May contain spoilers for the Last Hope, and is approximately 5 years after the Battle. Enjoy :)
- 1 Chapter 1
- 2 Chapter 2
- 3 Chapter 3
- 4 Chapter 4
- 5 Chapter 5
- 6 Chapter 6
- 7 Chapter 7
- 8 Chapter 8
- 9 Chapter 9
- 10 Chapter 10
- 11 Chapter 11
- 12 Chapter 12
- 13 Chapter 13
- 14 Chapter 14
- 15 Chapter 15
- 16 Chapter 16
- 17 Chapter 17
- 18 Chapter 18
- 19 Chapter 19
- 20 Chapter 20
- 21 Chapter 21
- 22 Chapter 22
- 23 Chapter 23
- 24 Chapter 24
- 25 Chapter 25
- 26 Chapter 26
- 27 Chapter 27
- 28 Chapter 28
- 29 Chapter 29
- 30 Chapter 30
Sunkit stumbled out of the bramble nursery, blinking sleep away from her dark amber eyes. Immediately, the warm scents of fresh-kill drifted to her from the pile, where the warriors had just restocked.
"Good morning, Sunkit." A large white tom with amber eyes and a jagged scar across his face approached the tiny kit, licking the remains of a mouse off his whiskers.
Sunkit's ears twitched, and she spun around in joy. "Snowstorm!" She cried out in glee. She bounded towards her father, burying her ginger-and-white head in his pelt. It had been almost two weeks since Sunkit last saw him, as half ThunderClan's warriors were gone at war with the other clans.
"How's it been going around here?" Snowstorm asked, sitting back on his haunches. "You been keeping the other kits in order?"
Sunkit snorted. "I'm the youngest one, remember? It's more likely that Falconkit and Vinekit will push the rest of us around."
Snowstorm's eyes darkened. "But that's where you're wrong. You let them push you around." He swung his head towards the nursery, which was only a few tail-lengths away. "You just tell them Dewstar ordered them to stop messing with the rest of you, or else they'll be held back from apprenticeship for a moon."
Sunkit widened her eyes. "Will they really?"
"Ha! No," Snowstorm meowed. "I have to go. My war patrol has to report back to Dewstar."
Sorrow gripped Sunkit's heart, and her tail drooped as she stood, watching her father pad away to the Highledge. He was hardly ever around anymore, and even Leopardsky--Sunkit's mother--was starting to get agitated with him.
"I wish I had a littermate to play with," Sunkit mumbled under her breath. She spent most of her time alone, with no brother or sister to play with. With a glance towards Sandpaw and Rainpaw who were scuffling under the shade of a thorn bush, Sunkit turned back to the nursery.
"Leopardsky?" Sunkit mewed, padding to her mother's nest.
"Hmm?" The pale golden tabby she-cat grumbled, raising her head from her nap.
"Why doesn't anything interesting ever happen around here?" Sunkit asked, drawing her tiny claws across the bracken, trying to form something from her imagination.
Leopardsky let out a yawn, and Sunkit got a glimpse of the sharp, white fangs that could easily bring down another cat. She shuddered at the thought to be the unlucky one that got in Leopardsky's way. "Things are only what you make it," Leopardsky meowed. "I always tell you to go play with Wolftail's kits, but you always go and sit by that bramble bush outside."
Sunkit sighed. "I know, I just don't feel li--"
Then loud, alarmed shrieks split the air.
Leopardsky's beautiful yellow eyes widened in surprise. "Stay here," she ordered Sunkit. Then with a sweep of her golden tabby tail, disappeared through the thick brambles. Sunkit stood rooted to the soft nursery ground, shaking in fear. That shriek wasn't a familiar voice, so who was it?
"I'll keep you all safe." Then a large golden tabby tom shouldered his way into the den, glancing to Wolftail, Rosecloud, and Mothflower. He shadowed the den, keeping all the sun-high light from piercing through the entrance.
"Lionblaze!" Sunkit purred happily, spotting her grandfather. "What's out there?" She asked, gazing up in his amber eyes.
Lionblaze's ear twitched. "Rogues."
"Huh? Don't the patrols keep the rogues out?" Sunkit asked in confusion.
"They're supposed to. But Blackfire's patrol started goofing off." Lionblaze snorted. "What does Dewstar expect? Assigning a new warrior to the dawn patrol."
"Why don't you just go?" Sunkit pressed on. There was a snicker from Wolftail. The fluffy gray she-cat was clearly enjoying hearing Sunkit question Lionblaze.
"An elder can't take part in patrols," Lionblaze answered. "You'll soon learn the ways of being a warrior though." He swept his tail over Sunkit's relatively tiny head, then sat down beside Mothflower, starting a conversation.
"What's up, Sunkit?" A dark brown she-kit padded over from Wolftail, green eyes gleaming.
"Hi, Briarkit. D'you need something?" Sunkit mewed. Apart from Sunkit, Briarkit was the only other she-kit currently in the clan. But Mothflower was due with Dewstar's kits anytime soon.
Briarkit lifted a paw, and put it to Sunkit's ear. "We could sneak out. Ya know? See what's goin on outside."
"That's impossible with Lionblaze in here," Sunkit growled. "He's as keen as a raven."
Briarkit rolled her eyes and let out a snort. "Yeah but he's over there in that corner." She whisked her tail towards the back wall. "He won't notice. Even if he does, he'll go easy on you, you're his granddaughter."
"What about your mother? And Rosecloud?" Sunkit looked to the two she-cats.
"You worry too much!" Briarkit teased. "Wolftail's dozing off, and Rosecloud's too busy with her two squirrel-brained sons."
Sunkit grumbled under her breath, but went along. "Okay, but if this goes wrong--the blame is all on you."
"It won't go wrong!" Briarkit assured. "Come on!"
But just as the two innocent she-kits took the first paw step outside in the bright clearing, they witnessed a crime that would cost the clan.
Rogues were everywhere, and strangely enough, they wore collars studded with sharp fangs and claws that glinted in the sunlight. A flash of a pair of claws startled Briarkit and Sunkit, slamming onto the ground, dust billowing and blocking out the attacker.
The dust disappeared, leaving a gray tom crouched low, snarling at the two kits. Sunkit shrieked and turned to run, but Briarkit had been standing behind her and blocked Sunkit's way. Then a familiar large white tom butted the rogue in the shoulder, and the two went rolling in the dust, locked in a fierce battle of claws and teeth.
"We should go back inside," Sunkit suggested, backing up.
When Briarkit didn't answer, Sunkit turned to look if her friend was still there. Briarkit's eyes were wide and filled with shock.
"Great StarClan..." Briarkit murmered under her breath. "Sunkit look!" She pointed with her tail towards the Highledge.
Under the shade of the great rocks, Dewstar was barely visible beneath the writhing mass of rogues. The ground below was stained crimson with his blood as it flowed.
"They're killing Dewstar!" Sunkit wailed. She whirled around. "We have to tell someone!"
Then Lionblaze burst from the nursery, pelt prickling with worry. "There you are! What are you doing out here? It's not safe!" With one swift movement, he scooped Sunkit up in his jaws and ushered Briarkit back into the nursery. Just in time they arrived, as two snapping, hatred-filled rogues leaped to the entrance, only to be swept away by ThunderClan warriors.
Back in the nursery, Sunkit was shaking. She looked to Wolftail, who was scolding Briarkit.
"What were you doing?" The gray she-cat growled, "Leaving the nursery like that! What would I do if I lost my only daughter?"
"Sorry," Briarkit muttered, shuffling her paws.
Sunkit blocked out the sounds of the battle, flattening her ears against her head and squeazing her eyes shut. She could still hear Lionblaze pacing about the nursery, tail lashing. The terrifying image of Dewstar being attacked was fresh in her mind, the pool of blood.
"Go to sleep," Lionblaze finally said after moments of silence. "I'll wake you when it's over."
How can I sleep? Sunkit wondered. When my parents are out there fighting more rogues than there is ThunderClan warriors?
After what seemed like hours of waiting for the end, slowly the sounds of battle faded away. Shrewfur and Oakfire pushed through the nursery entrance, exhausted. They greeted their mates and kits, their deep wounds treated by Dappleshine and Fawnpaw.
Lionblaze sat in front of Sunkit's nest, awaiting the return of his daughter Leopardsky, and Sunkit's father Snowstorm. His ears were perked, and his tail swished the ground anxiously.
"Why aren't they coming?" Sunkit asked after moments had passed.
"I don't know," Lionblaze murmered without turning back. "I'll go see where they're at. Stay here." He left quietly, only the rustle of the brambles would let someone know he had left.
"Your parents will be here soon, Sunkit," Mothflower reassured. "They're both strong fighters. For StarClan's sake Leopardsky is Lionblaze's daughter, and everyone knows of his power. They'll be fine, just stop worrying."
Have you thought of Dewstar, yet? Sunkit retorted in her mind. "Can I at least go outside?"
Mothflower's ear twitched. "Fine," She replied. "Just don't be long, we don't know how long the rogues will be gone."
Sunkit bounded out of her nest, leaping through the entrance. Instead of hard ground beneath her paws, warm blood splashed with impact, making her paws sticky and stained red. Her nose wrinkled, and she growled in annoyance.
Sunkit looked up, and let out a gasp of fright. Bodies lay everywhere, and a few recognizable ThunderClan cats were spotted. No, Sunkit thought. There is so many lost from ThunderClan! She was rooted to the ground in shock, but she scanned the clearing. Lilyfall, Icefeather, Rockpaw, Owlpaw, and Cherryfrost were among the dead.
"Sunkit!" The relieved voice of Leopardsky brought Sunkit out of her trance. Leopardsky rushed forward, covering Sunkit in licks. "Lionblaze told me you had left the nursery and he couldn't find you and I got so worried!"
"I'm fine," Sunkit growled between licks. "Where's Snowstorm?"
Leopardsky's eyes darkened, and Sunkit immediately felt her heart sink. "He had major injuries, Dappleshine is keeping him in her den if he gets better."
If? Sunkit felt sick. Her conversation with her mother was interrupted as a long-legged white tom with black-tipped ears approached Leopardsky.
"What now, Cloudleap?" Leopardsky snapped, clearing annoyed.
Cloudleap dipped his head. "Sorry for interrupting, but Amberlight has called a clan meeting, the other warriors have gathered our lost ones." His tail twitched, a bead of blood welled on the tip.
"Okay," Leopardsky sighed. She nuzzled Sunkit with her nose then followed Cloudleap. Sunkit knew she was supposed to go back to the nursery, but she had to see this meeting.
She crawled under the brambles that lined the stone camp-walls, keeping to the shadows. She rounded the curve of the wall until the clan deputy--Amberlight--was visible. Amberlight's gray fur was stained with blood, but otherwise she looked unharmed, and her amber eyes still shined with authority and pride.
Sunkit shrunk back farther in the shadows, hoping Lionblaze or Mothflower wouldn't come seeking her out.
"ThunderClan," Amberlight started, her gaze sweeping throughout the warriors. "I know who struck us today. We've all heard stories about them from when we were in the nursery--BloodClan!"
Gasps of shock and terror rippled through the crowd. Seedflight stepped forward, her lightly rounded belly expectant of Brackenthorn's second litter of kits. "They murdered my sister and Owlpaw!"
Stoneheart walked beside her, muscles rippling throughout his dark gray pelt. "They took my son's life! We must avenge Rockpaw's death!"
Angry voices joined in, until Amberlight was forced to yowl at the top of her lungs. "They killed Dewstar!" Sorrow shone in her eyes for her lost brother.
Sunkit felt as if she stopped breathing for a heartbeat. Dewstar? She felt guilty, she should've told a warrior nearby, at least Lionblaze, he had barely become an elder. She had seen Dewstar--underneath all those BloodClan cats, scrabbling frantically at the ground, trying to escape from under the mass.
"Then you must go to the Moonpool tonight," Dappleshine meowed, padding forward. "I will accompany you."
"I will go, thank you, Dappleshine." Amberlight dipped her head. But before I do head out, I must make a ceremony Dewstar had planned to do today. "Rainpaw, Sandpaw. Step forward."
Sunkit glanced to the back of the cats, where two apprentices sat with their parents--Rainpaw with Stoneheart and Bluewing, Sandpaw with Brackenthorn and Seedflight, staring down at his paws with dull yellow eyes.
"Rainpaw, Sandpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend this clan even at the cost of your life?" Amberlight asked, pacing slowly in front of the two apprentices who had now come to the front, the life replaced in their eyes.
"I do," They both rang out strongly.
"Then by the powers of StarClan I give you your warrior name, Rainpaw from this moment on you be known as Rainflight. StarClan honors your courage and loyalty." Amberlight stepped forward, resting her muzzle on Rainflight's head.
"Sandpaw, you shall now be known as Sandstep. StarClan honors your courage and bravery." Amberlight repeated the same with Sandstep, and the warriors cheered on their names.
Amberlight then looked to the nursery and called out. "Rosecloud, bring your kits, it is time for their apprentice ceremony."
Sunkit watched as Falconkit and Vinekit sprang from the nursery, dashing towards Amberlight and skidding to a halt. They had completely ignored all the dead bodies of BloodClan and ThunderClan.
"Tigerleaf," Amberlight started, looking to the dark brown tabby she-cat. Tigerleaf was sitting alone, staring at the body of her mother, Lilyfall. "It is time for your first apprentice. You are young, but experienced. You will take on Falconpaw."
Tigerleaf bounced to her paws, shaking out the dust from her pelt and padding forward to touch noses with the brown tabby tom.
"Bramblepelt--" Amberlight called up dark tabby tom. "You will be mentor to Vinepaw. Teach him all you learned from Dovewing."
Sunkit watched in pride as her clanmates were made warriors, but she envied Falconpaw and Vinepaw. Her day of apprenticeship was close, two moons away. I can only wait. When I become a warrior, I will avenge all my clanmates who have fallen!
Sunpaw puffed out her chest in pride, as the crowd of cats called her name. Snowstorm sat beside Leopardsky, his freshly-healed wounds a reminder of the surprise attack by BloodClan.
"So, how you up to battle training soon?" Blackfire whispered.
Sunpaw's heart raced, she was ready to learn how to fight. She would find the new BloodClan and then...this was all just in her head. Of course I can't get revenge on every single one, Sunpaw told herself. I'd die just as well.
Sunpaw followed Blackfire to the thorn tunnel, his night-black pelt shining in the early morning sun. He turned to look at her, yellow eyes gleaming. "I'll save the territory tour for tomorrow, I think it's best you learn how to fight--with the threat of the new BloodClan."
"Okay!" Sunpaw purred. "I prefer battle training anyway."
Blackfire ducked under the thorns, clearing the way for Sunpaw, as she was much smaller than the large tom. Sunpaw almost felt sick under all the pressure of the thorn bush squeazing in on her. Then her paws landed in soft forest-ground as the dim-light of camp faded away into just a few patches of sunlight piercing through the canopy of the forest.
Sunpaw dug her claws into the soil, embracing the outside that she'd never been exposed to until now. "Wow..." She breathed to herself.
In front of her, Blackfire twitched a shredded ear. "Amazing isn't it?" He meowed. "I remember when I was a kit, constantly wondering what was out here."
The two stared off into the forest for a heartbeat, then Blackfire broke the silence. "Well, you're never going to learn how to be a warrior until we get going. Come on," He meowed. The black tom took off at a high speed, Sunpaw lagging behind.
Sunpaw eventually got used to dodging the trees and brambles, and eventually was running swiftly through the forest just like Blackfire, only she was slower, but the tips of his ears were always in sight.
Finally they reached the Clearing, but a horrific sight stopped both in their tracks.
"Stay behind me!" Blackfire hissed through gritted teeth, pushing Sunpaw behind him. She peeked over his flanks, and shrank back in terror.
Bones were everywhere, and blood stained the ground.
"How could this be?" Blackfire asked himself. "Just yesterday Tigerleaf and Bramblepelt were here with their apprentices." A rustle in the bushes nearby made Blackfire's shredded ears perk and his neck fur bristle. "This must be recent, which means enemies are nearby."
Sunpaw looked up to her mentor's bright yellow eyes as he turned to face her. "Go back to camp, now!" Blackfire ordered.
Sunpaw nodded, heart pounding. She turned tail and snaked quickly through the brambles that guarded the Clearing. She could hear the sound of Blackfire's paws behind her, and the sound of rivals bursting from the bushes.
About midway to camp, Sunpaw could no longer hear Blackfire. Either the roaring of blood in her ears drowned sound out, or he had gone. Just keep running, Sunpaw murmered softly to herself. Snarling rumbled from behind, it sounded almost identical to a rabid dog, but Sunpaw knew that it was the snarling of tens of cats.
Branches whipped Sunpaw in the face, and she could feel the warm blood slowly sliding through her fur and dripping to the ground. After what seemed like forever, Sunpaw took a long at her surroundings. No, I'm lost! She thought fearfully. Then she heard two voices talking together--Scorchpelt and Duskflight, Sunpaw's aunt.
Sunpaw leaped over a fallen log, "Run!" She yowled. With a quick glimpse over her shoulder, she spotted a huge black-and-white tom snapping at her, landing just behind. Three others followed behind him, then two, then--Sunpaw didn't watch anymore.
Scorchpelt looked to Sunpaw, his bright ginger pelt fluffing in surprise. Sunpaw headed towards them, the hot breath of the black-and-white tom on her tail. Then to her relief, Amberstar burst from a thorn bush--which Sunpaw had missed.
"Stop!" Amberstar commanded in her powerful tone, putting herself between Sunpaw and the black-and-white tom.
The intruders skidded to a halt, lips pulled back to reveal glinting, sharp teeth. "We have not come to talk," The black-and-white tom.
Amberstar remained calm, her gray pelt smooth as silk and amber eyes calm. "I don't care. You have to go through me first than this apprentice."
"Amberstar, no--" Sunpaw started.
"Silence, Sunpaw," Amberstar meowed. She stared the black-and-white tom in his hate-filled green eyes. "So, Ghost, what brings you back to my clan?" She growled.
The black-and-white tom's green eyes widened for a moment. "How do you know my name?"
Amberstar chuckled. "I know everything about you, Ghost. You're the great-grandson of Scourge, you came here seeking revenge on his death, even after all those years ago."
Ghost looked stunned. A dark tabby tom behind him whispered something in his ear. Ghost snarled, smacking the tabby on the side of his head, sending him reeling. "How do you know this?" Ghost questioned Amberstar. He began flexing his claws, muscles rippling.
Sunpaw watched, shaking. She thought about dashing into the thorn bush, into camp, but a sudden movement from her could trigger a spring from the enemy.
"Don't think about attacking, Ghost," Amberstar warned. "I have more warriors on my side now than you have followers."
Ghost snapped at the air, frustrated. He turned to look back at the twelve-or-so cats behind him. "This isn't worth it. Go back to our camp!" He ordered. Ghost looked to Amberstar. "You better be watching your borders more often, clan-scum!" Then he disappeared in the bushes.
Amberstar looked down at Sunpaw, who was cowering low to the ground, ears flat. "You okay?" She purred, an amused glint in her amber eyes.
Sunpaw stood up. "How'd you know all that?"
"Leaders and medicine cats have their ways, Sunpaw," Amberstar meowed. "Come on, let's go back to camp. You too--Scorchpelt and Duskflight." She looked to Scorchpelt, who was standing beside Duskflight, fur bristled.
"But wait--" Sunpaw said. "Blackfire--I don't know what happened to him."
"Where was he when you last saw him?" Amberstar asked.
"We were running, and I could hear him behind me. Then it just...was silence except for me," Sunpaw explained.
Amberstar's eyes darkened. "Okay, we'll go looking for him, come on."
Sunpaw shuddered. This was the worst first day an apprentice could ever have.
There was Blackfire, laying on a damp patch of soil in the middle of the forest, blood flowing from a gash in his neck. Sunpaw felt a lump growing in her throat, and she swallowed to force it away. She shouldered through a shrub and sat by her mentor's side. Amberstar followed, eyes narrowing at the sight of one of her warriors.
"What a shame," Amberstar muttered. "Blackfire is a great warrior. He's barely been a warrior for three moons, but I feel as if he's the most loyal warrior we've got."
Sunpaw felt a growl rising in her throat, she wanted to shred Ghost and all his followers. Surely Blackfire wasn't going to die? She looked back down at the large black tom. Blackfire's breath came quick and shallow, and his yelow eyes were dull as he stared at seemingly nothing.
"It's my fault," Sunpaw murmered.
Amberstar's ears perked. "What's your fault?"
"This!" Sunpaw growled. "If I hadn't been such a coward and helped fight off Ghost then maybe Blackfire wouldn't be so near death!"
Amberstar's hackles rose. "This isn't your fault! You didn't send Ghost here, did you? You've only been an apprentice for a day, you don't know how to fight. We can't just stand here any longer with Blackfire dying in front of our noses. Help me pick him up." Cautiously, Amberstar nudged her nose under Blackfire's flank, and Sunpaw nudged in on his shoulder, and he rested on both their shoulders.
Sunpaw awaited anxiously outside Dappleshine's den, waiting to hear whether Blackfire's injury was life-threatening or not. The quarter-moon was beginning to rise in the sky, lighting the camp up in silver.
"Hey," Snowstorm greeted. He padded to Sunpaw's side. "Dappleshine nor Fawnpaw have come out yet?"
"No," Sunpaw mumbled. She gazed up into her father's amber eyes, wishing she could just go back in time, and warn someone about Dewstar, then maybe everything would be normal. Maybe Ghost's followers would have been killed off if Dewstar had lived.
"Well you can't just lay down outside their den all night, you have to get some sleep." Snowstorm shifted his paws, gazing up at the stars that were becoming visible in the dark orange-pink evening sky.
Sunpaw was exhausted, and didn't bother arguing. "Okay," She sighed. Snowstorm gave her a swift lick over the ears before he too left for the warrior's den.
Sunpaw padded to the apprentice's den, tail dragging in the dust. She slid through the crack in the stone, and collapsed in her nest of bracken and moss. The snuffling of Vinepaw in his nest as he dreamed and the snoring of Falconpaw kept Sunpaw awake. Flashbacks of earlier played over and over in her mind, her near-death experience.
Guess that's what it's like to be a warrior, huh? She assured herself. Every warrior goes through that. Then with heavy eyes, she fell asleep.
The pains of hunger woke Sunpaw. She yawned and blinked sleep away from her amber eyes. Scraps of moss clung to her ragged ginger-and-white pelt, which she shook out first. As she padded out of the cave, she realized with a jolt that it was sun-high already.
"Sunpaw!" A voice called from the corner of camp. Sunpaw looked to the medicine cat's den, and saw Fawnpaw's ginger tabby head poking out from the bramble screen.
Sunpaw trotted over to her, "Yes?"
"Dappleshine has news for you," Fawnpaw replied.
Let's just hope it's good, Sunpaw thought. She followed Fawnpaw into the cave, and looked to Dappleshine. The tortoiseshell was tending to Blackfire, who lay on a bed of thick moss.
"Blackfire's going to make it," Dappleshine meowed without even turning to greet Sunpaw first. She must have heard her entry.
"When can he start training with me again?" Sunpaw asked, praying for a near date.
"Within two weeks." Dappleshine looked up, her green eyes meeting Sunpaw's amber. "I spoke with Amberstar and Nightstorm last night. Cloudleap will be your temporary mentor until Blackfire is back on his paws."
Ugh, Cloudleap! Sunpaw rolled her eyes. He's barely older than Blackfire, but more immature! Instead of speaking her thoughts, Sunpaw forced a smile. "Okay, thanks."
Sunpaw walked out of the den, feeling relief. At least now she knew Blackfire was safe, and out of the danger zone. What if Ghost comes back?
Two moons later.
"Briarpaw!" Sunpaw yowled to the top of the ash tree. "Hurry up, Scorchpelt's calling for you!"
The dark brown she-cat slid down the tree trunk, a thrush in her jaws, and landed in the snow next to Sunpaw. "I heard Scorchpelt callin me, ya don't have to yowl at me," Briarpaw growled.
Sunpaw flicked a ginger ear. "Well if you heard him then what did he say?"
Briarpaw's eyes flicked back-and-forth. "Dunno." She shrugged, then shouldered past Sunpaw.
Sunpaw rolled her eyes, then picked up her mouse from where it lay on the freezing snow. She walked to the ferns a few fox-lengths away, where Blackfire and Scorchpelt waited on their apprentices.
"Nice catch," Blackfire praised, his breath coming out as a cloud of fog.
"Thanks," Sunpaw purred.
Blackfire looked to Scorchpelt. "Should we go back to camp? We are going to the Gathering after all."
"It's probably best, I think the apprentices will be worn out as soon as we even get to the Island," Scorchpelt meowed.
As they walked back to camp, Sunpaw felt as if the air had stilled, not just with the cold air, but with watchful eyes. Eyes watching their prey. Her neck fur began bristling slightly, but the four made it back to camp safely. Sunpaw set her mouse on the fresh-kill pile, then chose a small, young crow for herself.
"What's up, Sunpaw?" It was Falconpaw. The dark tabby tom was trotting towards Sunpaw, amber eyes gleaming. "Hey you going to the Gathering tonight?"
Sunpaw swallowed a mouthful--warming her back up from the frost. "Of course I'm going. Why?"
"Because I met these ShadowClan apprentices the other day on a border patrol, and I challenged them to an open fight at the Gathering!" Falconpaw boasted. "You have to watch. I'm going to win, ShadowClan ain't nothing compared to ThunderClan!"
Sunpaw purred. "Well okay then, Mighty One. I'll be laughing when you end up losing and Tigerleaf has to drag you back to camp." Falconpaw wasn't listening, he was bouncing away, telling the other apprentices about his soon-to-be victory.
As soon as she was done with her meal, Sunpaw padded to her nest and curled up in the warmth, waiting to be woken for the Gathering.
Sunpaw landed on the damp shore of the Island, and ran her claws through the sand as she waited for Falconpaw. Briarpaw had come behind her, and jumped off, walking away with Buzzardpaw, a WindClan apprentice.
"So," Sunpaw meowed as Falconpaw leaped off the fallen tree. "Where're these ShadowClan apprentices you keep saying you're going to fight?"
Falconpaw snorted. "Like I would know. That's the point of finding them, we didn't say where exactly."
"You do know Tigerleaf is going to get you in trouble right?" Sunpaw asked. Honestly, she didn't care one bit though. "A Gathering is for a truce. Why didn't you fight it out at the border?"
Falconpaw shrugged. The two padded to the middle of the Island, anxious.
"Hey look guys," A she-cat's vioce sneered. "It's that squirrel-heart from the border we met the other day."
Falconpaw whirled around, fur bristling. Sunpaw looked to the source of the voice. Surprisingly, a small black she-cat with piercing green eyes led a group of four ShadowClan apprentices. Two were toms, one was a gray tabby, and one beared a striking resemblance to Ghost. Sunpaw couldn't take her eyes off that one tom. The same black-and-white pelt, the same green eyes, and this apprentice was unusually large for his age as well. Sunpaw shook her head clear. The last was a pale gray-and-white she-cat, who kept to the back.
"I am not a squirrel-heart!" Falconpaw hissed. "Which one of us eats reptiles? Oh, you all do!"
By now, a group of WindClan apprentices had gathered nearby, watching, as well as Vinepaw.
The black she-cat took a paw step forward, and Sunpaw saw her resemblance to Ghost as well, but she was thinking impossible thoughts. Ghost was a rogue looking for trouble, these were sleek, well-fed and muscled clan cats.
"So are we going to start this or what?" The black she-cat growled, tail lashing.
"Hollypaw--" The gray-and-white she-cat meowed. "I don't think we should do this."
"Come on, Fernpaw," Hollypaw snapped. "You ruin everything. We could have some fun beating up this lone ThunderClan fleabag. His clanmate is just standing there watching, might as well do it now."
Fernpaw shook her head, and fled into the bushes where the warriors had gathered.
Sunpaw felt her paws itching to sink her claws into Hollypaw's skin, she was being such a bully! "I will not stand by!" Sunpaw growled, stepping beside Falconpaw. If she had learned anything about courage, Amberstar had taught her. "You think you're so strong with your clanmates with you, don't you, Hollypaw? I'd rather beat you with one paw swipe than stand idle while my clanmate gets beaten up."
Hollypaw smirked, then with a sweep of her tail along the ground, took a flying leap to Sunpaw. The black-and-white tom and the gray tabby tom swept Falconpaw off his paws. Sunpaw batted at Hollypaw's face, feeling the blood well beneath her claws.
Hollypaw snarled and landed a blow at Sunpaw's ears. They began ringing, but it didn't slow Sunpaw down. She lunged at the ShadowClan apprentice, low as a snake with her belly fur touching the ground. Underneath Hollypaw, Sunpaw reared up, throwing Hollypaw forward and she slid along the dusty ground.
"Had enough yet?" Sunpaw questioned, tail lashing.
Hollypaw growled, and smacked a paw hard against Sunpaw's muzzle. There was a strong burn where Hollypaw had wrenched her claws out, and blood arced through the air. Sunpaw shook her head, but their battle was interrupted.
"Apprentices!" It was the ShadowClan deputy, Darkclaw. The huge jet-black tom had pushed through the bushes unnoticed and caught them in their act. "What do you think you're doing? This is a Gathering for StarClan's sake!"
Hollypaw flattened her ears. "Sorry, Father." She padded to Darkclaw's side, flanks heaving and blood welling from her shoulder.
Father? My guesses were wrong afterall, Sunpaw thought. When Falconpaw mentioned a fight, she had thought it would be a small skirmish--claws sheathed--not a full out war the ShadowClan apprentices would wage on one ThunderClan apprentices.
"Wait until I tell Amberstar," Darkclaw growled, glaring at Falconpaw and Sunpaw. "And you--" he looked to the black-and-white tom and the gray tabby tom. "Badgerpaw, Pinestar will have a punishment for you. And Aspenpaw, I'll mention this to your parents, they'll come up with something."
Sunpaw didn't give in, she was defending her clanmate afterall, Amberstar would understand. She watched Darkclaw disappear through the bushes, Hollypaw behind him. She glanced to Falconpaw, who had a nicked ear and ruffled fur. He shrugged and his whiskers twitched in amusement.
"ThunderClan has three new apprentices and one new litter of kits this past moon," Amberstar announced. "Welcome Briarpaw, Sparrowpaw, and Ashpaw. Mothflower has given birth to Dewstar's kits, Sootkit and Squirrelkit. We will honor Dewstar through his son and daughter."
There was a moment of silence as the cats prayed their respects to the deceased leader who died young. Then it grew into a roar of welcome for the new apprentices. Sunpaw couldn't help but recall her first Gathering, when she felt the most pride than she'd ever felt.
Pinestar took Amberstar's spot on the oak branch, his dark tabby pelt shining silver in the chill moonlight. "Brightfire stayed in the nursery tonight with her and Lionpelt's son, Firekit. Three days ago, we chased out rogues marching around our territory. Thank you, Ravenwing, Mudstripe, Ivystep, and Tigershade."
Rogues... Sunpaw thought of Ghost. They're having the same problems as we. But Amberstar didn't mention our problems...
Next, Sedgestar of WindClan took Pinestar's place. "Two of our apprentices have been made warriors, Kestrelstripe and Driftbreeze. They stayed behind tonight, sitting vigil. Ravenfeather just kitted Breezefang's two she-kits tonight, WindClan is strong."
There were murmurs of confusion as Beechstar didn't come forward, or appear at all.
"RiverClan is not here," A tortoiseshell ShadowClan she-cat called out.
"Obviously," A ginger WindClan tom snorted.
"ShadowClan have not spotted them near the borders recently," Pinestar meowed.
"That's because RiverClan is actually respectful!" A white-furred WindClan she-cat growled. "The rest of us need to learn how to be like them."
"Cloudleaf has a point," Shrewfur meowed.
"Then the Gathering is over!" Amberstar announced. She leaped down from the Great Oak, and she walked forward to meet Sunpaw and Falconpaw. "I want to speak to you two when we get back to camp."
Sunpaw nodded. Great!
Amberstar didn't have a punishment for the two apprentices, she had believed Sunpaw when she said she was just defending Falconpaw--who had spoken up and mentioned he didn't need defending. Fortunately, they had gotten off the hook.
Two days after the Gathering, Blackfire had sent Briarpaw and Sunpaw to go hunting.
"Alone?" Sunpaw asked.
"I have to speak with Amberstar, Scorchpelt has gone accompanied Dappleshine and Fawnpaw to RiverClan to ask for herbs. You should be fine," Blackfire assured. "There hasn't been a threat in two moons."
Sunpaw nodded nervously, and lead Briarpaw out the thorn tunnel.
"I know the best huntin spot!" Briarpaw meowed. "Follow me, there's plenty of prey even in this cold!"
Sunpaw nodded, and they took off through the snow-patched forest floor. Briarpaw lead Sunpaw through what seemed the whole of ThunderClan territory, past the Clearing. "Where are we going?" Sunpaw panted, her breath coming out in a cloud. "It's freezing out here, can we hurry up and get there?"
Briarpaw didn't answer, but only grinned. Sunpaw opened her jaws to taste the chilly air, and found that she couldn't scent the ThunderClan scent marks. "Where are you taking us?" Sunpaw snapped.
"Chill out, Sunpaw!" Briarpaw growled. "I come hunting out here everyday, it's safe."
Briarpaw slowed to a halt, and approached a deep dip in the ground, surrounded by overhangs throughout the perimeter.
"Here?" Sunpaw meowed. "Really?" She turned to look at Briarpaw.
Briarpaw grinned widely, "In you go!" She meowed, shoving Sunpaw forward.
Sunpaw shrieked, and gasped as her paws hit solid rock down below. "Briarpaw!" She yowled angrily. But Briarpaw had disappeared. What? Sunpaw thought to herself in confusion and wonder. There was a scent of cat here, strong and fresh. At least more than twenty, a whole clan at least.
She rounded a corner, keeping to the shadows made by the overhangs. Voices were heard nearby. Sunpaw's muscles tensed, and she began shaking. It was a chant almost. Peeking over a large, dusty boulder, Sunpaw got a glimpse of the source of the chanting.
The tom was pacing in front of forty-or-so large cats. They stood in a straight horizontal line, eyes staring straight ahead.
"No weakness, no pain, no mercy!" Ghost yowled.
"Hail! Hail! Hail!" The cats chanted.
"We will get revenge on our fallen family from years ago. The clan cats will feel the pain our family felt!" Ghost continued on.
"Hail! Hail! Hail!"
"Praise your new regime!" Ghost yowled above all.
"Hail! Hail! Hail'!"
"What's going on here?" Sunpaw asked herself. Briarpaw had led her into a trap. Then the memories flashed in her mind, how interested Briarpaw--kit--had been in those rogues that attacked moons ago. She never seemed one bit cautious or afraid of going outside of camp.
Sunpaw let out a growl of frustration and anger. She whirled around to try and find out. A rock clattered beneath her paw, echoing throughout the small gorge. She became tense again, and stood perfectly still. The shadow of Ghost's head was outlined on the opposite wall as he faced Sunpaw's direction.
"We have a visitor!" Ghost snarled, leaping around the corner, landing in front of Sunpaw.
Sunpaw didn't dare move under Ghost's watchful, murderous eyes. "I didn't come here on purpose!" She yowled. "I-I promise!"
"I don't care how you got here!" Ghost snapped, taking two steps forward. "All I care about is the clans disappearing forever." He gave a sly grin, and a twitch of his black-and-white pelt. "And I'll start with you."
Sunpaw swallowed her fear. She had to do possibly the bravest thing she'd ever done, but it was almost certain suicide. Mustering up her courage, Sunpaw barreled into Ghost, raking her thorn-sharp claws along his face. He hardly moved, only a few staggering steps, but blood sprayed.
Quick as a rabbit, Sunpaw bounded away, Ghost on her paws. The line of chanting cats had turned to their leader, and joined in the chase. Briarpaw is such a traitor, Sunpaw hissed in her mind. I'll get my revenge on her! If I live that is. Sunpaw's eyes darted frantically to all sides of the gorge, searching for an escape route.
There it was, at the very end stood a rocky slope. Sunpaw could hear the heavy breathing of Ghost hard on her paws, and then the sting on her tail-tip as one of his fang's grazed it in a snap. Come on paws! Sunpaw willed herself. Don't fail me now!
A ragged brown she-cat at the bottom of the slope leaped off a snow-covered boulder, and Sunpaw ducked. A claw hooked onto Sunpaw's ears, dragging her to the ground. Almost as if on que, a patrol of ThunderClan cats came to Sunpaw's rescue, but it wasn't enough. Snowstorm, Shrewfur, Blackfire, Stoneheart, Bluewing, Rainflight and Sandstep had come, dropping down into the gorge with battle cries. Sunpaw knew better though, she could see the fear in each of their eyes.
Sunpaw screeched as the brown she-cat bit down hard onto her paw, and Sunpaw sent her rolling away with a powerful swipe. She gave a quick flick of her paw, scattering blood drops. Instinctively, Sunpaw fled. Even if she did stay to help her clanmates, nobody would make it, it was forty to eight, the winner is obvious.
She scrambled up the steep slope, the frosty rocks only making it harder to advance upward, and she dug her claws deep to get a grip. Her muscles burned by the time she got to the top, and she gazed down at the battle in the gorge.
Sunpaw turned tail and disappeared into the forest.
Guilt overwhelmed Sunpaw as she slowed to a halt, reaching the thick of ThunderClan's forest. She had let fear overcome her and fled her clanmates during their time of need, when they came to rescue her. They were a great distraction, though, Sunpaw thought.
A squirrel blindly dashed in front of Sunpaw, as if begging to be eaten. Sunpaw gave chase, and scooped the fluffy gray squirrel up in one paw, then flipped it over onto it's back. She nipped it on the spine, and the squirrel went limp. Sunpaw's belly rumbled, and she quickly took three mouthfuls, not leaving any evidence that she had hunted and not brought prey back.
The sound of two cats speaking made Sunpaw alert, and she dropped into a crouch, pushing silently through the brambles. Briarpaw! Sunpaw drew in a breath, and watched as her enemy chatted away with an unknown white tom.
Without thinking, Sunpaw leapt from the brambles and pinned Briarpaw to the ground. "Traitor!" She snarled, her claws piercing Briarpaw's thick dark brown pelt.
Briarpaw's eyes went wide, and she yowled at the white tom. "Whitepaw! Help me out, will ya?"
Whitepaw curled his lips back in a snarl, then barreled into Sunpaw. Sunpaw sprang away from Briarpaw, narrowly missing Whitepaw's sharp claws. "Can't wait until I tell Amberstar what you did!" Sunpaw sneered, haring away with the two hard on her paws.
Briarpaw growled. "Yeah? Can't wait till I tell my father to murder you!"
Sunpaw blinked, then made a sharp turn. "Shrewfur wouldn't dare. He's a loyal warrior, something you aren't!"
Briarpaw had gotten near Sunpaw's flanks, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. "Who ever said Shrewfur was my father?"
Sunpaw was stunned. Shrewfur wasn't Briarpaw's father? Then who was? Still, Sunpaw kept going, she wasn't about to be taken down by another apprentice. But Briarpaw was too close, and tackled Sunpaw. The two went rolling across the forest floor, and into thorn bushes. Then Sunpaw felt nothing but empty air. I'm falling! Sunpaw swallowed back a wail.
But just before impact, Sunpaw saw the surprised looks of many pairs of eyes below. Her shoulder hit the ground first, and dust billowed around her.
"Sunpaw!" Leopardsky shrieked, racing to her daughter.
Sunpaw groaned in pain, her shoulder was stuck out at an awkward angle. Briarpaw lie motionless at the bottom of the stone walls. By now, most of the clan had gathered around Sunpaw and Briarpaw, Wolftail weeping at the spot.
"Is Briarpaw still alive?" Sunpaw asked through clenched teeth. She hoped not. Briarpaw had known what she was doing to Sunpaw this whole time, even as a kit.
"I don't know," Leopardsky meowed.
Shrewfur sat beside Wolftail, his tail wrapped around his paws. His ears perked anxiously as Briarpaw's tail-tip twitched. Through eyes glazed with pain, Sunpaw realized in shock that blood was slowly seeping out of Briarpaw's mouth. Her neck had probably snapped, and the twitch of her tail was the last movement of life left in Briarpaw.
Dappleshine wove between the growing crowd of worried cats, and went to examine Briarpaw--her being the worst--and Fawnpaw examined Sunpaw, stating that her shoulder had been wrenched out of place.
"I'm going to have to put in back in place," Fawnpaw meowed. Her green eyes were filled with concern. "Are you ready?"
Sunpaw was shaking, her shoulder hurt badly. "Will it hurt?"
"Yes. But it will feel better afterwards." Fawnpaw's ginger tabby was was slightly bristled, as if she was worried she wouldn't do it right. "Don't worry, Dappleshine's taught me how to do it."
Sunpaw took a deep breath as Fawnpaw braced her paws on Sunpaw, one on her shoulder, one on her chest. With one swift movement, Fawnpaw yanked hard, and then a sickening pop as Sunpaw's shoulder went back into place. She drew in a sharp breath, and tears stung Sunpaw's eyes, but it felt much better now.
Shaking out the tension, Sunpaw slowly got up and padded to Dappleshine's side. "Is Briarpaw okay?" She asked. Great StarClan I hope she's dead!
Dappleshine shook her head in disappointment, "No. That fall must've killed her." She shot Sunpaw a suspicious glance. "Unless you did something?"
Leoaprdsky snarled upon hearing Dappleshine's question. "My daughter would never kill a cat unless it was necessary!"
Snowstom took a step beside her, amber eyes filled with fury. "What makes you think Sunpaw did anything?"
"I'm not accusing Sunpaw of anything!" Dappleshine hissed. "I'm just saying--the two came falling down the cliff, that isn't a bit suspicious?"
"Dappleshine has a point," Wolftail meowed without looking up from Briarpaw's lifeless body. "Sunpaw's a murderer!"
"Hey!" Amberstar yowled, leaping down from the Highledge. "Stop arguing! For StarClan's sake, nobody in this clan pays attention anymore."
"What do you mean?" Oakfire asked, eyes narrowed. Sunpaw shrunk towards her parents, feeling vulnerable with all these accusations being thrown at her. She wanted to explode with the truth.
"Sunpaw came down first, with Briarpaw behind her," Amberstar explained, padding to the group. "Wouldn't it be that Briarpaw was chasing Sunpaw?"
Sunpaw's eyes gleamed, glad to hear someone on her side for once--besides Leopardsky and Snowstorm. "I know the truth!" She called out over the whispering and concerned voices.
"Why don't you tell us then?" Nightstorm growled. The deputy took a paw step forward, threatening Sunpaw in case she made a move.
"You know those rogues that have been attacking us lately?" Sunpaw asked, eyes scanning over everyone from her spot at the front. "Briarpaw led me towards their camp outside of our territory--it's in a gorge. She pushed me in then fled. After I had escaped, I came back to our territory and saw her talking with a white tom. They started chasing me, and Briarpaw attacked--sending both of us tumbling down this cliff."
"Lies!" Wolftail snarled, unsheathing her claws.
"Wolftail!" Amberstar snapped, glaring at the fluffy gray she-cat. She looked back to Sunpaw. "I believe you, Sunpaw. I never knew Briarpaw was anything like that, she was always just like any other apprentice." She carried her gaze over to the small lump of dark brown fur. "What a shame," She muttered to herself.
Sunpaw beamed. If the clan's leader could believe her story, shouldn't the others?
Amberstar now looked out to everyone. "It's time we put an end to these attacks by the rogues! I will send a small patrol to each of the other clans, we will band together and retaliate!"
Sunpaw shouldered past the brambles that hid the apprentice's den. The moonlight turned her ginger-and-white pelt silver, and the steady breeze ruffled her fur slightly. By the Highledge, there was concerned and angry murmers coming from the warriors.
"We're going to war," a voice murmered beside Sunpaw. Sunpaw flicked her head to the side, and noticed a gray tabby tom staring at the warriors--Ashpaw, Briarpaw's brother.
"I know," Sunpaw meowed, sitting down on the soft earth.
An awkward silence took place, but Ashpaw quickly broke it. "I don't blame you, you know, for Briarpaw's death."
Sunpaw blinked. Really? "Why not?" She shivered in the chilly midnight breeze.
Ashpaw shrugged, still not bothering to look at Sunpaw. His blue eyes were focued on Amberstar, who paced back and forth across the Highledge. "Well, there's a secret. Wolftail has hid it ever since we were born, but Shrewfur doesn't know. If I tell you...you won't tell anyone else?"
His blue gaze finally traveled to meet Sunpaw's amber eyes. Sunpaw flinched under the pressure. "I promise," She breathed.
"Briarpaw is not actually my and Sparrowpaw's sister," Ashpaw let out. "Wolftail is our mother, but Briarpaw shares a different father than Sparrowpaw and I."
Something nagged at Sunpaw. Briarpaw had said it herself, obviously it was true then. "Well who is it? If it's not Shrewfur?"
Ashpaw shrugged. "We don't know. Wolftail never told us." He turned away, and there was silence again.
Sunpaw got up and padded to the warriors, where Vinepaw and Falconpaw sat beside Rosecloud and Oakfire.
Amberstar was saying something, and Sunpaw mentally shook away her thoughts and questions to focus on her leader.
"--We will not let these rogues attack us no more! I've sent Duskflight, Cloudleap, and Bramblepelt to each of the other clans to join us in the battle. By tomorrow morning, we will strike!" Amberstar yowled. Cheers rang from what was left of the remaining warriors, queens, and elders.
What about Blackfire? Sunpaw thought. And Snowstorm? She hoped all the cats that had come to her rescue from Ghost were still alive, and making their way back home. Just then though, a black tom stumbled through the thorn tunnel, followed by a white tom and a gray tabby she-cat. Blood trailed behind them, and caked their pelt.
"Snowstorm!" Sunpaw shrieked in joy. She rushed forward to greet her father, burying herself in his thick, white pelt. Leopardsky joined her, purring in relief. "We thought you were dead." Sunpaw choked on her words. She greeted Blackfire as well, who was less-injured than the other two.
Nightstorm grunted, padding over to meet them. "Where's the others? I know I sent others with you."
Rainflight hung her head low, tail drooping."Ghost killed Bluewing," She sobbed. Sunpaw's heart clenched in grief. Rainflight's mother had died, trying to save Sunpaw from something that was Sunpaw's fault. "We don't know where Stoneheart and Sandstep are." Her father too? I feel terrible! Sunpaw growled in her mind. This is all my fault! No...it's Briarpaw's!
Bright sun-high light lit up the ThunderClan camp, waking the warriors that fell asleep outside their dens. Sunpaw began to stir inside the apprentice's den, woken up by a flick on the nose by Falconpaw's tail.
"Wake up!" Falconpaw meowed loudly for all the apprentices to hear. "It's battle day!"
Sunpaw groaned, and dragged herself outside. She'd hardly gotten anymore sleep last night, going back to the den late. She was surprised for a moment by what she found outside. Other clan's warriors--and leaders, deputies, and medicine cats--had gathered in camp. They were all closely huddled together, trying to shield each other from the leaf-bare chills and possibly a surprise attack. They were starting to awaken though.
Amberstar stood on top of the Highledge, gazing down at the tens of cats below. There was less it seemed, to Sunpaw, for the rogues had probably managed to kill some off.
"Cats of all clans!" Amberstar yowled. Her magnificent gray pelt blew slightly in the breeze, her amber eyes shining with dictation. "One of ThunderClan's apprentices--Sunpaw--had been tricked into going to the rogue's camp. Today, she will lead us there, and we will avenge our fallen ones!"
Rioting yowls sounded from the huge crowd, but Sunpaw stood, just staring blankly in shock. Yes she wanted these rogues gone, but she wasn't willing to kill many just to avenge. Yes I am, She persuaded herself. Why else would my claws be itching?
Amberstar carried her gaze to Sunpaw. "Are you ready?" She asked. Sunpaw nodded, no words. "Then show us the way."
Sunpaw's claws itched. Amberstar peeked over the edge of the gorge, eyes narrowed.
"See anything?" Nightstorm asked, padding to Amberstar's side. Behind the two, every warrior of every clan waited, ready to destroy the threat of Ghost and his followers.
"Yes," Amberstar answered. She motioned with her tail-tip for Nightstorm to step forward. "Look."
Nightstorm gasped quietly. "You're sure about this?"
Amberstar nodded, then turned toward the rest of the cats behind her. "Like always, I will be in charge of my clan in battle. Pinestar, Sedgestar, and Beechstar--you control your warriors." She scanned ThunderClan's warriors. "Attack!" She yowled.
Warriors streamed down the gorge, jumping into the snow and sending it billowing in the air. Sunpaw stood rooted to the ground, terrified, as warriors flew passed her. Don't back down, Sunpaw... She told herself. Think of all your fallen clanmates. Did they deserve to be slaughtered? Of course not!
Sunpaw launched herself after the last warrior of RiverClan had passed. Fear pulsed through her, and blood roared through her eyes, blocking out the tragic sounds of screeches and yowls of fury and pain. Sunpaw barreled into a tortoiseshell she-cat, no bigger than herself.
The tortoiseshell she-cat hissed in surprise, and landed a blow to Sunpaw's face. Sunpaw recoiled, face stinging, and struk out at the tortoiseshell's flank, scoring her claws down. Blood spattered across the snow, staining it crimson, as Sunpaw wrenched her claws free. The tortoiseshell howled in pain, and limped away.
Sunpaw looked at her surroundings--cats were everywhere, fighting with one another and killing each other. Fangs pierced Sunpaw's neck, and she collapsed under the weight of a brown tom much bigger than her, though he was no older. She growled in frustration as he raked his claws across her shoulders, and sent her rolling away. Then a flash of dark brown tabby fur came to Sunpaw's rescue.
"Falconpaw!" Sunpaw breathed to herself in relief. She dragged herself to a darkened corner of the gorge, and waiting a moment to heal before going back into the fight.
"Thought you could hide, huh?" A huge--yet no bigger than Ghost--black tom peered around the corner, lips pulled back to reveal sharp fangs. "Well nobody hides from Shadow!" He snarled and leaped at Sunpaw. Sunpaw rolled to the side and leapt to her paws, fur bristling. Blood dripped from her neck and shoulders, but the adrenaline blocked out any pain that was there.
Shadow lashed out with terrifyingly long claws that glinted in the sunlight. Sunpaw jumped back, and ran forward to give a quick, sharp nip to Shadow's forepaw. Shadow didn't even flinch. Instead, he reared onto his hindpaws and launched forward. Remembering her training, Sunpaw instinctively crouched and leaped up to rake her claws across Shadow's soft stomach. He screeched and fell to the ground with a loud thud. His breathing got raspier with each breath as he lost blood. Oh StarClan, I'm a killer! Sunpaw thought in horror.
A shadow loomed over Sunpaw, and she turned her head to see who was behind. Sunpaw couldn't even let out a yowl of fear as the huge black-and-white tom stared at her with menacing green eyes.
"First your clan killed my great-grandfather, then you kill my daughter, then you lead the clans to destroy my cats? I can't wait to get my revenge!" Ghost sneered, digging his claws into the deep snow, now stained with blood.
Sunpaw tried not to shake in fear, and gained courage to talk back. "I don't know who your daughter is, and you and your cats deserve to die!" Soft pawsteps approached the two, and Amberstar came to confront Ghost. Her gray fur wasn't bloodied, only ruffled.
"Leave her alone, Ghost," Amberstar ordered. "Unless you and your cats leave the Lake for good, I will be forced to kill you." Amberstar's deep amber eyes were calm yet powerful, just like her tone of voice.
Ghost chuckled. "Why don't we see if you can kill me?"
Amberstar took a step forward. "I accept your challenge," She growled.
Sunpaw looked around the gorge, and didn't realize how much time had passed--or how many cats had fallen. Bodies were everywhere, and the remaining cats had gathered to witness Ghost and Amberstar.
Sunpaw gulped, who would win? Ghost rocketed forwared, teeth burying into Amberstar's leg. Amberstar shook him off easily and leaped onto his sturdy shoulders, forcing him to the ground. Blood slowly began to seep out from under Amberstar's claws. Ghost flipped over onto his stomach, squashing Amberstar until Sunpaw could hear her struggling to breath.
Her claws itched, and she couldn't stand watching her leader being suffocated--even wounded for that matter. "Stop!" Sunpaw yowled, throwing herself at Ghost and knocking him off Amberstar. "There's already been enough death for one night, can you just take your cats and leave?" She growled.
Snowstorm bounded forward and hauled Sunpaw away by the scruff. "This is for Amberstar alone!" He scolded, amber eyes narrowed. But Amberstar was still on the ground, flanks still. Rageful yowls came from the remaining warriors, and they leaped at Ghost as soon as they realized that the ThunderClan leader was lost. Suffocation had taken her last life.
Sunpaw couldn't move. There was only a handful of warriors left--counting all clans--minus the queens and elders safe at camp. She wanted to run. Run back to camp and fall asleep in her nest and wake up to find this was all a big nightmare and most cats from every clan had been exterminated.
And so she fled.
Camp was pretty much empty, and Sunpaw padded through with caution. Soon though, she heard a few familiar voices coming from the nursery. Recalling that Seedflight was very close to giving birth to Brackenthorn's second litter, Sunpaw rushed into the bramble den, checking to make sure the queen was alright.
"Seedflight!" Sunpaw meowed. "Are you okay?" She looked to the very pale ginger she-cat. Lionblaze, Cinderheart, and Moleclaw stood by Seedflight's side, flanks heaving. "What happened?"
Lionblaze spoke up first. "A few of Ghost's cats came by while Seedflight gave birth. Cinderheart stayed with her while Moleclaw and I fought them off." His amber eyes flicked to the nursery entrance. "Mothflower left with Sootkit and Squirrelkit, saying that she couldn't stand all this fighting anymore.
"Where's Brackenthorn?" Seedflight asked drowsily from her bed of moss. Beside her lay two kits, one tom and one she-kit.
Sunpaw swallowed. Great. "Brackenthorn...didn't make it. I'm sorry."
Seedflight's green eyes blazed with fury. "What?" She leapt to her paws, fur bristling.
Moleclaw intercepted his aunt, brushing his brown-and-cream tail along her flank. "Calm down, Seedflight. You'll wake your kits." He motioned towards her nest. "Go lay back down."
Seedflight lay in her nest, but her fur was still bristled and her eyes wild. "He would've loved to meet our first daughter. Especially after our first litter, where it was only three toms. I guess he can watch from StarClan..."
"Who's all still alive?" Cinderheart asked. She sat beside Lionblaze, her soft gray tabby pelt prickling with fear.
Then it hit Sunpaw like a stone. She never did see Leopardsky or Duskflight after the battle did she? No...Not my mother! But she had to keep calm, for Leopardsky and Duskflight were Lionblaze and Cinderheart's only kits. "No one survived except Snowstorm, Blackfire, Rainflight and Tigerleaf."
Cinderheart's ears flattened. "What about Leopardsky and Duskflight?"
Sunpaw shook her head. She swallowed to force back the lump forming in her throat. Now is not the time for a break-down, Sunpaw. Cinderheart let out a sorrowful wail, and Lionblaze began viciously raking at the ground with his claws.
"Is there anybody left from the other clans?" Moleclaw asked. He still sat beside Seedflight, protecting his younger aunt, as Brackenthorn was no longer with her.
Sunpaw shrugged. "I saw a few from each clan. No leaders or deputies remain, no medicine cats. A few warriors and apprentices in total."
Just then, the rustling of the thorn tunnel distracted Sunpaw and she raced to see who was coming. Her hackles were raised, and she let out a threatening growl.
"Relax, Sunpaw!" A familiar voice meowed. "Or do you want me to die?" A black head poked through the thorn bush, followed by a white tom, a bright ginger tom, a dark tabby she-cat, and a gray tabby she-cat. Scorchpelt made it?
"Sorry," Sunpaw muttered. "It's just that Seedflight had her kits and there's a ton of rogues running around this place."
"What will we do now?" Tigerleaf asked, flicking a dark brown ear. She paced around the dusty earth, seeming unharmed besides a bite on her shoulder.
"Seems like the only option the clans have now is to split up," Snowstorm meowed. "There's hardly anyone left. And the rogues scattered after Ghost died under the remnant's claws. The rest of us should group together, and stay together."
Scorchpelt nodded in agreement. "We won't be a clan anymore, but at least we have each other. Who's all left?"
"Lionblaze, Cinderheart, Moleclaw, Seedflight and her two kits." Sunpaw led the five cats to the nursery, and ducked under the bramble bush.
"Scorchpelt!" Seedflight purred, greeting her son. "I didn't think you'd made it out alive." She rubbed noses lightly with the large bright ginger tom.
"I'm stronger than you think," Scorchpelt laughed.
Snowstorm launched into his suggestion of how to continue living life. The rest of the cats would evacuate ThunderClan territory, find somewhere nearby--yet non-clan territory--and make camp there. They would not accept strangers into the group.
Lionblaze shook his head. "Cinderheart, Moleclaw, and I had already decided we would die here in ThunderClan. We will stay."
Sunpaw swallowed back her frustration. First she's blamed for Briarpaw's death, then her mother dies, then her grandparents have said they won't be leaving with her. "Then I'm staying too," She declared.
"No you're not, you're coming with me," Snowstorm ordered.
"No. Lionblaze, Cinderheart, and Moleclaw will need someone to hunt for them, and someone younger and stronger to defend them. I won't let them live out the rest of their days alone," Sunpaw growled.
Snowstorm muttered something under his breath. "Fine. But in eight moons I will send Scorchpelt and Tigerleaf for you to bring you to our new camp." He turned and padded out of the nursery, his white pelt turning silver in the early moonlight. The others said their goodbyes and followed Snowstorm out.
"I'll miss you, Sunpaw," Blackfire meowed. "And if I happen to never see you again--you were the best apprentice anyone could ask for."
Sunpaw purred under his praise and watched from the nursery entrance as Seedflight picked up her son, and Blackfire picked up the she-kit, and then they all disappeared. Sunpaw sighed.
"You didn't have to stay," Cinderheart said. "It's not too late to go with them, you know."
Sunpaw didn't turn around, just staring at the empty camp, filled with shining, silver moonlight. The brambles swayed slowly in the breeze, and some leaves blew along the ground. "No, I'm staying."
Life would be a whole lot different. No leader, no training, no warriors, no apprentices, no medicine cats, no patrols, no Gatherings, and no clan meetings. How will I live now?
Sunpaw rose drowsily from her nest. Her body ached, and there was a burning across her shoulders where they were raked by claws. At first, she thought that she really had dreamed, and she was back in the apprentice's den with all the others, then she remembered. She had fallen asleep in the nursery with Lionblaze, Cinderheart, and Moleclaw.
Seeing as the three elders were still snoozing soundly, Sunpaw crept silently through the brambles, and made her way out of the deserted former ThunderClan camp. The sun-high sky was clear-blue, with no blanketing clouds. There was lots of scuttling coming from the brush, and since there had been no dawn hunting patrols, prey was still plentiful.
There was a crack of a twig, and Sunpaw tensed, expecting an ambush from the remainders of BloodClan. A mouse flashed passed her paws, and Sunpaw sprang after it. She pounced once she was close enough, her fangs burying into the gray fur on the neck. The warm tang of blood filled her mouse, and her stomach growled when she realized she hadn't eaten in at least two days. But the warrior code still held strong over Sunpaw, and she decided to leave the large mouse for Lionblaze and Cinderheart.
Sunpaw scooped a hole in the earth, set the mouse in it, and filled in the open spaces. A snarl came from the brambles behind her, and a pale-gray she-cat with white patches pushed her way through.
"Did you take my mouse?" The gray she-cat growled, looking at the dried blood on the edges of Sunpaw's mouth.
Sunpaw recognized this apprentice--Fernpaw--from Gatherings. "It was on ThunderClan land, why don't you go back to ShadowClan and find your own prey?"
"There is no more clans!" Fernpaw snapped. "Do you not remember how close the battle was to ShadowClan? It scared all of the pery away. Give me my mouse!" Fernpaw barreled into Sunpaw, raking her thorn-sharp claws over Sunpaw's muzzle.
Sunpaw snarled and flung Fernpaw away with a stinging blow, and tasted her own blood dripping into her mouth from the wound. Fernpaw skidded along the ground, and charged back to Sunpaw.
Forget this, Sunpaw though in frustration. She side-stepped and darted back out to grab Fernpaw's throat in her jaws. "This should teach you not to come near my territory again!" She hissed, dropping Fernpaw's limp body to the ground.
Anxious to get back to camp, Sunpaw trotted to the hole where she left the mouse, and left. If there was no clans, then there was no such thing as mercy for your enemies. Sunpaw would defend her territory and the elders.
"Here," Sunpaw mumbled, setting the mouse in front of the elder's paws.
"What happened to your muzzle?" Cinderheart asked, sniffing the wound.
Sunpaw took a pawstep back. "I had a little incident with a ShadowClan apprentice. She claimed there was no such thing as the clans, warrior code, or boundaries anymore." With no guilt, she admitted Fernpaw's death. "I had to kill her before anymore intruders started coming to our territory."
"You killed her?" Moleclaw repeated, amber eyes filled with shock.
"I had to!" Sunpaw defended herself. "If she said that then obviously the rest of the remainders of her clan believe the same thing. Best to exterminate them now before all of them come to our territory looking for prey, and possibly a camp."
"She's got a point," Lionblaze mumbled through a full-mouth.
Moleclaw's tail-tip flicked. "I guess so."
"What are you going to eat?" asked Cinderheart.
Sunpaw shrugged, her muzzle still stinging. "I'll go hunting later. You three need the food most, though."
"I can still hunt!" Moleclaw growled. "I'm not as old as your grandparents," He meowed with a glance at Lionblaze and Cinderheart.
"Yes, but you're still old, Moleclaw," Cinderheart teased. "Let Sunpaw do what she wants, she's only doing what's best for us."
It felt so odd, only three other cats beside Sunpaw still remaining. She was used to constant chattering and warriors milling around every inch of camp, and kits playing outside the nursery. All that was gone. "I'm going to patrol the borders," She meowed. I need time alone...
"Don't you want a bite first?" Cinderheart asked, scooting back a little from the mostly-eaten mouse.
Sunpaw shook her head, and bounded away as quick as she could. Once she was well away from camp, she yowled at the top of her lungs. "StarClan why did you let this happen? I can't live like this!" She collapsed under the shade of an oak tree, and began talking to herself. "I'm not who I used to be. I'm not happy anymore, I've turned to murdering cats even, what do I do?"
Then she grinned. She had a wonderful idea.
Sunpaw flicked her paw to get rid of the annoying beads of water. She darted across the thunderpath, ginger-and-white pelt slicked back against the rain. The terrifying roar of monster made Sunpaw struggle to run, and she slipped, tumbling down the side of the thunderpath into a ditch.
"Ugh," She grumbled, shaking sticky weeds off her fur. She clambered up the ditch, and proceeded into the Twolegplace. For the past moon, a group of loners had let her stay with them in their alley for a while, but Sunpaw loved to be in her own nest, and always returned home for the night. She couldn't stay long today though, for Moleclaw had fallen slightly ill, and Sunpaw needed to go back earlier to fetch herbs. Whatever those herbs were.
There wasn't as many twolegs out on the roads today--which Sunpaw was grateful for--as she bounded along the sidewalks. Rounding a corner, the gray sky quickly turned into darkness as Sunpaw padded under a tarp-covered alley. She jumped as a large flame-colored tom greeted her, then quickly realized it was only Fox, one of the loners.
"Hey, Sunpaw," Fox meowed, dipping his head. His dark amber eyes glittered with amusement upon seeing her scare.
"Hi," Sunpaw greeted back. She ducked passed Fox and into the slightly-lit back of the alley. There, five other cats sat in a tight circle. The largest was a young brown tabby tom, sitting next to an expectant black she-cat. A small red-furred she-kit wove between the two, talking nonstop. A gray tom of about 7 moons slowly munched on a small mouse, exchanging bites with a white she-cat the same age--his sister.
"Hey, guys," Sunpaw greeted. She looked back to see if Fox was still there, but he had left to hunt. These cats were the closest thing she had to a clan, they hunted and patrolled their territory, unlike Lionblaze, Cinderheart, and Moleclaw who just lay around all day.
"Sunpaw!" Russet, the little she-kit, meowed, tumbling over the brown tabby tom to reach Sunpaw. She rubbed up against Sunpaw's legs, her green eyes bright with joy. "Guess what? I caught a rat yesterday!"
The brown tabby tom, Loki, snorted. "Yeah, kit, you caught it, even though I killed it," He meowed sarcastically. He gave Russet a playful swipe over her ears.
Sunpaw purred. She knew Russet didn't really catch the rat, but she knew what it was like to be put down as a kit, so she made it seem as if she believed Russet. "Oh come on, Loki. Clearly a 2 moon old kit caught bigger prey than you ever could."
Loki's tail shot up. "Hey, I'm not a hunter. You know me, I like to prank others." Sunpaw already knew these cats well, and she knew that Loki was notorious around Twolegplace for spying and scaring rogues. He would take anything the rogues killed--dogs, rats, lizards, anything--and string it up at their dens. It was Loki's job for the group to make sure no intruders came near their alley.
Sunpaw ignored the young tom's protests, and turned to his mate--the black she-cat named Torunn. "How have you been, Torunn?"
Torunn's bright blue eyes blinked, as if she was in a blank state. "Good, there's plenty of prey to go around. Russet keeps me entertained while I stay home, everything's great."
Sunpaw nodded, and turned to the quietest two of the group--the gray tom, Ash, and the white she-cat, Snow. She gave them a twitch of her whiskers in greeting. The siblings were quiet, having not yet warmed up to Sunpaw yet, unlike the others.
"Alright," Sunpaw breathed, looking around. "I just though I'd stop by to say hi. I have to go though, some cat at my camp has been sick, I have to go hunt for him and fetch herbs."
Sunpaw turned to leave, but Fox stopped her with a flick of his tail. "Here," He meowed, reaching behind him to pick up a squirrel and drop it at her paws. "To make your trip quicker, Ash caught it."
Sunpaw glanced at Ash, and took the squirrel, dashing off. She raced through Twolegplace, a bit slowed by the prey in her jaws. The fluffy grayish-brown fur kept tickling her nose, making her sneeze. What a worthless trip, She told herself. But they're nice cats. I guess it was kinda worth it. They are my friends afterall, right?
Sunpaw only slowed when she reached the edge of the forest, flanks heaving for a breath. The leaves from the trees dripped water on her head and shoulders, causing her to shiver as she felt the beads of water slide down her skin. The ground underpaw was muddy, and it was almost a struggle to just raise a paw.
"Sunpaw?" A familiar voice called from the bushes.
Sunpaw's ears perked, and she got into defensive mode, expecting an attack played off by a faked-friend. She dropped the squirrel between her forepaws. "Who is it?" She huffed.
A brown tabby she-cat emerged from the brambles, her pelt torn by brambles and her shoulders drooped with exhaustion. Her amber eyes were shadowed with sorrow, but there was a certain fire that blazed in the very back.
"Mothflower!" Sunpaw exclaimed, leaping forward to greet the former ThunderClan queen who ran away with her kits at the start of the battle. "I thought you had...died."
Mothflower shook her head. "No, I just ran off. I thought everyone would die, and then BloodClan would reach my kits, so I ran. I feel like such a coward." A tiny gray tom--the exact image of Dewstar--tumbled out of the brambles, bumping into Mothflower's hindpaw.
Sunpaw flicked her ear. "Where's Squirrelkit?"
Mothflower hung her head. "Oh, Sunpaw, she's gone! It's all my fault because I ran off and I wasn't even fit enough to hunt for my own kits!" She broke down sobbing.
Sunpaw's heart ached, she couldn't bear watching her clanmates and friends hurt. "It's not your fault, Mothflower. Squirrelkit is StarClan, the best place any cat could be. Would you rather have your daughter living in this world now--where there is no clans, and cats kill just for prey? That's not how things used to be."
Sootkit hugged Mothflower's forepaws, his yellow eyes gazing up at Sunpaw with fear. Obviously the young tom had been exposed to some nasty things during his moon away. Mothflower looked back at Sunpaw. "Where're you staying now?"
"Lionblaze, Moleclaw, Cinderheart and I are still at the ThunderClan camp. The few that remained from the battle--including my father and Blackfire--left to find a new territory. Do you want to come back with me?" Sunpaw gestured with her tail-tip to the location of camp.
Mothflower nodded, and picked up her son in her jaws. Sootkit looked well-fed, while Mothflower's pelt clung to her bones. Sunpaw guessed she was feeding Sootkit every scrap of prey she got. She admired Sootkit's sturdy shoulders and glossy gray pelt for a kit of 4 moons. She lifted the squirrel--still laying in the clump of leaves--and walked to camp.
Once through the thorn tunnel, Sunpaw immediately warned Mothflower of Moleclaw's sickness. "Moleclaw has been ill for the past few days, but he's in the nursery and Lionblaze and Cinderheart are in the medicine cat's den, it's the safest place in camp."
Mothflower was clearly shivering, her thin pelt and hunger was obviously not helping the fact that it was raining outside and the temperature was cold. She followed Sunpaw through the slit in the cave, hidden by brambles.
Cinderheart's smoky-blue eyes lightened upon sight of the queen. "Mothflower!" She purred, jumping to her paws. She covered Sootkit in licks, and with a glance to Sunpaw, knew better than to ask what happened to Squirrelkit. "What happened to you?"
Mothflower sat down on an extra bed of moss. "During the battle, I took my kits and fled, thinking the enemies would find the camp and kill them. There was hardly any prey, and I kind of got lost for a few days, going far upstream. Squirrelkit was killed by a fox, and I gave Sootkit every piece of prey I managed to get, though it was scarce. I found Sunpaw, and she led me back here."
Sunpaw didn't want to stand around listening to stories. "I'll go hunting for more prey. But in the meantime, Mothflower, you will eat this. I'll catch plenty more for you and Sootkit." She started padding away, but right at the entrance to the cave, she paused. "Oh and Cinderheart, afterwards, would you help me look for herbs for Moleclaw? I know you're more skilled at that than I ever could be."
"Of course," Cinderheart meowed.
Sunpaw nodded and bounded out of camp. Ever since the battle, she'd grown used to staying out of camp all day and moving around. Be it going to Twolegplace, hunting, or patrolling, she was constantly doing something. There was nobody else to help her, but she looked hopefully to Sootkit when he's older. I'm leader of these cats now. I'm the strongest, and they look to me. I don't really like it...
Sunpaw's thoughts nagged at her mind even as she was deep into the woods. But the scent of a thrush distracted her. It walked on the ground, pecking at seeds that were swept from the water onto the ground. Sunpaw instantly dropped into a hunter's crouch, and prowled forward. But a twig snapped behind her, making her whirl around with unsheathed claws, and the thrush flew away with a startled call.
Sunpaw stood frozen to the spot for a few moments, tail lashing, until she realized that it was only an acorn that fell on a fragile stick. But her senses proved her wrong. A huge black tabby tom leaped from the brambles and pinned Sunpaw to the earth.
Sunpaw hissed in surprise and struggled under the tom's grip, but he was too strong. It was Waspflight, probably the strongest RiverClan warrior she'd ever met.
"Stop wriggilng, weak kit!" Waspflight spat, digging his claws into her stomach. Sunpaw winced, but held still, knowing it'd hurt less. "I'm giving you a warning. All of the clan's former territories will be mine, and I will do whatever it takes to get them, even if it means killing. So you'd better leave now."
"Yeah well, I'll pray you're a failure!" Sunpaw spat as Waspflight took off into the bushes. She stood up, glancing around to make sure Waspflight wasn't still creeping around.
Whatever, Waspflight. Do what you want to the other territories, but this one's mine!
Sunpaw remembers falling asleep on a mossy nest outside the medicine cat den, but she didn't remember the camp being a starry forest. Oh right, I'm in StarClan! She thought in excitement. She padded down a grassy hill, and at the bottom, she spots a dark gray tom smaller than her, speaking to a flame-colored tom.
For a moment, Sunpaw thinks Sootkit is talking to Fox, but then her heart skips a beat. Is that...Firestar? She breaks into a run, but then slows, concerned she might interrup whatever the former ThunderClan leader and Sootkit are speaking about. But surprisingly, Firestar beckons Sunpaw forward.
"Ah, my great-great-granddaughter," Firestar purrs, his warm green eyes welcoming.
"It's an honor to meet you, Firestar." Sunpaw dipped her head in respect. She then turns her head to Sootkit, "Hello, Sootkit."
Sootkit straightens up. "I'm Sootpaw now," He corrects, pride shining in his eyes.
Firestar's eyes gleam, and he looks to Sunpaw. "Since there are no leaders to give you a warrior ceremony, StarClan warriors will from now on hold them. Sunpaw, you have been through a lot in your life, making you a stronger, more mature cat. You are worthy of becoming a warrior, and you would've served ThunderClan well, for would it not have fallen. I name you Sunsplash."
Sunsplash's chest heaves in pride, not just for being named a warrior, but because she was named a warrior by Firestar. But this was not a proper warrior ceremony, for there was now no such thing.
"Sunsplash, would you be so kind as to take Sootpaw to train?" Firestar asked, glancing at both young cats.
Sunsplash was giddy, and her tail quivered with joy. "Yes, Firestar." She bent down to rub noses with the dark gray tom, but he was not much smaller than her, so it wasn't hard.
Firestar gave a nod of approval, and the vivid dream realm vanished in a heartbeat, leaving Sunsplash to awaken in the dew-covered camp. Sunsplash staggered to her paws, her bones aching from the cold and rain, but she forced herself to sleep outside, in case of an invasion.
"Sunsplash, Sunsplash!" The excited mew came from the medicine cat's den. Sootpaw bounded outside, skipping in circles around his mentor.
Sunsplash purred, Sootpaw reminded her of Russet. She decided that tomorrow she would bring her apprentice with her to meet the friendly group of loners.
Sunsplash shook frost off her pelt, "So, what do you want to learn today?" She asked.
Sootpaw grinned. "Anything that has to do with fighting. I want to be able to protect my mother, Lionblaze, Cinderheart, and you!"
Sunsplash chuckled. "Well, in the meantime I'll be protecting you. Now why don't you go wake Mothflower and tell her all about last night?"
"Okay!" Sootpaw meowed, shooting back off.
It was kind of hard for Sunsplash to imagine the frightened little kit that Sootpaw was two moons ago, and it pained her for him not to mention Moleclaw. The sick elder died last moon, for none of the others were very skilled at medicine. So much was going on, it was hard to keep still and quiet for Sunsplash.
After minutes of waiting, Sootpaw appeared, leading Mothflower, Lionblaze, and Cinderheart into the clearing. "--It was great! Sunsplash will tell you!" Sootpaw finished meowing, turning his excited gaze over to Sunsplash. "Wasn't it amazing, Sunsplash? Meeting Firestar, getting our new names!"
"Yes, it was pretty cool," Sunsplash said, getting to her paws after sitting. "Lucky you, you'll be able to see him again to get your warrior name."
Sunsplash thought it was impossible, but Sootpaw's amber eyes got even brighter. "Okay, Sootpaw. It's time for me to teach you how to hunt, first."
"Aww hunting?" Sootpaw groaned. "I thought you were going to teach me how to fight!"
Sunsplash's tail-tip flicked in impatience. "I was, but will fighting get you prey? Most likely not, that way if I'm gone, you can still hunt for the others."
"Yeah and we can still sleep all day," Lionblaze grunted.
"If we wanted to sleep all day, we might as well be dead!" Cinderheart growled playfully, turning to go back to the den.
Sunsplash motioned with her tail for Sootpaw to follow, and the two walked out of the thorn tunnel. She didn't expect Sootpaw to be super excited about seeing the forest for the first time--he'd already seen plenty of it. They trailed on in silence until they reached Sunsplash's favorite hunting place--a shallow dip in the ground carpeted with brambles and undergrowth. Birds chattered overhead, and there was the fresh scent of two mice, and a squirrel.
"Okay," Sunsplash started, slowing to a stop. "I'm guessing you already know what prey scent is what?"
"Yep!" Sootpaw exclaimed, nodding. "My mother always gave me her prey, and I got used to mouse scent, squirrel scent, and sparrow scent."
Sunsplash grinned, an experienced apprentice. "Good. Well, I'll just skip to teaching you how to hunt. First, get into a crouch like this--" She dropped into a hunter's crouch, tail barely sweeping above the fallen leaves and earth.
Sootpaw hesitated for a moment, examining Sunsplash's stance. Then he slowly got into the same position, but his tail was held low and his haunches and shoulders were high in the air.
Sunsplash shook her head. "Close, but lower your whole body until your shoulders are even with your haunches, and lift up your tail until it's barely over the ground."
Sootpaw did as told, his paler-gray belly fur almost touching the ground. But when Snsplash ordered for him to act like he was stalking prey, his weight was not even.
"You're so close!" Sunsplash meowed. "But keep your weight evenly distributed, your prey can feel vibrations on the ground from your movement."
Sootpaw nodded, and, biting his lip, eventually got it right. "Did I get it?" He asked, peeking over his shoulder to check Sunsplash's nod of acknowledgement.
"It's great!" Sunsplash purred, and she meant it. For such a hefty young cat, Sootpaw could carry the weight of himself well. "Are you ready to try hunting?"
Sootpaw nodded enthusiastically.
"Okay--" Sunsplash broke off for a moment, scanning the dense tangle of bushes and undergrowth for prey so Sootpaw could hunt. "See that mouse?" She asked, signaling to the small gray bundle of fur chewing on a nut under the roots of an oak tree. Sootpaw nodded once more. "Try to catch it, using the crouch I just showed you. Don't rub against the leaves, and get just close enough to pounce."
Sootpaw slowly crept forward, ears flat against his head. Sunsplash bit her lip, hoping he could get the mouse. Sootpaw hesitated for a few moments near the mouse, then sprang. He landed on the complete opposite side of the mouse, but fortunately, sent it fleeing Sunsplash's direction. Sunsplash lunged forward, sending dead leaves flying into the air as she skidded. She swept the rodent up in her jaws and crushed its spine.
"Teamwork," Sunsplash mumbled through the fur. She had to give Sootpaw some credit, he basically chased it towards her.
Sootpaw padded back to her, disappointment flashing on his face.
Sunsplash dropped the mouse at his paws. "Don't be disappointed with yourself. I didn't catch anything my first day either. You can carry it back to camp, I'll tell the others you caught it," She meowed, winking.
That seemed the cheer up Sootpaw, as he grabbed the mouse and followed Sunsplash back to camp, tail held high.
Sunsplash awoke to the sound of a snapping twig. Still groggy, she bounced to her paws, vigilant. The early morning sky was still foggy, but the pale-pink horizon shined on a gray pelt bounding through the thorn tunnel. Sunsplash relaxed when she noticed it was only Sootpaw, padding through with a squirrel in his jaws. In the past moon, the young tom had turned into a fine hunter.
"Great StarClan, Sootpaw!" Sunsplash breathed. "I almost clawed you to death. I thought you were an intruder."
Sootpaw snorted. "I'd kill them before they'd reach camp!" He strutted around Sunsplash. "Nobody lays a claw on my family!"
Sunsplash rolled her eyes. "Sure." She shook dew out of her thick pelt and began towards the thorn tunnel. "I'm going to see Fox and them, want to come?"
Sootpaw shook his head. "Nah. I've been out all night. I'm gonna enjoy some sleep first," He meowed, stretching his forepaws.
Sunsplash acknowledged his answer with a single flick of her ear before bounding up the trail. The forest was unusually dark this morning, except for a few beams of pale-sunlight shooting through the branches. It gave an eerie feeling, and Sunsplash unsheathed her claws--just in case.
And just at that moment, when tensions were rising, a white she-cat crashed through the undergrowth, green eyes wild with fear. "Thank StarClan!" She breathed. "I need help, fast!"
Sunsplash's eyes narrowed. Help? There was no such thing as friends beside yourself anymore, why would you ask another cat for help? But something nagged at her, she was going to help. "With what?"
"There's foxes--lots of foxes--attacking our camp!" The white she-cat started. "We have a she-cat with kits, and we hardly have anymore cats to defend her. Please, help!" She looked up into Sunsplash's amber eyes with her green, fear and hope gleaming in her eyes.
Sunsplash sighed. Do I really need to risk my life for a stranger's? Guess I don't have much to live for, anyway. "Okay," She meowed at last. "Lead the way."
The white she-cat immediately turned and led Sunsplash out of the forest and into what was WindClan territory. "I'm Cloudleaf by the way, former warrior of WindClan. But I guess you figured that, huh?"
"Yeah, kinda," Sunsplash said. "I'm Sunsplash, ThunderClan." As they ran, Sunsplash glanced at Cloudleaf's ragged pelt. Her ribs pushed at her skin, and her once-beautiful fur was clumped and matted. It seemed as if the past four moons had been rough on Cloudleaf and her friends.
Soon, the two had gone over the hills and bare moorlands of WindClan, and reached a shallow, sandy dip in the ground. Cloudleaf plunged in with a battlecry, and Sunsplash followed.
Where's the foxes? Sunsplash wondered, glaring around the ruined camp. There was a pawful of scraggly, starving former warriors. And one queen with two she-kits. The older cats turned to Sunsplash, teeth bared and fur bristled.
So I'm going to die by canniblism? Sunsplash retorted in her head. Great way to end my death, StarClan. Her fur bristled, and she let out a threatening snarl. "If you dare lay a claw on me, I will kill you!"
A dark brown tabby tom took a flying leap towards Sunsplash, his lips drawn back to reveal sharp, long fangs. Sunsplash ducked, and the tom missed her, but as she turned, her heart began to race. They weren't after her, a fox crouched near the wall of the camp, a patch of fur on its flank was blood-stained.
How did I miss that? She asked herself. She went after the brown tom, and scored her claws down the fox's shoulder. The tom clung onto the fox's throat, his jaws clamped firmly.
"He's determined to kill the fox for food," A gray-and-white speckled she-cat muttered.
"We need the food," a ginger tom growled. He hurled himself in after the brown tom, and sliced his claws across the fox's neck. It struggled, but the brown tom was large and really wanted food, and it was already wounded. It eventually sank to the ground, giving one last whimper before its bright green eyes went dull, shut closed, and went lifeless.
"Go, Hawktalon!" a younger, ginger she-cat yowled. She bounded beside the ginger tom, who Sunsplash thought was her father, and gawked at the fox.
"When can we eat it?" A gray tom--apprentice age--asked. He was shy, and kept his distance from Sunsplash and the others, but instead paced around the edge of the small crowd.
"Soon, Driftpaw," the gray-and-white she-cat said. She turned to the two ginger she-cats, "Rosepaw, Sunpaw, would you two fetch Ravenfeather and her kits?" The apprentices nodded and dashed off into a nearby gorse bush.
"I guess I'll be on my way," Sunsplash meowed. She began to pad off towards a slope that used to be the camp entrance.
"Wait," Called Cloudleaf. "I know you didn't do much, as the others chased off the foxes during the time I went to get you, but you still came in our time of need. Feel free to stay."
Sunsplash thought about it for a moment. "No thanks, I've got somewhere to be." With a single bound, she disappeared from Cloudleaf's sight and into the moors beyond.
Sunsplash curled on top of a dumpster in Fox's alley, her tail hanging limp off the side, as she listened intently to Loki's story of how he frightened a loner.
"--and just as he turned to wash himself, I took the remains of his prey, threw it at his face, and jumped him from behind!" Loki exclaimed, chest puffed out in prey. "That'll teach others not to trespass on our territory," He smirked.
"Our kits are going to have a crazy father," Torunn purred beside him as she lapped up water gathered in moss.
"I don't think this place can handle anymore Lokis," Scorch joked, his firey amber eyes glancing to the other tom. His gray fur prickled with unease, as if the thought of three-added Lokis would drive him insane.
"Let alone one," His mate, Dusk, muttered.
Sunsplash stretched, and then smoothly jumped off the dumpster. She glanced up at the dark night sky, the stars twinkling brightly. "Do you guys mind if I stay the night? The forest isn't exactly safe to travel in at night."
"We don't mind at all," Fox answered, looking up from the small mouse he nibbled on. "You're always welcome to stay."
"Yeah you keep Russet busy so she's not bothering all of us," Loki purred in amusement. He flicked the small ginger kit's ears with his tail. Russet scowled at him, but got distracted by his tail and pounced on it.
"Thanks," Sunsplash meowed. "Well, I'm out for the night. I've had a crazy day."
"Night," Torunn said, her bright green eyes meeting Sunsplash's amber.
The rest nodded as Sunsplash padded to the back of the alley, and curled up underneath a green tarp. This was the loner's usual night--gathered in a circle together, eating prey and sharing stories about their day. Sunsplash loved it, it was peaceful and tensions weren't high. Sootpaw wouldn't mind if she stayed a night or two, there was plenty of time for training. Besides, Sunsplash didn't want to waste a good night such as this in a dangerous forest where you must remain vigilant at all times.
Her white tail-tip went over her nose and her eyes shut closed, welcoming the much-needed sleep.
The damp forest floor under Sunsplash's paws felt good compared to the warmth coming from newleaf. She padded underneath the canopy, the floor dappled with sunlight. It was relatively peaceful today, she knew Sootpaw would be looking forward to training.
Sunsplash broke into a trot, weaving between the trees and every-so-often opening her jaws to taste the air, wary of strangers. The rustle of bushes as rodents raced away from Sunsplash reassured her that no one had been here. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of the thorn bushes that led into camp. They were ramshackled, and looked as if someone attempted to drag them.
Sunsplash padded through them with caution, her muscles tensed and her breathing shallow.
"You're back!" Sootpaw greeted happily, catching Sunsplash off guard. She hissed in surprise, her neck fur bristling.
"Great StarClan, Sootpaw! Why do you always have to scare me?" Sunsplash meowed. Her eyes went wide, and her heartbeat pulsed rapidly.
"Sorry," Sootpaw let out a purr of amusement. "It's just always so tense here, thought I'd give the others a laugh." He whisked his tail in the direction of Lionblaze, Cinderheart, and Mothflower. Their whiskeres were twitching, and Cinderheart had a gleam in her smoky-blue eyes.
"Okay well you've had your fun," Sunsplash said. "How about some battle training? It's a nice day, and we could hunt after. I'm sure you three are hungry?" She asked, glancing up at the others.
"Not really," Lionblaze meowed. "Sootpaw hunted for us while you were gone last night."
Mothflower nodded. "My son is a fine hunter. Do you mind if I join you hunting later?"
Sunsplash shook her head. "You can come. We'll drop by, and I'll let you and Sootpaw go." When Mothflower nodded, Sunsplash flicked Sootpaw's shoulder with her tail and they bounded off through the thorn tunnel. "What happened to the bushes?" She asked as they ran to the clearing.
"I caught a fat rabbit last night and had a bit of trouble dragging it in," Sootpaw panted. He ducked underneath a low-hanging branch and kept a bit ahead of Sunsplash.
"Well help me fix it later, okay?" Sunsplash ordered. "I don't want anyone coming through besides us and the others."
Sootpaw didn't answer, and they carried on through the forest in silence. The ground began to slope upwards, and they halted at the grassy clearing on top.
Sunsplash's fur bristled at the sight. A trail of blood began in the center and trailed to ShadowClan's side of the forest, receding into the pines. "What happened here?" She slowly paced around the initial pool of blood. Her jaws opened to taste the air. Waspflight....
"Who did it?" Sootpaw asked, hanging back. His amber eyes were shadowed with concern, wonder, and a trace of fear. he shuffled his paws through the grass, and Sunsplash noticed by the twitching of his gray pelt that he desperately wanted to leave the site.
"Waspflight," Sunsplash growled. "We had a...meeting...about a moon ago. He told me that all the territories would be his. He's probably trying to make a statement."
"But how would he know we come here to train?" Sootpaw asked.
"He's watching us," Sunsplash breathed. A breeze stirred her ginger-and-white pelt, and it blew gently. It blew Waspflight's scent away as well. "Let's follow this," She said.
"Follow it?" Sootpaw echoed in surprise. "What if he tries to kill us?"
"Then I will kill him if he kills us."
"That made no sense," Sootpaw meowed, his eyes glittering with amusement.
"Exactly." Sunsplash headed down the slope, tail high in the air. Waspflight must've dragged something he killed, like a piece of prey. I'll play your little game. Sootpaw's fear scent filled the air as they entered the dark, pine forest.
Twigs snapped underpaw, and ravens peched atop branches, mocking Sunsplash and Sootpaw with calls of laughter. Sunsplash narrowed her eyes as the blood trail's view came to an end a few tail-lengths away.
"There's nothing here," Sunsplash meowed. She glanced around, and nosed underneath piles of fallen branches and leaves.
"And that's where you're wrong."
Sunsplash tensed, and sprang in front of Sootpaw, who was pawing at a leaf. Waspflight emerged from the shadows of the pines, claws unsheathed and gleaming in the rays of sunlight. "What do you want, Waspflight?" Sunsplash hissed.
"I wanted you to leave but you ignored my orders," Waspflight snarled, stalking closer to Sunsplash and Sootpaw. "I've been watching you. You're defiant, and I sent those foxes into WindClan to see if you would actually risk your life to save strangers...and die in the process."
"Well your plan failed, Waspflight," Sunsplash growled quietly. "This is my home. I was raised in it, and I will die in it. So unless you have backup, I wouldn't expect you to win."
Waspflight snarled and lashed at the ground, scoring deep marks in the earth. "I'll give you one more warning. ShadowClan has fallen, and their territory is mine, as well as the ones who survived my attack. Your territory will be the same if you ignore me again, and I will kill you." He bounded away into the forest, disappearing into the shadows.
Sunsplash snarled after him, but didn't give chase. She turned to face Sootpaw, who's amber orbs were as round and wide as an owl's. "If you ever leave camp alone, always stay vigilant."
Sootpaw nodded. "Yes, Sunsplash." His gray fur relaxed, and his tail lashed along the forest-floor in anticipation.
"Now run back to camp while I clean up this mess. Foxes and badgers are liable to come around since no one keeps them at bay anymore, especially with a long blood-trail such as this," Sunsplash meowed. Her heart was pounding, but she didn't want Sootpaw to notice her fear. She saw Waspflight's long, sharp claws, and his sharp fangs as he snarled. He was huge, and she didn't want to tangle with him. Her eight moons here was almost over, and hopefully Sootpaw, Mothflower, Lionblaze, and Cinderheart would leave with her.
Sootpaw bounded away, his paws silent as he fled the site and headed for camp. Sunsplash went up the slope, and emerged into sunlight and grassy clearings. It gave her the chills to see a bloodstream, and she pondered for a moment about who's blood it was.
She went towards the stream, which used to be the border between WindClan and ThunderClan, now it was just a stream. Sunsplash waded into the stream, relishing the cold water on her fur after a sunny, warm day. She lapped up some first before climbing onto the banks and gathering moss. The moss was dipped into the water before being carried back up to the clearing.
Sunsplash clamped her jaws onto the mass of moss, and let the water free. It streamed down the hill, washing the blood away and onto the lower land. She retreated back to get more water and moss, and repeated. She tossed the moss away and trotted into the forest. Her jaws opened to taste the air for prey, and almost immediately scented a mouse.
Leaping into a fork of a tree, Sunsplash scanned the area where the mouse was. She spotted it nibbling a nut in the earth, its pink nose twitching to scent predators. Sunsplash grinned, she was downwind of it. Deciding the fork she was in wasn't too high, Sunsplash flew from the branch and swept upon the mouse.
It squeaked in pain as Sunsplash's claws wrapped around its neck. The rodent fell limp, and Sunsplash breathed in the warm scent of blood. Her stomach rumbled, but this mouse wasn't for her. She doubled back to the clearing once again, and set the mouse among the grass near the bloody site.
Sunsplash didn't know if the mouse would even be fresh if any predators decided to come and investigate, but she hoped it would keep the foxes and or badgers at bay, to keep her and everyone safe for another day.
"Why is Twolegplace so nasty?" Sootpaw growled, flinging a piece of twoleg trash off his pelt. "Plus they're everywhere. Have they ever learned of dens?"
Sunsplash chuckled. "Twolegs are naturally weird. But everytime I come down here they leave me alone, so I leave them alone." The two cats slinked alongside a brick wall, out of the way of the twoleg's path and the heat of the sun.
"How much farther are these loners?" Sootpaw asked.
Sunsplash rolled her eyes. In just two moons, Sootpaw got more short-tempered and battle-hungry, she guessed it came with age. "Not much." Her ears perked as she spotted Loki darting across a thunderpath. "There's one, actually. Come on!" She broke into a run, trying to catch up to the brown tom. She winced as she stepped away from the shadows and her paws touched hot ground. There had been no sign of Waspflight since two moons ago, and Sunsplash's eight moon mark was coming to an end. She wanted to say goodbye to her friends in Twolegplace.
"This ground is burning my paws!" Sootpaw growled to himself.
"Fortunately you probably won't be coming here after this," Sunsplash meowed over her shoulder. She rounded a corner and slowed to a trot, the alley coming into view. "It's just up here." Sootpaw gave a breath of relief.
Sunsplash stopped at the alley entrance. "It's Sunsplash," She called in. The alley ran quite far, it was best to call her name before her muzzle got clawed.
Loki appeared from the shadows, flanks heaving. "Hey!" He panted, trying to catch his breath. "Come in." He turned and beckoned with his tail as he padded back.
"So has Torunn had her kits yet?" Sunsplash asked as they walked down the alley.
Loki's amber eyes brightened immediately. "Yes! They're wonderful. By the way, who's this tom?" Flicking his tail at Sootpaw. "Is he your son?"
Sunsplash's whiskers twitched in amusement. "No he's my apprentice. Won't be for much longer though, he's almost a warrior." She regretted her words, there was no such thing as a warrior. But in Firestar's eyes there was.
"Sunsplash!" Russet called as she spotted the ginger-and-white she-cat. The dark red tabby she-kit had grown quite well in the past few moons. She was going to be small, but her long, thick fur made up for it, and her green eyes shined like orbs.
Sunsplash purred and nuzzled Russet's nose before greeting the others. She nodded to Dusk, the tortoiseshell she-cat was sharing tongues with her mate, Scorch on top of the Twoleg dumpster.
"Who's this cat?" Russet asked, gazing up at Sootpaw. "He's huge!"
Sunsplash purred. "I'll introduce him in a moment." She looked back at Sootpaw. His gray pelt was raised in embarrassment, and his amber eyes looked nervous.
"Greetings, Sunsplash," Fox meowed, emerging from the tarp. "Who have you brought with you?" By now, the loners had gathered together. Fox, Russet, Dusk, Scorch, Ash, Snow, and Loki had gone off to fetch Torunn from her sleeping place atop the building their alley was between.
"This is Sootpaw," Sunsplash addressed, waving her tail at the gray tom. "My apprentice." She beamed with pride. Sootpaw did feel like her son in a way, she had been with him since he was a little kit after she rescued Mothflower and him.
Everyone gave friendly greetings and began talking to him. Loki came up, with Torunn behind him. Sunsplash's eyes gleamed as she spotted two little kits trailing behind them, pouncing on top of each other and rolling across the ground.
"We have visitors," Loki meowed sternly, turning to the two. The kits immediately straightened up, eyes bright.
"What are their names?" Sunsplash asked, purring.
"This one," Loki meowed, pointing to a brown tabby she-kit, "is Sparrow." He turned to another she-kit with thick, shiny black fur. "And she's Night."
Sunsplash nodded. "Congratulations," She meowed to the new parents.
"Can we go play now?" Sparrow squeaked. They were obviously born not too long ago, their paws small and delicate still.
"No, I want you in my sight," Loki meowed sternly. He nuzzled each kit, "I don't want to lose you."
Torunn looked to Sunsplash. "He hogs them, I never get time," She meowed amusingly.
"Well good luck with that," Sunsplash meowed. She padded back to where everyone was talking to Sootpaw. He seemed relaxed and having a good time chatting away. She approached Fox and sat down beside him on the stone ground.
"How's life been?" He asked, turning his attention to her.
"Fine, no threats lately," Sunsplash said in relief. "I'm going to be leaving soon, for good." She had to choke out the words. Being here was fun, it was like living in a clan...only in Twolegplace.
"You're leaving?" Fox repeated in surprise. "Why and where?"
"When the clans were first killed off, my father left with who was left of my clan. He said he would send for me in eight moons, and that time is gone. As to where, I don't know yet." Sunsplash focused on the two kits, who were being groomed by their parents. Then to Sootpaw who was showing Russet battle moves.
"Is today your last day?" Fox asked.
"I don't know. The most in a few days," Sunsplash sighed. "I'd better get home in case they come tonight. I'll say my goodbyes to everyone." Her shoulders sagged.
As she approached Russet, the red she-kit bounced to her paws after being swiped down carefully by Sootpaw. "Want to join our war?" She asked hopefully.
Sunsplash swallowed back a lump in her throat. "I have to leave. For good."
Russet's expression dropped. "But you're awesome! You can't just leave."
Then an idea sparked in Sunsplash's mind. "You could come with me," She suggested.
"Really?" Russet's eyes gleamed with excitement and her ears perked. She bounded to Fox and began asking questions.
Sunsplash rolled her eyes playfully and straightened up as Fox approached her. Everyone had overheard the conversation she shared briefly with Russet and were beginning to come around.
"You've been a good friend over the past moons, Sunsplash," Fox began. "We will miss your presence here. I have agreed to let Russet join you, I believe you're capable of protecting her and training her to fight and hunt in the forest."
Sunsplash grinned. "Thank you, Fox. I promise I will visit." She looked to Russet who was talking to Sootpaw, excitedly telling him how she'd be joining them.
"Bye, Sunsplash," Torunn meowed sorrowfully. "I'll remember you forever." The two rubbed noses and Sunsplash said goodbye to everyone as she, Sootpaw, and Russet escaped Twolegplace.
Back in the forest, Sunsplash introduced Russet to Lionblaze, Cinderheart, and Mothflower.
"That's my grandfather, Lionblaze, and my grandmother, Cinderheart," Sunsplash said. The two elders gleamed with joy at a new cat around.
"And this is my mother, Mothflower," Sootpaw added, standing beside the brown tabby she-cat. "My father was once the leader of ThunderClan, but I never met him," He said, tail drooping.
Russet immediately warmed up to them. They talked away, getting to know each other better.
Sunsplash went to the back of the den where the prey was kept, and grabbed three pieces of prey from earlier--two squirrels and a mouse. "Eat up," She meowed, setting the fresh-kill in front of the cats.
She shared the mouse with Russet, enjoying her possible last night here. StarClan keep us all safe.
Sunsplash sat on watch throughout the early morning. Dense fog covered the forests, and crickets and locusts chirped away. She could hear Sootpaw's soft snoring coming from inside the den, and then the crunch of paws on bracken as Russet padded out sleepily.
"You're up early," Sunsplash meowed with the flick of an ear. "Why don't you go back to sleep?"
"You're up early too," Russet yawned. She sat beside Sunsplash. "I miss Loki and Torunn, and everyone else."
"It's not too late to go back you know," Sunsplash said. Her heart sank--she didn't want to lose Russet. Please don't leave. She pawed anxiously at the ground.
"No," Russet mewed firmly. "I want to stay here with you and Sootpaw. Promise me you'll take care of me?" She gazed up at Sunsplash with small, innocent green eyes.
"I promise," Sunsplash purred. "But on the way to our new home, I'll teach you how to hunt and defend yourself, in case we get seperated." As if on que, a familiar large bright ginger tom silently padded through the thorn tunnel. Sunsplash had stayed awake all morning for this moment, waiting for the moment when she would see another familiar face again after almost a year. But she also knew this was the last day she would ever see Lionblaze and Cinderheart, and maybe even Mothflower.
Russet's eyes went wide, and a growl sounded deep in her throat, but it was faint.
"Scorchpelt!" Sunsplash purred and darted forward. "It's been so long!"
"It's only been eight moons," Scorchpelt meowed, whiskers twitching in amusement. Tigerleaf stalked through the thorns shortly after. She was never one for talking much, and mostly kept to herself unless it came to cats close to her.
"This place has really come down," Scorchpelt said, sitting down with his tail curled neatly over his paws. "Twolegs took advantage of the disappearance of the clans and began building their wretched dens."
"Really?" A nervous ripple passed through Sunsplash's stomach. "How far?"
"All the way upstream. Don't worry, we'll make it to our new camp." Scorchpelt peered behind Sunsplash, where Russet was keeping low. "Who's this?"
"I'm Russet," spoke the small she-cat. "I'm from Twolegplace, ten moons."
"You're awfully small for ten moons," Scorchpelt meowed. "But that's a good thing, the place where we're headed for tomorrow--smallness is an advantage." He turned to Sunsplash. "Tigerleaf and I will go hunting, and hopefully by then everyone will have awaken."
Scorchpelt and Tigerleaf trotted through the thorn tunnel, a fluffy squirrel in each of their jaws. Lionblaze and Cinderheart's ears perked as they noticed the two familiars.
"Great to see you again, Scorchpelt," Lionblaze greeted, padding forward and rubbing noses with the ginger tom. "And you, Tigerleaf," He added with a nod to the she-cat, who was beginning a chat with Cinderheart.
Sunsplash ducked under the brambles of the den, and proceeded towards her grandparents, with Russet and Sootpaw in toe. Mothflower appeared a moment later, her amber eyes brightening with joy.
"Tigerleaf!" Mothflower meowed happily, rushing forward to greet her best friend.
Tigerleaf seemed less pleased to see Mothflower, and a hint of resentment gleamed in her amber orbs. "I thought you abandoned us? You weren't here after the battle."
Mothflower backed away, her light tabby pelt pricked after the awkward greeting. "I didn't abandon you, I had to save my kits. But I failed, and only saved one." Her tail drooped towards the dusty ground, but her eyes sparkled when they traveled across the camp to rest on Sootpaw, who was wrestling with Russet.
Tigerleaf didn't say a word, and stalked out of the thorn tunnel. Scorchpelt glanced after her, but didn't bother chasing. "Might as well eat up now and sleep, we have a long day tomorrow."
Cinderheart looked on at her nephew in sorrow. "Actually, Scorchpelt, Lionblaze and I are staying. We are too old to make the journey to your new camp, wherever it is." She stared down at her paws with a sigh.
"We'll help you," Scorchpelt assured. His bright ginger tail flicked. "Both of you can make it."
"It's not that we don't want to, it's just that we'd rather spend the rest of our days in the camp we were born and raised in," Lionblaze meowed, looking to his mate to make sure he was right.
"Oh. I see." Scorchpelt eyed the small pile of prey where Sunsplash, Sootpaw, and Russet had gathered. "Shall we feast one more time together tonight?"
Lionblaze and Cinderheart grinned, and the three settled under a bramble bush, reminscing and enjoying the last time they would ever see each other.
Sunsplash rubbed noses with her grandparents. "I'll miss you," She meowed painfully. A lump stuck in her throat--her whole life she'd lived with Lionblaze and Cinderheart, but now they had to part ways. She blinked back tears as she pulled away from them.
From the thorn tunnel, Sootpaw let out a wail of sorrow. "Why aren't you coming?" The young tom asked his mother.
Mothflower looked on in sadness, "I'm sorry, but I can't just leave two elders to fend for themselves."
"They can still hunt!" Sootpaw argued. "Please come with us. I need my mother with me." He looked at the ground, a glint of anger in his fiery amber eyes. Scorchpelt and Tigerleaf looked on awkwardly.
"I'm sorry my son," Mothflower apologised. "I'm proud of you, I really am. And I'll never forget you. Maybe one day we'll see each other again." She embraced her son, and give him a quick lick over his ears, just as she had done when he was a kit in the nursery.
Sunsplash watched, and felt Sootpaw's pain. She knew how it felt to lose someone, everyone did.
"Let's go then," Scorchpelt called to Sootpaw and Sunsplash. He stalked out the thorn tunnel, ginger tail low and swishing the ground. Russet and Tigerleaf followed.
Sunsplash glanced over her shoulder at Lionblaze and Cinderheart, and give a quick nod farewell. She had no words for Mothflower, they weren't close in any way. The five cats trotted through the forest, conserving their energy.
Sootpaw strayed towards the back, his unsheathed claws ripping up roots and scoring through the dirt. Sunsplash fell back to speak to him. "We all go through traumatic things in life, Sootpaw. Mothflower loves and cares for you so much that you don't even know." She paused for a moment, letting her apprentice soak up the words. "She knows you're strong and capable of taking care of yourself, which is why she decided to stay with the elders."
"But if she cared so much then why did she stay? Even if I am capable?" Sootpaw growled.
"I can't tell you why, she has her own reasons," Sunsplash meowed. "Just know that you'll see her again someday. It could be ten days from now or ten seasons from now, but you'll see your mother again, I promise."
Sootpaw's ash-gray tail lashed. As if trying to get his mind off the subject of Mothflower, he changed it. "Firestar came to me in a dream last night."
"What did he say?" Sunsplash asked, dodging below a low-hanging tree branch.
"He gave me my warrior name," Sootpaw replied proudly. All hints of his past anger were gone, instead, his chest was puffed out proudly. "I'm now Sootflame."
Sunsplash purred in pride. "Congratulations. You've survived this long, I knew you would." Sootflame beamed, but said nothing else. Sunsplash sped up the pace to catch up to Russet, who was chatting with Tigerleaf. The small red she-cat was keeping up well.
StarClan keep us safe on this journey.
The sun rose high in the sky, and the cats slowed their pace as a river came into view.
"I could use a drink right now," Sootflame panted. "Why did we have to travel when it's this hot?" His gray fur glinted in the sunlight as he emerged from the undergrowth and into the clearing.
"Get used to it," Scorchpelt meowed. "We have about a ten day jourmey to our camp."
Sunsplash's eyes widened. "Ten days? You traveled that far?"
Scorchpelt nodded. "But it was worth it. Our new home is definitley more protected and comfy. I'm sure you'll love it." The bright ginger tom pushed through the reeds at the beach of the river, and bent down to lap up the water.
Sunsplash just studied Russet, chatting excitedly to Sootflame and taking drinks in between. Can she make it the whole way? She was small, and was always confined to the Twolegplace, with no predators to run from, except the occasional dog or rogue cat. Then Sunsplash padded to the water's edge, and lapped up a cold mouthful of water.
"We're definitley on the right trail," Tigerleaf meowed, padding back up the grassy bank. "There's an abandoned tunnel a few miles ahead. We'll rest there." Her dark tabby tail flicked as she sat patiently atop the bank.
Sunsplash took a last drink of water--replenished--and followed the others away from the river. They ran along the tall grasses, always a few fox-lengths from the river. It was silent, except for the constant chatter between Russet and Sootflame.
Scorchpelt stopped abruptly, his nose twitching as he sniffed the air. He growled under his breath. "Kittypets." His ginger tail swished along the jaws of Sootflame and Russet. "We came across them on our journey here, they're hostile."
Sootflame scoffed. "Dangerous kittypets?" His gray paws kneaded the ground with unsheathed claws that glinted in the rays of sunlight. Sunsplash swallowed nervously at their sharpness--no cat had claws that sharp. It was almost as if he sharpened them daily.
"There's six of them," Scorchpelt explained. He motioned for the others to get low, and only to attack if need be.
Sunsplash stalked through the grass, in front of Russet. "Get in front of me," She whispered to the younger she-cat. Russet circled in front of her, and they continued on. Sunsplash eventually heard unfamiliar voices. They were gruff sounding, nothing like what Sunsplash ever imagined kittypets.
The five were doing fine, until the wind shifted, blowing into the hostiles' direction.
"Do you smell that?" A dark tabby tom growled. His hackles were raised as he turned to his closest companion--a black-and-white she-cat.
The she-cat opened her jaws to sniff the air. "Yeah, smells like those two rogues that passed by like what--two days ago?"
"We need to teach them a lesson about trespassing," A gray-speckled tom hissed. They were perched on top of a monster at a twoleg den across the river. Two other cats appeared from under the monster.
"The monsters just let them sit and climb all over them?" Sootflame wrinkled his nose in disgust.
Russet's whiskers twitched in amusement. "They're called cars!" She pointed with her tail-tip towards the monster. "Humans--err, twolegs--'drive' them. A form of transportation I guess."
Sootflame's ear twitched in confusion. "So...they don't eat the twolegs and spit them back out?"
"Are you two coming?" Sunsplash called from ahead. Sootflame and Russet hadn't realised that the others had left them behind.
"We're going to run," Sunsplash said. "We're trying to avoid fights as much as possible--we don't want to die in battle before we make it to our new home."
So the journey continued, with the faint scent of hostiles cats always on their tails.
A rustle in the undergrowth startled Sunsplash from her peaceful sleep. The forest they had stopped in to regain energy was very quiet, with only the chirps of crickets and the scrabbling of squirrel's claws as they raced across the branches of trees. But this rustle was different--it sounded of something big.
"Scorchpelt!" Sunsplash whispered to the ginger tom beside her.
Scorchpelt's ear twitched. "Hmm?" He mumbled, blinking one amber eye open. He rolled over in the makeshift bracken nest.
"I heard something," Sunsplash warned. She glared into the shadows of the forest. Why hadn't she thought of keeping watch?
"It's probably a squirrel or bird or something," Scorchpelt muttered. "Go back to sleep, we're nearly to the camp."
Sunsplash's paws ached when Scorchpelt mentioned that. They had been traveling for 8 days at a quick pace, and the surroundings were so unfamiliar it made her stomach churn. Reluctantly, she laid her head on her paws, but kept her eyes open.
Leaves crunched from somewhere in the distance. Now Scorchpelt was on his paws, ears swiveling to locate the direction. "You were right," He growled to himself. He nudged Tigerleaf awake, who was curled beside him.
Sunsplash stood and shook earth from her pelt. She turned to Russet and Sootflame, who were sleeping soundly underneath a bramble bush. She isntantly felt sorry for shaking them awake. "Get up!" She hissed under her breath.
Tigerleaf gasped, her dark amber eyes wide. "I saw a fox!"
Scorchpelt's fur bristled. "Russet can you fight?" He asked, turning to the reddish-tabby she-cat.
Russet's piercing green eyes glinted in the moonlight. "I can fight better than you know," She meowed, with a glance towards Sunsplash for approval. Sunsplash's heart ached--she didn't want to see Russet fighting a fox, or Sootflame. They grew to become like her own kits.
"Living in Twolegplace as a rogue makes you rough," Scorchpelt added, as if he was seeing the concerned look in Sunsplash's eyes. "We'll run, but if it gets close, we stand together and fight. No fleeing."
Again, there was a rustle, and then a large fox appeared from the undergrowth, saliva stringing from its jaws. Its slender long legs quivered in anticipated of a meal--or at least something to attack.
"Great StarClan it's rabid!" Tigerleaf screeched. She immediately turned tail and ran.
Scorchpelt followed, and Sunsplash nudged Russet and Sootflame in front of her, then sprang away. She could feel the fox's hot breath on her tail, and it made her sick. The fox snapped at the air, sending saliva flying over their heads.
"Climb up a tree!" Scorchpelt ordered.
Sunsplash immediately scrabbled up the nearest tree, gripping the bark with her claws and leaping up into a fork. Russet and Sootflame joined her, panting in fear. Scorchpelt and Tigerleaf stood across from them on another branch. The leaves scratched at Sunsplash's ears, and the blood roared.
"That was scary!" Russet whispered, half to herself. She watched as the fox leaped up and down, trying to get a hold of one of the cats. It yipped and barked, foam bubbling at its jaws. Sunsplash's stomach heaved, but she bit her tongue to hold in the sickness.
"What do we do?" Sunsplash asked Scorchpelt. "It's not going to give up--it's rabid."
"Eventually it'll give in to its disease, most likely by sunhigh tomorrow, if it hasn't left already," Scorchpelt answered, glancing down at the rabid animal. "Just get to a higher branch and try to get some rest."
Sunsplash bounded up to another branch, her paw scraping on a small thorn protruding from the branch. She yelped in pain, then examined the blood welling across the pad. She growled, and wiped it off on a leaf. Her paw burned. At least I'm not being torn apart by a fox. Instead, I'm being torn apart by a tree. Sunsplash scoffed at her thoughts. She closed her eyes, and the sounds of the snarling fox below was drowned out by the sound of needed sleep.
The sun rose high in the sky, and the clearing the cats were passing through was filled with meaty rabbits and large mice. Sootflame appeared from a patch of heather, a rabbit in his jaws.
Tigerleaf licked her jaws. "I'm starving!" She meowed as Sootflame placed the rabbit on the earth.
Sootflame's stomach growled, and he felt the need to claw and bite at everyone--this was his prey--but he didn't. Instead, he laid on the ground and took a big chunk out of the rabbit's haunch.
Sunsplash took one mouthful, and left the rest for the others. She didn't mind going hungry, not here anyway. Prey was plentiful--it wasn't used to predators, except for the occasional fox or badger, sometimes even a hawk from the sky.
"We have about a mile to go until we reach our new territory," Scorchpelt said. He grinned, and started off. Everyone gulped down their mouthful and trotted after Scorchpelt. Sunsplash eagerly followed, ready to see her new home.
"Are you ready to get there?" She asked Russet.
Russet looked up at her with admiring green eyes. "Yeah! What will it be like?"
"I don't know," Sunsplash answered. "But we'll see."
After a while, they approached a forestline. "Welcome to your new home," Scorchpelt meowed. He pawed at a spot on the ground marked with a few stones stacked on each other, "That's one of the border markers." Quickly, he left his mark and then led the others closer to the camp. "There are lots of new cats to meet."
"What do you mean?" Sunsplash asked, curious. New cats?
"I was waiting until we got to the territory to tell you everything. Our new name is VineClan, and there is currently three other clans," Scorchpelt explained briefly.
"Really?" Sootflame's amber eyes widened.
"I didn't expect all this to happen so soon," Sunsplash said. "I mean, it's only been barely nine moons."
"Yeah, some cats from the Lake fled, and we met up somewhere upstream from there. Anyway--I suspect that Russet is past apprentice age?" He meowed, giving Russet the up-and-down.
"I'm ten moons," Russet growled, offended. "I'm small but that doesn't mean I'm a kit!"
"Never said you were," Scorchpelt sniffed.
"So why did you call yourselves VineClan?" Sunsplash asked. She didn't spot any vines swinging from tree-to-tree. It was all like ThunderClan territory, only less dense.
"Over the camp is a bunch of vines, Snowstorm thought it suited the clan name," Scorchpelt replied.
Sunsplash felt her heart sink. She glanced over her shoulder, the direction from which they had came--back towards the Lake, towards ThunderClan. I'll never forget.
After the trek through the forest, Scorchpelt eventually stopped at the edge of a deep, long, wide dip in the ground.
It's so much like ThunderClan! Sunsplash thought. Perhaps this wasn't going to be as hard to adjust as she thought. A few uprooted trees crossed over the camp, with vines swinging from them--just like Scorchpelt had said. The camp was dark with shade, and cats mingled in it, not as busy or crowded as ThunderClan though.
"Won't the trees fall?" Russet asked, her tail flicking nervously.
Tigerleaf's whiskers twitched. "No. See those big boulders supporting them? They were like that when we arrived, no problem since."
Scorchpelt flicked his tail to signal them to follow, and led the way down a sandy trail. It was protected by jagged rocks protruding from the ground, and thick brambles shielded the edge of the camp. Sunsplash squeezed by the rocks, her heart thumping.
A gray tabby she-cat greeted them when they arrived in camp. "You're back!" She meowed excitedly. She rubbed noses with Scorchpelt warmly, and then flicked Tigerleaf's shoulder with her tail.
Sunsplash forget for a moment who she was, then recalled she was Rainflight, made warrior before the clans split. She guessed her and Scorchpelt were mates, from her softly rounded stomach, unless she was just eating too much fresh-kill. Sunsplash gave a friendly nod--she wasn't used to being around so many cats anymore.
"I remember you!" Rainflight meowed gleefully, looking to Sootflame. "You were so tiny last time I saw you!" Sootflame's pelt prickled in embarrassment, but he said nothing. "And who's this?" Rainflight asked, pointing at Russet with her tail-tip.
"That's Russet," Sunsplash answered. "I met her in Twolegplace a while back when she was still a kit. She decided to join us," She meowed, grinning.
"Well come on then," Scorchpelt said. "I'm sure your father is anxious to see you." The ginger tom led Sunsplash, Sootflame, and Russet to a small cave near the trail leading into camp. A couple of ferns sprouted near the entrance to the cave, giving it a cozy feeling and keeping it shielded from view.
"Permission to enter, Snowstar?" Scorchpelt called through the ferns. His ears pricked, waiting for an answer.
"Come in!" Snowstar replied, voice high with excitement.
Scorchpelt nodded to Sunsplash, signaling her to enter first. "Hi," Sunsplash greeted, unsure anymore of how to start a conversation with a leader of a clan.
Snowstar got up from his place beside a tortoiseshell she-cat, who Sunsplash was wary to greet at first. "It's been so long!" He meowed, nuzzling Sunsplash's ear as he had done when she was just a tiny, helpless kit. "You've grown so much since last time."
Sunsplash gave a shy grin, but didn't say anything. Her father looked almost the same, but with a new scar to add to his shoulder.
"This is Duskfire," Snowstar introduced, taking a step back towards the tortoiseshell she-cat.
"Nice to finally meet you," Duskfire purred.
"She's expecting our kits," Snowstar meowed proudly. His amber eyes lit up, and he swept his tail around Duskfire protectively.
"Great!" Sunsplash yipped. But she didn't really care about having siblings, she was older anyway. What could she possibly have to do with a bunch of kits? "Well, have you met Russet?" She asked, stepping back to let the red she-cat be seen. "And Sootflame. He was Sootkit when everything happened."
Snowstar's eyes widened with Sootflame's height and powerful muscles. "You'll make an excellent warrior!" He turned to Russet, and nodded a greeting. "How old are you?"
"Ten moons," Russet replied, trying her best to look a bit taller and tougher.
Snowstar looked back to his daughter. "Do you want to finish out her training?"
"I'd love to!" Sunsplash purred.
"Great." Snowstar flicked his tail to send them away. "And Sootflame, Scorchpelt will take you out tomorrow at dawn to see how well you hunt and fight. Not that I don't doubt you, we do it with every cat we take in."
Sootflame nodded, and then bounded after Sunsplash and Russet.
After a half-moon, things were starting to finally get familiar with Sunsplash. The forest was thick, but less undergrowth and more low-set branches. Scorchpelt had also mentioned there being three other clans, made from the warriors who scattered moons ago. Apparently, they had all gathered upstream from the Lake, and some went their own ways. But Sunsplash had yet to see another clan. Soon she would, for everyone at camp had been speaking of a Gathering. Oh how much she missed the old clans, this just wasn't the same.
Now on patrol with a few fellow warriors, she felt confident in her own territory, but not completely trusting of her clanmates, with the exception of a few.
"Hey, Sunsplash," Called Blackfire, whom Sunsplash had been delighted to be reunited with when she arrived, "Check that side of the border, Flowersong said she'd scented a rival clan on the far side yesterday."
"Never hurts to check," Sunsplash said to herself, annoyed with the gray-and-white she-cat for not have checked anything. "Let's go, Russetpaw," She signaled for Russetpaw to follow her into the brambles, and Blackfire and Stoneshade turned tail and marked the border a few fox-lengths away.
Sunsplash pawed at the ground, sniffed, opened her jaws to taste the air for any intruding scents, but nothing.
"Look at this!" Russetpaw squeaked, rolling a stone over with her paw. It had blood on it, and a rotting smell was lifted into the air.
Sunsplash's nose wrinkled in disgust. "Is it just on this one?" She asked, immediately checking over the little rocks and stones scattered under the bushes and earth. "They all have it!" She hissed, hackles raising.
"It's not anywhere on the ground, though," Russetpaw pointed out.
"Which means someone placed it there, or something." Sunsplash was confused, and a little frightened. "Come on, we have to report this to Scorchpelt. But first, we have to get Blackfire and Stoneshade." She ducked under a low-hanging tree branch and sprinted across a path through the trees. Russetpaw was hard on her paws.
"Blackfire!" Sunsplash called out to her former mentor.
The black tom was crouched under a thorn bush, examining something. "You saw them too?" He asked without looking up. Stoneshade stood watch near him, his gray tabby fur was pricked with worry.
Russetpaw nodded, with a worried glance up at Sunsplash.
"It's so weird!" Sunsplash growled with frustration. It always made her frustrated when she couldn't figure anything out. "Seriously, who slicks blood on stones and leaves them there?"
"An enemy?" Stoneshade answered sarcastically. Sunsplash flicked her tail at him, telling him it was a retorical question.
Blackfire kicked a stone away with his back paw, and led the patrol back to camp. "We have to hurry back," He meowed. Glancing at Russetpaw, he added, "Try to keep up."
Sunsplash's spine shivered--how could that even happen?
The four cats skidded down the trail into camp, and Blackfire dismissed everyone and went to speak to Scorchpelt.
"Get some rest and practice those battle moves I showed you yesterday," Sunsplash told Russetpaw, flicking her tail at the apprentice's den, which was a tunnel that led underground and opened into a den--just like the rest of the dens. Sunsplash assumed either foxes or badgers lived here long ago.
"Okay, may I eat first?" Russetpaw asked, her green eyes gazing longingly at the fresh-kill pile.
"Of course! I'll join you." They padded to the pile--Sunsplash choosing a plump mouse and Russetpaw a fluffy gray squirrel. Sunsplash's mouth watered, and she took a big mouthful.
A brown tabby tom padded their way, and Sunsplash rolled her eyes at who it was--Birchfoot. He was a pretty cool cat, but sometimes he got on Sunsplash's nerves for no reason.
"Are you coming to the Gathering tomorrow night?" Birchfoot asked.
"Gathering?" Sunsplash repeated.
"You've never heard of a Gathering?" Birchfoot meowed in surprise. "You've been here for more than half a moon!"
"I know what a Gathering is!" Sunsplash hissed. "I've lived in a clan my whole life. It's just that nobody has ever told me there was one."
"Then maybe you should tone your temper down more, and actually start making conversations," Birchfoot argued. His brown fur was bristled, but he settled down in a few moments. "Anyway, it's going to be really tense. We've been rivals with SeaClan ever since the four clans got settled."
"SeaClan?" Sunsplash's head was whirling with insults to spit at Birchfoot and with all this new information, that she hadn't even noticed Russetpaw had finished off her squirrel and left to take a nap. "What's a sea?"
"The endless water," Birchfoot answered. He sat down, his tail curled neatly around his large paws.
The endless water? "Oh you mean the sun-drown-place! I didn't know that it was nearby."
"Uh, sure, whatever you call it." Birchfoot glanced over his shoulder, as if expecting an enemy. "Would you care to see it?"
"Isn't that past SeaClan or WhateverClan's territory? We'd be invading." Sunsplash really didn't feel like breaking the warrior code in the first moon of her return. She shoved the remains of her mouse away and faced Birchfoot.
"Yeah, but there's a way around their territory, I go there at least once a moon."
"Oh. Then sure, I guess. When?" Sunsplash felt nervous, but then realised that Birchfoot wasn't terrible.
Sunsplash nodded, then padded away with a flick of her tail. As she headed for the warrior's den, she spotted Snowstar speaking to the medicine cat--Iceleaf--outside of her den. The white she-cat stepped outside from the brambles and vines hiding the cave, and muttered something to Snowstar. It made Sunsplash uneasy, and she hoped it had nothing to do with a prophecy or omen.
Someone prodded Sunsplash in the shoulder. She blinked her eyes open immediately, alert--she had completely forgotten that she and Birchfoot were going to the sun-drown-place, and thought someone had invaded camp.
"Are you ready?" Birchfoot asked, gazing down at her with his dark amber eyes.
"Yeah," Sunsplash whispered, careful not to wake her sleeping clanmates. She rose to her paws, and crept through the den, her paws crunching softly on the bracken-covered floor. Squeezing her way through the thick brambles, she eventually made it out without disturbing anybody.
Beetlewing stood on watch in the center of the darkened camp, his jet-black pelt easily blending in with the night sky. "Where are you two going?" He asked, angling his ears towards the sound of the rustling brambles.
"A walk," Birchfoot answered before Sunsplash could. "Couldn't sleep, so we thought we'd go for a run first." Beetlewing nodded, and let them be on their way.
"Try to keep up, we don't have all night to travel to the sea," Birchfoot meowed as they began running through the forest.
"I'm faster than you are!" Sunsplash teased, though she was slightly offended. To prove it, she flattened her ears against the night breeze and willed her muscles to propel her foward. She passed Birchfoot, and waited for him a few fox-lengths away at a fallen log.
"Okay, I'm a slow badger," Birchfoot growled at himself. "Come on!" He darted past Sunsplash, leaves showering the air.
Sunsplash scowled, and took off after him. A branch barely nicked her ear as the flew beneath the trees, but it wasn't a big deal. For the first time since she was an apprentice in ThunderClan, she was having fun. Before coming to VineClan, her life was all about catching prey for Lionblaze and Cinderheart, and constantly being on patrol. But now with clanmates to help out, it didn't hurt to slack off a bit.
They burst into a clearing, and Sunsplash hadn't realised they'd passed the border. "SeaClan is back there," Birchfoot informed. "We went north instead of west, they don't own the sea so we're free to visit it. Well, actually we're not supposed to leave the territory but Snowstar won't know we left."
"He'd let me off the hook anyway, since I'm his daughter," Sunsplash assured.
"Hopefully. Let's keep going, we're almost there." Birchfoot trotted down the grassy hill, where once again they were surrounded by undergrowth, only this time the ground was much more soft.
Sand! Sunsplash had missed the feeling of being near the shore, just like when she would travel to the Lake and draw in the grainy sand with her claw. It wasn't much, but just a slight reminder.
She followed Birchfoot through a clump of bushes, and was surprised by what she saw. They stood on a cliff above the calming waves, and below the twinkling stars. "It's beautiful!" Sunsplash exclaimed, dashing to the edge. "Now I see why you come here every moon."
Birchfoot grinned. "There's nothing you can compare to this sight, especially when the sun is rising and setting." He padded to her side and sat down.
To Sunsplash's surprise, she found herself slightly leaning against the sturdy brown tom. She instantly felt awkward, but didn't budge. He didn't move away, he's fine with it. Suddenly, living here didn't seem so bad anymore.
Sunsplash sleepily opened her eyes. She was back in her nest at camp, and her paws ached. Everyone was awake and out on patrol or training. Only two warriors lingered around camp, ready to defend it. She padded out and headed for the fresh-kill pile.
Snowstar was sitting with Duskfire under the shade of ferns, chatting quietly. He spotted Sunsplash emerge from her den, and called to her.
Sunsplash rolled her eyes, and padded to him reluctantly. Before, she liked to spend time with her father, but she never thought he'd become clan leader and annoying. "What is it?"
"You were on Blackfire's patrol yesterday, correct?" Snowstar asked.
"Yeah. With the stones?" Sunsplash checked.
"Iceleaf had a dream last night, and it has to do with a prophecy."
"Wait I thought you weren't supposed to openly discuss prophecies?" Sunsplash questioned. Unless the medicine cat back in ThunderClan just liked to ignore her.
"You were there, so obviously you'd know if we were hiding something. Anyway, the prophecy was The blood will arrive, and only time can heal the wound, or something like that." Snowstar glanced to Iceleaf's den, as if the medicine cat were to just pop out and give him the okay.
"That makes no sense," Sunsplash meowed, staring blankly.
"I know right?" Snowstar agreed.
You are one stupid leader. Sunsplash chose to keep that thought to herself. Suddenly, Duskfire gave a hiss of pain. "What happened?" Sunsplash asked, then saw her swollen stomach.
"Iceleaf!" Snowstar called across the camp. He turned back to Duskfire, "I told you not to leave the nursery!" He scolded.
"Stop treating me like a kit and get Iceleaf!" Duskfire growled, now raged with pain.
Sunsplash let Snowstar stay with her, and dashed across the camp and called Iceleaf through the bramble screen. "Duskfire's kits are coming!"
"I heard!" A voice called back. The white she-cat pushed through the brambles and sprinted to Duskfire. She and Snowstar helped escort her back to the nursery, where the kits would be safer. Rainflight, who was basking in the sun just outside, got to her paws and helped Duskfire.
Sunsplash snatched up a stick and squeezed into the nursery. Duskfire was writhing in agony, and Sunsplash placed the stick in front of her, which was instantly snapped in half by Duskfire's jaws. I'm never having kits. Ever.
"What's happening?" Russetpaw squeaked, darting to the nursery, her fur spiked and clumped from sleeping. "Oh, I'm...going to go somewhere else," She meowed awkwardly when she noticed what was going on.
Time seemed to fly by, and soon three kits lay at Duskfire's side, feeding. Sunsplash thought they were cute little balls of fur, but she still never wanted any for herself.
"You can get the dark tabby tom," Duskfire told Snowstar, exhausted.
Snowstar thought for a moment. "Adderkit!" He finally announced proudly. "You get the other two," He said. "I've already named a son and a daughter, now you can name yours."
"The brown-and-white tom is Mudkit, and the white she-kit is Cloudkit," Duskfire confirmed. She was so exhausted, but the pride still shone brightest in her eyes.
Sunsplash slipped out of the nursery, leaving her father and Duskfire to be alone with their new kits. A part of her heart ached, what if Snowstar wouldn't want anything to do with her anymore? She shook her head to clear the thoughts, afterall, she didn't much like being around others, even if it was her own parents.
Russetpaw jumped out from underneath a bramble bush, "Is it over?" She asked. "What are they?"
Sunsplash nodded, her whiskers twitching good-naturedly. "Yeah, it's over. There was two toms and one she-kit."
"Can I go see them?" Russetpaw begged, her green eyes filled with wonder. They glanced to the nursery, where small, pitiful mewls escaped through the brambles.
"Not yet. Let Snowstar and Duskfire have a few minutes to themselves and their kits. Meanwhile, why don't we go hunting?" Sunsplash suggested. "It'll just be us. All the warriors are out on patrol, and Seedflight and Sootflame are needed here."
"Good! I'm hungry!" Russetpaw meowed, licking her jaws.
Sunsplash motioned for them to go, and they padded together up the trail leading out of camp. "Let's talk," She said after they had trekked through the forest in silence.
"About?" Russetpaw asked, giving Sunsplash a look that said she really didn't want to have one of those talks.
"Your life here. Do you miss living in Twolegplace?"
"No. I like the soft grass beneath my paws and being around a bunch of other cats! Not constantly treading on hot asphalt with the few same cats." Russetpaw stuck her tongue out in disgust at the thought. "Not that I don't miss Fox, or Torunn or Loki, 'cause I do."
"Good, because I was going to speak to Snowstar to see if you could become a warrior next moon." Sunsplash quietly awaited Russetpaw's surprise.
"Really?" Russetpaw squealed, bouncing on her paws.
"Really. But first, act a little more like a warrior. You act too much like a kit." Only after she'd said the words, Sunsplash then realised that they sounded quite harsh.
Russetpaw seemed quite taken aback, her eyes flattening. "I can't help it," She said defensively.
Sunsplash rolled her eyes in annoyance. "I know you can't, and your personality isn't a bad thing. It's just that sometimes a bubbly attitude isn't best in certain situations."
"I know! I'm almost a warrior, I can fight just as well as any other apprentice, and hunt better!" Russetpaw's hackles barely started to prickle, and Sunsplash decided to make the subject less tense.
"I know you are, if not better than every other apprentice. I just wanted to mentally prepare you for your assessment soon." Sunsplash whisked her tail towards the thick brambles, "Come on, let's hunt." And no more words were spoken.
They returned to camp, Sunsplash with a sparrow in her jaws and Russetpaw with two mice. The dawn patrol had returned as well, relaxing in the warm leaf-fall sun, resting for the Gathering later.
"Go get some rest, we both have an exciting night tonight," meowed Sunsplash, after she and Russetpaw and laid their prey on the fresh-kill pile. Russetpaw nodded in acknowledgement, and padded to the apprentice's den.
Sunsplash glanced around camp for Birchfoot, but he wasn't in sight. Instead, Sootflame trotted up to Sunsplash. "What's up with Russetpaw?" He asked, amber eyes shadowed with concern.
Sootflame huffed, and trotted to the apprentice's den and called for Russetpaw. Sunsplash flicked her tail in annoyance, and left to nap in her nest.
"Wake up!" A voice meowed in Sunsplash's ear, prodding her shoulder.
Sunsplash opened her eyes, but they felt like fallen logs. "Why must you wake me up?" She hissed as she settled her head back down on her paws, not even glancing slightly at Birchfoot.
"It's the Gathering, mouse-brain!" Birchfoot meowed, a growl hinting deep in his throat. "Now hurry up, everyone who is going is already lined up. You, Beetlewing and I are being waited on." Birchfoot slinked out of the warrior's den with a whisk of his tail.
"Fine, I'm coming," Sunsplash muttered to herself. She hoisted herself onto her paws, and immediately felt a burning sensation in her stomach. Her eyes widened, and she bit her tongue to stop a surprised wail. Beetlewing was already padding out of the den, his black pelt blending into the dark skies, but Sunsplash noticed his amber eyes peer back at her.
"I'm fine," Sunsplash reassured, following the tom. Beetlewing smirked, but led the way out without a word. Outside, seven warriors and two apprentices were lined behind Snowstar and Scorchpelt, waiting patiently.
"Finally!" Russetpaw breathed as her mentor approached.
"Was I really asleep for that long?" Sunsplash asked, feeling slightly embarrassed. Her ginger-and-white fur prickled.
"No, I'm just ready to get to the Gathering."
Snowstar took one last glance at the nursery, where Duskfire was sitting outside in the moonlight, and then led the warriors out.
Sunsplash kept pace with Birchfoot and his apprentice, Flamepaw, who lagged behind with Sootflame as they conversed away. "So when will he be made a warrior?" Sunsplash asked Birchfoot.
"Same time as Russetpaw. So are you ready to meet the other clans?"
"Kind of. But I'm not exactly the greatest with strangers." Sunsplash thought back to all the times cats trespassed on the former ThunderClan territory, all the times when she couldn't trust anyone but herself, her grandparents, and Fox's group of cats.
"I noticed," Birchfoot scoffed.
"Watch it!" Sunsplash spat playfully.
The rest of the time was silent as they traveled through the forest, and halted at the edge of a small gorge. "Is this the place?" Sunsplash asked Birchfoot, who stopped behind her.
"Yeah. Well, we go down into the gorge, and hopefully everyone will be there."
The cats picked their way down the rocky slope, the moonlight turning the dust and ground a shiny silver. A sweet breeze blew gently, as if it knew if it was too strong then the warriors could fall.
Sunsplash jumped the last few paw-lengths, and landed with a soft thud on the ground. Russetpaw came beside her, her shoulders tense. "What's wrong?" Sunsplash asked her apprentice.
"Just nervous. What if the other clans don't like me?"
"Of course they'll like you. Who doesn't? Besides, you probably won't get to meet everyone. Just stay by me," Sunsplash meowed. She waited for Snowstar to take the lead again. A stream wound through the gorge, and soft, springy grass on either side. Soon, cats began to come into view inside a big circle of pine trees.
"What's so special about this place?" Sunsplash asked Birchfoot. "Back home--er, at the Lake--there was a gorge, but it wasn't used for Gatherings."
Birchfoot shrugged. "I don't know. But there's a gash in the cliffside, perfect for the leaders to sit up there. I guess that's why."
"VineClan has arrived!" A black tom announced from the edge of the tree circle.
"As if we couldn't see that already, Pikeleap," hissed a dark brown tabby tom.
"They seem hostile," Sunsplash whispered, half to herself and half to Birchfoot. Russetpaw padded nervously behind her. The rest of her clan had already spread out and started chatting with others.
"Not really. Otterfang--the tabby--he's just really...honest." Birchfoot assured. "I'm going to go talk to someone, coming?"
Sunsplash shook her head, and then Birchfoot bounded off into the crowd. There was many cats of all colours and sizes, but one cat in particular caught her eye. It was a dark ginger dappled she-cat, with bright amber eyes. She resembled Sunsplash's mother in such a way that it caused her heart to ache.
Without even thinking, Sunsplash trotted towards her. "Um, hi," She mumbled awkwardly. "What's your name?"
The ginger she-cat turned to meet Sunsplash's gaze, and it caught her off guard. She looked almost identical to Sunsplash's mother, except her mother was a dark golden. The she-cat grinned slightly. "I'm Leopardflame, WillowClan. And you are?"
Sunsplash winced--even her name started with Leopard. "I"m Sunsplash. VineClan."
"Nice to meet you," Leopardflame meowed. She flicked her tail to Russetpaw and asked for her name as well. Russetpaw responded nervously. "You both seem sick," Leopardflame pointed out, concerned.
"Just kind of nervous, it's our first Gathering here." Sunsplash flicked her eyes away, trying to avoid awkward eye-contact. She caught sight of the gash in the cliff that Birchfoot had mentioned. The four leaders were already sitting there, just talking amongst themselves.
"Are you new to the clans?"
"To these clans, yes. But I came from the original four back at the Lake." Sunsplash heart ached even more. Should I just stop talking to her?
"Really? My parents were originally from WindClan, I fled along with all my other clanmates when I was just barely an apprentice. I became a warrior three moons ago." Leopardflame's chest heaved with pride for herself. "Now I'm barely expecting kits, life goes by fast!"
I didn't really need to know that. "My mother was Leopardsky and my father is Snowstar, both from ThunderClan. My mother died in battle."
"Oh I'm sorry! But we all g--" Leopardflame was interrupted by the call of a leader.
"Let the Gathering begin!" A dark gray tom announced from the gash in the cliff.
Sunsplash took a seat between Leopardsky and a white tom who's scent was like that of the ocean, so she guessed he was SeaClan. "So who's the father of your kits?" She whispered, curious to know more about the other clans.
"That tom over there," Leopardflame answered, flicking her tail at a dark gray tom towards the back of the crowd, snickering with two other toms.
"No offense, but he's weird." Sunsplash watched as he prodded a ginger tom sharply, then smirked. His amber eyes reflected his mischievousness.
"That's why he's my mate," Leopardflame grinned.
"Silence!" The white tom beside Sunsplash spat.
Sunsplash scowled, but did as the tom said. The dark gray tom--who Leopardsky identified as Lakestar--nodded to Snowstar, allowing him the honours of making the first announcement.
"VineClan is still strong, with the return of my daughter, Sunsplash, from the territories of the original four clans." Sunsplash's pelt grew hot with embarrassment as all eyes turned to her, yet they were welcoming, not hostile like ShadowClan's or RiverClan's. "Duskfire's and I's kits were born just earlier, and we have one new apprentice and warrior--Russetpaw and Sootflame"
Sunsplash flicked Russetpaw's ear with her tail as the cats cheered her and Sootflame's names. Her chest puffed in pride as her apprentice was announced. She didn't really focus on what the other leaders had to say, they were mostly the same.
"Come on," She called to Russetpaw as she padded away once the Gathering was over, "Let's go meet other cats." But Sunsplash couldn't get far without being bombarded by other cats wanting to know about the original clans.
"What were the other clans like?"
"Was the warrior code different?"
"What were the territories like?"
"Was prey different?"
Sunsplash felt like she was choking on all the words she could say, but questions were coming from so many unfamiliar faces that it made her head spin. Soon though, Birchfoot's reassured her that she was okay by resting his tail on her flank, leading her away where VineClan was leaving.
What a relief to be going home with familiar cats.
The next morning, Sunsplash was awoken from terrible stirrings in her stomach. She dragged herself from her mossy nest, careful not to disturb anyone else still sleeping.
Iceleaf was outside her den, basking in the early sun. Herbs must've been plenty for her not to be out looking for more. Iceleaf's eyes widened as Sunsplash arrived at the medicine den, surprised to see someone this early.
"What's wrong, Sunsplash?" Iceleaf questioned, concerned. "If anything, I'd expect it to be someone from the dawn patrol here, not you!"
"I keep having this odd feeling in my stomach, it hurts, but not bad. Did I eat something bad? I ate a vole yesterday morning. Maybe it was tainted?"
Iceleaf's whiskers twitched in amusement. "I've only heard this from she-cats, Sunsplash."
Sunsplash tensed. Oh, StarClan. No. She knew what Iceleaf spoke of, but refused to believe it. "No...I can't be...expecting." She shifted her paws in the soft soil--anxiety had replaced the feeling in her stomach.
"Well from the way you've been padding after Birchfoot the past few weeks I'd say yes," Iceleaf meowed. "Too quick though, in my opinion."
Sunsplash growled under her breath. Iceleaf led her into her den, and instructed for Sunsplash to lay on her side. The stone underpaw was cold, and Sunsplash winced as she lay on it.
After much uncomfortable prodding, Iceleaf confirmed Sunsplash was indeed expecting. "Congratulations!" Iceleaf purred as she walked Sunsplash out.
I don't need congratulating, Sunsplash thought, I don't even want these kits. But thinking back to the night her and Birchfoot spent near the sun-drown-place would explain everything. She bounded to Seedflight, who was keeping watch near the thorn tunnel. "Is Birchfoot on the dawn patrol?" She asked, frantic.
Seedflight nodded, "Why do you need him?"
"No reason," Sunsplash sniffed. But when Seedflight cocked her eyebrow in disbelief, Sunsplash remembered that Seedflight had kits once--who were now Oakpaw and Foxpaw. "I'm...having kits," She breathed.
Seedflight's green eyes brightened, "That's great! Who's the father?"
"Birchfoot. But you see, I don't exactly want these kits."
"Why not?" Seedflight asked, as if every she-cat in the world wanted kits. "I initially didn't want kits, but once Scorchpelt and Sandstep arrived, I was the happiest I'd ever been. Trust me, it gets better." She gave Sunsplash a motherly lick over the ears and let her be on her way.
Sunsplash smiled slightly, and padded to her nest to process everything that had just taken place.
A paw excitedly shook Sunsplash awake. She peeked out from one eye, where Birchfoot's amber eyes gleamed.
"Wake up, it's sun-high! And also, Seedflight told me the news," Birchfoot grinned.
"What news?" Sootflame grunted from his nest.
Don't say it.
"Sunsplash is expecting my kits," Birchfoot replied proudly.
"Really?" Sootflame brought himself to his paws over to Sunsplash. "I'm happy for you," He purred. He flicked her shoulder with his tail-tip as he left the warrior's den.
Everyone seemed so happy that new kits would be here within a little over two moons, but Sunsplash felt less enthusiastic. Her mind was scarred at how much pain Duskfire went through giving birth, or how bothersome kits could be.
"Would you like to hunt? Just me and you?" Birchfoot asked. "Just to stretch your paws as much as you can before you're cooped in the nursery."
Great way to put it! Sunsplash thought in annoyance. "Yeah. sure. Why not?" She brushed past the brown tabby tom. "You're not worn out from dawn patrol?"
"Nah, I'm always ready for a good hunt!"
Sootflame and Russetpaw were eating at the fresh-kill pile as Sunsplash and Birchfoot passed. "Where are you going?" Russetpaw asked, mouth half-full of sparrow.
"We're going hunting, just us two," Sunsplash answered. "You have my permission to go with Sootflame if you'd like, just don't go far."
"All right, can we still practice for my assessment later?" Russetpaw's eyes lit up as she realized she was about to become a warrior.
"Of course!" Sunsplash reassured. Birchfoot padded off, ready to go. Sunsplash flicked her tail in goodbye at the two younger cats as she ducked under the thorn bushes and followed Birchfoot up the path leaving camp.
"So how many kits do you think there'll be?" Birchfoot asked excitedly once they were in the forest.
"I'm barely expecting! How is Iceleaf supposed to know that?" Sunsplash retorted. "Look, I didn't know we were going to have kits, I don't even want them! Can we just treat this like a normal hunting patrol? Like I'm not about to have kits?"
Birchfoot looked wounded, and his warm amber eyes grew hostile. "It's not my fault you don't want them!" His tail lashed, and he acted as if he and Sunsplash had known each other for season upon season. "But I can't just not acknlowedge the fact that I'm going to be a father soon, it doesn't work that way."
Sunsplash sighed--nothing was hardly ever peaceful when Birchfoot was around, it seemed. "I just missed the old clans, my family. I want to go back to when things were normal. When I was still an apprentice and my clan wasn't being killed off by these murderous cats."
"Yes, I understand that. But for StarClan's sake, your parents wouldn't want you living the rest of your life miserable and thinking about the past. I don't want that either." Birchfoot spoke the truth, and he didn't give Sunsplash any time to respond before he commented that they should begin their hunt. He bounded off deeper into the forest, leaving Sunsplash taking off after him.
Sunsplash's hunt had been successful earlier, and she had gone to the clearing with the other mentors to prepare Russetpaw for her warrior's ceremony in a few nights. The apprentices were pitted against each other--claws sheathed of course. Sunsplash planned for Russetpaw to fight against Stormpaw, Lilyheart's apprentice.
Russetpaw was confident in her actions, swiping quickly and rolling to dodge the gray tom's blows. The other mentors and apprentices had betted their fresh-kill on Stormpaw, but they were both equal in the fight in their own way. Sunsplash grinned in pride.
"How'd I do?" Russetpaw asked, bounding out of the circle, her ginger pelt ruffled.
"Great!" Sunsplash purred. "Snowstar will have to make you a warrior, or he'll regret not ever doing it."
Russetpaw beamed, and padded over to Ivypaw and chatted excitedly about becoming a warrior.
"All right!" Flowersong called everyone. "Russetpaw and Oakpaw, you get first pick of fresh-kill tonight, now let's go back to camp, shall we?"
"I'll beat you next time!" Russetpaw flicked Oakpaw's ears with her tail. "Just like I beat Stormpaw."
The brown tom snorted. "Yeah right. I'll see to it that it doesn't happen." He trotted ahead of everyone, tail waving high in the air as if he was the best cat ever.
Arrogant tom, Sunsplash thought to herself. The warriors and apprentices strode down the hill of the clearing and into the woodland, Sunsplash couldn't wait to be back home in her nest.
Beetlewing halted and swiveled his black ears. "Did anyone hear that?" He asked, blue eyes narrowed down to slits.
"Hear what?" Lilyheart questioned, opening her jaws to taste the air. Her tail lashed and she muttered, "SeaClan!"
Sunsplash swept her tail protectively around Russetpaw, even though she knew Russetpaw could take care of herself. "Everyone keep low!" She hissed.
"Badgerpelt, go investigate, come back and tell us what you see immediately." Flowersong ordered. As soon as Badgerpelt slinked off into the bushes, her icy blue gaze swept around the apprentices. "I don't know what's going to happen, but be prepared for the worst. Warriors--keep a keen eye on Oakpaw and Foxpaw, they're the youngest and least-experienced."
"I'm the biggest apprentice out of all of us!" Oakpaw snarled.
"Size doesn't matter in battle, skill does," Flowersong argued. "Now keep your jaws shut or you'll be picking ticks off the elders for the next moon."
After a few minutes, Badgerpelt returned with four SeaClan warriors following. Their deputy, Troutfang, had come, along with a white she-cat, a ginger tabby she-cat, and a brown tom with a white ear, that Sunsplash recognized as Shrewheart.
"We wish to speak to Snowstar," Troutfang stated at once to Flowersong.
"About what?" Flowersong asked, her neck fur slightly bristled.
"By Lakestar's orders, this can only go to Snowstar," Troutfang meowed. The muscles along his shoulders rippled as he dug his claws in the ground in frustration.
"Fine," Flowersong growled. "Flank them!" She ordered VineClan's apprentices and mentors.
Sunsplash took to the white she-cat, who bared her teeth slightly. "Don't lose your temper on my territory, fish-brain," Sunsplash warned.
"Then don't act so hostile!" The SeaClan she-cat snarled.
"Sunsplash!" Flowersong snapped over her shoulder.
"Seems as if your warriors need training on their tempers," Troutfang snorted. He glanced back at his warriors as they trotted through VineClan's territory.
"Do you want me to take you to Snowstar or not?" hissed Flowersong. Her gray fur was starting to bristle along her spine. By now, everyone had started arguing.
"Silence!" A familiar voice raised above all. A large white tom pushed through the bushes, Sootflame by his side. "For StarClan's sake, Seedflight's night patrol could hear you arguing. I don't know how it started, but Flowersong--lead your patrol back to camp, and Sunsplash, stay with me."
Troutfang waited for VineClan to disappear back through the bushes, then he spoke. "Lately my warriors have been picking up faint scents of your warriors near our territory, and Lakestar wants it to end."
"None of my warriors leave our territory, so I don't see the problem here." Snowstar exchanged glances with Sootflame and Sunsplash. Pangs of anxiety struck Sunsplash, as she recalled her and Birchfoot's adventures to the seaside cliff.
"This is your warning, Snowstar. Lakestar won't hesitate to take action," Troutfang warned. With a flick of his tail, his patrol followed him through the undergrowth and back to their territory.
"Do you know anything about this?" Snowstar asked Sootflame and Sunsplash. His amber eyes were flaming with anger. He couldn't believe any of his warriors that he trusted would be trespassing on another clan's territory.
"No," The two cats said in unison.
"I'll call a clan meeting tomorrow at sun-high then, the clan needs to know about this. Come on, it's getting late," Snowstar meowed.
"Wait, can I talk to you first?" Sunsplash asked.
"Of course," Snowstar replied, nodding at Sootflame that he can go back to camp.
"I'm...expecting kits," Sunsplash breathed out. "And I want to leave the clans, for their safety. I can sense the rivalry between them, and it's weird, but as much as I initially didn't want these kits, I want them to be safe as well."
"That's great news!" Snowstar crowed, "But as far as you leaving, I can't change your mind about it, and I won't even try. I see where you're thinking from, it's because when you were an apprentice, wasn't it?"
Sunsplash nodded, "I don't want the same for mine."
"I don't want to lose you, like I lost your mother. But you're a warrior now, and I can't choose your decisions. VineClan will be losing a valuable warrior."
"I'll tell you before I leave, just don't tell anyone else. I don't want to stir up drama." The two began to pad back to camp in silence.
"Get some rest, you need it," Snowstar said as they approached the path that led into camp.
"Goodnight," Sunsplash meowed as they parted ways.
Three weeks passed, and Sunsplash made her way through the fern tunnel that led to Snowstar's cave, the moonlight piercing through them. "May I come in?" She asked through the vines that covered the entrance.
"Yes!" Snowstar called.
Sunsplash pushed through the vines and took a seat in front of her father. "I'm leaving tonight."
"I wish you good luck wherever you go," Snowstar meowed, getting up to nuzzle her ear like he would do when she was just a kit. "You're always welcome back here, we'll all miss you." He dipped his head in respect. "You don't want to tell Russetfeather or Sootflame goodbye?"
"No, they'll try to follow me," Sunsplash answered. "But when you see them, tell them I said I hope we see each other again, even if it's in StarClan." She swallowed back the lump of sorrow in her throat, yet she was proud she lasted to see her apprentice become a warrior.
"I will, farewell and good luck," Snowstar meowed.
As Sunsplash approached the path out of camp, Birchfoot trotted through behind Blackfire. She winced, knowing he was going to question her.
"Where are you going at this time? It's dark," He asked.
"Just wanted to get a drink from the pond," Sunsplash lied.
"I'm coming with you," Birchfoot stated. "An expectant she-cat shouldn't be by herself at this time." He began to pad after her.
"Stay here, I'll be fine. I promise," Sunsplash muttered. Her tail lashed angrily.
Birchfoot snorted and turned around to walk down to camp.
Sunsplash darted away once no one was around. She wanted to run away as fast as she could before she began to regret her decision to leave even more than she already did. Branches whipped her in the face and her pads were stabbed by sharp little rocks, but she didn't want to stop until she was at the edge of the territory.
She reached the border of VineClan's territory, that exited to the outlands. Sunsplash was out of breath, and her face was scratched. Only once she stopped did she realize how much her left forepaw was in pain. She lifted it up, and noticed a thorn stuck in her pad. "Foxdung!" She spat.
There was a thud behind Sunsplash, and she whirled around with unsheathed claws, her injured paw raised limply. "Birchfoot!" She growled, seeing the brown tabby tom. "Why'd you follow me?"
"Why are you leaving?" He asked. Before Sunsplash could say anything, he said, "It doesn't matter. I followed you because I knew you were going to need my help. Just like right now." He padded forward and lifted up Sunsplash's paw.
Birchfoot gritted the thorn between his sharp teeth, and yanked it out without consent from Sunsplash. "There," He meowed, spitting out the sharp thorn.
Sunsplash yelped in pain, and her pad started to bleed. "What would a medicine cat do about this?"
"Cobwebs won't work," Birchfoot meowed to himself. "Wait here, I'm going to find some moss."
Sunsplash rolled her eyes. Just go back to camp, I left for a reason. She thought about leaving, but she wasn't going to get far while in pain. It didn't take long to find moss in a forest anyway, and Birchfoot was back within a few moments.
"Wrap this around your paw, it'll keep it from leaving a trail of blood for the clan to follow," Birchfoot instructed. He dropped the ball of damp moss at Sunsplash's good paw.
"Snowstar won't send anyone after me," Sunsplash muttered as she wrapped the moss. "I already told him I was leaving. You, though, just abandoned your clan."
"Like you didn't abandon your clan either?" Birchfoot growled.
Sunsplash hissed under her breath. She knew they couldn't argue if they were going to be together for StarClan knows how long. "Whatever, let's move on."
They crossed over the border, and trekked on for a while in silence. The land was rolling with grassy hills and clumps of trees every so often.
"Look," Birchfoot started, "I'm sorry for arguing with you these moons--"
"Don't even apologize," Sunsplash meowed, "It's my fault for being such a grumpy she-cat." Her whiskers twitched in amusement, "But you can be annoying sometimes when you're being too protective."
"Would you rather me not care?"
Sunsplash ignored his question. "We better find shelter, it's nearly moon-high."
Birchfoot bounded ahead, and scouted the area from atop a hill. "I see a small cave up ahead. I'll go check it out, you stay back here in case there's a predator or a rogue."
"I may be expecting kits, but I can handle myself!" Sunsplash meowed angrily.
"Just stay here," Birchfoot ordered.
Sunsplash watched him trot down the hill, alert for anything that could be lurking in the dark. He approached the cave, which was dug out in the hillside. After a few moments of inspecting, he whisked his tail, signaling that it was okay.
Sunsplash ran after him, and peeked inside their shelter for the night. It definitely was small, as if someone dug it out themselves. "This'll work," She meowed, interrupted by a sudden yawn.
"You can go to sleep, I'll keep watch for a while," Birchfoot told her, following her inside and taking a seat near the entrance.
Sunsplash nodded, realizing how exhausted she really was. She curled up on the cold dirt floor, her tail resting over her nose. With one last gaze at Birchfoot, sleep consumed her.
Sunsplash awoke drowsily. Birchfoot was standing in front of her, glaring angrily. Or at least she thought it was Birchfoot, until she caught his scent. Now fully aware, she realized it was a black tom with one white ear, and he was obviously the owner of this cave.
"What are you doing in my cave?" The tom growled, looming over Sunsplash.
Sunsplash unsheathed her claws, and backed away from the larger cat until she was against the cave wall. "I didn't know it was yours, I'm just here for the night."
The fur along the tom's spine bristled. "No one stays in my cave!" He leaped to Sunsplash, his claw catching on her cheek.
Where's Birchfoot? Sunsplash thought frantically as she scrabbled back to her paws. She landed a hard blow to her enemy's shoulder, but it hardly fazed him. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Birchfoot appear in the cave entrance with a mouse in his jaws.
Birchfoot dropped his prey, and flew towards the larger tom. He knocked him off his paws, and sunk his claws into the tom's throat. "Nobody harms the mother of my kits!" He snarled.
The tom just nodded and ran out of the cave.
"You're injured," Sunsplash said worriedly, flicking her tail at the claw marks scored down Birchfoot's shoulder.
"It's nothing," Birchfoot meowed, "I've had worse." He touched his nose to Sunsplash's ear, "Nothing's going to harm you while I'm around."
Sunsplash grinned. "Let's go, we need to find a home to raise these kits."