Burn to Ash
|Legacy of Ash||Succeded by: |
"Hello Elmleaf," Sun approached the cat who was looking down in horror at the burning camp of her old camp, trying to hide tears of guilt.
"All because I couldn't follow my promise," she murmured, "And... I never even won the thing I gave up so much to gain. Stormwind hates me and himself now, and Flameleap; the one cat who truly cared about me... regrets ever looking at my face in that manner because of what I have done."
"I wouldn't be too sure," Sun whispered, "Flameleap can never forget the memories you two had together, nor can you forget those with Stormwind."
"But I can hate them for being remembered," she murmured darkly.
"Don't fret, Elmleaf," Sun whispered as she looked down beneath her, "One day things will all sort out. This is a large boulder but one that I fear we will have had to cross eventually."
"Because I was born?" tears brimmed in the corner of the slim she-cats eyes.
"That's not your fault," Sun assured her, "I guess it was a test from Starclan to see if the clan could survive having you in it," noticing the pained expression she added, "And the strength of your love. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Bramnblestar's love for me was what brought him to the clan. Ashclan would not be what it is today without."
"What about the Ashpile?" she asked, "Will the old Ashpile still be there for cats to race to so that they can get their nine lives?"
"No," she responded, "We set that fire for a reason. There will be a new Ashpile and a new Ashclan to find it."
"A new..." she paused, "Ashclan?"
"Yes," Sun nodded calmly, "Just as the previous Ashclan has rose from and burned to Ash; this Ashclan will surely do the same."
"Oh," Elmleaf nodded calmly, "I'll be watching over them all."
"Yes," Sun nodded, "Their are two more cats to determine the fate of this clan. One whom you have already met, and one which the forest has yet to be introduced to."
"What will he have to do?" Elmleaf asked, shuffling her paws nervously.
"He will have to do what several cats before him, and several cats yet to come after him have done. He will have to set the path and determine the legacy of ash."
Flameleap took soft steps across the territory which he had once known as his home. Now, cats roamed here freely, coming and going at their pleasure and it was all Flameleap could do not to hiss at them for being on his territory like he might have done before.
Ashclan was gone.
He forced himself to keep taking steps deeper into the heart of his former territory. He had hoped that perhaps several Ashclan cats will have gathered there.
"Who are you trying to fool?" he gently scolded himself for being so hopeful.
The soft grass rubbed lightly against his pads, bristling his black paws, which clashed nicely with his ginger pelt. His minf kept floating to back to Elmleaf.
Was she in Starclan now? he turned his head up, wondering if he might be able to catch her eyes gazing down at him but felt no connection and continued with a sigh.
Perhaps Starclan had not accepted her.
At least he would find her body, burned and battered in the old camp of Ashclan. As well as a deep gash along her neck, one that he had created while killing her.
He refused to let himself dwell on those dark memories, and refusing to collapse continued to put one foot before the other, for the sake of his clan.
And the clan of many more before them. A clan that would no longer be available to the many more after. And a clan that would remain as no more than a memory.
The clan of Ash.
He continued to trudge through the fields and the trees which were all to familiar to him. He went past the flat area of land where he used to train with Elmleaf, and his heart longed for the days of his apprenticeship again when everything had been so right and in its place.
At least for him.
Elmleaf probably was spending all of those days trying to repair her heart which had been shattered so deeply by Stormwind; who never even realized what he had done.
When he finally reached the large rock they had made camp in he realized it wasn't even a rock anymore. Just a pile of black, dusty and ominous ash.
The fate of its clan.
The loud sound of footsteps echoes through Flameleap's head as he rolled around in the piles of ash which were consuming what had once been his home.
He slowly pulled his head up from the lifeless body of Elmleaf, which he had been clinging to the whole night. He blinked sleep out of his eyes, as he made out faint specks of moonlight, scattered onto his pelt, as well as that of Elmleaf's old body.
"Is anyone there?" he asked slowly, as he dragged himself up to him paws, "Sun? Bramblestar? Elmleaf?" his heart pounded loudly as he heard the crunching of leaves.
"Why would you count on those who abandoned us to come and save us?" A harsh voice asked, and Flameleap whirled around again, turning to face a tabby brown tom, with large muscles.
"Oakfall?" he whispered, his legs quivering at the menacing glitter in his eyes, much unlike the one he had known to come from the tom, "Are you here... to meet up with the other Ashclan cats?"
"Ashclan is gone, kit," he murmured, kicking at a pile of ash with one of his paws, and sending a small gust of it whiring around slowly, "And I am no longer Oakheart. My name is now Oak. No clan, no clan name. You are no longer Flameleap but Flame."
"I worked so hard to earn my warrior name," Flameleap practically whimpered, "I refuse to give it up. I will always remain Flameleap."
"That name has no value in the forest anymore," he murmured, "If anything it will get you into trouble. Take my advice and forget about everything Ashclan ever gave you. It is gone now and will never return. I always knew it was a jinx to name a clan after this!" he kicked the ashy floor again.
"So..." he paused, "You are just going to forget about Ashclan. Everything you did in it. How hard you worked to stay loyal to it. Everything?"
He nodded, "Exactly. Maybe I will share prey or word with my old friends, but from this moment on you are my rival. And in a forest with such fierce competition rival means enemy."
"Oh," he looked down before turning to face Elmleaf's body again.
"I reccomend you leave before I attack you for invading my personal space."
"But..." he stammered, "This is my home. Where I grew up, and where I have lived my whole life. I can't just leave! I belong here!"
"You belonged here," he quietly murmured, "And this is no longer your home. Now leave before I force you out."
Forcing back tears Flameleap leaned down and gripped Elmleaf's scruff in his neck, before turning around and glumly dragging her away from the camp they had both once known as home.
Oakheart snarled, "Don't come back!"
Some kind of clanmate you are, Flameleap wanted to retort but didn't.
Because according to Oak, they were no longer anything but enemies.
Flameleap's stomach let out a loud rumble as his head slowly collided with Elmleaf's soft pelt, which he knew he would have to abandon within the next few days. Still, the thought of leaving the only thing he had left of the clan pained him, and left him to wonder how Oakfall could have been so cruel.
It was the urge for survival.
Doesn't he remember anything about the time we spent in Ashclan? All the good memories? All the prey that we supplied for each other?
Ashclan is gone, and so is everything that came with it. Maybe you should except that.
Flameleap rolled over, trying to keep the two sides of his mind from arguing, and keep his stomach from bothering him. It was not his fault that he couldn't find the courage to approach any cats in fear of starting a battle.
In a forest as competitive as this rivals are enemies.
Another cramp from his stomach dragged Flameleap back up to his feet. He had to eat unless he wanted to starve and die alongside the body of Elmleaf.
Sighing, he pushed himself back up to his feet and quickly touched noses with Elmleaf before turning around and trotting away into the bushes behind him.
He was quick to spot a fat mouse, trying to scurry but slow due to its weight. Flameleap had to resist the urge to droll as he took a quick step back before leaping onto the fat mouse.
It was quick to run, and Flameleap had lacked stealth, but do to how slow it moved, it wasn't able to get anywhere fast enough before he brought down his claws and took the life away from the creature.
"Would you mind sharing with me?" Flameleap looked up from his proud catch to find a large tom looming over him, "I could... make you regret it if you didn't."
"But..." he stammered, "I haven't eaten in days."
"And you won't eat at all after this if you don't give that to me."
Flameleap sighed and passed the tom his prey, not wanting to start another fight, which would only injure him, before turning around and walking back towards Elmleaf defeated.
When he was standing over her body again, he was greeted by a surprise. A medium sized rabbit was placed right beside her, one that Flameleap knew he had not caught.
But he was too hungry to care, and quickly grabbed the rabbit and wolfed it down, enjoying every juice in it and sucking the meat for survival.
He went to bed with his stomach satisfied that night, for the first time in a while, although he could not help wondering if it would be his last.
He was too scared to fight any cats and the forest was too crowded for one catch to go without being noticed. His thought were dark and gloomy.
Surely he wasn't the only one struggling without his old clan.
He forced himself to put one paw before another and ignore the pain swallowing his stomach and how sore and dreary he felt all over.
He hadn't eaten in a few days.
He had caught several pieces of prey, however, all which he had been forced to give up unless he wanted a fight. And he would rather starve that fight a battle; even if he knew he would win it.
He had abandoned her body just two sunrises ago, when he knew he couldn't hold onto it any longer. And now he had nothing... no memories left of his once sweet life.
He didn't know who he should blame. His ancestors for letting this happen? Bravestar for appointing Elmleaf as deputy and mating with Stormwind? Stormwind for not liking Elmleaf back and picking Bravestar instead? Elmleaf for being driven so crazy by her love of Stormwind? Himself for not doing anything? The rogues? The whole of the cats who were once a part of Ashclan and put no effort into bringing it back together?
He decided to stick with the last two since they were the only group he could actually be mad at. The rest were either dead, lost, or on the verge of dying.
He slowly brought himself back down to sit on his paws. He could hardly stay on his feet with the hunger that was scorching through him.
"Are you okay?" I small, but high-pitched voice asked, and Flameleap looked up to see a young kit, beautiful but barely a few moons old.
She had a sleek black coat, which would blend perfectly with the night. Little grey flecks of fur were scattered into it. She was slim, and had long sleek fur, which was slightly puffy. Long whiskers and a very pink nose added a touch of innocence to her. She had deep red eyes the color of fire, which almost blazed under the shade of the tree where they stood and long ears.
"Who are you?" he croaked.
"I don't know," she gently replied, "But I do know my name is Ash."
He started to feel the world getting darker.
"Are you sure you are okay?" the pretty black cat-Ash-asked him, "You don't look okay to me."
"I'm fine," he mumbled before blackness, the same color as her pelt took over, and his body gave into the loud cry of hunger.
When Flameleap's eyes finally opened again he could smell a fresh and juicy rabbit, before looking down and seeing it laid right before him.
He was too hungry to care where it came from or who it might belong to. He immediately lunged for the prey like it was yet to be caught and wolfed down the meat; unable to care about his manners or how he looked to any of the other cats. His stomach was the only thing he could pay attention to.
"You've finally woken up," the black kit from before squeaked, "You've been out for a couple sunrises now," she claimed, "I thought I'd catch you some prey."
"How did you get away without being caught?" he asked her, "Didn't the other cats demand that you give up the prey, so that they could fill their stomachs."
"Nah," she shrugged, "I am just quiet and stealthy. The forest doesn't even know of my existence. Hunting comes quite naturally to me."
"Wait..." he was still confused, "Aren't you just a few moons old? Who taught you how to hunt? And how did you learn at such a young age?"
"I am four moons old," she huffed, "Not two."
"Oh," Flameleap was surprised at her age, "You are still quite young though," he commented, "Not old enough to have to hunt on your own."
"My mother taught me as soon as I was born," she shrugged, "And she left me just a moon ago. I am a natural hunter due to my small size and reflexes."
"How did you survive in the forest?" he asked her, still confused.
She shrugged, "The urge in my to survive is too strong to be ignored. The forest gives me a feeling that there is still something out there... a destiny waiting for me."
"I don't have it," he shrugged, "If that is why you are clinging to me."
She shrugged, "I need a friend," she admitted, "And I like you; you are nice and caring. Not like some of the other cats I have met before."
Flameleap knew he should be flattered or at least thank her but he felt tired and struggled pulling himself back up to his paws as he maintained a seated position.
"You look like a clan cat," he responded.
"Oohhh," her eyes widened, "Do you mean like Ashclan. That clan that was so grand and rose from the ash. The one that was able to fight off all the rogu-"
"Ashclan is gone," he murmured, "There is nothing left but memories of it."
"Says who?" she frowned.
"Says everyone," he responded, "There is no hope of another clan ever being made in this forest. The mistakes of the past have killed them all."
"I wouldn't be too sure," she responded, "There is always hope."
"Not this time."
"This is it?" her black eyes examined the camp; or at least what once was of it. The clumps of Ash, and the small piles of rocks.
"Yeah," Flameleap responded shuffling his paws, "But I don't think we should stick around too long. There could be other cats..." he paused, "Lingering. And they won't be very friendly."
"It's fine," she flicked her tail at him, causing warmth like the shade of her eyes to sweep over his body, "I'm sure they wouldn't attack us for walking."
"They are our enemies."
"You worry too much," she sighed, "What happened to you in your past that makes you so paranoid?" she glanced around, "You can trust me."
Everything, he wanted to say, The cat I loved the most was driven mad by her love for another tom, I had to be witness as she killed my old leader then kill her for her crimes, I watched my home and clan; the one thing I could possibly take for granted burn down into what it had started as. What more reason do I have to worry about my life taking another horrible turn?
"Nothing," he murmured, "It's just my personality."
She shrugged, "If you say so," before bounding off to explore the former camp of Flameleap and the small memories of what had once been.
Flameleap sighed, before turning around to go hunting. He would probably have to give up whatever he caught but being so reliant on Ash to eat was starting to get a little annoying and embarrassing.
He wanted to prove that he could be worth more to her than a pile of memories and a companion to keep her from getting too lonely.
It was funny, how he almost felt like the kit and she felt more like the former warrior.
Was his training really that useless now that Ashclan had been destroyed?
"Ash?" Flameleap felt all his pride from catching a mouse without being caught, however small it may have been, dissapear, "Ash?"
All he could see was the black substance of his old camp as his vision started to get blurry, "Ash?"
If she had been stolen he would never forgive himself.
"I am here," she responded.
He whirled around, unable to find any cats around him, "Where are you Ash?"
"I am here," suddenly the ash on the floor seemed to transform into a cat; Ash, as she walked up to him and gave him an assuring lick.
"I feel such memories from here," she whispered, "Bonds and loyalties. Battles and struggles which were all overcomes. It seems like it was a wonderful place."
"You would have fit in it perfectly," he responded.
"Come on, Flameleap!" Ash called as she bounded along the grassy fields of the forest, her legs softly brushing against the grass as she flicked her tail with excitment.
Sighing, Flameleap followed her. It had been a moon since the two had begun to travel together and now she was like a sister to him. The only family he had left.
"What are you so excited about?" he asked her as his paws struggled to keep her to her quick and easy pawsteps, "Did you find prey or something."
"Not prey," she responded, slowing down a little, "I found something actually interesting. Why do you always think of prey? You act like it is the only thing we need in our lives."
"Can you think of anything else?" he countered.
"Family, love, affection..." she paused, "I remember how unsettled you were for a while after Ashclan burned down. You lost all of those alongside Ashclan."
Flameleap felt his heart being stabbed at those words; because it reminded him of Ashclan, something he had been able to go without thinking about for a while, and just the thought, just remembering the feel of his old life would instantly create a new batch of pain for him.
"Do I seem disturbed to you?" he asked her, "I was just taken aback and startled. Everything had happened so quickly. But you wouldn't understand that."
"How would you know?" she countered, "Remember that my mother ditched me. She took my two brothers and left me to starve because I was smaller, and couldn't fight as well. She was tired of worrying for me."
"I'm sorry," Flameleap gave her an affectionate lick, but her eyes were to busy glittering with curiosity as she tilted her head to the side.
"What is that?" she asked and Flameleap looked up to see something surprising.
Next to several stacked twoleg houses laid the black pile of Ash, much akin to the one in the former Ashclan camp. It seemed staler though as many gray flecks were floating and big pieces of rubble could be made out, from underneath the large clumps.
His mind seemed to move slowly for a moment before it clicked.
"Leader Prey's house," he whispered.
"Leader Prey!" her eyes widened, "You mean the cat who founded Ashclan? Who had his house burn down? The one who was the first leader of the clan?"
"Yes," he responded slowly before turning to her, "How do you know all this stuff."
"Nowhere," she mumbled looking down at her feet, "My mother would... uh... tell us tails of Ashclan and how it was formed. That's how I know," but even she knew that it was not a proper explanation.
Flmaleap decided to leave her alone. She could keep her secrets and he could keep his. They hadn't sworn to tell each other everything after all.
"Wow," Ash breathed, "This was what started one of the greatest things that ever reached the forest. A small fire like this, which appeared to have ruined the life of a cat."
"Yes well," Flameleap added, "The greatest thing to have ever come to the forest is now in the exact same state as the thing that caused it."
"That house was so strange," Ash murmured, "I mean... shouldn't the twolegs be bothering to pick up that pile of dirt between all of their houses. I think it was a message," she paused, "From Starclan. They might be trying to say something; or hint at an important thing we have to know..."
"How do you know what Starclan is?" the black she-cat managed to confuse her more and more each day, with the things she brought up.
"I..." she looked down again.
Another one of her secrets.
"It's fine," he lied sweeping his hail over her back, "But whatever the message was I think we should avoid it. We need to worry on surviving and finding a place to settle..." he paused, "Then maybe we could look for mates..."
"Mates?" she seemed taken aback, "Why would we need mates?"
"To have kits."
"Why would we need kit?" Ash asked, "We have each other. You are like a parent to me; or a sibling. I don't need mates or kits. Besides, I am way too young."
"Fine then," he huffed, wondering where all of her hostility towards the idea of settling was coming from, "You could take a mate later."
"Why do you want to take one?" she asked.
He turned his head away, before snapping back at her, "What is your problem with the idea of taking a mate? With the idea of settling and making our lives comfortable?"
She turned her head away, obviously hiding something.
"Look," he finally snapped, "If you want to keep secrets from me that is fine. But if this secret is something that is going to make you change the way we decide to live out lives then you have to tell me or I will not listen. You are hiding the only good reason you have."
She looked down at her paws for a moment before glaring back at him, "Ashclan, okay?" she shouted, before turning around and running off, her black paws hitting the ground and splashing mud everywhere as she did so, while he stared after her, more than the slightest bit confused.
"Young cats," a black she-cat murmured sadly glancing after the obviously angered Ash, "You never know how they are going to act. One moment all peppy and happy, the next they are storming away."
Flameleap looked up and gaped in surprise, "Nightfern?"
"Of course," she smiled, "I didn't die out when Ashclan did. And just because I was a medicine cat that doesn't mean I am incapable of survival on my own."
"Don't you ever miss Ashclan?" Flameleap asked her, his heart being torn again at the mention of the clan. He didn't know how he didn't break down every time he addressed Ash. Maybe it was how happy and peppy she was, unlike the fate of his old clan.
"Oh of course I do," she stared at him like it wasn't even a question, "I miss it with every breath I take. With every limb I move. I miss Ashclan as much as I miss Sun," she paused, "More. The whole forest does."
"Then why don't they act like it?" Flameleap asked, "Why don't they try to look back at the memories? Why do they throw everything away?"
"They don't," she responded calmly, "They just wait for someone else to do it first. But no one does."
Flameleap's head started spinning at those words, and he was hardly able to believe them. Cats still missed Ashclan. Cats still wanted Ashclan.
He dipped his head at her before turning around and following his young companion, "Ash, wait!"
Why doesn't he miss his clan at all? Ash wondered as she raced through the forest, away from the cat who she knew that she would have to return to eventually.
But at the moment anger was the only thing driving her.
She forced back tears as her black pelt continued to bob up and down as she raced through the trees, not caring about the pines and small rocks that were pricking her pads.
She was about to let down so many cats from Starclan who were all counting on her.
Why couldn't Flameleap pick up on any hints? She wanted to return to Ashclan. She knew from the moment she set foot in their camp that she belonged there.
As did the rest of the forest.
But Flameleap refused to admit it for a reason she couldn't discover. What did he hold against his old clan? Did he have bad memories about the place which he refused to admit to her?
She felt her heart lurch. They weren't supposed to keep secrets from each other. But then... she had been keeping so many secrets from him lately.
"What's the rush kit?" she looked up to see a young, handsome brown tabby tom, "Don't worry. I don't see anything behind you," his whiskers twitched.
"Nothing," she stuttered, turning red as she looked down at her paws, "Nothing at all. I was just... racing with my friend."
He smiled knowingly before asking, "What's your name?"
"Ash," she replied, still blushing, "Yours?"
"I'm Storm," he smiled, "Used to be Stormwind when I was a member of Ashclan," his face darkened.
"Is something wrong?" she asked him.
For a moment he appeared to be preparing to say no, before he turned away and sighed, "The cat I loved was killed because of me. The cat who loved me to death killed and was killed because of me. The cat who loved the cat who loved me to death also killed and was so torn. The clan I loved was destroyed and shattered because of all this love which was revolving around me and I couldn't stop."
She was taken aback by his response, "Oh."
"But I miss the clan," he sighed, "However, I don't deserve it. I have made too many mistakes, and if it did return I would refuse to come back. I don't get why so many she-cats fell for a tom as destructive as me."
With a sigh he turned around and began to paddle away.
But Ash had no doubt as to why so many she-cats liked him.
Flameleap shoved heap of ash with his nose, while Ash carried dry moss in her jaw, placing them in the places which had been cleared.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked her.
"You were the one who wanted it," his whiskers twitched in a friendly matter, "Besides, if the cats want Ashclan, and we give give it to them, it will be popular so quickly."
"Didn't you say there was a tom who lived here?" she asked him.
He shrugged, "Guess not. Must have left. I can't small anything except for the scent of stale ash," he pushed another handful out of the large rock with his paws.
Since when was he so relaxed? Ash thought as she stared at him slowly. He used to be the one that would always watch out for the dangers and keep them from getting into trouble.
Now she would have to do that.
Doubt began to boil in her stomach about reforming Ashclan and whether it was a good idea. Maybe she had misunderstood what all the old clan leaders had tried to tell her in their dreams... maybe...
"Are you going to get get some more moss?" he asked her teasing, "Or do I have to do that as well."
Ash flicked her tail, indicating that she understood, before turning around and leaving her friend to get more moss. What she really worried about was how Ashclan would find a new leader. None of the cats would ever follow her, despite what he name may be, and Flameleap was not that well known, nor was he as old and experienced as some of the other cats in the forest. They would have to find someone else to lead.
But they had a lot of other things to attend to before they reached that point.
The sound of rustling leaves broke her out of her thoughts and she looked down to see a small mouse, scurrying about. Flameleap was working hard and would appreciate something to eat.
She pulled herself into a crouched position before leaping at the mouse and killing it in a swift blow, pleased with herself for the clean kill, before turning around and deciding to hunt some more.
Ashclan would have to wait as of the moment; although she had been the one who was originally so excited.
They couldn't rebuild a clan if they died of hunger three days into their work.
"Thanks, Ash," Flameleap purred as he bit into a thrush. His ginger pelt was stained black from all the ash they had worked to clear out that day, and his stomach growled loudly as he took large bites.
"I feel like I could sleep for a moon," she muttered, "After all that work."
"You can't though," he reminded her, "We have to get right back to work tomorrow morning."
Staring out of the den, and gazing at the large round, full moon, Ash began to wonder who the cat across from her was... and what he had done to the Flameleap she knew.
"I heard about the new Ashclan," a cat murmured as they stepped into the old camp of Ashclan camp, which was occupied by only seven cats; including him, Flameleap and Ash.
"Oh yeah," she remembered to beam at him, and not hide her insecurities about how slowly their clan was growing compared to how they may have liked, "We are trying to start it again!"
He smiled, "Mind if I look around? I was never a warrior in the first Ashclan so I don't know much about clan life. You will have to explain it to me."
"Uh..." she hesitated for a moment. She hardly new much about the way clans functioned as well, except perhaps the smalls bits of information which she learned from her dreams.
"Flameleap!" she called, "Can you give Yarrow a tour of the camp!"
Within moments, the ginger tom was by her side, his eyes wide with excitement at the prospect of possibly getting another clanmate.
"Sure," he nodded before turning around and flicking his tail at the loner, indicating for him to smile while Ash sighed with relief. She always got stumped when she was asked about the clan life and traditions as well as the hierarchicy. She chose to leave that stuff to Flameleap.
Sighign she turned around and began to head back towards one of the dens, after picking up a mouse from the small pile, for a small amount of cats.
They had one elder; who did occossianly go hunting, understanding the need for hunters, a queen who was expecting more mouths to feed a warrior and a young apprentice who wanted to become a medicine cat.
They had all the different sorts of cats they needed.
Now all they needed was more of them.
"Was this a mistake?" she asked Bravestar, trying to hide her tears of fear and disappointment, "Were we never supposed to try to rebuild Ashclan?"
"Of course you were," she assured the younger cat, "But no one said it was going to be easy. It must be a tough and challenging path if you want to reach success. No road to greatness is an easy one. Leader Prey gave up so much, and worked so hard to create the first Ashclan. It was far from easy."
"But..." she stammered, "No one even seems to have an interest. We don't know how to spread news since none of us are the slightest bit well known in the forest."
"What you need," she claimed, "Is a leader."
"But who?" Ash didn't care how desperate or kit-like she sounded, she was just in need of help. She had no idea what to do or where to take this project.
"It's in the blood," she claimed, before flicking her tail and fading.
In the blood.
In the blood.
In the blood.
Of course! Why hadn't she thought of it before! The blood of two historical leaders in Ashclan's past.
"Hello," Ash approached the tom who was quietly grooming himself behind a bush, "I needed to ask you if you saw I cat who I need to speak with."
The cat nodded, indicating for her to continue.
"Her name is Nightfern. She is a rather old cat. A sleek black pelt, and white muzzle. Has a very good understanding of herbs and is quite quiet."
"Oh her," he paused, "I don't know for sure, but I would recommend going down to the lake by the old Ashclan camp. She liked to spend a large part of her day there; either fishing or just bathing."
"Thank you!" she practically yelped before turning around and running where she had been directed to, her hoped high to find the she-cat who could determine the fate of Ashclan.
She pounded past the Ashclan camp, and to the lake, which was not too far off from it, which was small and peaceful, the perfect place to spend a silent life.
Seemed just like Nightfern.
There were a couple cats gathered around doing nothing in particular. She glanced around waiting for a black pelt to reach her eyes and was revealed when she met the sight of Nightfern whom she immediately bounded up to with great excitement.
"Hello, kit," she smiled, and Ash had to hide a frown. She was nearly six moons old. Why did everyone have to call her a kit?
But she didn't say anything.
"I was wondering..." she trailed off, "Well... I don't know if you heard..."
"Is something wrong?" she glanced at her with a concerned expression.
"No..." she trailed off before sighing, "We are trying to rebuild Ashclan. Same camp as it was before, but we are moving slowly and we need a leader..."
"Me?" she looked up in surprise, "Just because Sun was my sister..."
"I was told by your other sister, Bravestar, that you were what we needed to bring the clan to success.
"What an honor," she murmured, "To bring back the light to Ashclan."
"So..." Ash trailed off, "Would you do it?"
"Of course," she smiled and Ash smiled back.
Something finally felt right for a change.
Three cats stood at the entrance to Ashclan camp, while Nightfern smiled at them, Flameleap and Ash on either of her sides. She had been quick to make Flameleap her deputy, and Ash had been made her own apprentice at the age of six moons, which was how, supposedly, it had been before Ashclan's fall.
"We'd like to join the clan," she largest of the three ginger toms admitted, "I was a part of it before, for a couple months before it fell apart, and my two friends thought it would be a good idea."
Nightstar nodded happily, before flicking her tail, "Let me take you to the warriors den. I can introduce you to a few cats and give you a little while before having a ceremony to welcome you all into the clans."
Wide grins spread across their faces and they quickly followed Nightstar, who dismissed Flameleap and Ash; both which made a beeline for the fresh-kill pile and sat down together to enjoy their prey, while the new cats were welcomed into Ashclan. Both of them were smiling.
"Ashclan is growing quickly," Flameleap claimed through a mouthful of squirrels, "We now have four apprentices, and six warriors as well as a cat training to become a medicine cat!"
"Yeah," Ash purred, "I guess all it took was some time and a well-known cat like Nightfern to bring all of the cats back to their clan!" All of her doubts from before had vanished.
"I wouldn't get too excited," Flameleap warned her as if sensing her thoughts. Normally it would have irritated her, but she felt relieved at the moment to see that the Flameleap she had known was back and she could go back to being as carefree as she pleased, "First of all, we still need to find another Ashpile. Nightfern needs to become Nightstar if we want to become successful," he paused, "And what I fear even more is that there are only a couple cats who used to be a part of Ashclan. Most of them are just cats who have never seen clan life before," his eyes darkened a little, "The old clan cats must still be clinging to the old memories of the disaster, and I don't think they are ready to trust a clan with the responsibility of every element of their lives again for quite a while..."
"We can wait until they are ready," Ash claimed, refusing to be let down by his dark thoughts, "Until then, the new cats will be great too. They will be all excited and eager to help become a part of the new life," she stopped for a moment before deciding to let out something which had been bothering her, "When do I become a warrior? I was one of the first members of the clan, and I helped create it. We both know I am a great hunter and I wouldn't be that bad in a fight. It feels like Nightfern is holding me down."
"She doesn't want to make any rash decisions," he assured her, "Last time it was several small but rash choices that led to our fall and she wouldn't want us to go down before we even began our rise."
Ash sighed, knowing he was right, but still feeling frustrated.
A loud call from Nightfern broke off their discussion.
"Could all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath me for a clan meeting!" the voice rang through the walls of the large rock which they had all made camp in.
"That's our call," Flameleap flicked her tail as they pulled their selves up to their paws and gathered beneath Nightfern to cheer for the new cats of the new clan.
"What?" Ash could hardly believe what she was hearing from the tom she had come to know as her own brother. His eyes contained guilt but a shine of pride and determination.
"I have to do this," he whispered, "The clan wont be able to make it without any ashpile. I'll be back before you know it though," he promised, "If I don't return within a moon then I give you permission to worry," he smiled, "Not that you would ever do that anyways.
"I would," she fought back tears, "I can't lose you too, Flameleap!"
He sighed before staring with affection at her, "Look," he claimed, "Since you seem so eager for me to dissapear-"
"Don't say that!" she shrieked.
He ignored her, "Let me tell you this, just in case I never see you again," he let out a loud sigh, "Don't let your desires get ahead of you. I know you are worried and upset that you don't get to become a warrior, but you can't let that ruin you. Just focus on making Ashclan grow. Your warrior ceremony can wait. Sacrifices must be made for the larger group and I know that you would understand that."
She nodded, sadly letting a fat tear roll off her cheek while she received a fierce lick from Flameleap.
"I'll see you soon," he murmured.
And like that, he was off.
"He still isn't back..." Ash murmured looking at the setting sun. Two whole moons had passed since the tom had dissapeared and now she knew there was very good reason to worry.
She had lost him.
The one cat left in her life... she had let go. She shoudl have followed him, urged him to stay with her, done anything to keep him by her side.
But she had failed.
And now... he was gone. And she was left alone with nothing but apprentice duties and a warrior ceremony which refused to come. Which Nightfern refused to give.
There was still a search going on for an Ashpile, although a single clue had yet to be found. The clan was growing at a rapid pace and many old members of Ashclan were beginning to return, something which she would have loved for Flameleap to see after all of his doubts.
But he wasn't there to see it.
She sighed, trying not to let her spirits go down on such a bright and sunny day but it was hard. Nightfern was talking to cats about picking a new deputy inside the camp, something she couldn't bear to be a witness of.
She wasn't even friends with any of the other cats. Flameleap had been the only one she ever knew. Suddenly, the thought of Ashclan wasn't nearly as appealing as it had been before... she didn't belong anymore. She never would.
She was eight moons old and still not a warrior despite everything that she had once done. She tried to remind herself of Flameleap's word, but when the tom was gone, what she couldn't bring herself to mind what he said nearly as much.
She had no one left...
Sighing, she took soft steps away from the camp. Just the thought of being near the place she had spent so much time together with Flameleap made her nauseated.
After she had taken a far enough walk away from the Ashclan camp, she turned her head back before deciding that she would dissapear for a while... at least until she had sorted out her thoughts.
Although she doubted she would ever be able to do that until Flameleap returned.
Which he never would.
"I've met you before," the bright rays of sun blinded Ash's eyes as he tried to glance at the tom before him. It took a moment before the image snapped, "Stormwind!"
"Hey," he purred, before pausing, "You look... distressed."
"I am," she sighed, "You were honest to me, so I may as well be honest to you. I recreated Ashclan with Flameleap. But he was sent away to find another ashpile. He was the only cat I had left, and he has been gone for two moons now. I have given up hope."
"Ashclan?" he paused, "Reformed?"
"Yes," she sighed, "Ashclan is back. But it doesn't mean as much to me as I hoped it should have. Not without any cat I care about."
"Would you return..." he paused, "If I cam with you?"
Ash could only stare at him, "Seriously? We have hardly met... just twice and only exchanged a few words then."
"But the words we exchanged were sincere," he pointed out, "We were quick to open up to each other... and when I return to my clan I want it to be with someone I know..." he paused, "And trust with all of my deepest darkest secrets. And someone who feels the same for me."
She was stunned for a moment before she felt warmth spreading through her body, and a tingling sensation in her paws. He was kind, caring, witty and sympathetic... how could she possibly say no?
And just like that, everything felt better.
"Who is this?" Ash asked Nightfern, indicating towards a shaggy brown, solid pelted tom standing beside her.
"Took you your time to return," she claimed, but there was amusement and understanding in her voice, "This is Rick. He is a loner from far away who claims to have seen an ashpile."
Ash felt her eyes widen, "Can I come with you on the quest to find it?"
She stared at her like it was not even a question, "Of course! And Stormwind can come to if you want him too," she glanced at the tom beside her who nodded, and Ash failed to conceal her smile, "Why don't you two go grab yourselves some prey and maybe go hunting afterwords. I will call the clan tonight to announce."
"Okay," Ash purred before the two cats walked over to the fresh-kill pile to pick out a large rabbit to share which they carried to the clearing.
"Can I ask you a question?" Stormwind asked between a bit of the rabbit, and when she nodded he continued, "Why isn't your name Ashpaw? Like the rest of the apprentices."
"Oh," Ash paused, "It's because I am not technically an apprentice," she claimed, "I am just not old enough to be a warrior, despite the fact that I recreated the clan, so I have to go through 'training' until I am old enough to become a warrior."
"Oh," he frowned, "I don't see why they don't just make you a warrior for everything you've done..."
She shrugged although inside she wanted to thank him over and over again for the supportive words she had been waiting to hear for so long.
When they had finally finished the rabbit the two Ashclan cats pulled themselves to their feet.
"Want to go for a hunt?" he asked, "It feels like lifetimes since I have gone hunting with Ashclan... I haven't even realized how much I miss it."
She purred; could he make her smile anymore than he already did?
"Will all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath my for a clan meeting!" Nightfern's voice boomed throughout the den, as cats slowly began to approach.
"Wow," Stormwind murmured, glancing at all the cats, "This place really is coming back to life."
"It is," she purred, "Nightfern is doing a great job with the clan."
"No," he corrected her, "You did a great job with it."
She couldn't control herself blushing.
Once all the cats had gathered Nightfern began, "As we all know, we are still on a quest to find a new ashpile from which we will communicate with Starclan and I will receive my nine lives and become Nightstar."
The cats nodded at her, indicting their understanding and she continued.
"Rick claims he came across an ashpile a while ago, when he was asking me to join the clan today. So, we will be going on a quest to reach the Ashpile and bring it back."
There were excited murmurs among the clan, which were silenced by a flick of the leader's tail.
"We will be leaving tomorrow at Sunhigh. The cats I have chosen to take with me are Ash, Stormwind, Swallowtail, Floatingcloud and, of course, Jerry. While I am gone..." she paused for a moment, "Rosemaryscent will be in charge of the clan. Our journey shouldn't take too long and I will be back with nine lives as well as communication with Starclan before you all know it."
The cats nodded and continued to murmur as Nightfern flicked her tail.
"You are dismissed."
"Come on," Nick- now Flamerise- urged the cats as the took heavy steps across the rocky fields far off from Ashclan, "If we hurry we can reach the camp within a couple sunrises."
Ash groaned as she put one paw before another. Her black pelt burned under the fierce sunlight and she forced herself not to collapse under the heat reminding herself that she still had Stormwind by her side.
She leaned against the tom for support sucking in his scent which she had grown so used to over the several sunrises of the journey. The two cats had allways paddled together, right behind Flamerise and Nightfern.
Ash felt another stab at her heart. Flamerise's name reminded her so much of Flameleap, it hurt. Where was he? Was he okay? Did he miss her like she missed him?
Again she was forced to turn her gaze to Stormwind to remind herself that she still had one cat who she could always turn to in the clan. Who she always would turn to.
"You'll be fine," he assured her, giving her a fierce lick, "We are almost there, and soon we can return to the clan. We will be heroes and Ashclan will be reborn."
She nodded, wishing she could completely believe him. It just sounded far too good to be true. Far too good for it all to be over so quickly. It didn't seem possible. Not for a clan whose struggle had lasted so long, and never seemed prepared to end.
It just didn't feel real.
She tried to convince herself that it would be this time, but no amount of murmuring in her head could change the suspicions still burning deep inside her.
"We are here," the sun was midway up, when they reached the small black pile of ash in the green grassy fields far off from their home.
"Such a long journey..." Sparrowheart commented, "For such a small item. This thing must really be worth a lot," she paused, "How are we going to take it back?"
"We have yet to decide that," Nightfern claimed, "But first I must earn my nine lives tonight. Until then we can make camp. Ash and Stormwind can go on a safety patrol to make sure there is nothing dangerous. The rest of you should go hunting. Flamerise and I will remain here to see what we can do.
The cats nodded before splitting up, as Ash went with Stormwind.
They had found the ashpile, a target of many struggles. Nightfern would receive her nine lives, and they would find someway to take it back to Ashclan. Everything would be fine.
She scolded herself for being worried, not even realizing that she had been so correct to have her doubts about the fate of Ashclan and what was to happen next.
When Ash awoke all of the cats were sleeping. A small shiver crept down her spine before she saw Nightfern, crouched over the ashpile, her eyes closed tight.
Excited and unable to contain her curiosity, Ash bounded up to her and examined the pile of black ash. Her paw practically dissolved inside of it, as she moved it around. She waited for a few moments before giving into curiosity and poking it.
Then everything went black like ash.
Moments later she felt a bright later smacking her in the eyes again as she faced several stars, and turned to see Nightfern by her side. Nightfern didn't notice her though. She was far too busy
"Nightfern are you ready to receive your nine lives?" the stars asked.
Nightfern took is a deep breath before responding, "Yes."
And suddenly the stars grew and took the shapes of several different cats, none of which Ash could recognize. Millions of them stood there, shinning bright like the clan from which they came.
Then one stepped forward.
"My name is Wishspirit," she claimed, "An old cat of Starclan. I give you this life for hope. Let it burn through your heart in the darkest times. Your clan will need it."
And then she stepped back only to be replaced by another cat.
"I am Rose," she claimed, "A she-cat who gave her life for that of Sun, who gave up hers for Bramblestar. So I give you sacrifice with this life, something you will have to use a lot."
And she stepped back letting herself be replaced by a small kit.
"I am Windkit," he claimed, "And the rogues killed me the day of the fire. With this life I give you peace. Don't let anything take that away from you. Once you lose peace, your clan will too."
"Thank you," Nightfern murmured and he stepped away.
Ash watched on curiously, not even aware of the sharp stabs of pain that Nightfern was receiving with each life, only intrigued by what she was watching.
When he stepped away he was replaced by a dark ginger tom.
"Leader Prey!" Nightfern gasped, although Ash had recognized him immediately from the many dreams they had shared before she began to build Ashclan.
"With this life I give you wisdom," he murmured, "Use it to guide your clan every step of the way."
She dipped her head and the tom was soon replaced by Leader Spark, who Ash also recognized, "With this life I give you resistance," he claimed, "Resist the urges that will slowly break your clan back down. Resist anything which will hurt anything close to you."
Nightfern nodded, "I will."
Leader Spark was replaced by a dark tabby tom, the first formal leader of Ashclan, "Hello Bramblestar," she whispered, "My leader."
He purred, "With this life I give you love. Know when to use it. Know when not to. Acknowledge its power. But also realize that it is the greatest of weapons. Good and bad."
He turned around and faded back into the stars leaving Ash to think about what he said as three more cats approached Nightfern.
"Sun! Bravestar! Mother!" Nightfern's eyes widened, "It's great to see you all! I've missed you so much," she appeared to be breathing the scent of her family members.
"We have too," Sun assured her, "With this life I give you courage. Let it lead you through the times you doubt you can survive."
"With this life I give you nobility," she claimed, "Use it to make the correct choice when all of the clan's fate is at your very own paws."
Mother Fuzzy, a cat who Ash didn't recognize was last, "With this life I give you protection. Protect the clan at all costs, no matter what comes your way."
The three cats slowly faded back and Ash realized that her mentor and leader only had one life left to receive. She could only think of one more cat.But surely she wouldn't dare to give...
"Elmleaf," Nightfern snarled.
"I understand," she sighed, "You have every right to hate me for what I did, but I had no control over my heart. It took over everything I did and the way I acted," she sighed, "And so with this life I give you regret and forgiveness. Use it to clear your mistakes and not repeat it. Use it to fix the future so it does not look as dark as your past."
There was a moment of silence between the two before locked eyes and Nightfern nodded, indicating her forgiveness.
"We welcome you as Nightstar, leader of Ashclan!"
"Nightstar! Nightstar! Nightstar!" the stars began to cheer and Nightstar beamed with pride before the chanting slowly died down and she asked.
"How will we get this to the clans?"
"We will send it for you," Elmleaf claimed, "When you wake up it won't be there anymore and you will just have to return to the clan where you find it waiting."
Nightstar nodded before Elmleaf finally noticed her, "Hello Ash, nice to see you here."
"Ash?" Nightstar whirled around, "What are you doing here?"
Ash looked down at her feet shyly, "It's okay, Nightstar," Elmleaf insisted walking up to her softly, "There is something I need to tell the greatest hero Ashclan has ever, or will ever seen."
"Yes?" Ash looked up shyly.
"Follow your heart," she whispered, "You have done what you must for your clan and now I set you and your heart free to do what they please."
"I want you all," she whispered, "After all those dreams you are what lie in my heart."
"What about..." she paused for a moment, "Stormwind."
"And him," she added quickly, "And Flameleap. But there are so much more of you in Starclan," she paused, before shaking her head, slightly confused, "I don't know..."
Quick fat tears began to roll down her cheeks, as she felt herself wrapped by confusion.
"Hush," Elmleaf whispered licking her lightly on the head like she was still a kit, "It will all be over soon. Soon it will all by over."
Ash didn't understand how that was possible, but before she could even ask she was whirled back into her own world along with Nightstar, as the moon still glowed in the center of the sky. They looked down to discover the ashpile was gone, as promised.
A peaceful moment lasted between the two before it was broken by the shout of a loud beast.
"Badger!" Nightstar yowled as another loud shriek echoes through the damp and cloudy sky. The moon was barely visible but created a light glow which shattered into the air.
Ash sucked in her breath deeply, choking on cold air as she sound found Stormwind's pelt pressed against hers, as they faced the trees.
For a few moments nothing happened. The only audible noises were the yowl of the wind against the cold night, and that sound of leaves rustling as they flapped around in the breeze. For the slightest second Ash wondered if she may have imagined the yowl of the angry animal.
And then the bushes let out a loud noise as their leaves smacked each other and a beastly creature was before them. It growled at the sight of several small cats before, after a tense moment, it charged.
Ash shrieked, as it ran towards Nightstar, and shut her eyes tight, waiting for a loud yowl from her mentor. But instead the shriek came from the badger and when she opened her eyes she saw that Nightstar ad leaped onto the badger and was clawing its face.
After a moment of hesitation the rest of the cats joined their leader as they jumped onto the badger and began to help her taking it down.
It was a strong and large animal, even for a badger but against so many cats there was no way it could possibly win. But it appeared to be stubborn and refused to go down without putting up a decent fight.
It swung a paw at Nightstar who was flung off the large creature and hit the ground with a loud thud. Ash felt her insides quiver at the loud noise while Nightstar tried to pull herself back to her feet.
After shaking the rest of the cats off itself the badger quickly dashed at Nightstar again, who watched; eyes wide as she was targeted yet again.
The badger scraped its claws across her chest and in moments blood had splattered all over the floor. Ash knew she should run to help but she felt numb and her paws were frozen to the ground. Before she could even blink Stromwind had managed to pull himself together and was jumping on the badger.
"Stormwind!" she shrieked as the badger turned on him with a loud roar and extended claws. Stormwind was defiant, however, and continued to claw the beast, only further infuriating it.
It let out another roar and this time it brought its claws down on Stormwind. Time seemed to stop still for a moment, as Ash's feet were dispatched and free to move.
It didn't take her a moment to sprint across the small patch of grass for the only cat left in her life who she truly loved, her claws extended and teeth bared.
Before the claws could touch Strormwind, Ash had flung herself at the monster that threatened to take him away from her and was tackling it to the ground, biting hard on its neck.
The badger quickly whipped around and threw her towards the floor. She could hear a cry from Stormwind but it seemed so faint, almost worlds away as the badger brought its claws out and slashed her chest. Blood flew everywhere and it took her a moment to realize it was hers.
Surprisingly she didn't shriek. She couldn't find it in herself to sleep.
It's almost over now...
This badger was merely something Starclan had sent to complete their duty. It slashed once again at her chest before whirling around and escaping back into the forest.
She soon found Stormwind before her, his eyes blinded with tears but she couldn't bring herself to wince in pain or cry, as hard as she tried, despite the fact that she new she was nearing death by each moment.
It was all over now.
"Ash!" Nightstar shrieked as she pushed Stormwind aside, who grudgingly moved, "Are you okay? Is there anything we can do? I was a medicine cat once, let me get some herbs!"
"I'm fine," Ash coughed, "I feel better than ever."
"You don't look fine," Nightstar claimed, "You got attacked by a badger and scratched hard. How could you feel better than ever?"
"Please just leave me here, Nightstar," she whispered, trying not to feel irritated at her moments before death, "It was meant to end this way. No herbs can heal me."
"I'm so sorry," she whispered.
"You can't go, Ash!" Stormwind's eyes were puffed with tears as he turned to face her, "I joined the clan for you! I hunted and went on so many patrols for you! I came all the way here and will go all the way back for you. What will I do now?" his voice saddened her a little.
"Stormwind," she whispered, "You can still do it for me. Just because I won't physically be there..." she trailed off and a small glimmer of light entered his eyes.
"Ash?" Nightstar whispered, "I would like to make you become the first warrior I give a ceremony to. I shouldn't have neglected it for so long but with the clan just new and unstable..."
"I understand," she whispered feeling warmth rush through her body.
"Cats of Starclan," Nightstar turned her head to the sky, "Before you accept this warrior among your ranks, I would like to accept her among ours as a warrior. She has trained hard I condemn her to a warrior in your turn."
"Ash, do you promise to always remember Ashclan, and remain loyal to us, even in Starclan where life will be much easier, as well as promise to watch over our doings."
"Yes," she whispered.
"Then from this moment on you will be known as Ashspirit. The clan honors your sacrifice and heart and we welcome you as a full member of Ashclan."
She took a soft step back and the cats around her began to chant. She couldn't control, the wide smile that spread across her face as she finally completed the last objective of her life.
Then the world began to spin and grow fuzzy into a combination of all the colors she had ever witnessed before they each slowly disappeared.
And she was welcomed, instead, by the bright stars of the shinning night.
"The clan is well."
"And they are doing a good job of living up to their name. They have, yet again, managed to rise from the ash. Cats are happy and Stormwind has started to grow back into the clan, not being tripped up by the lost of one of the cats he cared about most in the world."
"Flameleap never returned to the clan. His fate is not yet known, not even by Starclan, who still anxiously awaits his return to the clan, or possibly even Starclan."
"More cats join the ranks of the ancient clan in the stars everyday, as more cats learn to believe in them and their power. And live according to their code."
"Sometimes, I spend my whole days looking down at the clan, watching them and fulfilling the promise I made so many moons ago in exchange for the greatest thing of all."
"The ultimate mark of honor and acceptance."
"Nightstar has now joined our ranks in Starclan. Stormwind has been offered the position of deputy several times, but constantly refused. He had lost so much in his life, that he fears what might happen if he loses the thing he cares about most, his clan."
"Because this story isn't over yet."
"However, mine is and this is where I must conclude it, and say good bye to you, as well as thank you for listening to the tale of those before and up to me."
"The forgers of the clan. Those who have set the path it will follow."
"My name is Ash, and this is my story."
"The story of my clan and how it shall continue."
"Ashclan is far from settled with its matters. It will continue to rise and fall again, perhaps without end. Maybe they will eventually be able to settle on a fate, but for now it will bob up and down, letting fate take it on whichever course it pleases."
"Because all things must rise from Ash."
"And all things must burn to Ash."
"This is the legacy of Ash."