This is the fourth episode of Vale, season 1. Written by Rainy. Read, enjoy, & comment!

Murder At high Rock

Murder At High-Rock

At first when I opened my eyes, I wasn't sure what had woken me up so early- it was barely dawn, and I never greeted the sunrise unless I was dragged out of my nest for the dawn patrol.

My confusion as to what had woken me didn't last long though.

What with all the screaming and noise going on outside the apprentices' den, I was able to figure it out rather quickly.

Scrambling outside, I bumped into Daisypaw, who was standing with her jaw open, eyes fixed on the scene in the middle of the camp.

At first glance, it just looked like the morning patrol to me. Duskwatcher, Shinecloud, Blackheart and Lilyshade, all ready to go.

But Duskwatcher was bristling and snarling, eyes glowing with rage.

And Shinecloud was screaming insults at Blackheart while hopping around the two toms like a weird cheerleader.

And Blackheart looked ready to spring at Duskwatcher.

The only one not fighting was Lilyshade, who was trying to calm Duskwatcher down. The gray tom elbowed her way impatiently, snarling, "What was that you said, Blackheart? Say it again! Tell it to my face!"

"What's going on?" I whispered to Daisypaw. She gave her head a shake, motioning with her paw to tell me I should shut up and listen.

"I said," Blackheart said evenly, his blue-gray eyes dark as stormclouds with rage. "That you should tell your idiot mate to shut the heck up." Shinecloud gasped at this, and darted over to him, getting up in his face.

"I'm an idiot? What did I ever do to you, you bully? You're just jealous of us!"

Rage flashed across his features. "Right. Of your shallow perspective on the word, your incompetence, or your inability to look away from your own reflection?"

A collective intake of air went around the Clan. The words Oh no he didn't practically hung in the air.

"You won't speak to us like that," Duskwatcher snarled. "It's time to teach you a lesson." With that, the muscular tom pounced on his rival, letting loose a loud caterwaul. Lilyshade stumbled forward, screaming for them to stop. Shinecloud hovered on the sidelines, shouting encouragement to her mate and hurling insult after insult at Blackheart, who was anyway getting the brunt of the fight.

This is terrible. Someone has to stop them. I was horrified, and I could now see perfectly why Oakstar had been so angry when Minkpaw and I fought. Clanmates fighting, no matter how much they got on each other's nerves, was sick.

"Enough!" screamed Lilyshade, breathless. She had managed to get between Duskwatcher and Blackheart, and gave her sister's mate a hard shove, eyes blazing. For a second I thought Duskwatcher might actually lash out at her too, but then Bluebird joined Lilyshade, glaring up at his older brother. Slowly, the tom deflated, sheathing his claws. However, before doing anything else, he spat vindictively at Blackheart, who was a crumpled form on the ground. The black-and-white tom hissed back, coiling in on himself like a rattlesnake. Lilyshade placed a paw on him, shaking her head.

"This fight is over."

With a cold sort of disappointment that everyone felt, Quailfeather headed towards Oakstar's den. Even though it hadn't been me involved this time, I felt a deep sense of rebuke. That could have been Minkpaw and I in a few moons, if Oakstar hadn't caught onto us sooner.

"Did you see how Bluebird helped stop the fight?" asked Daisypaw.

I nodded. It was heroic, but... it also disgusted me to see Shinecloud and Duskwatcher behaving like that. Picking on Blackheart like that. I wasn't the tom's biggest fan at all, as everyone knew, but even I could see he didn't deserve that.

We remained quiet as Blackheart picked himself up. One corner of his mouth turned up in a sort of sneer as he glared at the assembled cats, and then, without looking back, he vanished out the camp exit. Going to calm himself down, I presumed.

Nearby, Specklepaw let out a long, low whistle. "Well. That was a nice start to the day."

"Come on, Breezepaw, let's go somewhere else," Daisypaw said pointedly, ignoring her ex.

"I can't," I sighed. "I have to go get the bandage on my ankle changed."

Her fur ruffled. "Oh, fine. See you later then?"

"If the elders don't need anything today, then yeah, we can hang out," I promised, beginning to make my way towards the medicine cat's den.

Between all my injuries and punishments, my schedule was really starting to fill up. Sigh.

Lionpatch peered at my paw, probing it gently with his own massive one. "Does that hurt?"

I shook my head. "Not really, just a little bit sometimes."

The ginger tom looked satisfied. "Good. Looks like you're well on the road to recovery. You should be completely fine and ready to go back to aerial training soon."

"Oh great!" I exclaimed- though the thought of practicing falling again wasn't all that thrilling right now.

Blossompaw entered the den just then, a bundle of freshly-picked herbs in her mouth. Depositing them nearby, she smiled at me. "Hey Breezepaw. How's the ankle?"

"Doing good, apparently," I said, twitching my ears happily.

A more serious look crossed the apprentice's face, and she sat down with her brown eyes downcast. "What happened out there this morning really frightened me. You know, between Duskwatcher and Blackheart and Shinecloud. I don't know what Blackheart said to them, but I would bet anything that Shinecloud started it, with that snide tongue of hers. She thinks she's so much better than everyone, and it makes me so angry!"

Rarely did mild-tempered, sweet Blossompaw get angry. I was a bit taken aback. "I felt the same way, but I also saw a lot of cats congratulating Duskwatcher on beating up 'that nasty grouch Blackheart'."

"I'm just glad Lilyshade and Bluebird broke it up," commented Lionpatch. "Maybe this'll just go away."

I nodded, then smirked. "If Oakstar punished them like he did Minkpaw and I, they'll definitely learn their lesson."

Glancing up, Lionpatch's eyes widened. "Oh yeah! Oakstar told me that he was looking for you and Minkpaw. You'd better go up to his den and see what he wants- and take Minkpaw with you too."

My heart lurched. What had I done this time? Was our punishment being extended after Oakstar had seen Duskwatcher and Blackheart's fight today? Had he decided we hadn't suffered enough?

Trotting out of the medicine cat's den, I spotted Minkpaw talking with her mentor, Cherrynose. "Minkpaw!" She turned and then narrowed her eyes when she saw who was calling her. Holding up one paw in a gesture of surrender, I said, "Hey, all I wanted to tell you was that Oakstar wants to see us in his den."

Fear flitted across the she-cat's gaze. "Why?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," I shrugged. "Now come on."

We made our way over to the leader's den, which was nestled between two large boulders. Plants and vines grew in a tangle overhead, providing a waterproof roof, and Oakstar often climbed up onto the boulders to address the Clan. We called it High-Rock, after an actual place on our territory. The real High-Rock was a large sandstone formation that jutted out where the SpringClan pine woods met our rollicking grass-covered hillside. During the winter, no one dared go near High-Rock for fear of avalanches and slippery ice, but during the warmer moons it was a great place to sun oneself, catch lizards, or just play on.

"Oakstar? May we come in? It's Minkpaw and Breezepaw." I shifted my paws nervously.

Silence for a heartbeat, then, "Come on in."

Feeling very much like an intruder, I slunk into the den, Minkpaw right behind me. The rock walls were very cozy, and the den was spacious for only two cats(Oakstar and his mate, Mintwhisker, who was absent right now). In fact, not even Quailfeather was here. It was just Oakstar, looking very tired and worn out by the morning's events. I wondered what he was going to do/say to Duskwatcher, Blackheart, and Shinecloud. After all, they were full-grown warriors. Would he punish them like he had us?

The reddish-gold tom looked up at us and gave us a thin smile. "You two look like you've been summoned to an execution."

"Are we in trouble?" I squeaked.

A real smile cracked across his face. "Trouble? Well, that depends how you look at it. You'd have to be in trouble to get out of it, I suppose."

"Well, we were in trouble," Minkpaw pointed out. "For fighting. We had to be assistants to the elders."

Like he didn't already know that. He gave us that punishment.

"I know," Oakstar mewed. "But Fuzzears came to talk to me last night."

That was completely unexpected to both of us. "She did?" we chorused.

He nodded, seemingly amused by our shock. "She told me that you two seemed to have learned your lesson, and that you were the most compassionate cats she'd ever met. And, I of course immediately doubled that compliment, since Fuzzears is never too generous. But honestly! What did you do to make her like you so much? I've never heard her praise anyone before." A kindly twinkle shone in Oakstar's eyes.

Totally amazed, I said, "Well... we have completely learned our lesson, though I didn't expect this. Especially after seeing what happened today."

Shadows drew across the leader's face. "Yes, I have to deal with that now."

"Thank you, Oakstar," Minkpaw said politely.

"Run along now," he replied warmly.

"Well, at least I don't have to be stuck in a den with you all day," Minkpaw sniffed once they were outside.

I shot her a scornful look. "You obviously didn't learn your lesson, I take it. About Clanmates and stuff."

Scoffing, she twitched her whiskers impudently at me. "Whatever. You were just saying all that load of mouse-dung to kiss up to Oakstar. You can't honestly be serious, as your immature behavior and temper proves."

"Why, you-" I clamped my mouth shut, realizing this was exactly what she wanted; for me to lose my temper again, right outside Oakstar's den. Wanting to swipe the smug look right off her face, instead I turned on my heel and made a beeline for the elders' den.

I had to talk to Fuzzears.

"Breezepaw? What were you doing in the elders' den?" Daisypaw asked as I joined her. "I heard Minkpaw gloating about her punishment was over; I assumed yours was too. Or was it not? Did Oakstar-"

"It is," I assured her. "I was just chatting with Fuzzears."

Her eyes widened. "But you guys don't get along at all."

Feeling a thousand years older, I said in a superior tone, "Things have changed."

Daisypaw wasn't buying into my mature persona. "Since yesterday?"

Sheepishly, "Yeah."

"Okay then," she said, evidently a little freaked out. I guess I couldn't blame her.

Just then, we heard a merry voice behind us. "Hello, you two. What are you up to?"

"Hi Lilyshade," I said with a smile. "Not much, just chatting and hanging out."

Briefly, I wondered why she wasn't hanging out with Duskwatcher, Shinecloud, and Bluebird. She was part of their posse, wasn't she? By default, being Shinecloud's sister, and being so pretty herself. She had the kind of looks that all toms went for; snowy white fur with soft brown accents on her ears, and pale minty green eyes- not to mention she actually had a nice personality. Sometimes I could easily believe she and Shinecloud were sisters, being so gorgeous, and at others I wondered how one could be so mean and the other so much kinder.

"That's cool," Lilyshade mewed, licking a paw daintily.

"I don't mean to pry," Daisypaw began tentatively. "But I was just wondering, have you talked to Shinecloud about what happened this morning?" Seeing Lilyshade's face tense, she added hastily, "You don't have to tell us snooping apprentices, of course. I was just wondering- I'm sorry."

Giving a little sigh, Lilyshade shook her head. "Don't apologize. I'm just disappointed with my sister and Duskwatcher, that's all. She just won't see reason. And what she did to- Blackheart! Hello!"

Me and Daisypaw both gave a little start; the black-and-white tom seemed to have appeared from nowhere. He completely ignored us, and mewed, "Hello Lilyshade. How are you?"

"I'm fine, Blackheart," she said pleasantly. "Are you doing okay?" She means after what happened this morning. Despite my dislike for Blackheart, I couldn't help lingering to hear the answer.

He turned away, hostility creeping coldly into his aura. "I'm fine." Glaring at Daisypaw and I, he snapped, "Can't you guys get out? Do you honestly have nothing better to do than eavesdrop on other cats' conversations?"

Widening her eyes, Lilyshade patted him gently. "Calm down, Blackheart. They're not bothering anyone."

"That's all right," I said haughtily. "We'll just be going now anyway."

As Daisypaw and I trotted away, I heard Blackheart begin: "About this morning, I just wanted to thank you..."

"He was half-way decent to Lilyshade," smirked Daisypaw once we were out of earshot from the two older cats. "Do you think he likes her?"

Completely taken aback, I rolled my eyes. "Every time a she-cat and tom talk isn't full of romance, Daisypaw. He wanted to thank her for helping him this morning, which is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, considering she saved him from Duskwatcher's wrath- and even more humiliation."

Undeterred, Daisypaw argued, "Well, yeah, but you know how Blackheart is. Seems to me he'd be the kind of tom to pretend he hadn't needed her help, and that he could've done it on his own. He would take it as more of an insult than an assist, you know? But he seemed more than happy - or, rather, happier then usual for his grumpy self - to thank her." She smiled in amusement. "That didn't rub off to others though. He still hates us."

"No wonder, if you're trying to pair the grouchiest, most unfriendly tom with a cat like Lilyshade. They're a total no-no. They'd never work out."

Daisypaw huffed. "You're not a romantic, Breezepaw. You don't know as much about love as I do."

I couldn't help it; I burst out laughing. "Yeah? How much more, exactly, do you know? How many times have you fallen in love?"

"Oh, shut up. You know what I mean," she grumbled, batting me with a paw.

Passing by us, Specklepaw mewed a cheerful hello, which I returned peppily; this earned me a glare from Daisypaw. "What?" I sighed, slightly peeved. "I thought we agreed that the break-up was between you two, and not to affect me." When she still didn't respond, I added, "Are you really going to make me cut off my friendship with him?"

"No," she rolled her eyes. "But I'm not thrilled with the fact that you don't agree he's a load of mouse-droppings."

"To each his own," I shrugged.

"He still hasn't apologized yet," she grumbled.

"Would you take him back if he did?" I asked curiously.

With a shrug, she got up. "Come on, let's go play some moss-ball. I'm bored."

After a long and thrilling game of moss-ball, the two of us flopped down side by side to survey the camp. It was a peaceful day. Cloverflower, a pale cream-gray tabby who had just moved to the nursery expecting kits, sat outside with the other SpringClan queen, Eveningfall. They were supervising Eveningfall's three little bundles of joy, Brightkit, Flowerkit, and Sleepykit. On top of High-Rock, Oakstar and his mate Mintwhisker shared tongues. Dewfrost, Yellowsun, and Cherrynose had organized a game of chase and were taking it very seriously, hiding about behind dens and sneaking up on each other. Occasionally, a scream from one of them would break the silence, but even then that did nothing to break the calmness of the camp. The evening patrol would soon return, and then SpringClan would close for the night, another peaceful day ended.

Already drowsy, I rested my head on my paws while Daisypaw chatted with Ivyrose, who had just stopped by.

That was when we heard the first scream.

They came crashing through the the camp entrance as fast as they could, bellowing and grunting, strained under the weight of the limp body laid over their shoulders. The evening patrol: Quailfeather, Minkpaw, and Cranelegs.

And an extra body. Who was that cat?

Duskwatcher sprang to his feet, cutting golden eyes wide with shock. "Shinecloud!" he screamed.

More distraught than I had ever seen him, he flung himself at the body being lowered to the ground. I could see blood coating Shinecloud's golden-white fur, which was rumpled and stained with dirt, something she had never let happen before. Dread clenched in my heart as I hurried forward.

Lionpatch and Blossompaw were crouched over the body, examining her, while Quailfeather told Oakstar what had happened.

"We were heading back, but realized we'd missed High-Rock," she said, still panting. "We saw her body almost at the very top. I... I don't know... it looks like she was attacked by some sort of wild animal."

Straightening, Lionpatch mewed, "Three things. One, this wasn't the work of a wild animal, it was the work of a cat. And two, there's SpringClan scent on this."

I felt dizzy. We had a murderer in our midst.

In a heartbroken voice, Duskwatcher mewed, "What's the third thing?"

He lowered his head.

"She's dead."

Tangible shock rippled around the clearing. No. This wasn't supposed to... not Shinecloud. Cats like Shinecloud didn't die.

Suddenly, I couldn't believe this was my home.

Nothing ever happened in SpringClan. Everything was always well. There was no fear. No one evil. Bad guys were only for fairytales.

It was a paradise. A safe haven for anyone.

Until now.

The End

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