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Prologue

Everything I see is black.... Just,black. Swirling around me is black. Foam spits around, and I have to run faster... Or I'll die... "PAINTFIRE! PAAAAINTFIIIRE!!" A voice yowls, sending shivers down my spine. "WAAAKE UUUP!!!" I wake up to see morning sunshine. It was just a dream. "Come on, sleepy." A yellow tom said. "You could have woken me later, Vinetail." I muttered. "Who cares? We're going for an early raiding on FirClan." Said Vinetail. "We have to raid them? Now? I don't like hurting cats." I said. Vinetail sighed and got off me. I padded to the camp entrance with cats around it. "This will be fun." Voices came from around the clearing, annoying me to near death.

We padded out, the forest chirping with early birds. They might as well wake up FirClan. "Aren't you thrilled, Paintfire?" Said Jasmineleaf. "They've been stealing our prey for moons." She finished. "But that doesn't mean we should bring harm to them!" I argued. Jasmineleaf scoffed. "We're warriors. It's what we do." She said. I sighed and padded on ahead. I saw a rise on the distance, and thought, Oh, am I thrilled. We arrived later, and our leader whispered, "Attack." We slithered through the bushes, faster than snakes. I hated it, but I had to help too. I leaped onto a poor sleeping cat, surprising them. I ripped my claws down it's back, and it started seeping blood. The cat yowled in pain and ran at me. It slashed it's claws on my cheek. I deserve that. I ran outside, and saw bloodshed happening all around me... None of these cats deserved it. Their leader, Fernstar stood on ShadeRock. "This was bound to happen soon!" She yowled. "Fight harder!

But I felt their pain. I felt their shock. I felt them. I was trapped here... In a stupid, worthless battle.

Chapter One

I walked out of camp. I needed to clear my head. After that.. ugh.. battle. FirClan had lost, but my 'friends' had left deep scars, and one cat had even been killed, over what, prey! We might as well starve to death, I hissed inwardly. FirClan hopefully had StarClan's blessing, but it certainly had mine. My claws worked in the ground. "Paintfire." Vinetail was beside her, fur pressing against my shoulder. "Not in the mood for battle talk." I snarled. Vinetail looked taken aback. "I wasn't going to say anything about that!" He protested. I rolled my eyes. "THAN TELL ME."

Vinetail's paws kicked up dirt, as if something was worrying him. "Spit it out." I said through gritted teeth. "I'm worried about something." He blurted. I had no time to say something when Vinetail continued, "Hawkfeather told me 'when the plant meets burns, it will die'. He thought the prophecy meant me and someone else." I scoffed, "Hawkfeather is always getting these stupid prophecies, and they never come true. And StarClan forbid another battle!"

I realized my face was red when Vinetail jumped back. "I'm sorry." I apologized, "I just HATE battles." Vinetail shrugged and padded away. But I couldn't believe myself that Hawkfeather's prophecy was fake. Usually ones he made up were less vague. I decided to soothe my worried head and go down for sleep. I padded to my nest, closed my eyes, and black. It swallowed me, curled all around me. I kicked out, but realized it was a dream. "Just go with it." I hissed.

It was spinning violently, and my paws were on nothing. I could make out a red image, cats fighting. One had a long tail, and one had a flat face. These cats were... different, but I was not surprised. They were the plant, and the burn. I could not deny it. But I hated it as I helplessly watched Vinetail spring himself at the other cat, only to be met with a bite in the throat. He slumped on the ground, and the other cat stood ominously over him, a devious grin on his face. "NO! NO!" I shrieked. My paws buckled beneath me, though there was nothing there, and I collapsed there, sobbing.

I knew I could not stop this from happening, but I could stay with Vinetail in his last moments. And that's what I would do. I hated to see any Clan member die, or any cat for that matter, even if they were evil. I felt like I was a character in a tale, dead, just watching from afar as my friends were plucked off one by one. My paws would become numb, and I would almost fling myself over, but I realized I was a wimp. I didn't want to hurt another cat.

And I'm fine with being a wimp, if that means I won't have to FIGHT.

Chapter Two

The next day comes,

and the next,

and the next.

As the days drag on, I'm hardly aware of what's happening. I didn't want to get anyone riled up about my dream, so I acted normal. It was all a blur to me, patrols, hunting, scent-marking. At least the past days have been normal. But tonight was the Gathering. What if FirClan tells everyone about our terrible fight? Our Clan would be doomed for sure, and I would have to get stuck in the middle. "Paintfire?" Vinetail called from outside, his soft voice echoing through the den. "What?" I mutter. "We're about to leave for the Gathering. You coming?"

"Yes, I'm coming." I stand up, and plod after the rest of my Clan. I don't like what they did, but I have to deal with it. We arrive, and we plunge into the clearing. FirClan cats give us dirty looks, but one was friendly to me. "Sit here!" It calls, waving it's tail. I nod and sneak silently through the cats, and sit beside her... I think. "My name's Solarnose! Yours?" My words get stuck in my throat. How could I speak to a FirClan cat, after the battle? "Paintfire," I blurt out.

"Nice." Solarnise winks, and I think nothing of it. Just sit down, it'll be over before you know, I tell myself. But the Gathering drags on, until it gets to FirClan's part. "We've been scarred in battle!" Fernstar yowls, probably making sure everycat can hear how horrible a Clan we are. Cats mutter and whisper, and I hold my breath. "OakClan has attacked, trying to steal our prey stock. What are you, prey-low?"

There's a sneer to her voice, but our leader replies calmly, "Than why are you stealing from our territory if your so prey-rich?" Cats in the crowd cackle. But I don't. I feel horrible. Solarnose sits in awe beside me, probably wondering why cats would laugh at such a thing. "I'm ashamed of my Clan," I mutter, aware that Solarnose is listening. Solarnose shrugs. "Sometimes, you just gotta brush it off." She mews, looking me in the eyes. I roll my eyes, and pad to the back of the crowd.

Solarnose follows me, to my annoyance. "So, wanna be friends?" She asks. "I don't need any!" I snap, immediately feeling bad. "I'm sorry, I'm just in a bad mood." I sigh. Solarnose shrugs. And before I know it, MyrtleClan is announcing. "I understand your quarrels," hisses Cinder, their leader, "But I have to report too." All the cats shut up. She was a natural leader, and it almost seems like she can take on anything. "The season of leaf-bare has brought cold hearts and hard times!"

Her voice echos clearly throughout the clearing. I perk my ears, for some reason, I think she will say something of my interest. Hopefully. "MyrtleClan has just chased out a hungry old badger. I think it went across into The Unknown, but OakClan, FirClan, keep an eye out. Who knows where it could head next." When she sits back down, I stand up, hoping to find one cat in particular. The FirClan medicine cat, Whitejaw, might take pity for me.

I walk over to him, and notice his wary eyes. "Don't worry, I'm not like the rest of my Clan." I'm ashamed to call it my Clan, but I only call it that so Whitejaw will understand. "Don't try to drag secrets from me," he snarls. Does FirClan have secrets? I slowly meow, "I will help get prey for your Clan..." It sounds so awkward coming out of my mouth. Whitejaw's jaw drops. "What OakClan cat would do that?"

"A nice one," I retort. "Anyway, I'll hunt in my territory and leave it at the border. Tell your Clan, but tell them not to tell mine." Whitejaw nods reluctantly. "Thanks," I whisper, and slip away from him.

Chapter Three

The next day, I hunt and leave prey on their territory. I watch Whitejaw come, and pick it up. I pad away, content of what I did for this Clan. It was the least I could do. I stretch, yawning loudly. I had saved a few scraps for my Clan, so it didn't seem suspicious. I carry the prey back, and I'm greeted by Jasmineleaf. "Oh, Paintfire, you must be exhausted! You've been gone for so long!" She coos. I smile warmly. "To satisfy my Clan's needs," I meow. I wonder if that was really true.

It seemed true enough, apparently, because Jasmineleaf walks off. I pad beside her, enjoying the blissful silence. The birds tweeting in the air fill my heart with warmth, and I almost get lost in it. Almost. "I improved your nest." Jasmineleaf breaks the silence, and I hiss softly, "Thank you." I pad in, curling up. I have to say, she did a good job. Warmth creeps into my fur, and I welcome it. I feel myself drifting off to sleep... I can't. I can't believe I almost said that aloud.

I have to stay alert. There's still lots to do. The Clan needs caring, and most warriors were on patrol. FirClan could attack at any moment. Why am I so alert? That's a question I have to ask myself. Maybe I'm bored. I pad outside, and snort resentfully when I see everyone else talking. Vinetail's in deep conversation with Strikeleg, Jasmineleaf sharing prey with Breezesong. I sigh, never more have I wished for a friend. I turn around, when a tail touches my flank. I whip around. "Vine-" I'm cut off as I see it's Dashstar. "Dashstar. What do you need?"

"My den," he mews briskly, and I follow him. My claws almost slip on the grass. I straighten, realizing how slippery it is on the wet grass. It had recently rained, much to my disliking. "Anyway, Dashstar, is this important?" I can sense his tenseness, like he's reluctant to tell me now. I want to hiss, 'spit it out', but before I can, he stars to talk. "Paintfire, you seem so... reluctant to go into battle, and I was thinking... Would it be better for you to become a medicine cat, or at least, something else?"

I hiss, fluffing up my already fluffy tail. I'm proud as I look twice my normal size. "I'm as good a warrior as any," I snarl. But inside, I feel like I'm crumbling to pieces. I would like to say, 'I don't want to fight! Please help me!', but the other part of me is too proud, and I realize that I can't stop my pride. I want to stop it, yes, but I feel like it's taking control of me, forcing me into things I don't want to do. My better side seems to scream like a helpless kit, fighting against a big and burly warrior. I back out of my leader's den, and almost cry of what I'm becoming.

I almost don't notice as I run out of camp, into The Unknown. I finally stop, heart beating like a fox in a fit. I gulp in some breaths, and feel a deep pain in my chest. I don't know how far I ran, but my vision's blurring. Darkness is swamping me, and there's nothing I can do about it. I let the darkness take over, hoping if I do, I'll see the light again. And it turns out, I'm right. But this time, I'm somewhere different, and there's a steady rhythm under me, like someone's carrying me.

I look underneath me, and I see the most shocking sight of my life. I'm splayed in a Twoleg's lap, and their stroking me gently, as if telling me I'm okay. But the ground feels like it's moving, but we're not moving! I look around, and see that I'm inside a monster. I try to stay calm, and I succeed. But we pull to a halt, and the Twoleg carries me. There's a giant, white, Twoleg nest in front of me, and the strong aroma of cats, dogs, and other animals hits me.

I yowl in fear, crazily clawing and biting. My brain knows one thing right now: I need to get out! The Twoleg drops me and I run - right into the nest. A huge female Twoleg with strange feeling white fur, coated with softer white fur, mumbles something to the other Twolegs. I'm calm now, because I know this is the only way I can get out. I'm laid on what seems like a giant nest, inside a Twoleg nest. Now I'm here with just this Twoleg, but I think this one could stop me, no matter what.

I pretend to be weak, and vulnerable. The Twoleg holds something big, pine-needle like, in it's hairless paw. It's gonna hurt me! I realize, but it's too late. My vision gets all swirly again, and darkness consumes me. Once again.

Chapter Four

I open my eyes. There's an excruciating pain in my belly, and I yowl. What has the Twoleg done to me? The wound is all closed with a white string, but still, it seems like they... did something. I'm still in the nest, and nobody's with me right now. I jump out of the nest, pain awakening in my belly. I bite my tongue, knowing if I yowl, the Twoleg will catch me. I run, fast as I can. I look out of something like ice, it's clear, giving me a view of the dark world. The night has come, and no Twolegs are here. "They must have gone somewhere," I mutter to myself. But the night is beautiful, and the stars twinkle outside.

I race to what seems to be the exit, but I just end up slamming my head against it. "Great StarClan." I mutter. I see this latch thing, which might be worth a try. I leap, high as I can. The latch is only to the height of a Twoleg kit, so I easily make the jump. I pull it down, and the exit opens! I run outside, relishing the cold night air. My breath billows out in clouds, but still, I'm thankful. I hear movement by some rubbish, and smell cat-scent. Voices drift across the air to touch my ear fur. "That was my scrap!" A voice that seems like a tom yowls. "I saw it first!" Another tom snarls. I leap over to them, but I knew I could get hurt. Their eyes glow through the night as they turn to look at me.

"Who are you?" Hisses one quietly. His pelt is a snowy-white, which was easily visible. "I just heard the ruckus and I came to look." My voice is soft, and I smell my own fear-scent. It's pulsing off me in waves. "You smell like you've been Cut recently," snarls the other tom, "Nofur pet." I raise my hackles. "Twolegs captured me and brought me here, actually." I try to make my voice threatening as possible, but it just honestly sounds like a scared kit. "Look, I won't take your scrap," I meow. They seem to calm. I pad away, hoping never to meet those toms again, because if I did, there might be a prey skirmish.

I nose through the rubbish. I can't help asking myself what 'cut' means. Did the Twoleg wound me? Certainly. Who else could have done this? And StarClan knows how many other cats are stuck there. I finally scent something good, and pull it out. It's soft, and meaty. "You found chicken!" One of the toms says excitedly. "It's my food." I meow quietly. Are they going to steal it? "Will you share?" The other tom stalks forward, maybe hoping to look menacing enough that I would comply. "I found it." My voice turns hard and cold, and the toms pad away, looking for another meal.

I settle down, with my 'chicken', and take famished gulps. Nothing has ever tasted so good in my life! I had been hungry, as the Twolegs hadn't fed me anything, and the last time I ate was this morning. I finish it quickly, and I lick my lips. My belly growls in satisfaction. I curl up by something soft to sleep, but I find it doesn't come. The pain in my belly is back, probably because I ate. My pelt prickles in frustration, as I curl in different positions. The sky eventually turns milky with dawn light.

I stretch, feeling energetic, though I had no sleep that night. Something pushes me on, farther into The Unknown.

Chapter Five

The scents on the air are tempting. My nose tingles, smelling all the prey-scents around... No. I'm focusing on finding somewhere to live. I don't want to go back to my Clan, it's too violent. I shudder at the memories. I jump over a slippery log, almost not making it. I run on, my paws carrying me fast. The world is my territory, and I'm going to explore it all! Suddenly, I come across a scent marker, and see two cats. "Blossom, nice catch!" exclaims a brown tabby tom. "Thanks," Blossom purrs. Blossom looks at the tom. "Thorn, did you catch-" Blossom suddenly sniffs the air. "Intruder." Her eyes narrow. I crouch down, looking through the undergrowth.

She follows the scent towards me, but surprisingly halts. "It stops here." She calls. Thorn shrugs. "It must be stale." He pads away, and Blossom trots after him. I let out a soft sigh, and get up. I have to get out of here fast as I can. I pad away, in a different direction. Floods of smells hit my nose. Twolegplace, I rumble inwardly. I head towards it anyway, hoping I can avoid all the dogs and Twolegs. I hope it's not a big one, but as I approach it, I see it is. Monsters speed up and down the Thunderpaths, not even stopping. Their relentless speed awes me, and I wonder how they can travel that fast.

But I have to go, it might be my only chance of survival. There's no prey here, but there are several Rubbish-Piles. The stink burns my nose hairs, but the 'chicken' is really good. I rummage through the rubbish, and spot a stale chicken leg. "Score!" I meow proudly. Hopefully there are no other cats around here. Senior warriors say Twolegplace Rogues are brutal and vicious, taking any scrap of prey from any cat. Even the most honorable Twolegplace Rogue, though, was no match for a fully trained warrior. I gulp down my chicken leg, and lick my lips. I pad away, strolling down the Twolegplace like I own it.

I feel like I know every step, every corner, every scent. But then memories come flooding back, and I can't stop them. "Paint!" My brother squealed as he tussled with me, over a pretend piece of prey. "Paint! Graffiti! Canary! Come back!" I meowed in triumph as our mom called, because I was the winner. "I'll get you next time, Paint!" mewed Graffiti, my brother. I break into a spiral of purrs, because I was once a Twolegplace Cat, not a rogue, but not a kittypet, either. A loner. I remember the day my mom died, and the warriors came to take us away.

"No! I don't wanna leave mama!" I squealed, and I squirmed in the grip of the forest-cat. "Stop, you'll be grateful," it hissed. I finally went limp, giving up my final battle. They weren't taking Graffiti or Canary, as they had escaped the night before. They actually knew the cats were coming! I huffed in defiance, and let myself settle. I frown at the not-so-pleasant memory. I still envy Twolegplace Cats, as they don't have to live a life full of battles and strife. They can choose, and I suddenly want to never go back to my Clan. Why did I have too? I could meet Graffiti and Canary again, maybe. My paws prickle in excitement at the idea, and I decide to find them.

I can't pick out their scent, but it's probably changed so much over the years...

Chapter Six

Suddenly, a musky scent hits my nose. It smells like a combination between forest, cat, and Twolegplace. I can't smell the thing masked beneath it, but I can tell, when an orange cat with a white belly comes up to me. "Who are you?" I arch my back, and back against the red, rough wall. "I could ask the same thing." The tom starts to lick his leg fur, presumably, he doesn't care about a move I could use on him; but he could be stronger than he looks. "I'm Paintfire, no, PAINT." I calm myself, gathering a calm and cool-headed voice. "Paint," he seems to take in my posture, my fur color. Even my scent.

"You smell like forest." He comments. "I come from the forest." My fur slightly fluffs up. "What's your name?" He looks at me distractedly, only seeming to catch a glimpse, and he replies, "Fireball." "So, Fireball... will you help me? I need to find a cat named Graffiti, and another one named Canary. Graffiti looks like you, and Canary is a gray tabby." Fireball's ears perk up. "Graffiti? I think I know him, but he says Canary is dead." I stifle a whimper, I need to look strong. This cat is all I have right now!

"They were my brothers," I say softly. "I know where Graffiti sometimes goes." Fireball shrugs, as thought I should have known that. I fluff up a bit more. "Woah, there, Floofy. I'm not being offensive or anything." I growl at the name. 'Floofy'. What a cowardly and dishonorable name! "Don't call me that," I snarled. Fireball laughed. "Forest cats."

"You know I'm from the forest?" I asked. "How could I not? It's the scent." I rolled my eyes. Fireball led me through lots of confusing streets. We finally reached the place. It scented of lots of cats, and my eyes widened. "That's a lot of cats." "I know, right?" Fireball replied. He sniffed the air, and smiled at me "Good news, I smell Graffiti."

I felt like leaping for joy, but stopped myself. Fireball sniffed the air again, and meowed, "Follow me." I followed the tom once again. I realized that he could just be leading me to my death, but I strangely trust him. She sees a pelt in the distance, and the color is... orange! And a white belly! She almost races forward, but doesn't know where I'm going.

They finally reach Graffiti. "Brother!" Grafitti looks at me. A look of confusion crosses his face. "I have no littermates," he snarled. He ran away from me. I was confused. Had he forgotten? Fireball looked at me. "That must be the wrong Graffiti." I snarled at him. "No, I'm sure it was the right one." Fireball nodded, "It was so long ago. He must have forgotten."

I knew the right answer was that he had forgotten. How could he push away such an important part of his history? You couldn't push away your littermates, right? That would just be awful. I started to follow him, and easily tracked his scent to a pristine meadow. The air was crisp and warm. "Graffiti?" I meowed, not taking such a sudden approach.

He turned to me, and sniffed. "You smell nothing like a city cat." His first comment. "How do you know my name?" he asked. "Don't you remember?" I titled my head. This cat was much larger than the kit I knew. Graffiti flicked his tail. "Remember what?" I came to sit beside him. "Your littermate. Canary, and Paint." Graffiti's eyes widened. "You know them? Wha... they're both dead!"

"No, they're not," I sighed. "One is right here." Graffiti flexed his claws. "You're either a spirit-cat, or I'm hallucinating you." He unsheathed his claws, but suddenly, a warm look of recognition crossed over his face. "Paint? You're alive?" he slowly slid his claws back in. "I am," I sighed. "It's been hard." He threw me into a nuzzle. "Where did those cats take you? How did you escape?"

I settled in beside him. "Well, it's a long story. I could tell you." "Trust me, I want to know." I launched into my story.

Chapter Seven

My throat aches after telling the whole story. Graffiti was enthralled, and I had watched the dusk set in as we talked. "Where's Canary?" I finally asked. "I thought he stayed with you." Graffiti took in a huge breath. "He did," Graffiti confirmed. "But one day he disappeared, and I never saw him again. Maybe he found a mate or something. I might be worthless to him now." Graffiti dipped his head. He looked depressed. I could tell he had been through a lot since Canary left.

Graffiti looked up at the stars. "Maybe he's up there, now, happy." I nodded. "He probably is. Just think how happy he is now." Graffiti snarled, "But he could be trapped in an Upwalker house. He could be horrified, searching for someone to save him. I don't like taking the chance of leaving him alone forever." I was shocked by what he had said, but I knew it could be true. "Don't be pessimistic." Graffiti swung his head towards me. "Don't you understand? Our brother could be sorrow, somewhere beyond our most uncontrollable dreams."

"That would be StarClan." I knew Graffiti didn't know what StarClan was, but I could give him the chance. "StarClan?" he titled his head. "What's that?" "It's where good cats go when they die." Graffiti purred. "We call it the Realm of Stars. Same thing." He lifted his head back up, seeming to be drawn to the shiniest star. "Maybe that's Canary. He was the greatest cat." I followed his gaze, and saw the star. It gleamed off into the dark, cutting the shadows wherever they dared to form.

"Maybe that's him. See? He must be upbeat," I meowed. It didn't seem to encourage Graffiti. He still stared off into the distance, almost seeming to be lost in a trance. The orange tom seemed to be crestfallen. I cuddled closer to him, but he didn't seem to notice. I felt my warmth cascading into his fur. "It'll be alright." Graffiti shook his head, and padded off in silence. I decided to follow. My paws lightly touched the ground, making sure to make no sound. He may not want me right now.

When he stopped, my heart skipped a beat. We were out of the pristine meadow, and now we were in a lustrous forest. Graffiti had found something like paradise. I felt the urge to dash in, but I didn't. I couldn't stop staring at every detail of the leaves, every string of branch. I finally snapped out of my trance, and walked in behind him. It was almost as dashing as the moon, but I knew that couldn't be true. That didn't exist. Graffiti finally curled up in a nest of moss.

I saw another one. It was older, it must have been for Canary. I entangled myself in it's sweet depths, and found myself at irregular peace. You could never have peace near the city, could you? Why was there such a luminous forest near the city? It was almost like a Twoleg creation. Like something dazzling the Twolegs would have made, but it must be completely natural. Twolegs couldn't make trees! I was being silly! I let myself fall asleep, into the silky darkness of unconsciousness.

I woke up the next morning, and the forest had stopped it's glowing. It must have been the moonlight. It still looked mystical, though. Mist shrouded the trees, giving it a mysterious tint. Graffiti was awake. "I was wondering when you were going to arise." I purred. "It couldn't have been too late." I padded closer to him, but warily. Sometimes he would get in his loneliness states. I finally sat beside him, concluding that he didn't mind. "This forest is glamorous, isn't it?" I asked.

He nodded. "It's almost like an Upwalker made it." "They can't make trees." I playfully shoved my brother, who pushed me back. I tackled him into a play-wrestle. We licked each other's muzzles, and stopped. His orbs glowed with the light of kittish curiosity. The air was mild and ideal, creating a comforting demeanor. I let my eyes flicker closed, minding the soft shyness of the breeze. Graffiti meowed, "I hear something." My eyes snapped open instantly.

I flicked my ears forward, and heard the soft crunch of pine needles. "I hear it too. It's like someone's approaching."

Chapter Eight

"Where is she?" the voice meowed. I couldn't see the cat, but hear their voice. Graffiti whispered, "Who is she?" I shook my head. "I have no idea." The serene day had been shattered by this marauder. "Who goes?" I called, angry. A gray face pokes out of the underbrush, followed by a tabby body. "Who are you?" I snarled. Graffiti raised his hackles, putting on a defensive show. The cat slithered to a halt. "Stop, I don't mean any harm," he whispered.

"You don't?" I let myself relax, putting on a less offensive display. Graffiti didn't let up, though. "Every mean cat says that." The cat suddenly looked shocked. "You sound like my uncle, who my father talks about all the time..." he gestured to Graffiti. He looked at me. "And you look like my aunt, who he talks about how she's dead." I shared a glance with Graffiti, and finally said, "Is your father named Canary?"

The cat froze. "Yes." He sighed. "You're probably not the same. It would be great if you were. See, he's so crestfallen all the time, because he believes they're both deceased." He shook his head, seeming to clear the thoughts. "Anyway, I'm Cloud." I looked at him. "You're a Clan cat, aren't you?" He nodded. "How'd you know?" "The name. I used to come from a Clan, but I escaped. I thought you might be from MyrtleClan." Cloud looked shocked. "Why would you want to leave?"

I didn't want to talk about this right now. I was more excited about the prospect of finding Canary. The anticipation of finding Canary was great. "Can you take me to your father?" I asked. He nodded. "Okay. I warn you, sometimes the Clan is hostile towards visitors." "I don't care," I replied, "I just want my brother back." Graffiti looked a little less trusting, but he followed anyway. They eventually reached... MyrtleClan camp! How could I have not noticed Canary during Gatherings?

I was excited about asking him who his mate was, how he got here. Had he seen me? Had he tried calling out, only for me to not answer? I pushed away the negative thought. I was here to find my brother. Cloud called, "Cinder, we have visitors." Cinder pushed her way through the crowd, to come over to us. "What do you want?" she snarled in a freezing cold voice. "I want to see my brother," I demanded. "I don't have your brother. If I do, what's his name?" I looked her square in the eye. "Canary." "Oh, I have a Canary!" she laughed. "How silly I am."

"Canary? Someone's here to see you," she called back. Canary came forward. Oh, how different he looked. He was scarred, and had lost half of his ear. "Canary!" I cried, but Cinder held me back. "Not so fast." I looked into her eye. "I NEED TO SEE MY BROTHER," I snarled. I didn't care if I died today. Graffiti's tail touched my shoulder. I looked back. "What?" "Be patient. Canary might be finishing up his duties, if Clans have them." I sighed, "Nothing is more important than seeing my brother."

Graffiti snorted. "Oh, is that so? What if the world were going to end in a minute?" He looked me right in the eye. "What would you do?" "See my brother before we all died," I snorted, but kept silent. Canary suddenly padded right out. "Paint? Is that you?" his voice was quiet and quivery. "It's me, Canary. Is that really you?" Canary, before answering, passed his gaze over to Graffiti. "Graffiti?" Graffiti nodded, "It's me." Canary's eyes lit up with warmth. "You're not dead!" he cried.

Before he had our consent, he threw us into a nuzzle. It was a happy reunion. Cinder hissed, "Canary, you need to get back patrolling. Sorry to break up this little family reunion." She smirked, and turned away. I shoveled my way towards her. "Cinder!" She slowly turned around. "What?" "We need to get Canary out of here." Cinder scoffed. "If you think I'm letting you take him without a fight, try me." Her Clan members gathered around her, their orbs glinting with glee. "We'd love to kill them, Cinder." They meowed.

I looked at them all. "I will slaughter each and every one of you before giving up Canary." I didn't usually like fighting, but now, I had to. Or it would all end for Graffiti, Canary and I in misery.

Chapter Nine

Graffiti stepped forward. He unsheathed his claws. "I challenge you to a fight." his eyes narrowed. I knew he meant business, so I didn't question. I hated it, but my claws slid out to. "I will if I must." I looked at Canary, who was angry, and had his claws out too. Cinder was surrounded. Her hackles raised. "I accept the challenge. Will my cats be able to participate?" her silky voice sounded sweet, fair, and kind, but I knew she was faking.

"Your cats can participate," I meowed without thinking. I realized it was such a stupid thing to say. We were greatly outnumbered by the cats of MyrtleClan. "Good choice. You're bold. Too bad you have to perish." She flexed her shoulder muscles, muscular. More muscular than I. Graffiti held his ground, though you could tell he was fearful. "You can do this," I whispered in his ear. Graffiti nodded to signal he had heard. Canary said, "I will fight alongside my littermates."

Cinder, along with the cats of her Clan, gasped. "I thought you were loyal to us!" Cinder cried. Her voice plummeted to a whisper. "But I guess not." "Challenge accepted." This time it was Canary who spoke. "You're violating my rights of freedom among loners and rogues." Cinder unsheathed her claws. They were long and sharp. Sharp as blades. My eyes widened, and I looked around for support. But every cat's eyes were unreadable. Only Canary and Graffiti were on my side.

Cinder leaped at me, taking me by surprise. She toppled me down, and bit into my ear. I yowled in pain, but nobody came to help. They were being bombarded by warriors of MyrtleClan. I fought my way free from Cinder, and raced to help Graffiti. He was the one least trained in combat. I tackled the tom that was on top of him, and bit into his ear. I slashed his cheek, and he yowled in pain. "What a weakling," I sneered. I slashed the tom again, but soon a white she-cat came to his aid.

"Don't hurt Thorn!" she cried into the air. I tackled her to the ground. This cat was a mouse-brain - I could tell. She looked abused, maybe by her mate. Thorn. By the looks of it, she still hadn't given him up though. Thorn hadn't even come to help. I slashed her cheek, leaving lots of blood to flow out. "Help!" she cried. "Keep Canary captive? That's a sin. You'll pay for it." I remembered what the cats learning about the Realm of Stars said. I smirked.

For the first time, I was actually enjoying battle. I knew I was heartless, had become one of them. Or maybe I was the stupid one at first. "Paint! Are you okay?" A voice came from behind me. I whipped around to see Canary. "I am. What about you? And Graffiti?" Canary nodded in triumph. "We're both go-" his sentence got cut off when he yowled. I looked where he was looking. A familiar shape was lying, wounded, on the ground. Blood pulsed from his throat. "Graffiti!"'

I galloped towards the almost lifeless body. He was still, his eyes looking at something I couldn't see. "Grafiiti," I whispered. He snapped his head up towards me. "Paint? Goodbye..." his eyes faded, and glazed. His head thudded to the ground, and I wailed. Cinder padded over to me. "I see you've lost one. Give up? You'll be forever lonely." Without thinking, I leaped on top of her, and grabbed her throat. Anything to kill her. Even in the most brutal way. My mind was going wild - acting without even thinking.

I heard a snapping sound, and saw Cinder's head roll back. She was dead. Cats stared in horror, and I ran to Canary. "Run, before they come after us." Canary nodded, and followed me. I ran, fast as I could, not even paying attention to where I was going. When I sensed we were finally safe, I sat down, panting. "Good, I got you out." Canary sighed. "It had felt like forever there. Thanks." I couldn't stop my tears from rolling down about Graffiti. Canary tilted his head. "Where's Graffiti?"

I could barely keep my voice above a whisper. "He's dead. Cinder killed him." Canary stared in shock. He yowled. "Shush! They could... track us..." I was talking through tears. Nobody had an idea how hard it was. Tears. Everywhere. I was surrounded by grief, and there was no escape. All I could do was wait. Wait until I joined the spirits, wherever they flew.

Chapter Ten

Canary comforted me all through the night. I couldn't stop crying. Tears flooded out. I couldn't stop them. I couldn't go on. "It's okay," Canary comforted, "He flies into the Realm of Stars." "I want him here." I sniffled, and Canary leaned closer against me. "It'll be fine. He'll visit you, when you go to sleep." I wondered if it were true. I had heard they could visit you while you slept. I finally settled in, curled my tail around me, and closed my eyes. When I did, sleep came.

I didn't realize how tired I'd been. My eyes burst open, and I saw Graffiti. "Paint?" he whispered. "Where have you been?" I tilted my head. "I'm not dead." Graffiti snarled, "I'm not dead. You're dead. I'm dreaming." I shook my head. "You're dead," I sniffed. The tears wanted to fall, but I had to look strong in front of my brother. "I've been having weird sensations." Graffiti said. "Because you're dead." I wasn't sure this was true, but my instincts told me so.

Graffiti flicked his tail. "I've been missing you." He looked into my eyes. "Are you alright?" I could see the sadness and pain in his eyes. "I've been really forlorn since you died." He looked at me. "Don't be dejected. I'm happier here, at least you're at peace now." He flashed me a smile, and started giggling. "Why are you laughing?" Graffiti said, "I just needed to know you were fine, that's all." He seemed even more joyful now that he was dead. Why? Maybe he was at serenity.

"You can rest assured I'm fine," he finished, "Don't be melancholy." I smiled, and couldn't help but nod. He slowly faded from view, and I was fine. Happy. Alive. Canary replaced his form, and he smiled. "Feeling better?" I nodded. "I could tell. You were talking to Graffiti in your slumber." I flicked my tail, and got up. "Know what? I'm ready to get moving. I need to go somewhere." Canary's eyes widened. "Already? You've just recovered!"

I smiled. "I'm one to be swift." He looked at me unsteadily, then laughed. "Okay, whatever you say, almighty Lordess." I laughed, and toppled him over. We play-wrestled for a while, then fell back. "Seriously, let's go." I swerved and started padding off. I heard the soft pawsteps of Canary behind me. We walked for a while, and then I smelled something familiar. Just where I needed to be. "We've arrived." Canary took a sniff, and looked demented. "This is Clan scent."

"I'm aware. We're returning to OakClan." "OakClan?" I purred. "Where I grew up." Memories came rapidly back before I could repent them. Bluefang watched as I played, tumbling through the grass. "Paintkit! Come back in!" I squeaked, "But I don't want to!" Bluefang rolled her eyes. "It's almost dusk. Want a badger to gulp you down?" She pretended to lunge out at me, and I leaped back. "Good reflexes. Next time, It'll get you." Her eyes had a soft, playful glow.

I laughed, and Canary was yet again muddled. "Why are you laughing?" It was his turn to ask. "I'm just reminiscing on when I was a kit." Canary cocked his head to the side. "Hmm, then why can't I? Let's go." "No, we must refrain until a patrol comes." Canary sighed, "Oh, I see. These cats so strict. They couldn't even bend a rule to their own advantage." I smelled fresh scent, and it wafted from the camp. "Here comes a patrol," I warned, "These cats can be hostile, so watch yourself."

A familiar white pelt appeared. Thank StarClan, it's Jasmineleaf! Jasmineleaf had been one of my close friends back in the camp. "Jasmineleaf!" I cried. She turned to look at me. "Paintfire? Is that you?" She rushed closer, and the patrol followed. "Oh, where have you been?" she sounded almost sympathetic. "Oh, I had to find my brothers." Jasmineleaf rolled her eyes. She suddenly tensed. "Who's this cat?" she sniffed his pelt. "He's my brother, Canary. Canary, this is Jasmineleaf."

Canary looked befuddled, but nodded anyway. "Nice to meet you, Jasmineleaf." "Nice to meet you, Canary." I asked, "Could you escort me to your camp?" Jasmineleaf nodded. "Let me get the rest of my patrol."

Chapter Eleven

I entered the camp, watching my step. Put one whisker out of line, I could be dead. The OakClan cats looked especially tense right now, as if something happened while I was away. "Paintfire?" a voice called. I snapped my head towards it. It was Vinetail. "Vinetail!" I cried out. Canary was still looking confused, which he had the right to. He never had known any of these felines. "Canary, let me introduce you to Vinetail." Vinetail let his head descend downward, "Hello Canary, I'm Vinetail."

Canary tentatively stepped forward and snuffled his scent. "You don't smell like a cat where I come from." Vinetail purred, "Of course not." Canary cocked his head. "What is this place?" I laughed. "It's a Clan, Canary. Better get used to it." Canary purred, "This is something I could get used to." Dashstar leaped forward, and smiled. "Paintfire? Is that you? Why'd you return?" I flicked my tail. "I needed to introduce Canary. Canary, this is Dashstar." Dashstar touched noses with him.

Canary shrank back a bit, due to the larger cats' size, but eventually got used to it. Canary purred, "A pleasure to meet you, Dashstar." Dashstar nodded. "Same for me." They broke the connection. Vinetail padded up to me. "Where have you gone? It's been almost two moons!" I looked him right in his vibrant orbs. "That's a lengthy tale, I'll tell it sometime, I swear on StarClan." Vinetail playfully shoved me. "It'd better be soon." He looked genuinely happy, reminding me of the last time I'd seen him.

It seemed like the prophecy from before I left didn't bother him at all. Suddenly, I burst, "What about the prophecy?" Cats popped their heads out of the dens. "What prophecy do you speak of, Paintfire?" asked Jasmineleaf. Vinetail started to say, "I got a prophecy from Hawkfeather, right before Paintfire left. No, it wasn't about her. It was: 'When the burn meets plants, the plant will die.' or something like that." I could tell he had forgotten some of it. Classic, not-so-bright Vinetail.

I looked at every cat, some muddled or groggy from their awakening. It was, after all, just prior to sunhigh. "Well, a cat called Burnface has been making trouble," said Dashstar. He looked apprehensive as he gazed over the now-silent Clan felines. "We will all come together as one," he proclaimed. Cats cheered, their yowls floating into the sky. "We will not let anyone perish!" Cats reinforced this idea, and kept yowling at their loudest to the spirits in StarClan. "No cat must be lonely."

He looked everyone at least one time in the eye. He padded back to his den, and everyone went back to their regular duties. Hunting, fighting, all of it was back. I still disliked quarreling, but I'd have to deal with it for now. For now, at least. Maybe I - or someone supportive towards it - could abolish battles. It would be better for everyone. While I was astray in thoughts, Canary asked me, "Am I getting a warrior name?" I turned around. "Well, it depends. Are you staying?"

Canary looked uncertain for an instant, than meowed, "I will." He added, "Just for you. Vinetail looks pretty fun too." He glanced at the long-tailed tom. "The long tail is abnormal," I agreed. We nuzzled each other, purring. "You two." I looked up to see Dashstar. "Yes, Dash?" I tilted my head. "That's an obscure thing for you to do. You're usually an intelligent warrior." He remarked. I growled playfully. He carried on, "Well, is Canary staying?"

Canary nodded, "Yes." Dashstar consented. "I'll hold a warrior ceremony at dusk." He looked at me. "You two better be there." I lowered myself to the ground. "Of course we'll be there."

_______________________________________________________________________________

Dusk rolled around, and Canary and I made our way to the Highrock. Other cats must have figured something was going on, as they gathered too. "Cats of OakClan, I see you're already here, so I can start the meeting?" Cats yowled and conceded. "We have a new warrior among us today." He turned his focus towards Canary. "Canary, step forward." he strode forward, his proud and arrogant old self showing through. "Canary, do you promise to uphold the warrior code, and protect this Clan, even at the cost of your life?"

I could see veracity in Canary's orbs as he meowed, "I do." Dashstar persisted, "Then by StarClan, I give this cat to you as a warrior in his turn. Canary, from this moment on, you will be known as Canarytalon." Canary's eyes lit up. Cats cheered, "Canarytalon! Canarytalon!" Canarytalon looked pleased, and stepped off the rock. I raced over to him. "Congrats, Canarytalon."

Chapter Twelve

I padded on patrol, Canarytalon beside me. He had only been named yesterday. "How do you like your name?" I asked. "It's great!" he responded. I purred, playfully shoving him. "Maybe I'll call you... Canaryshriek?" Canarytalon squealed. "Canary shrieks? I don't even know what a canary sounds like! But it must be bad!" I laughed, and Canarytalon started snickering too. I was having a great time. Suddenly, a harsh call rang out from the bushes. "Huh?"

Canarytalon must have heard it too, because he was galloping back to the camp to alert them. "Paintfire! What was that noise?" I whipped around to see Vinetail. A flat-faced black tom stepped out of the bushes. "Burnface!" cried Vinetail. "The prophecy," I muttered. Burnface seemed to suddenly notice me. "This is my quarrel. Get out of the way, Paint, or whatever your name is." He shoved me back, and squared up to Vinetail. The tom was large and muscular.

I realized Vinetail was no match for this tom. "This is an unjust fight!" I screeched, but Burnface just smirked. "I'll take him down." All I could do was watch helplessly, hating battles like my old self, as Vinetail leaped on top of Burnface. He shook Vinetail off effortlessly. He watched with pleasure as Vinetail struggled back up. "You're no match for me," Burnface whispered, "Just admit conquer." Vinetail looked him in his vivacious eye. "Never."

He leaped again, and this time Burnface met him with more blows. Vinetail cried out in pain. He feel to the ground, blood cascading from his lacerations. "I... won't... be... vanquished," Vinetail mumbled. Burnface stood over him. "Are you sure about that?" he gave Vinetail's throat a snap, and the tom dropped limp. Unmoving. Dead. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" I cried. Without thinking for a moment, I pushed myself on top of this tom, and bit into his throat.

The gigantic tom yowled in pain, and whipped around. I still held on. My fangs sank satisfyingly into his flesh, my grasp was killing him. He finally cried out for the last time, and fell. I snuffled him, to make sure he wasn't playing a trick. His eyes were glazed and hazy. "You will be defeated," I snarled. I left him, his body lying flaccid on the ground, my eyes shining with triumph. I had won. I had murdered somebody. Murder without just was a horrible thought, but when they killed somebody?

Oh, it was worth it. Reinforcements rushed towards me. "What happened?" they gasped, when they saw me covered in blood. "The tom killed Vinetail," I explained, tears spilling down my cheeks. They gasped. "What happened to you?" whispered Jasmineleaf. "I.. I killed Burnface. The offender." Jasmineleaf gaped. "The innocent one who never squabbled? What happened to you?" her face looked befuddled, and I sighed. "I just felt rage... for one of the first times in my life."

Jasmineleaf nuzzled me. "You're shocked. Let's get you back." I nodded. "I'd be more than joyful to be home." We padded through the forest, though it all seemed translucent to me. I felt like I could see through the trees. Like I had done something terrible. Which, in fact, I had. I killed someone. The thought passed through my mind millions of times. I wanted to shut it out, let it go, but I couldn't. I just wanted to die. Myself. Dead. What a great thought.

Vinetail was dead, and Canarytalon would be so let down. I couldn't bare to think any longer. I shut my eyes, and let myself fall asleep. StarClan, I hoped it was eternal. But, dismally for me, it wasn't. I did open my eyes again, but I wanted to shut them. "Paintfire," snarled Jasmineleaf, "Get up!" My eyes fluttered open. "What?" I groaned. "You haven't eaten in two days!" she growled. "So? Just let me starve," I complained. Jasmineleaf looked appalled.

"You can't say that!" she yowled. "Don't let the whole Clan hear our conversation..." I muttered between gritted fangs. "Oh, I apologize," said Jasmineleaf. She whispered in my ear, "Like this?" "You can speak louder." "Like this?" now she was barely above a whisper. "Correct," I sighed. "Why are you so grumpy?" Jasmineleaf chipped. "I just woke up." "From a two day rest! You should be fully awake and energetic by now." I rolled my eyes. "Don't you get it? I killed someone!"

Her eyes faded into dullness. "Oh... I kind of forgot.." She looked more sad, like a shell of her old self. "Yeah, you can be disappointed with me." I was dejected, crestfallen. Sorrow. So many more things.

Chapter Thirteen

Canarytalon padded up to me. "I know you've lost so many cats, but..." he paused for a second, stalling. "What?" I tilted my head. "Do you want to go hunting with me?" he finished. "We've been over this, Canary, hunting and patrolling won't cheer me up." I had called him by his original name, and he hissed. "I'm Canarytalon now, and I just wanted to attempt. But, you're a big plump tetchy mouse." I snarled, "You're the one being fractious." Canary scowled, and padded over to his leaving patrol.

I didn't feel exactly enthusiastic to squabble with him, but I just did. If anything, it made me feel worse. I lowered my head, and padded back to my nest. I had been lazy, and gluttonous. All I could do was eat, it made me feel better. I'll recover, I silently told myself. I, deep inside, knew it could only get more deficient. Jasmineleaf popped inside the den. "Feeling any fitter?" she asked. I shook my head. "I just tussled with Canarytalon. It only made me feel more inadequate."

The white she-cat laughed. "All you have to do is try, and you'll feel better." I doubted that. Seriously doubted it. I looked into Jasmineleaf's positive orbs, and wanted to be more like her. She was always so upbeat, buoyant, contented. "I wish I were more like you," I confessed. Jasmineleaf looked taken aback. "Why? I suck." I was surprised to hear her utter those words. "Because, you're always so jovial." She glared at me. "You shouldn't be wishing you were someone else, great StarClan no!" she cried.

I was humiliated for her to scream that - the whole Clan could most likely hear. Listen into our conversations. I snarled. "You don't tell me what to do, who I should be." Jasmineleaf looked at her paws. "You're correct." She up and left, storming out of the den. "Wow, you didn't have to do that," I muttered under my breath. She didn't hear, and kept walking. Now nobody wanted anything to do with me. Was it a surprise, though? I killed a cat. I was one to be feared, hated. A vile creature, someone nobody liked.

I sank down into my nest, in that languid state again. I let my eyes close in anguishing, sluggish way. When they finally closed, everything felt like a dream. A lucid dream. I was happy again, always wanted to be. "Paintfire! Wake the fox-dung up!" My orbs snapped open. "What?" I droned. I said it in an unhurried way. The cat looked irritable. "You need to go on a border patrol." My nose scrunched up in distaste. "Who said so?" The cat looked at me furiously. "The deputy did." "Why should I listen to the deputy?"

I regretted those words as soon as they came out of my mouth. Stupid, stupid, Paintfire! my brain screeched. The cat looked like they were about to kick me. "Get a move on," they snarled through gritted teeth. "Fine, fine," I sighed. I slunk my way through the cats, to see who was on the patrol. It was Jasmineleaf, and Canarytalon. All these cats were on inferior terms with me. "Oh, hi," I mumbled awkwardly. Jasmineleaf looked away, and Canarytalon looked perturbed. "So none of you want anything to do with me. Understandable."

I turned my head away, and they replied with nothing. They really didn't. I sighed. It was a bad state. I swiveled my head around, to see who was behind me. It was the cat who had come to get me. They growled, "Why are you looking at me?" I snarled. "Maybe because you forced me onto this ridiculous patrol?" Thankfully, for me, we approached the borders. We marked them, no adversary scents discovered. "Thank StarClan, it's almost over." Canarytalon agreed, "Yeah, with a snarky vole on this patrol."

I scowled at his remark. We finally padded back, and I could slacken a little bit. Just a tiny bit. All of a sudden, we heard a screech. "What was that?" yowled Jasmineleaf. "An adversary?" I chipped. We all looked from side to side, and hurtled to the spot of the sound. We found Dashstar towering over a marauder. "What are you doing here?" he snarled. His voice was intimidating. "What are you doing here?" I hastened forward. The cat looked even more panicky. "I was just hunting..."

The words seemed to die on his tongue as the rest of the patrol stepped forward. "I'll go now," he choked. He ran into the bushes. "Not without a fight!" screamed Dashstar, "Get the absconder!"

Chapter Fourteen

I raced after this violator. My paws felt full of energy and life once again. I felt the flow of cats as the Clan pounded after me, letting us surge towards this monstrosity of a cat. Once I was in a close enough range to pounce, I pounced. I landed squarely on the intruder. "What do you do here?" I snarled in his face. He stuttered, "I-I just ne-needed a p-place to rest." I hissed, "Couldn't you scent the marks?" The cat looked shameful, guilty. "I didn't know they were yours." This time he dared to talk in a regular voice.

I slashed him. "Every time you scent marks, you should know the territory isn't yours!" he turned his head away from me. Jasmineleaf snarled at him, "Great StarClan! You must be even more feather-brained than a mouse!" Dashstar found them, and galloped towards them. "Are you harming this marauder?" he asked. We shook our heads. "Than bring harm to him, feather-brains!" I just couldn't bare to do that. I shook my head. "What do you mean no, Paintfire?" whispered Jasmineleaf.

Dashstar hissed at me, "Do it." His voice was icy cold, like a freeze biting into you. "I truly apologize, Dashstar. Sincerely." I replied. Jasmineleaf went on harming the absconder, but I just stood there. "You're so futile," Dashstar hissed. My heart got shattered into a billion shards as he meowed those words. "I'm not ineffectual!" I yowled. Dashstar snarled, "Then why won't you get up and battle?" his questioning eyes burned into mine. "Because I hate it," I finally replied.

He looked shocked. "That's what a warrior is for! I already offered the occupation as a medicine cat - why didn't you take it?" I shook my head. "I didn't want to be learning about herbs, though." Dashstar scoffed. "You were correct to leave this Clan, even it was for the short while you did." The shards of my heart broke again, and my paws shifted. I meowed in an icy voice, "You're the worst leader ever." Dashstar looked taken aback. I continued, "Nobody ever talk to you like that before?"

I could feel my inner monster coming out. Administer it! my head screamed, but I couldn't stop. Escape from it was futile. I knew I would feel horrible after it, but I couldn't stop. During some time, I loved it. Like it was my only escape from the drama of the world. I sprang at him, all my tense and tight muscles being relieved. I felt revived as I bit into Dashstar's flesh. He yowled in agony. "Be anguished," I hissed. "Let me hear you scream in suffer." His ugly screeches echoed the still morning air again.

Cats just watched, horrified, as I turned against my own leader. "What am I doing?" I finally hissed, releasing my grip on the tom. He looked genuinely afraid. "Get me away from this monstrosity!" he cried. Cats rushed him away, glaring at me. Canarytalon stormed up. "What happened to you, Paint?" he asked softly. I shook my head. "Canarytalon... I don't know." Tears rushed down my cheeks and Canarytalon licked them away. "Let's get you back to camp," he offered. "Fine," I replied.

I got steered downward by Canarytalon, and we walked in mostly quietude. I mostly wanted to be solitary, but I knew in my head Canarytalon would never let that happen. He would think that I would run away, never to be glimpsed by the tom again. We reached the camp, and cats welcomed me with pitiful faces. Some cats turned away with horrible glares. "How could I let my Clan down like this?" I whispered. Canarytalon shrugged. "We all have that side." Even he sounded shaky, and diffident.

I sighed. "Face it, Canarytalon. No cat will welcome me again." Canarytalon looked horrified. "THAT'S FALLACIOUS!" he yowled, almost for the whole Clan to hear. Cats looked up as his voice boomed through the forest. "Canary, even you don't want to see me," I replied.

Chapter Fifteen

I groomed myself, and looked up to the stars. I had woken late at night, no other cat was awake, save for the guards. The guards, luckily for me, were Canarytalon and Jasmineleaf. "Canarytalon?" I called softly. He turned around. "Oh, hi, Paintfire." He smiled, even through the dimness. Jasmineleaf turned too, and flashed a soft smile. "What are you doing up at this hour?" cooed Jasmineleaf. "Get some sleep, sweetie." I scowled. "I'll get sleep when I need it," I said playfully. Jasmineleaf scoffed.

Canarytalon looked to the sky, following my gaze. "Beautiful tonight, isn't it?" Twinkling, glowing. Energy I couldn't muster. Sympathy washed through me, I admit, for myself, as I thought about Graffiti. Maybe he was up there, happy. Looking down on me, probably with hate. Contempt. I snorted. Everybody hated me, they were just hiding it. "Paintfire, you look doleful." I snapped my attention to the voice telling me this. Canarytalon. "Oh, I am." "Why?" Jasmineleaf pressed. "I'm worthless."

Jasmineleaf snapped, "That's imprecise." "Shh! Don't wake every cat," I hissed. Jasmineleaf blushed with embarrassment. "Sorry," she murmured. "Hopefully you didn't wake up the whole universe," joked Canarytalon. Jasmineleaf rolled her eyes. "I'm not that deafening." We laughed, our voices echoing through the camp. I felt like my old self again, more exuberant. I rolled onto Jasmineleaf, and nipped at her pretty fur. Canarytalon joined in, and we laughed. It was deafening that time - you can't convince me otherwise. 

"What are you doing?" a voice suddenly boomed. "Uh... guarding the camp," replied Jasmineleaf. "Of course not. You're playing. Get back to duty." Luckily for me, he didn't see me. I rolled off Jasmineleaf, and we got back to the post. "What are we doing on dawn patrol?" I meowed. "Well, uh, not doing our duties." giggled Canarytalon. We all laughed at this one. It felt good. Canarytalon looked back into the darkness, though it was almost unfeasible to see anything.  

I felt like my old self. Like the hate was out of my life. Was I beatific? Yes. I never wanted hate to return, no matter the cost of it. "You mouse-brain, Paintfire," Jasmineleaf said jokingly, "You're the cat who woke everybody up, in spite of what you said!" I hissed in a frisky manner, "You were the one who got attacked, at least!" Every cat let out a mrrow of laughter. Something I could enjoy in a few days. I licked my fur, my pelt nice and cleansed. "I love it at night," I confessed. It was just the right temperature.  

I looked up at the stars, once again. They glistened over head, their frosty light beating down on me. I was thankful again. For everything. Well, mostly everything. Suddenly, lightning struck overhead. "Looks like we've got a storm," I meowed. Thunder crackled, and seemed to calm down. It was ominous, as if a warning sign from StarClan. Storm clouds moved in, covering the stars. They dimmed out, leaving only darkness, hatred. "Uh-oh," I hissed. I felt unsecure in the dark. I guess I had a phobia.  

"We should apprise everyone," I meowed. Jasmineleaf flicked an ear. "It's just gonna be another thunder storm. Nothing to worry about." Canarytalon looked unassertive. "I think Paintfire is correct," he divulged. I couldn't help but beam at his acknowledgement. It was something I rarely got from my brother. Jasmineleaf sighed hesitantly. "Alright, but if it's just another bust, don't incriminate me." She got up. "I'll start with the warriors den, Canarytalon with the elders and apprentices, and Paintfire with the nursery and leader." 

I nodded and consented. I rushed to Dashstar's den first. "Dashstar?" I called. The tom didn't even look back. He meowed groggily, "What do you want?" "I wanted to notify you about a storm." Dashstar turned around, hissing. "You attacked me. Why do you think I'd consider you honest?" He turned back around, his tail lashing. "Now leave, or the consequences will be dire." I left, in an apologized.  

Chapter Sixteen

I sank to the ground as the rain pounded around me. "Paintfire, you idiot." I turned to the side to see Canarytalon, who had a weak, yet frisky smile on his features. "What did I ever do?" I hissed. I was not in the mood for jokes right now, astoundingly. He backed away. "Great StarClan, sorry." He settled back down, letting himself relax. The rain heavily poured down, forcing the Clan inside their dens. I was in a horrible mood. I wanted to go outside, embrace the rain. I tossed and turned in my nest.

Lightning struck dangerously close to the camp. I was lucky I had gotten over myself - otherwise I would have been more miserable. Perhaps happy. I let my eyes droop. The rain pounding on the roof made me drowsy. I snapped them open. No, I had to stay awake and alert, this might be a bad storm. I looked longingly at the sleeping Jasmineleaf. No, she's just lazy. I let my head sink onto my paws. "Canarytalon, do you think this will be defacing?" Canarytalon shook his head. "In truth, no."

I finally felt I could go to sleep. I closed my eyes, drifting to sweet dreams. I didn't dream, and woke up to the same storm. It had gotten worse, thunder and lightning almost every five seconds. Five seconds. I realized, it wasn't even a mile from us! We had to evacuate! "Canary?" I woke the tom up, and he yawned. "What? This better be good." I hissed, "I think we need to evacuate." He looked astonished. "Why?" "The lightning isn't even a mile from here." He nodded. "I'll tell Dashstar."

He rushed off into the driving rain. He faded from view briskly. "Jasmineleaf?" The creamy she-cat woke up. "What is it?" she snarled. "You woke me from my beauty sleep, so you better tell me something good." Almost the same as Canarytalon had said. "Canarytalon is telling Dashstar - the lightning isn't even a mile from us." Jasmineleaf yawned. "It'll go away, trust me." She was snoring again within almost seconds. Canarytalon hadn't come back. I was worried now. Even though he hadn't gone very far.

I decided to leave the den myself, though it was risky. "Canarytalon?" I called. I hoped my voice wasn't whipped away in the rain, nor his. "Paint?" a weak, but steady voice. "Canary." He came into view, and I nuzzled him. "What does Dashstar say?" "He seemed a little more trusting, because it was me." Canarytalon looked like he was bragging. "Don't boast," I hissed. He laughed. "You caught me." They padded to the den together, and settled in. Dashstar finally called, "Clan meeting!"

"In this weather?" Jasmineleaf hissed. She shook her pelt, and padded outside. Cats looked miserable. Their pelts were already soaked to the bone. "We must evacuate! The lightning is less than a mile close to here, and we don't want to be caught in a fire, or struck." He looked over all his cats, which were nodding. "Let's go." We all gathered at the entrance, and he padded forward. He led us towards nowhere, we had no idea where we were heading. We marked our path with sticks.

"I can't see," I finally caviled. Jasmineleaf snarled, "None of us can. Get over it." She padded ahead, and I sighed, resigning. Canarytalon padded gloomily beside me. We were silent, most of the time, only when we were changing direction did we speak. It wasn't fun, needless to mention. The rain died down as we walked out of the territory, and Dashstar one day cried, "I think we can go back!" So we padded all those days back, though it felt like moons. There was only one thing amiss.

There was a fire. "What in StarClan?" snarled Jasmineleaf. She bravely padded in, and I heard a scream. Not a second after. Jasmineleaf was inevitably going to die. "SOMEONE HELP HER!" I screeched. I dove in, and managed to pull her out by the tail. What I saw was horrifying. A lot of her pelt was burnt off, and she still screamed. Her nose had practically melted. "I can't smell," she hissed, "I think my nose was burned off." I knew she was joking, but the sad truth was, "It was."

Jasmineleaf hissed. "What?"

Chapter Seventeen

I was thoroughly disturbed by the sight of a melted nose. On a living cat. A breathing creature, one who was suffering. I barely managed to block out her screams of torment. "Jasmineleaf," Canarytalon breathed. He had been the first to speak after the discernment hit us. "That... it's... Jasmineleaf... it's scary." It was the brave creature, an absconder, who had spoken. "WHO. ARE. YOU!?" I turned, and recognized the cat from before. He shivered. "I forgot to... uh... introduce myself. I am Ginger, a loner. I've always coveted wanting to join your Clan. So, uh, can I?"

No feline dared to speak. Dashstar trotted forward. "You? Out of all cats? Such a scrawny little thing!" He blushed in embarrassment. "Well, you do have a cat with a burnt off nose." Dashstar hissed. "She was a member of our Clan beforehand." Ginger unleashed his claws. "I challenge you, Dashstar, to a brawl. If I win, I get to join your wonderful Clan. If you win, I can't join. Deal?" Dashstar looked him in the eye. "Deal." I knew he only accepted because he thought he would win. Of course, he was a trained warrior.

All I could do was watch. Dashstar had been so erroneous. Ginger leaped at the leader, targeting for his eye. He landed a blow right above it, temporarily blinding him. Dashstar yowled in agony. Ginger struck again, this time for the throat. "NO!" I snarled. Ginger froze. "Am I doing something wrong?" He looked confused. "Don't kill him. The point of the challenge is to win, not murder. Remember the warrior code? An honorable warrior doesn't kill to win." Jasmineleaf crouched in a battle posture.

"I mean, she does have a point." Canarytalon had meowed this. Cats had started to nod. Meanwhile, the blood had washed away from Dashstar's orbs. "What is this, Ginger?" he snarled. "My warriors at least are ethical. An honorable warrior does not kill to win a battle. Didn't you recite the warrior code, after studying my Clan warriors and learning their names?" Ginger snarled. "I wasn't trying to kill you, just land a painful blow to distract you." "You could have ripped his throat out!"

I dipped my head at Dashstar for calling me righteous. I was honorable, ethical, righteous, any other synonym you could think of. Ginger backed down. "So will we continue? Or, Dashstar, do you back down?" He hissed. "For the sake of my life, I think I'll just let you in." Ginger erupted in cheers, but faltered when he recognized that he was the only one. "Aren't you happy?" He looked addled. "We'll never forget what you have done," I yowled. "Never forget!" Other cats cheered in unison.

"Never forget," Dashstar muttered, "Ever." The fire had died down behind them. Canarytalon stepped forward. "Maybe we should mark him, scar him, so he remembers. That'll be the fare of joining our Clan." Other cats nodded. "That sounds just," Jasmineleaf finally mewed. Ginger closed his eyes. "Okay. I'm ready." We were all befuddled, but let this happen anyway. What feline wanted to join so bad that he would permanently scar himself? Canarytalon lunged forward, and sank his fangs hard into Ginger's back.

He yowled so loudly. It was ear-splitting. I jumped back. I saw everyone look at each other in shock. The tom finally stopped, blood seeping from his new wound. It was bright red, and uncontrollably bleeding. "Somebody help him!" A cat in the crowd yowled. Nobody wanted to. He had almost killed Dashstar, after all. Who cared if he died? I wanted to help him.Fight against it, you wimp, I told myself. Why did I want to fight and not fight at the times that were least appropriate?

I stood rigid, despite all my instincts screaming at me to do something. Anything. "Wait, Paintfire, can you help him?" the soft voice from earlier. "You expect me to?" I snarled. "This cat is a renegade." The cat behind me was Flamingpaw. The words almost stung on my tongue, especially saying them to a mere apprentice. "Paintfire... what happened to your old self?" Before I could answer, Jasmineleaf suddenly yowled, "Are we going to do anything about the flames?" 

All the felines turned their heads to the cream-white she-cat. Jasmineleaf flicked her tail. "Sure, it's just compact right now, but it's going to get stronger." This made sense. I tilted my head. What didn't make sense was, what could we do about it? "What can we do about it?" I finally asked, staring quizzically at Jasmineleaf. She rolled her eyes. "I don't know. Maybe get some water from the lake?" Canarytalon stepped forward. In a sarcastic voice, he meowed, "Yeah that sounds like a good idea!" 

His tone suddenly altered. "If there was a lake!" Tension cracked as thunder bolted through the sky. 

Chapter Eighteen

Jasmineleaf hissed. "Actually, there is a lake. Not too far form here, actually." she glared at Canarytalon. "But, we have to cross the border to get the water, and there's no way we could get the necessary amount we need before getting caught." She had contradicted herself. She snarled, "Canarytalon, does it matter that our camp and possibly a cat will die? Do you bother?" Canarytalon looked like he was about to pounce on her, but controlled himself. "I do bother, and that's why I'm trying to form a plan."

Jasmineleaf scoffed. "Like you could configure one intelligent enough." Canarytalon flexed his claws. "I'm working on it." His voice sounded calm, though I knew inside he was raging. Jasmineleaf rolled her eyes. "Maybe you should get done with it, before someone tries to go in." He hissed, "I've got it." He scanned the cats around him, possibly counting to see if everyone was present. "Here's the proposal: I go in, and say that our camp is on fire, and we need water. But you know how MyrtleClan will recognize me."

Dashstar hissed, "Recognize you? How?" Canarytalon took a deep inhalation. "I used to be captured by them, and they forced me to do their work." I almost snarled. How could my brother, of all cats, be kept in such bad condition? He continued, "They're going to refuse, and apprehend me again. But, while that's happening, some will go to camp to get me back. Others will get the water while they're distracted with me." He looked Dashstar in the eye, and locked his position there. "Got it?"

Dashstar stepped up. "That seems like an incredibly risky plot." He flicked his tail. "I have a better idea. How about I go in and ask for the water, and all conflict is avoided? Alright?" Jasmineleaf protested, "But I wanted to see this mouse-brain get ripped to shreds!" I was shocked. All our friendship was gone in a second, the split second she had opened her mousehole. I snarled, "Don't talk about my littermate like that!" Jasmineleaf arched her back, and it seemed like everyone was prepared for conflict.

I really didn't want to battle. Dashstar, fortunately for me, jumped in. "Jasmineleaf, you can't say things like that about your Clanmates, no matter who they are, and if they just attacked me a few days ago." He gave me a stinging glare, and I shrunk back. "Let's execute the procedure." He led us to the border, and waited silently for a patrol. In the dead of night, none came. I looked at Ginger, our new Clanmate. His wound wasn't bloodied anymore, good. No patrol, still. Dashstar finally snarled, "I'm going in. No matter how dangerous."

He stepped across the scent mark, and looked back at Canarytalon. "Canarytalon, if I'm not back by sunrise, come get me." He finally raced off, and his scent still hung around. I switched glances with Canarytalon, not sure why he was picked. I cuddled in next to him. "This will be a long night." He sighed, "Yep." I waited, and it felt like I was staring, clueless, into a black wall. The milky dawn light started to appear, and then the sun. Still no Dashstar. "That's my cue," said Canarytalon.

I could see his legs trembling - he didn't want to do this. Why him? "May StarClan light your path." He shook his head. "No, you and Jasmineleaf are coming with me. I can't risk being alone." I stood, shocked. "ME?" I let the word slip out of my jaws. Oops. He scowled. "Don't be a rabbit, come on." I finally complied. Jasmineleaf took the rear, while I stood in the middle. Canarytalon led. I could see MyrtleClan's camp ahead of me - it was an all-too-familiar sight. Where Graffiti had died.

I shivered, not wishing any more death to happen. No cat will be deceased today, I vowed to myself. My heart rate sped up. I felt like the whole of MyrtleClan could hear it by now. "MyrtleClan?" called Canarytalon. Cats poked their heads out of the dens. "Father?" I saw sweet Cloud, looking at Canarytalon with hope clearly gleaming in his orbs. "Canary?" He shook his head. "I'm Canarytalon now." "That's such a cool na-" He was cut off when I snarled, "Where is Dashstar?"

"Well, a tom did come into camp earlier today, demanding water. I'm sure that wasn't him. He must be insane." His eyes widened when Canarytalon hissed, "That is Dashstar. Our camp is on fire, and I'm not sure if you knew, but some cats are in moderate risk of death." I cringed at the word 'death'. Oh, how much I hated it. But there had to be a word for it, right? I guess I hated death in general. Cloud nodded. "I'll tell Violet." o my paws. "Not Cinder," I whispered.

Canarytalon muttered, "If she tries to kill me, go get back up." The muscular she-cat stepped out. "Canary! I need you back!"

Chapter Nineteen

Canarytalon unsheathed his claws, looking aggravated. "I'm Canarytalon now, and I don't want to come back." Violet puffed a breath. "Oh, well, you don't have a choice." She lunged towards him, but he ducked and rolled sideways. She ended up crashing into a tree, causing several of her warriors to let out meows of laughter. She didn't let that relent her. She leaped again, this time slamming into Canarytalon's shoulder. "Back up!" he yowled. Before I could make a move, Jasmineleaf raced off through the forest.

I joined the fray, yanking Violet off of my brother. I couldn't let the only cat I loved die. "NEVER HURT MY BROTHER!" I screeched. I didn't want to kill her, as I had vowed no cat would perish. Instead, I bit into her belly. She shrieked in rage and anguish. She wriggled under my grip, like a kit in their mother's mouth. I held on tight. Back up came, and Jasmineleaf howled, "Don't kill her!" I released my fangs, and blood cascaded from the wound. "Are you okay?" I whispered.

A white she-cat came out and carried Violet back inside. "He's yours, for now," she hissed. The medicine cat then disappeared into the bushes. "Let's go back." Jasmineleaf sighed. "That horrible run was for nothing." Her ears suddenly perked, right as I remembered, "Where's Dashstar?" Warriors, she-cats and toms alike, entered the MyrtleClan camp, screeching. I rushed in, and demanded, "Where is our leader?" I saw a pelt, eyes, and a tom finally emerged from the shrubs.

"You really came!" his eyes glistened with joy. A creamy white she-cat, like Jasmineleaf, blocked my path. It was that she-cat I had attacked during the last battle. Oh, how regretful I was. "You killed Cinder," she hissed, "And I will take vengeance for that. I will make you watch Dashstar get ripped apart, limb by limb." She looked almost joyful to be saying that, like she had a blood lust. She tensed to leap at the panicky Dashstar, but the white she-cat came out of the den she was in.

"Vanillia! They came here to take Dashstar, they were victorious, let her have him!" The deputy, Hawktalon with her raspy voice, hissed, "Vanilla, listen to Snowyrain." Vanilla looked at her paws, then back up at the cats staring at her in a befuddled manner. She hissed a halfhearted, "Sorry," and ran off. I looked at Hawktalon. My heart was racing, but Dashstar came to join us, rushing over with glee. "I should have never left!" he cried. He dropped his meow, and whispered, "You really came."

"Of course we did!" I cried. "Why wouldn't we?" Canarytalon nodded, though he still looked shaken too. I fell into the rear to exchange with Hawktalon, and looked at her. "Hawk?" Her glittering orbs snaked over to meet mine. "Don't call me that." She sounded like she was joking in a halfhearted way, but also earnest. "Do you think I'm uncanny?" I questioned breezily. I sounded breezy, but it really wasn't that easy. She looked at me, and almost snorted in laughter. "Nah," she replied, "I was like that around your age too."

I couldn't believe it. "You weren't," I snarled. "I was," she meowed in a completely sincere way. I almost wanted to bound over the hills. A cat to relate to? Me? No. This couldn't be occurring. "Seriously?" I stared at her, and she nodded. "Seriously. It was hard, but I got to be the way I am now. And honestly, aren't I still unnatural?" She looked at me quizzically. "No," I replied. I was surprised that I was serious. Hawktalon sighed. "You know, it may not seem like it, but I regret harming every single cat I've ever bit or clawed."

She looked haunted by the memories of so much fighting and war. I couldn't indict her. I sighed, "Thanks for reassuring me." She looked at me, admitting, "To be candid, I felt the same way about you, like there wasn't something wrong with me." I couldn't believe that this feline was almost as young as me - only about a year older. She was like that? Of course I couldn't remember - I had been a rogue to a Clan kit. Stressful. I felt a blush cross my features, and quickly hid it.

Nobody would possibly accept that. Would they?

Chapter Twenty

Hawktalon and I had been growing rather... close. She would sleep beside me now in the warriors den, and I... I liked it. She wrapped her tail around me. "Having trouble falling asleep?" I nodded hesitantly. Rain battered on the roof, and it was soothing, but the rain triggered memories of the fire. Canarytalon was to my other side, snoring softly. Maybe that's what was relenting me. "Maybe it's Canarytalon," I suggested. Hawktalon giggled. "Maybe I should wake him up and yell at him to shut it?"

I laughed. I liked Hawktalon's humor. "Paintfire, something's sizzling." I strained my ears, and I could hear it too. "No... no, it can't be," I hissed. Hawktalon leaned in closer to me, but that only made it hotter. I pulled away. "Stop. It's too warm." She whimpered. "Warmer than usual." She put her head down on her paws, and almost started to silently scream it seemed. I wanted badly wanted to curl around her, assure her it was okay. But the thing was... It wasn't okay.

"We must warn Dashstar." Like the last time. I couldn't lose Hawktalon, no - not to the same thing that had taken Jasmineleaf. Jasmineleaf had died the day after her nose burnt off. Burns had started to open all over her body, and oh, it was terrible. I wept every day since then. Hawktalon tried to comfort me, but to no avail. I wanted to press my pelt to hers, but I had a duty. "Be right back." I stepped outside, seeing what caused the problem. Fire. It was starting to ravage the plants on the edge of camp.

"Dashstar!" I cried out. The tom had trusted me again, after the first fire. I guess good things came with it too. Dashstar leaped out of his den, and immediately, his jaw dropped. "OakClan! Evacuate!" Soon, running cats flurried all around me. It was terrifying, but my solemnly sworn duty was to get all the felines OUT. I rushed into each den, making sure no cat was left. That was when it surrounded me. Flames, crackling heat, and yowling voices. Each shouting instructions to save myself.

But I couldn't. I succumbed to the flames, letting them devour my body. It hurt, but I was dead in a second. My floating spirit encircled the camp, and went over to Hawktalon. She was crying, screaming, and then looked to me. Her tear-infested eyes looked shocked. "Paintfire...?" she whispered. I sighed, "Yeah." Her orbs lit with joy. "How'd you get out?" I hated to break the horrible news to her. "Hawky... I'm not alive." She let out a yowl of grief, and it was earsplitting. "Painty's dead!" she cried.

Cats looked confused, and started yowling too. I tried to calm her down, and when I finally did, I whispered, "I love you. I'll... see you in StarClan." I let myself disappear before I could see my mate's horrible, grieving, reaction. And I was in the spiritual realm.

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