshock was suddenly confused.

Did Hawkeye just... defend her?

Chapter Two - Stone

Toadpelt had witnessed the incident that had taken place in the Warriors den, but chose not to intervene.

Yes, Starkshock deserved punishment for releasing her anger on an apprentice, but it made no sense to stare at her like her paws were attached to her ears. If anything, ignore her.

“Thornpaw! Come hunt with me.”

Thornpaw bounded over to Toadpelt and they left for the forest. Only a few Foxlengths from the border, he smelled something rank.

It was like Carrion, but...off.

“He-hey, Thornpaw!” He mewed uncertainly.

“Come smell this right here.” He stepped away so Thornpaw could get to it.

“Eeew! Let’s go hunt at the Marsh!” He screwed up his face and backed away from the border.

Toadpelt followed him to the marsh, and opened his mouth. He caught the scent of lizard.

“The Clan’ll take anything they get when stocking for leafbare,” He murmured.

He dropped into his stalking crouch and moved slowly towards the busy lizard.

He pounced, and landed squarely on it’s neck, finishing it quickly. He then scented frog. His favorite.

He leaped, but the frog jumped out of the way. He chased it all the way to the training hollow, where it wiggled under a tree.

The training hollow made his thoughts drift back to Starkshock and her treatment.

He had tried to convince his family that every warrior makes accidents, and that Shadowclan should know that more than any other clan.

But, as stubborn as they are, they refused to be kind.

He didn’t know if he should risk saying anything remotely kind, for if he did, he’d risk getting a sharp retort.

Adding on to that, he might get the same looks she did already.

“Thornpaw, what have you caught?

“Two rats, a squirrel.”

“Alright. I’ll catch one more thing and we’ll go back. Rest your strength. Your assessment is tomorrow.”

After catching a huge squirrel, they dragged the catch back to camp, and threw it on the pile.

Toadpelt was exhausted from hunting in addition to the dawn patrol.

He dragged himself to the warriors den, his muscles screaming at him.

He wanted to go on fighting. That’s how he wanted to die. After several years of being a warrior, he never wanted to retire.

He was older than Owlnose, the youngest elder in the den.

As he made it to the den, he went immediately to the nest in the middle, as he was the oldest warrior.

He made sure to avoid Starkshock, not wanting to get a taste of bad temper.

He curled his tail over his nose, began to purr, and drifted into a light sleep.

After what felt like moons, he was woken up by the sound of rain, pitter-pattering like cat paws.

Toadpelt made a decision. Once newleaf came, he was going to retire.

He slunk over to Pinestar’s den, and scratched on the rock.

“Come in,” came a soft voice.

Toadpelt dipped his head respectfully.

“Thornpaw is doing great. He is ready to be a warrior. I will have his assessment tomorrow.”

“Good, good. I can sense that is not what you are here to talk about.” He mewed curiously.

“Yes, I-” He looked at his paws, then sat up straight, with a gleam in his eyes.

“I’ve been thinking about retiring, and I’ve decided that I will retreat to the elder’s den once newleaf arrives. Thank you.” He dipped his head once more, and left the den.

Toadpelt let out a breath of relief as he walked towards his nest.

A huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

He now felt...at peace with himself.

Chapter Three - Moon

"Palewater." Starkshock's sister looked up, confusion in her gaze.

Starkshock sat down next to her. Her eyes were loving, but her face, and her tone, were apologetic and horrified.

"Palewater, I had no choice. I'm - I'm sorry!" Starkshock cried, letting the tears come.

"What do you mean?" Palewater asked, an edge of anger in her voice.

"Oh, Palewater... I told Pinestar." She wailed.

"What?" Palewater exploded.

Starkshock winced, her face still abashed. "I'm sorry..." She whimpered.

She crept away, not wanting to make Palewater any angrier than she was.

"What was that all about?" Beetlehook asked, his voice a low purr.

Starkshock bared her teeth and unsheathed her claws. "Back off, Beetlepaw." She scorned him.

False hurt flashed in his gaze as he stepped aside, but there was a glimmer of amusement in them.

She curled up in her nest, letting her tail fall over her nose. No sleep came to her, she wondered why Pinestar hadn't exiled Palewater, Willowwing, or her yet.

She thought about what the tom had said.

"Is there something you need, Starkshock?" His voice was wary as he backed away.

"Yes."

"What is it, then?" Pinestar asked impatiently.

"Palewater and Willowwing are secretly mates." She said, heaving a sigh.

"I... I see." He didn't seem troubled, which irritated her.

She stalked out. I only did it for your own good, Palewater, she thought with a aching heart.

She felt two pairs of eyes on her. If it was Finchflight and Beetlehook she would-

It wasn't. It was Hawkeye and Toadpelt.

That surprised her even more.

Groaning, she buried her face in her paws and tried to let sleep come.

It finally did.

Chapter Four - Stone

Hawkeye was sitting, washing himself, but he had his eyes on Starkshock, when Toadpelt strolled up to him. When he did, Hawkeye immediately looked down, avoiding Toadpelt’s gaze.

“You think it’s unfair too, don’t you?” Toadpelt asked.

“Yes I do. What I did earlier was stupid. We shouldn’t have mocked her.”

Toadpelt glanced at her in her nest, then at Beetlehook.

“Want me to do something about him?”

“Y-yeah.” Hawkeye looked unusually concerned, a great deal off of his usual character.

Toadpelt went to deal with Beetlehook, not nearly as confident as before.

Beetlehook was eating and having a conversation with Finchflight when he walked over

“Beetlehook, I want you to take Finchflight to the warriors den, and once Starkshock has woken, I want you to apologize to her.”

“You’re not my mentor,” Beetlehook retorted. Before he could say anything else, Toadpelt replied with,

“I was four moons ago. Go apologize. Now.

Beetlehook heaved himself to his paws and started strutting towards the den, when he turned his head back.

“Fine, elder.”

That was it for Toadpelt. He leapt on top of Beetlehook and pinned him down. He put his mouth by his ear and growled,

“Pinestar will hear about this.” He loosened his grip and Beetlehook struggled away from him.

He felt Finchflight staring at him. He flicked his tail towards the warriors den and Finchflight scampered after his friend.

Toadpelt padded back over to Hawkeye, tail twitching.

“I’d give a few fat voles to see those two back on apprentice duties.”

He waited for Hawkeye to respond, only to notice that his eyes were still on Starkshock. Toadpelt heaved a sigh in false annoyance.

Then, his eyes gleamed mischievously.

“Hawkeye?”

“Yes?” He replied, without moving at all.

“Looks like a Starclan cat when sleeping, eh?” Toadpelt nudged his friend in the shoulder.

“Um..well...ehrm-” He stuttered and broke off, embarrassed.

Toadpelt nudged his friend to his feet.

“Go on,” he encouraged Hawkeye.

“I know it’s hard at first. You can do it.” Hawkeye glanced at him nervously, then stood up straight, and strode up to Starkshock.

Chapter Five - Moon

Starkshock watched with amusement as Toadpelt pinned Beetlehook down. Serves that idiot right, she thought.

She stretched and padded away, aware of Hawkeye's gaze on her. What's his deal?

She shook her head, then froze. "All cats gather beneath the Highrock for a clan meeting!" Pinestar yowled.

Oh no. Not Palewater... She padded closer warily, ready to run if the need arose.

"Two kits are ready to become apprentices." Pinestar began. She heaved a sigh of relief.

"Saltkit, Galekit, you have reached the age of six moons. Saltkit, your mentor will be Starkshock." Starkshock felt her jaw drop, wasn't she enduring punishment?

"You shall be now be known, until you receive your warrior name, as Saltkit." Saltkit trotted over to her, pressing her nose to Starkshock's.

"Galekit, your mentor will be Palewater." Starkshock realized what he was doing. He was going to keep Palewater preoccupied, and away from Willowwing.

Devious.

Palewater's eyes shone with surprise as Galekit and her touched noses.

Once the meeting was dismissed, Saltkit jumped up and down with excitement. "What will we do today? Hunt? Spar?"

Starkshock purred. "Neither."

"What, then?" Saltkit asked eagerly.

Starkshock felt a twinge of guilt. "Elder's ticks."

Saltkit's shoulders slumped. "Okay..."

"But, after you're done, you get to explore the territory," She added, trying to keep the apprentice enthused.

She perked up. "Okay!" She scrambled into the medicine den to get the mouse bile.

Starkshock heaved a sigh, turning around. Toadpelt was nudging Hawkeye, who was watching her. Brow furrowed, she walked up to him.

"Hello," She said, tone agreeable. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

Chapter Six - Stone

After the gathering, Toadpelt was happy for Starkshock and Palewater getting apprentices, but why sisters?

Pinestar never does that.

As Hawkeye approached Starkshock, she got up and padded towards him. She greeted him coolly.

“Er...I’m sorry about what happened earlier...” his voice trailed off, sounding more questioning than apologetic.

Toadpelt fixed him with a hard glare. Hawkeye went on.

“I-If you want...I can...uh...get you off of probation,” He sounded more confident this time, yet Toadpelt still stared at him, eyes glinting with amusement.

“Would you like to go hunting with me?” He asked.

“Sure. I’ll bring Saltkit with me.” Starkshock mewed coldly.

“No, I meant just us. You know, together?” Hawkeye was trembling with embarrassment, and Toadpelt was chewing on his tail in exasperation.

“Yeah. Yes! Of course.” She mewed back, all while signaling to Toadpelt that she needed him to explain.

He nodded in understanding. They walked out of earshot of Hawkeye, looking elated.

“Sorry he wasn’t very clear, as he was nervous.” Toadpelt murmured.

“He’s liked you. A lot. For a while now. You couldn’t tell?” He was extremely amused at the whole situation.

“Okay. Should I go hunting with him?”

“Go ahead! He’s a good cat.”

Starkshock nodded her head as she left the den and followed Hawkeye out of camp.

The gathering was cancelled for that night, as every leaf-fall, on this night, the clans would forego the gathering so they could stock up for leafbare.

Toadpelt had nothing to do, so he decided he should go on a walk.

He had made it to the Marsh, when he smelled the strange scent he had detected earlier.

The forest was eerily silent. He sat down, still in awe of the beauty of the forest, even after many moons.

He heard a strange and awful noise, coming from a strange creature.

Aaaaarrrooooooooo!”

Soon after, it was joined by the calls and yowls of many others.

Toadpelt shuddered. The dark made it worse. He got up and jogged back towards camp, feeling uneasy.

He went into Pinestar’s den.

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Pinestar responded blankly.

He never shows any emotion. Wonder what’s wrong.

“That strange noise.”

Pinestar shook his head.

“What did it sound like?”

“I can't say. Nothing cat-like.”

Pinestar shrank back as if he was scared of Toadpelt.

“Did it sound like a yowling?”

Toadpelt nodded. "Sort of like a dog."

Pinestar flinched. He looked bewildered and frightened.

Chapter Seven - Moon

Starkshock bristled as the yowling sound repeated itself. Wide-eyed, she turned to Hawkeye.

"What was that?" She whispered furiously.

Hawkeye's face was blank, eyes clouded with worry. "I'm not sure. It... it sounded like wolves."

Starkshock's face went blank. "What are wolves?"

"They're these large, doglike creatures. They're bigger, with vicious teeth and claws sharper than rocks."

Starkshock grimaced. "And you think those were wolves?"

"Like I said, I'm not sure. But I think so."

She looked around. "They didn't sound too close..."

"But close enough to be on clan territory." Hawkeye finished.

"WindClan." She realized, eyes widening.

Hawkeye nodded. "Yes."

Starkshock shook her head. "No. This can't be happening." She glared at the stars. "The peace couldn't last, could it?" she snarled.

Hawkeye shivered. "It's not safe anymore. We need to tell Pinestar."

Starkshock flicked her tail in agreement. "Yes, but... wouldn't Pinestar overreact?" She asked, raking her claws in the dirt.

"Can you overreact in a situation like this?" Hawkeye challenged.

She nodded morosely. "I guess you're right."

They padded back in shocked silence, a worried, horrified, nervous silence.

Hawkeye padded into Pinestar's den, where Toadpelt was just padding out. He and Hawkeye exchanged a look.

Starkshock followed, eyes wide.

"Pinestar, did you hear-"

"Yes, but what was-" The leader replied grimly.

"Wolves." Hawkeye explained.

His eyes widened and his breath quickened. "What?"

Starkshock nodded. "They howled, we heard them."

"Toadpelt reported something like this..." Pinestar muttered to himself. "Dismissed."

Starkshock turned and made her way out of the den.

"It was nice hunting with you," Hawkeye said shyly, once they were back in the warrior's den.

She blinked in surprised. "Er, yeah. I enjoyed it too."

She curled up in her nest, letting her tail drift onto her nose and she closed her eyes.

The words didn't surprise her, she usually just said what others wanted to hear.

No, that didn't surprise her. What surprised her was that they were true.

Chapter Eight - Stone

Toadpelt was very excited. He had little doubt that Pinestar would take out a patrol to see what it was, and little doubt that he would be in it.

One last big mission before I go, he thought, proudly.

Although he was excited, getting to sleep was difficult.

After it finally came, his dreams were full of snarling, yowling and bloodshed.

He woke up, panting and fur matted. The Wolves. Toadpelt grimaced.

He groomed himself, got the brown, rotting leaves out of his fur, and strolled into the main clearing to take a piece of prey.

He did not expect all of the cats to be looking at him. He looked at the sky.

"Fox-dung." He muttered under his breath.

"It's already sunhigh."

Louder, he said,

"I'll just go hunting." Embarrassed, he padded out of camp.

Toadpelt halted, and looked back. He called to his apprentice.

"Thornpaw! Your assessment is today." He beckoned with his tail for Thornpaw to come out.

"I know this assessment isn't about fighting, but I hope you've been practicing with your denmates, seeing as I'm not the youngest cat anymore."

Thornpaw nodded politely, not wanting to offend him.

"Sit down," Toadpelt called.

"I want you to stay away from the marsh. if you smell that weird scent again, come back immediately. Am I clear? Immediately." Toadpelt looked into his mentor's eyes and nodded.

Toadpelt rushed away, leaving only Thornpaw to decide where to hunt.

Toadpelt saw Thornpaw near the Beech tree at the Thunderclan border, pursuing a squirrel. He buried his catch and moved on to a thrush.

Eventually, he went to the other side of the marsh, where he found a vole and two mice.

Thornpaw walked to the starting place, carrying the two mice and thrush. On his second trip, he brought the vole. on his third trim, he brought back the final piece of prey, the squirrel.

"Skinny, but prey." Toadpelt remarked.

Louder, he added,

"Great job! You'll be a fine warrior."

Thornpaw beamed.

As they dropped their fresh-kill down, Pinestar called a meeting.

"Today, we have an important ritual. Thornpaw, please come forward."

He waited before addressing him.

"I, Pinestar, leader of Shadowclan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on this apprentice. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to you as a warrior in their turn. Thornpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?"

Without hesitation, he replied,

"I do."

"Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Thornpaw, from this moment you will be known as Thorntail. StarClan honors your loyalty and bravery, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ShadowClan."

The clan cheered him on, and Pinestar interrupted after a little while.

"I am going to lead a patrol to investigate a noise that Toadpelt, Starkshock and Hawkeye reported last night. You three, come, and Fincflight and Whitepelt."

Chapter Nine - Moon

"Starkshock?" I jumped up, immediately on the defensive.

"Yes?" I asked, looking around. It was Saltpaw.

"Can we go train? Galepaw went on a dawn patrol," Saltpaw said, a touch of envy in her voice.

Starkshock nodded. "Yes, of course."

They padded out. It was still dark outside, the sun just barely peeking out from over the treetops.

"What do you want to learn?" She asked.

"I'm not sure. Galepaw toured the territory, so did I..." Saltpaw mused. "Oh, I know!"

Starkshock waited. "Yes?"

"Can we go on a hunting patrol?"

Starkshock stifled a yawn. "Saltpaw, it isn't even dawn yet. All the prey will either be sleeping or in hiding.''

Saltpaw shrugged. "Sparring, then?"

Starkshock nodded. "That, I can do."

They arrived at the training clearing in a bleary silence.

Saltpaw prepped herself and dove at Starkshock.

She dodged, and Saltpaw landed with a oomph.

"Again," Starkshock mumbled.

Saltpaw tried thrice more before she managed to brush Starkshock, and four more before she pinned her.

By then, the sun had come up fully. Starkshock yawned. "Come on, let's go back."

Saltpaw didn't reply.

"Saltpaw?" Starkshock asked sharply, scanning the area.

Saltpaw was crouched under a fern, eyes wide with horror.

"Saltpaw, what is it?" Starkshock asked harshly.

"Fox!" She squealed.

Chapter Ten - Stone

The patrol was heading toward the border at a brisk pace, Toadpelt and Whitenose stepping in time with eachother.

They had almost reached the marsh when they heard a terrified scream.

"Fox!" That was Saltpaw!

Toadpelt immediately veered towards the noise, at a full sprint now, others following.

Pinestar caught up to him and growled,

"Let Finchflight and I take care of this."

Toadpelt hissed in annoyance.

"If I let other warriors take care of my problems, I might as well be an elder already," he snarled.

He caught a glimpse of a red tail whisking through the ferns, and sped up.

The last time he had felt like this was 23 moons ago. Blood pounding in his ears, he hurled himself at the fox's back and clung on with all the muscle he had.

When Pinestar darted in to slash the fox's side, the fox whipped around like none of them had ever seen, and Toadpelt was flung off.

Something wasn't right.

Senses dulled, he felt nothing as he landed. He leaped once again towards the fox and clawed it's muzzle repeatedly, ducking away from it's mouth.

Eventually, the fox whimpered and ran away, Toadpelt panting heavily.

He closed his eyes, shook his head violently, and opened them again.

He could see the other cats around a body...Pinestar! He rushed over to see what was wrong.

Pinestar was lying in the clearing, seemingly dead.

"He's losing a life. He's in the paws of Starclan now," Toadpelt murmured.

Pinestar jerked his head up.

"That was no fox."

"What?" Hawkeye shouted.

"It was too fast to be a fox. Did you see how it caught me in it's grasp?"

Nodding heads signaled that the other cats agreed.

Pinestar got up, and with a limp, they headed back to camp.

Chapter Eleven - Moon

"The gathering is tonight!" Pinestar yowled. "The cats accompanying me will be Willowwing, Hawkeye, Starkshock, Palefeather, Saltpaw, Galepaw, Toadpelt, Finchflight, and Beetlenose."

Starkshock muttered under her breath. Finchflight and Beetlenose? Great.

She swept the crowd for them, wanting to give them a scathing remark, when she saw they were approaching her with guilty expressions on her face.

"Starkshock?" Beetlenose mumbled.

She glared at them. "What?" She hissed.

"We're sorry..." Finchflight murmured.

She drew up short. "Very funny, ha-ha."

"No, we're serious." Beetlenose said, eyes wide.

"How can I trust you?"

Finchflight sighed. "You can't."

"I see." Starkshock murmured.

"But please, give us a chance. Go hunting with us," Beetlenose pleaded.

"If this is a trick I'll report you," She warned.

"It isn't." Finchflight promised.

"Alright," Starkshock sighed. "Finchflight, I'll go with you... now, I guess."

He nodded.

"We can go tomorrow, Beetlenose.” She added.

Beetlenose’s eyes lit up. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," She said stiffly.

She padded after Finchflight warily, confused as to why they were suddenly groveling at her paws.

It was normal, up until the end.

Then the howls began.

Her fur stood straight up defensively, her back arched.

Finchflight shivered. "It's so... abnormal."

Starkshock nodded, then she turned on him. "Why did you want to go hunting with me? I know it wasn't only to apologize."

Finchflight inhaled, then exhaled. "I... Ikindalikeyou." He mumbled.

Her jaw dropped. "What?"

Chapter Twelve - Stone

Toadpelt decided he would rest until dusk, to be fully ready in case...

In case something happened.

He was woken up just before Moonhigh by Whitenose.

“Let’s go get something to eat. I was beginning to fear you’d sleep through the gathering.” She flicked his ear with her tail and he nuzzled her.

They walked to the fresh-kill pile and took a thrush to share.

“I wonder what Windclan will say about the Wolves,” he said, nonchalantly.

Pinestar padded to the camp entrance and meowed,

“To the gathering.” All of the selected cats got up to their paws.

“Will we speak to the elders or the Warriors?” He mewed to Whitenose.

He’d meant it as a joke, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized that he would not be able to go on much longer.

The younger warriors were outrunning, outfighting and had better endurance than him.

He had to put all his energy into a simple task such as sparring with an apprentice.

“Why did you stay a warrior?”

Whitenose whipped her head around.

“What do you mean?”

Toadpelt tried to pick up some hint of anger or regret in her voice, but there was none.

“Well, you had our third litter of kits together last Newleaf, and Pinestar offered to make you an elder after they were apprenticed, but you refused.”

She hesitated for a moment, as if she thought she was being selfish.

“I didn’t want to go until you did. I wanted to keep hunting and fighting with you until you were ready to live peacefully with me.”

She gazed at him with her soft eyes for a long time, and he looked back.

Suddenly, Pinestar halted. They were at the tree bridge.

As soon as everybody was across, Toadpelt walked up to Pinestar and sighed.

“I want to become an elder tonight.”

Pinestar looked at him, some sort of sorrow in his eyes.

“Very well,” he mewed. Toadpelt was glad he was being formal. It was a gathering, after all.

Pinestar went and leaped onto his tree branch, under Reedstar of Riverclan’s.

Toadpelt had barely any time to chat before the meeting was called.

“Cats of all clans, tonight we have sad news. A warrior who has caught moons of prey and fought many battles has decided to retire to the elders den.”

He stepped back waiting for the cats to cheer for Toadpelt, but the only cheers were from his own clan. They looked around in bewilderment.

The Windclan leader stepped on the tip of his branch.

“Reedstar and I have had a dream about creatures called Wolves. I can only assume that you have too?” He nodded towards Pinestar and the Thunderclan leader.

They nodded back.

“The Wolves have invaded our territory. My clan is sheltering outside of camp. In the dream,” he went on.

“In the dream, Starclan came to me and told me that the Wolves would only bring death and destruction, and that they could do nothing to help.”

Cats looked at each other, fear, curiosity, bewilderment and awe mixed between them.

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