A series by Roboflight
Rebellion. It's everywhere they turn. The number of sides are countless in a battle that seems to be lasting an eternity. Clan is tired of Counters rule over them-tired of being maintained, tired of being treated like robots, tired of peace. They want back the ways the once had, where they weren't bound by oaths and a group of cats who made all the choices about their lives. In the middle of this huge war, one apprentice must make a choice-and fast. Because the side she stand beside, the cats she builds or burns bridges with and the choices she makes are no longer to me dismissed. They are now to become permanant.
Special thanks to RedPandaPotter for the name of this series.
"Inkstar is dead!" The loud call went through camp which suddenly busted into commotion. I dropped the mouse I was chewing, curiosity defeating my sense of hunger, as I followed the rest of the apprentices from a little further behind while they all raced out of the den.
Inkstar's death was more than just the death of the leader of Ink Division. We all knew it was-from the tinniest kit, who could barely keep their eyes open, to the oldest elder, lying lazily in their den waiting for their time to come so that they could rejoice in StarClan-or at least, for those who believed in the mystical place.
Even as I excited the den, I could see some of the younger warriors chanting, their eyes ablaze with wicked rage as they cheered for their cause.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
Approaching the large crowd gathered around Inkstar's body, it was quite clear he had been murdered. His pelt was clawed and still welling with blood, even after his death, and there was a very deep set of teeth burrowed into his neck. Murder. And it wasn't a mystery as to whom had done it.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
"Counters are coming," A sharp voice hissed.
I however, was paying attention to Riverleap, the she-cat who had been both the mate and the loyal deputy of Inkstar stood over his body, tears pouring out of her eyes and into his fluffy gray pelt. The two had always been reprimanded for being together. Counters didn't like it when cats with different pelts because mates, unless it was black and white-and Inkstar was a soft gray while Riverleap was a slight blueish. The Ink Division didn't like the idea that the first deputy would be his mate, especially considering that the secondary deputy-who was now technically the first deputy-was his brother. And there was also rumor that the two of them had once done something bad... really bad... though no cat new anything for certain.
Still, no matter what Counters, Ink Division, or Clan thought I felt my heart going out to her. It was obvious from the look in her eyes that she loved him, she really had. And becoming the next Inkstar was not at all something she viewed as an honor-rather a burden.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
For some reason the chanting against Counters was nearly soothing. As of late, anger towards them was becoming more and more frequent and I had just viewed it as annoying and pesky, only something to keep me up when I was trying to fall asleep after a long day of training.
But now it felt right.
Inkstar, as we all knew, had made a very clear hint before leaving just that sunrise that he was going to speak to Council. He was mad at them, perhaps the rebellious young cats were starting to get through to him, or maybe it was their constant attempts to break him apart from Riverleap. Either way it was clear he was fed up.
Most of Ink Division hadn't been expecting him back alive, or without severe injury, and certainly not still leader of them. No one opposed Counters, the tight group of cats that had supreme rule over Clan-which had been divided into four divisions-Ink, Stone, Fire and Blood.
Once upon a time there had been battles, there had been war. Once upon a time cats would kill their own kind, turn on other divisions-or other Clans as they were called, would not have a council of cats to make decisions for them-rather one leader, a deputy and a petty code supposedly coming from cats in the stars.
It sounded like chaos when one thought about it, especially any that were accustomed to life in Clan. But there was something eerie about the way we lived too. Something almost... worse.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
"Counters are coming!" This time the call was louder, "They'll be here any moment now so shut up with your chanting and go to your dens. They'll be mad when they arrive, so it's best you stay out of their way."
A part of me knew I should head back in. A part of me knew that Riverleap should face this alone-that I shouldn't have to face the wrath of Counters when they were angry.
But I pitied the she-cat and refused to leave her to her own doom. No, I decided. I would stay, and I would at least try to comfort her by being there.
So even as all the cats scattered and the chants died out, I walked closer to Riverleap, gently pressing my pelt against hers. She looked up at me in gratitude and I smiled down at her.
"Thanks, Redpaw," She whispered, "But you should probably go-I know you're trying to be brave, which I appreciate, but this is Counters. They are rough, they could hurt you and there would be nothing you could do back. I don't want whatever remaining innocence you have left to be shattered."
I was prepared to protest, to claim I would not leave her side where everyone else had. But then I saw them in the distance. A group of twenty cats to be exact. Muscular, strong, powerful... The look in their eyes. It scared me. It was the look that brought control to us-kept us under a cap. I knew I should appreciate it.
But that didn't mean I had to like it.
Completely abandoning my plans to stick with her, I offered a shy nod, licking her head gently, before quickly dashing off to the cover of the large apprentice den. The thought of being in the same area of them just made me nervous.
As I reached the cover of my den, I could hear a loud cry coming from Riverleap. I didn't know if it was physical pain, or just the emotional blow, but she was crying and sobbing and I could hear Counters yelling at her, telling her to be stronger, threatening her.
I felt bad for her, I truly did. But there was something about Counters that made you stop caring for everyone else. To just run for cover and never abandon it.
As the apprentices in the den remained silent, continuing to listen as Riverleap continued to shriek and cry and Counters continued to yell, I found a soft echo bouncing around my head. It had grown on me too.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
Inkstar's death meant much much more than Riverleap becoming the new leader of Ink Division. It meant much more than a new cat to sit before Counters when Clan presented themselves at gatherings. It meant more than the death of a cat no one had really understood.
This, I realized, meant rebellion. It meant war. It meant change.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
"Ink Division!" Riverleap-now Inkstar-looked down at us from where she stood on the HighBranch of the HighOak. She towered above us all-resting on the highest branch of the giant tree. The former Inkstar's brother-Pinebark-was sitting on one of the branches located towards the middle while the new secondary deputy elected by Riverleap-or Inkstar, Fishlegs was sitting on one of the lowest branches.
We were all silent. A couple messengers sent by Counters were waiting at the entrance to camp. They came every sunrise-the only time announcements were allowed to be made-in order to report the announcements made by the leaders, and returned every sunset to tell the leaders what Counters thought and whether or not they approved of the announcements.
Today it appeared to be two young apprentices, I assumed. Counters were almost like a petite division of their own. Twenty rulers, none of which had power over the other, some guards and messengers, a handful of queens to produce kits taken care of in their nursery and apprentices trained by their guards. I assumed that the current apprentices were about ten moons old-which would have to mean they had been newly apprenticed.
"Today," Inkstar's voice was loud and clear, even from where she stood-there was a spark to her voice that I had never heard before, "I am to take the name of Inkstar and you are to no longer to address me as Riverleap..." She trailed off, cutting the ceremony in half, "At least that's what Counters request."
A silent gasp echoed through my division, and I glanced at Riverleap curiously, before reverting my gaze to the two young apprentices, who were glancing at each other-obviously aware that this wasn't supposed to happen. That this never happened. But that was before, I realized with a pang. Riverleap was about to unleash more upon us.
Once Ink Division had settled with their murmurs she continued, her voice louder, bolder, clearer than ever, "I will not listen to Counters anymore. They cruelly took my leader, my mate, my love," She hissed, "They've taken our freedom, they've been oppressing us without even allowing ourselves to realize it!" She was spitting with rage now.
I found myself glancing at the apprentices again, both of whom were still glancing back and forth, I could tell they were wondering if this situation could end up dangerously for them.
"I am now Riverstar!" Riverleap boomed, "And that is how I expect you to address me. We are now breaking free of Counters, of Clan, of the cruel, wicked life we once had," her voice dropped low, low enough that I couldn't hear what I was saying but I could feel what she was saying, "For Redclaw."
Redclaw had been the most recent Inkstar-the one murdered just last night.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!" The chants were louder than I'd ever heard them this time. And they were chanted at a time no one else would ever dare to chant them-when the messengers were around.
Riverstar nodded, smiling down at the warriors, queens, apprentices and even the kits who were chanting-their numbers growing by the moment.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
She cleared her throat again and Ink Division silenced yet again to listen to her, "From now on we are not Ink Division! From now on we are InkClan! And from now on Counters are nothing to us." There was a moment of grave, exciting, nervous, tragic, delightful, doubtful, emotional, memory-loaded silence before she flicked her tail, "InkClan is officially dismissed."
The two messengers had heard enough. They were both turning around to rush back to Counters, to tell them about the latest scheme, about what could very likely be their ending, about Riverstar when Pinebark let out a loud call.
"Don't let them get away!" he demanded, "They'll tell Counters of our plans!"
Almost instantly, the camp had sprung into action, half the warriors and a good number of apprentices pelting out of the clearing, chasing the apprentices who I figured must be absolutely terrified by now.
I was too.
I still wasn't sure what to make of this breaking off. Surely Counters wouldn't just let us go. Counters didn't do that-Counters liked control. This was a very clear lack of control.
"Are you okay?" I found a soft tail tapping my shoulder and spun my head around to find Pebblepaw staring at me. The tom and I had confessed our love to each other a while ago-back when we were only eleven moons and newly apprenticed-and now, at sixteen moons, two away from becoming a warrior we had definitely agreed to officially become mates. Our pelt colors would be close enough-I had a deep ginger and his war a more moderate shade and we both had bright orange, matching eyes.
"I'm worried," I confessed, slowly, "What if this means war for Ink Di-InkClan? We wouldn't stand a chance against all three other divisions and Counters. I don't want to lose my home."
"Me neither," He whispered, pulling me closer to him with his tail, I felt myself leaning in, as my pelt pressed against his, and I offered him a gentle lick on the nose.
"They really hurt Riverstar yesterday."
"Counters really hurt everybody," He replied frankly, "Everybody who might have enough power that they could pass the thought of holding ground through their mind."
"They gave her more power though," I replied, breathing in his fresh scent. It smelled like juniper berries-he had just escaped the medicine cats den after a month wait there, the smell of grass during rain, and my favorite kind of prey; small birds. I continued. "When they hurt her yesterday they made her mad, they made her fed-up... they were the ones feeding her the final motives to turn against them. Counters had this coming."
"Counters never have anything coming," Pebblepaw replied, gently wrapping his tail around my own, as we stared at the nearly emptied clearing in silence. Riverstar was still standing atop the HighBranch, showing no signs of planning to come down. She seemed more than satisfied up there.
"Until now I suppose."
We decided to sit down, curled up next to each other, just listening to the sound of our own breathing, our own heartbeats, our own feelings or anxiety, curiosity and even fear pulsing through us, wondering what was to become of them.
"We've got the messengers!" Both Pebblepaw and I were shaken awake by the loud call coming from Fishlegs, "They weren't half way across the territory before we had them! Counters doesn't know anything."
Riverstar, who I know realized, as I blinked sleep out of my eyes, was sitting in the entrance to the camp; she had obviously been waiting for them to arrive.
I noticed, while Fishlegs entered, that the two apprentices were battered and bruised-and my heart went out to them, even if they were of Counters. Fishlegs had obviously decided that it wasn't the time to show mercy, and the two hadn't gotten away well. The smaller, brown tabby one almost looked fatal.
Instinctively, I found myself giving Pebblepaw a quick lick, claiming I'd be back soon before rushing to the medicine den, where Falconwings was sorting out herbs. She turned her head up curiously when she saw me, an odd glitter of what I suspected was hope in her eyes.
"The messengers of Counters," I whispered, "They're in a really bad condition. One of them even seems fatal-they probably need your assistance."
She frowned, "Why would we do that? Counters is our sworn enemy now, Redpaw. Anything to help them will result in our ultimate harm! I don't see any reason not to just kill them off."
I was suddenly struck by a wave of nausea at the thought-two young messengers, too young to tell right from wrong, who had only been doing what they were told and trying to save their own pelts were now paying the price for it. I couldn't imagine how horrified they must have been at the moment.
Of course, Counters had to choose today of all days to send us apprentice messengers. I wanted to insist to Falconwings that healing them was the right thing to do, but she seemed to be certain of her decision. And I knew Riverstar was certainly not in a situation to be feeding anyone else sympathy when it was likely that she needed it the very most.
Sighing in defeat, I turned around heading back towards the crowded clearing where Pebblepaw was waiting for me, his eyes sparking with curiosity, "Where were you?" He questioned.
"Asking Falconwings to heal the messengers," I replied, "They're just apprentices and they personally didn't do us any harm-I see no reason to torture them."
"They are Counters," Pebblepaw replied as though it was all so simple. Black and white. Good and bad. Right and wrong. I felt a deadly sensation uncoiling within me.
Is this what our new freedom has turned us into? Is this really any better than what Counters would do had this been them?
The doubt was eating me from the inside.
"Hey kits," I whispered. I knew that what I was doing was wrong-I'd probably be banned from InkClan if they discovered what I was up to but I couldn't let it go.
They both shrunk away in fear, backing up as far as they could within the closed den they had been captured inside of. Seeing their hurt expressions almost stirred something inside me. Made me more sure that this was what I had to do. Even if they told Counters everything.
I handed them each a small mouse-the best I could manage to find at the fresh-kill pile during midnight. The rest was either spoiled or would have to be saved for the elders, kits and medicine cat.
Neither of them approached the food I gave them. "It's not poisoned, you know," I whispered, "You can sniff it if you would like."
Both of them did so, quickly controlling the food I gave them before devouring it quickly, too hungry to mind their manners as they shoved it all down. I didn't mind though. With each quick bite they took the more confident I became with myself. If StarClan really did exist this is what they would want.
Traitor or not.
Once they were done eating I handed them each some herbs I can managed to take from Falconwing's den. I didn't know what did what so I just grabbed a handful of whatever it was I could.
It seemed that both of the apprentices were aware of their purposes, however, because they were soon applying herbs to each other effortlessly and without a trace of confusion. Cobwebs, marigold, juniper berries. It wasn't long before they had used most of it up, and pushed the rest shyly back towards me.
"I'm going to let you two go now," I whispered, "I'd prefer you don't return to Council and you don't spread the knowledge of this. However, I'm aware that this won't be kept a secret forever-that's hardly possible so not much harm can come out of it."
They both nodded, their eyes hopeful.
"And don't you dare tell them it was me. Just claim you escaped yourselves or find some other odd excuse. I was never here tonight-I was resting in my den with the other apprentices of InkClan." It felt oddly good to say InkClan in front of Council cats-even if they were just desperate, starving apprentices.
The nodded again.
And sighing, not allowing myself to think twice, I pushed the wall of brambles that were holding them within their cage aside, ignoring the stringing pain of welling blood on my paws, and stepped aside to let them go, praying over and over again that my compassion wouldn't end up a huge mistake.
"The apprentices have escaped!" I sighed, not exiting the den as I silently listening to the commotion taking place. Some queens were screeching in fear, some warriors were yowling in delight at the prospect of possibly being able to go to war with Counters and the figures of authority were growling harshly.
"Redpaw," I pushed my head out of my nest to find Pebblepaw standing before me disapprovingly. The rest of the den was completely emptied, and he stood only a little further off, an expression of disbelief printed across his face, "Don't tell me this was you."
I couldn't lie to him. I loved him, and I knew he would get mad-but he would eventually get over it and forgive me. That's how it always worked between us. I sucked in a deep breath, not replying, my silence being the answer he needed.
"Shame on you."
Without another word he spun around, sticking his tail in the air and exiting the den. I felt upset, but Pebblepaw would return, I knew. And alongside Pebblepaw, the feeling that I had done something right, something good would be me all the more sure that it was worth it.
Even if it meant facing Counters.
The rest of the day went by without any of the usual patterns occurring. There were no messengers arriving, no announcements at sun high, but rather a fair many about the escaped apprentices, preparation for a battle that could even reach us within that day, and cancellation of border markings, hunting patrols and checks for rogues.
I found it nice.
That was, at least, until sundown, when the whole of the division-or Clan-was called out to the clearing by Riverstar claiming we had a visitor. Not very hard to guess whom they were.
And sure enough, as we all lined up near the entrance to camp, a patrol of at least several dozen cats was approaching us. There were no members of Counters I realized, with a sigh of relief, but they were enraged-prepared for battle. They had come to fight.
The leader of the patrol took a step forward as they reached the entrance to camp, "No one breaks free from Counters," He snarled, "You're a traitor-Riverstar, and Ink Division will be appointed a new leader."
"You'll have to name my whole Clan traitors then," She snarled, "We are not a division that belongs to you, anymore. We are now InkClan!"
The loud cheer went through camp and I couldn't help but join in.
"If you are all traitors, then you all perish," The tom hissed flinging himself onto Riverstar, and his giant patrol followed, none hesitating to jump into the heat of battle.
Without a second thought, I joined into the fight which was beyond raging within moments. I bit into the shoulder of the first Counters cat that I could find.
I felt them flipping over but had slipped out of the way before they could attack me, sliding easily across the smooth floor of InkClan's clearing.
I was soon engaged in a battle of claws, ducking away from one fierce pair of claws, before lashing out with my own, ducking away from a fatal blow to the neck, and failing my own attempt to deliver one.
Soon, however, I had driven the she-cat away, despite her inferior shape. To be fair, Nettleflight did give me a hand for a fair bit of the fight, but most of the fighting was done by me so I decided it wouldn't be wrong to consider it my victory.
As soon as I had shaken her off, I spun around, glancing about and looking for the next opponent to jump on, as I realized that this could be quite a long battle.
"Watch them run!" Fishlegs cheered as the Clan broke out into cheers. Riverstar was smiling proudly. But as we cheered, something felt off. And within moments I was able to recognize that it was Pebblepaw. He wasn't beside me, like he should have been. He wasn't chanting alongside me like he should have been. He was gone.
Glancing about, I felt worry gnawing at me. He must be really mad at me this time.
But I still couldn't locate him. Immediately assuming the worst I abandoned my celebrating Clanmates, rushing to the medicine cats den, where I did in fact find him, lying in a den, blood leaking from all over, looking beyond fatal. Looking like death. I was horrified, but I forced my knees to hold me up.
"Is he going to be alright?" I demanded of Falconwings, who appeared to be looking for something.
"I can't find most of my cobwebs," She sighed, "Some kit must have thought it was amusing to mess up my stock last night and now I don't have the cobwebs necessary to heal him."
"I'll get some!" I offered, before I could allow the guilt to eat through me.
"I went searching for it just yesterday," Falconwings replied, "You'll hardly find any-not enough to save Pebblepaw. I-I'm sorry, Redpaw."
And she really was, I could tell by the expression on her face. But her pain, her apology, was nothing compared to the feeling eating through me.
My "compassion" was going to take Pebblepaw's life.
"Pebblepaw!" I screeched, running up to him quickly, my heartbeat burning through my chest, tears blinding my eyes. His eyelids fluttered open for a moment, and he exhaled deeply.
"I'll miss you, Redpaw," He claimed.
I felt a sob chocking my throat as I leaned down, giving him a soft lick on the cheek, "I'm sorry, Pebblepaw," I whispered, "It's...It's all my fault."
"No," He whispered, his voice stern, "Don't think that. You made the right choice-I'm proud of you," He lowered his voice, "This isn't right, Redpaw."
"Breaking free. This is what happens when we attempt to rebel. War, and death and good things feeling like crimes. Riverstar's pain blinded her into making a mistake. It made her weak." He coughed gently and I stroked his cheek with my tail, suddenly understanding the point in what he said.
"Maybe not," I replied, "Maybe not."
"Don't stand by it," He whispered to me, before sighing, "I love you, Redpaw, and I'll see you soon, one day, I know I will." I realized he was talking about StarClan. I never knew he believed in StarClan.
"I love you too," I replied, "I'll miss you."
"Me too," He replied, giving me a soft lick on the cheek. And then he was gone. Dead. Forever. Or maybe not forever-if StarClan truly did exist.
Either way, it didn't matter. I wouldn't be seeing him again, and no matter what he said it was my fault. I could have saved him and I didn't.
"I'm sorry," Falconwings repeated, and I wondered how much she heard. Deciding not to let my worry on, I offered her a sad smile.
"Thanks." I hardly meant it.
"We're officially at war!" Riverstar declared, "However, I don't want to force any of you into this! It is true, I will admit, that the odds are certainly not in our favor-and victory is hopeless unless we can convince the other divisions," Her eyes blazed, "However, I have reason to believe any truly loyal cats-besides queens and elders-would have no reason not to stay."
There was silence among us.
"I'd like you all to consider long and hard. The other divisions have oaths which require you to take them in if you please, and all cats who stay here will be honored for their bravery. Especially if we break free of Counters."
She flicked her tail, indicating that we were dismissed.
The Clan quickly dispersed, scattering. There were murmurs, cried, chants of "Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!" and the loud murmurings of my own mind.
I wanted to think about it-to consider my choices, I truly did but what Pebblepaw said... I felt the need to fulfill his dying wish. To remain the order that Ink Division through a different division, as opposed to the freedom of InkClan. The freedom of the Clan had made me a murderer... of my own to-be-mate.
So, while some of InkClan was murmuring wildly, unsure of what to do or what to make, and the rest were continuing with their chant, I returned to my den, deciding that the best way to spent my last day in Ink Division, in InkClan, at home was by burying my head into my nest and allowing myself to feel miserably guilty.
"This is Fire Division's camp, state your cause," A black tom questioned, his eyes narrowing upon us. The cats that had chosen to leave InkClan had split into three groups-each heading to one of the divisions. Deciding to pick the one farthest away from her old home and the place where she had murdered her mate-to-be, she had decided to go with the group heading towards Fire Division.
Mousepads, a wiry gray she-cat, was the leader of our small group of about six cats. Surprisingly, most had chosen to stay and wage the war with Counters. Their rage towards our leaders, I realized, must have been much more severe than I had ever imagined before.
"Coming in as refugees," Mousepads claimed, keeping her voice level, "After Ink Division's traitorous move to InkClan and deeming of independence, we decided that it couldn't be out home anymore."
The black tom narrowed his eyes before flicking his tail gently, "I'll take you to our secondary deputy-see what he has to say," He offered, before pausing and glancing at us all suspiciously. "In the meanwhile, be sure not to spread any of you petty sparks of rebellion here."
He was obviously forgetting that we were the ones running from rebellion. But Mousepads said nothing and nodded gently, following him as he led us into their camp.
In the meanwhile, I glanced about curious to see if it was any different from our own and shocked no discover it was nearly identical. The only difference was the prey in the fresh-kill pile was more birds as opposed to rodents and the scent was different. But the placing of the dens, the HighBranch, the entrance to camp and the exits all seemed to be located in the relatively same place.
"Hey, Blackheart," a peppy white she-cat meowed as we passed by her and I assumed they were mates. Blackeart offered her a quick smile before glancing back at us to make sure we were still there,his gaze foreign and sharp.
This was odd, I realized. Divisions had the right to question others for being on there territory but hostility was never allowed. I wondered if InkClan wasn't the only one changing.
He led us up to what I assumed was their deputy den-where a large red she-cat was licking her paw slowly, the remains of a large bird right by her feet.
"Ink Division," Her eyes narrowed as soon as she saw us entering, and Blackheart quickly stepped aside, allowing us inside the den, "Or InkClan, I presume, since your foolish new leader thinks she stands a chance against Counters."
None of us said anything, just slowly paddled in.
"I assume you came here for a new home?"
"Yes," Mousepads claimed, her voice oddly shaky, "We do not want to engage ourselves in a war against Counters and we have no desires to break off from Clan. Ink Division can be our home no more, so we come here seeking for shelter. Under the eight division of the oath, during disaster, attack, treachery, personal discomfort or failed security the divisions are expected to provide food, shelter and duties to the cats that have come to them."
"Very well," The secondary deputy sighed, "Who am I, after all, to turn against the demands of Counters. You may stay-Fire Division will be your new home and we'll plan a meeting with Firestar so he will be able to decide mentors or other duties for you."
"Thank you," Mousepads dipped her head and the secondary deputy nodded, flicking her tail indicating that we were dismissed.
The six of us exited her den slowly, and Mousepads let out a low sigh as we worked out way towards the clearing, "That went well," She decided, "The divisions are getting more and more hostile as of late-I thought we would have to provide a good argument there."
"The fat she-cat seemed really upset about something!" Sunkit remarked-the kit had come along with his mother Bramblefrost whose eyes widened.
"Don't talk about people like that," She snapped, flicking the kits nose sharply, "How would you feel if someone else talked behind your back calling you fat?"
"Pretty bad..." Sunkit confessed, lowering his head. The kit was only a few moons old, and easily the cutest cat in Ink Division, or what had been of it, "I'm sorry, mama."
"I'm one the one who needs an apology," Brambleberry's eyes were smothered with love and amusement, "But I'm glad you see the fault in what you did."
"Sunkit has a point though," I couldn't help remarking, "I mean... she seemed really crushed about something. It felt as though... I don't know."
"Counters, for sure."
Like that much wasn't obvious.
"Are you the new apprentice from Ink Division?" As soon as I entered the apprentice den, I found myself being tackled to the ground by what appeared to be a peppy and over excited small gray she-cat.
"Redpaw," I introduced, trying to push her off me, and failing to do so, "And it's InkClan now. What's your name?" I continued to struggle under her weight but she took no such hints.
"I'm Graypaw!" She claimed, before gasping in excitement, still not getting off me, "Isn't that, like, so cool! We were both named after colors!" Her grin was a little unsettling.
"Yes, that's fine you see," I wheezed, "But I kind of need oxy-" I heaved, sucking in a deep breath as she finally stepped off me.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" her voice was frantic, "You're not hurt or anything are you? Do you want me to call Fallenbones-that's our medicine cat, by the way, doesn't he have such a silly name. Don't you dare tell him I said that or-"
"I'm fine," I replied.
"Oh that's good!" She let out a nervous cat, "I wouldn't want to hurt you on your first day in Fire Division. That would suck and it would be a terrible first experience. I can't wait until we have some time to go out and explore together, Redpaw, you are going to love this division!"
"Oh um wonderful," I offered a shaky smile.
"Isn't it?" She jumped on her paws lightly.
I had just returned from a meeting with Firestar. He told Bramblefrost that the nursery was open to her if she still wanted to care for her kit, and she did(who wouldn't want to get to spend all day with her adorable little bundle?). My mentor Finchnose had come along too, so I still had the same mentor. Firestar had promised us that nothing would be too confusing in our new division-even for the first few days.
It seemed like a friendly place to me.
It might not have been home but my home was gone. There was no longer Ink Division, there was no longer Inkstars, and there was no longer Pebblepaw.
This was the best I had.
"So have you eaten yet?" Graypaw asked. I wondered if this was her usual personality and she was this creepy, this over-energetic every single day. If such was the case I pitied the other apprentices.
"New apprentice?" I turned my head around to find a black tom. His expression was dull and he seemed to me like the exact opposite of Graypaw.
"Yeah," I replied, repeating my name "Redpaw."
"Welcome to Fire Division," He offered a kind smile, "And don't mind Graypaw-she can get quite a bit excited at times, especially when there's a new cat!"
"Alright," I smiled, deciding that if his opinion of Graypaw wasn't that contorted, she couldn't be all that bad, "She's not bothering me too much." A small lie couldn't hurt, right?
"I'm Smokepaw, by the way," he nodded, "And I see you've already been introduced to Graypaw," He nodded at the she-cat, "We've been best friends since kithood."
I, personally, was unable to believe it. Smokepaw was so calm and oriented and Graypaw was... well... I never had met anyone quite like her.
"You hungry?" Smokepaw questioned, "The fresh-kill pile has been filled up and you can get a taste of Fire Division's prey! You like birds?"
"Yes!" I couldn't help exclaiming. Birds were my favorite type of prey, and they weren't very common in Ink Division. Pebblepaw would usually try to catch birds for me while I was out hunting as a special treat.
I felt my heart arching, as I remember him. Everything he had done for me, everything I had done for home-including stealing the cobwebs that were supposed to save his life.
"Redpaw?" Smokepaw was staring at me curiously and Graypaw with excitement, oblivious to my dark thoughts, "Are you okay? You looked almost... lost there for a moment."
"Homesick," I replied shrugging, "Let's go see what they have on the fresh-kill pile."
"Redpaw! Redpaw! Redpaw!" Something did feel right as I stood there on the HighBranch, touching noses with my mentor as Inkstar introduced us to the Clan. Technically I was being re-apprenticed, but I wasn't going to have to go through all of my training again-just finish up what was left of it, and maybe add on a quarter of a moon to grow used to my new home.
As I glanced beneath me I could see Graypaw chanting wildly, obviously beyond excited and an encouraging smile on Smokepaw's face as he cheered as well.
This felt right.
Hazelfoot, the divisions first deputy was smiling happily at her division from beneath me but I could tell there was something off to her. She was worried about something.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
I was taken aback. I had no idea that the want for change existed in the other Clans as well. Just glancing about I could see motivation in the eyes of so many cats, even those who were not chanting.
Is there really no way to escape this war?
"Silence!" Firestar roared, glancing about frantically. He was obviously terrified of Council-any cats who had power were. The others just hated them, although that was a more recent development."
We were all quiet, and I felt my heart lurch. After Pebblepaw's most recent death I didn't want the same happening here-I wasn't sure that I could stand that. What if I caused some more deaths? What if some cats I cared about-Smokepaw or Graypaw were killed too?
Is anywhere even neutral anymore?
I thought back to Pebblepaw's words about this being a bad idea. And never again, would I agree with Pebblepaw like I did in that moment.
"You guys go ahead," Firestar flicked his tail at the scouting patrol-which was to make sure cats hadn't been breaking oaths but crossing division borders without good cause or to ensure that there were no rogues, "I just saw a plump rabbit back there and I don't want to let it go!"
Iceshard, the senior-most warrior on the patrol after Firestar, nodded shortly, before turning around and indicating with a flick of her tail for us to follow her as we continued our patrol.
"So," Applefall turned to look at me, as we sniffed and glanced about-checking for any signs of intruders, "How is life in Fire Division coming to you so far?"
"It's not home," I whispered, "But home is already gone anyways. At least it's peaceful here. I may disagree in some aspects with Council but they maintain order. When there is no order cats die... Cats people care about... Cats that die because of you..."
"Whoever you lost, I grieve for you, but I want you to understand it's not your fault in the slightest. You didn't play a role in their death-it was your reckless new leader."
"She lost someone too-that's what drove her to rebelling."
"Then don't be the same as her," She whispered, "Don't let your grief get the best of you and make you someone whom you are not, Redpaw. Don't let anything do that to you. It hurts not only yourself but those around you, as well. It hurts everyone when you lie about who you are, just because of a loss."
"I'm sorry," I sighed, feeling myself being weighed only further down by her words, "It's just that you don't understand... This one really was my fault, there was something I had done before, and if I hadn't done it he would still be here... right now."
"Don't say that," Applefall offered her a short lick, "They wouldn't have died unless it was fate-unless StarClan allowed it. Even if you don't believe in them you must believe in destiny. And destiny wouldn't just take someone from you like that."
"I don't believe in destiny either," I murmured, "Just loss, and huge mistakes, and the massive waves of guilt that follow it."
"Where's Firestar?" Gingerstripe, the secondary deputy questioned as soon as we returned, "Did something happen to him? Do you want us to send out a patrol?"
"He just told us to continue going claiming he would catch a rabbit before returning to us," Iceshards shrugged, "Maybe he got a little carried away and couldn't find us. Either way, nothings wrong, he should be back soon."
"Alright," Gingerstripe sighed, "Let's hope you're right."
I had noted in my one short sunrise at the Clan that Fire Division really did love their leader. All of the cats cheered wildly for him, they all argued over who could bring prey to him, they constantly flattered him whenever he was around-and the flattery was sincere not an attempt to suck-up because he was authority as was very often done to the very last Inkstar.
And so it was natural that even just a disappearance would deeply concern them. The thought that something may lay a paw on their leader was frightening for them. I figured they liked their deputy but Firestar must have done something to really make them love him.
"Is Firestar okay?" A short voice squeaked behind me and I turned around to look at Graypaw, sharp fear in her eyes, as she questioned the state of her leader.
"He's fine, why are you so worried?" I questioned, after quickly touching noses with her in a friendly greeting. I followed her as we worked our way towards the apprentice den.
"Fire Division would be doomed without Firestar, that's why," She whispered, "Everyone is always willing to do what he says-it's the only thing that's saved our division, which had the most rebels of them all, from turning against Council."
"Why do you all love him so much?"
"He's so personally invested with all of us," She shrugged, "He plays with the kits, comes to training sessions of the apprentices, practices fighting and hangs out with the warriors, tries to help she-cats winning the toms they like, and spends many hours a day conversing with the elders."
"Wow," I was impressed, "All Inkstar ever did was oogle at Riverleap-Riverstar now. Perhaps that was part of the reason our division rebelled first."
"First," Graypaw frowned, "You say that like you think the others might as well."
I shrugged, "I don't know, Graypaw. Cats are so snappy towards Council these days. Maybe Fire Division is safe under Firestar but the other divisions don't all love their leaders quite so much.
Graypaw shivered and I found it hard to believe she was only one moon younger than me, "I don't want more rebellions-Council has never done anything to harm us. Why can't we just stay safe and sound? Why can't everything stay the same? I mean, sure it has it's downs, less freedom, not getting to use the fighting moves we learned but it's happy and it's peaceful and it's a safe haven."
"Nowhere is a safe haven," I replied, not meaning to irk the apprentice, but knowing it had to be said. Her eyes widened and she shrunk further into her fluffy pelt.
"Firestar still isn't back," Graypaw whispered as I blinked light into my eyes. She was standing over me, looking concerned. Smokepaw was sitting right beside her, his pelt tightly pressed against hers as he licked her comfortingly.
It wasn't enough to make her comfortable, though.
"Maybe he decided to pay a visit to Council or something," I offered, "Say hello or give a statue report." When I glanced at the two apprentices they both had stone-hard expressions.
"You know very well what happened to the last leader who went to pay Council a nice and friendly 'visit'," Smokepaw is shaking, his eyes wide and I curse myself for being so senseless. Losing Firestar would be like losing a parent to them, of course they would take anything I said too seriously, "Council..."
He trained off and Graypaw buried her face in his shoulder. For a small moment a smile, a real smile spread across his face-something I hadn't seen on it at all yet.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, "I just wasn't..."
"It's alright," Graypaw sniffed, causing me to realize that she was crying. She was scared-she seriously believed something had happened to Firestar. I had only known her two days, but I figured it was fair of me to think typical Graypaw.
Training tuned out to be quite fun that day. I ended up playing a game with group of apprentices. As instructed we split into two teams-the Fire Division and the rogues. I was chosen to be a rebel.
The purpose of the game, Applewhisker, who was instructing the activity, claimed, was to prevent the rogues from reaching a pinecone she had placed behind the Fire Division cats. It was supposed to be their camp and as soon as the rogues touched it they won. For the Fire Division cats to win they had to chase or drag us all passed a certain line which lied only a few mouse-tails behind where I stood as being directed.
The team to lose were the apprentices that would spend the next moon cleaning the elder's den, while those who won would be freed of all apprentice duties for a whole half month.
And that was the motivation required to snap all of the apprentices to action.
We were given a short amount of time to plan what we would do. I hung around, listening more as us rogues discussed ways to touch the pine cone through keeping them distracted. I chipped in an idea or two, one of which was spun into the real plan and the rest of which were chipped out.
Though it wasn't big, I felt accomplished to have made some sort of contribution to my team's plan. I was fitting in faster than I had dared to hope.
Perhaps I can get used to life in Fire Division, I decided.
All of my victory faded when I entered camp to find Graypaw sobbing at the entrance, her eyes large and blotched, her throat stuck as she coughed.
"Graypaw?" I glanced at her curiously, as did the rest of the apprentices that had gone out for the activity, "What's wrong, Graypaw? You can tell me?"
"Firestar," She whispered, tears streaming down her eyes, "He's dead. He's been murdered."
"Who did it?" I questioned.
"I don't..." Graypaw shook her head sadly, back and forth, tears poking sharply out of the corners of her eyes, before rolling down her cheeks fiercely.
"We have no idea whose responsible," A voice sounded from ahead of us and we looked up to see Gingerstripe, shaking her head sadly, obviously not at all excited with the prospect of becoming first deputy, "We found his body hidden underneath the bushes, someone didn't want us to find out until as late as possible..."
"Are you sure it was murder?" A scared voice squeaked.
"Couldn't have been anything else?" Hazelfoot murmured from behind us, "We're trying to figure out who could have caused it but at this point... we have no hints. No enemy fur within his own, no scent of any of division-not even our own, not really anything we could work off."
There was a deadly, shattering silence.
Who would want to kill Firestar?
The question hung in the air, and I was suddenly unsure of what to think. Council? But Firestar had never been against Council-from what I'd seen every word he spoke supported them and their peaceful rule over the divisions.
Besides, two leaders in only a few sunrises would be unwise. Council was smart enough to know that it could spark a dangerous rebellion... right?
"I don't know," Hazelfoot sighed, before flicking her tail, "You all should go back to your dens, paws. We'll update you as soon as we can, but at this point there's nothing to tell you."
Movement was slow. The apprentices slowly shuffled away. Some requested to see their leader, their father's body, but they were denied by Hazelfoot who said the vigil would take place later.
"Something here feels wrong," Smokepaw whispered to me as we headed back towards our den. His voice was thick with grief, with confusion, with rage, "Something is just wrong."
"Hadn't realized that much."
"They figured out who did it," Graypaw whispered, her voice highly pitched as she entered the apprentice den where Smokepaw and I were eating in a sad silence. I hadn't known the leader that long but I had really liked him.
"Whom?" Our heads both jumped, as we stared at her, begging her to speak quickly.
"It's... it's..." She hesitated, shaking her head sadly, and tears began to roll down them. Smokepaw ran to comfort her but she turned her head away, whispering one small word.
A word I knew, within that sunrise, would mean their enemy. Because these cats loved Firestar too much to stand by his murderer-they loved him too much not to avenge, him to bring him to justice.
"Hazelfoot is calling a Clan meeting," Graypaw sqeuaked, prodding me awake. I blinked my eyes open slowly, trying to figure out what time of day it was.
"Graypaw, it's midnight!"
"And Hazelfoot's holding a meeting!" Her eyes were wide, "Council will be so mad if they find out, I mean I hate them after Firestar and they deserve some disrespect, but what if they get mad?"
She was pacing back and forth now, shaking her head furiously. Next to me Grasspaw, was licking her paw, and I could tell she was scared. Scared of what could be about to happen.
"Re-be-lion!" Moonpaw chanted from the insides of the apprentice den, prancing back and forth, a new light reaching her eyes, "Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
"No," Graypaw shook her head, the terror in her eyes clinging to her voice, "I don't want a rebellion. That means war, and no peace and-"
I gently brushed her flank with my tail, giving her a comforting glance. She calmed for a moment, shaking her head sadly and I could share her pain and horror.
My last home had tried to rebel as well. And as a result my mate-to-be, Pebblepaw, had ended up dead after I wasted the cobwebs on a group of injured Council apprentices whom we had taken hostage.
The thought of rebellion didn't exactly appeal to me either. But, regardless, I had to see what Hazelfoot was going to say-calling the Clan together at midnight, without any messengers to report the announcements meant something really big. I nodded at Graypaw slowly.
"You think we'll become FireClan?" Grasspaw, who was now on her paws, and walking alongside us as we exited the den, whispered, "I like Fire Division better, but I'll be honest; Council had this coming."
"Any one who leads such a large group of cats for seasons after seasons after seasons would have it coming," I replied, "And Council has finally overdone their stay, I suppose."
"Why did they have to kill Firestar, though, that's what I didn't get," Spirngpaw whispered, shaking her head sadly. Next to me Graypaw let out a large sob and began crying-even the name of her leader was enough to give her heartbreak. I gave Springpaw a sideways glanced and she shrugged in apology.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
The chants were there as soon as we entered the clearing. Hazelfoot was standing where Firestar once had, a fiery glint in her eyes as she spoke, wearing all of her pride, anger and hunger for justice on one suffice expression.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
"Cats of Fire Division!" She called, as more and more cats began to gather. She was rushing, I could tell she was worried someone from Council might come barging in any moment and realize that she was up to something very very bad, "Cats of Fire Division!" She repeated.
More cats were gathering and the chants were growing louder and louder, the noise harsher and harsher in my ear, the truth coming closer and closer to my mind, as Hazelfoot offered a small smile.
Beneath her Gingerstripe seemed pleased, the had obviously just discussed something with Hazelfoot. Something they were about to tell us right now. Without the permission of Council.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
Graypaw was still crying, but softer this time and I could hear her heartbeat, even from right beside her. No emotion seeped through Springpaw's eyes, she just sat silently, wrapping her tail around her paws, waiting. I liked the she-cat; she reminded a good bit of the cats back in InkClan with their calm shadowy personalities.
"I have gathered you all here today to announce something!" The voice boomed. She was so loud I figured it would be impossible for some Council cats not to have heard. That was the reason division leaders made announcements on branches so high up, after all. But Hazelfoot refused to look worried.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
"No, no, no," Graypaw whispered, shaking her head back and forth. I pressed my pelt against hers, offering my first friend from Fire Division the best protection I could offer.
Hazelfoot opened her muzzle and even from how high up she stood, I could detect that gleam in her eyes as she spoke, softly but loudly, every cat in the Clan straining to hear what she would say.
"Redpaw, could I please speak to you?" I whirled around to find Smokepaw staring at my shyly, his paws twisting around each other. There was a nearly bashful look on his face.
"Sure?" It was a question as opposed to a response.
"Well, I know it's going to sound really shallow-especially now that we are at war against Council-but I still find that this matters to me and..."
"What is it?" My patience was growing a little thin. My nerves were already on thin end and I wasn't sure whether or not to be happy. I wasn't sure if I wanted a rebellion or not.
"It's about mates."
Uh oh. I didn't want to have to break Smokepaw's heart, but the thought of agreeing to become mates with him, especially since I wasn't even over Pebblepaw yet was wrong.
"I'm not sure if you would understand the feeling, Redpaw-maybe you have from Pebblepaw-but I love Graypaw. It's not something I know how to explain..."
I felt relief flooding my insides. It was Graypaw not me. And then I wondered how I hadn't seen it before-how eh was always there to comfort her, always thinking about her first, always looking out for her. It was obvious but it was clear that Graypaw wasn't seeing it...
"That's great, and all, Smokepaw, but how am I supposed to help this happen between you two?"
"You're a she-cat," He replied with a shrug, as if that explained everything, "Please, Redpaw, I can only hope you realize how much this means to me."
And then he turned around and walked away, leaving me confused and unsure what to think, as my gaze watched his swaying tail as it became smaller and smaller.
Graypaw and Smokepaw, huh?
"So, Graypaw," I slid up next to her, putting down the vole I had brought over from the fresh-kill pile. She looked mortified as I approached her, she had looked mortified every since Hazelfoot-Hazelstar's announcement about rebellion against Council.
She didn't reply, just mumbled something into the ground.
"Graypaw," I repeated, "Just something I wanted to ask you..."
"Redpaw I'm not in the mood for silly questions," Her voice was thick and hoarse-I could hardly recognize it. I wondered if it was the rebellion or Firestar's death just beginning to sink in.
"It's not silly, Graypaw," I whispered, "This is a matter that can make a huge difference in your future. And it can also be the only thing it takes to make you happy with life."
"Are you going to bring Firestar back?"
She was so sweet, I almost felt my heart swelling. I was beginning to understand what Smokepaw had seen in her-she was so pure, so innocent, so untouched.
I hoped the rebellion wouldn't change that.
"What do you think about Smokepaw?"
"Why do you ask?" A curious expression crossed her face and she shrugged, "Well he's really nice and he's always there for me so I appreciate him a lot. Ane he-"
She frowned, "Wait a moment-I know where this is going."
I blushed, looking down at the food I had brought. I was not good at this, I decided, Smokepaw really should have picked someone else.
"He likes you."
"Oh, well I..." She stammered, clearly unsure of what to say, think or do, and I wasn't at all surprised. What was she supposed to do, go up to him and claim the feelings were mutual?
"I like him too," She finally said with a sigh, "But I don't want to! What if he gets hurt-I hate this burning feeling that keeps scorching me whenever I think of Firestar and now that we are at war something could really well happen to him as well... And if we grow too close I couldn't stand that pain."
"It would be worse if you didn't-you'd wonder why you didn't come out and tell him how you felt before it was too late. Wouldn't you love to go to StarClan knowing there would be someone you love to welcome you there."
"StarClan doesn't exist."
I don't personally believe in StarClan but I know Graypaw does-she's not the kind of cat that wouldn't. So, I give her a long look, "Don't tell me you believe that."
"But that doesn't matter-what matters is what you believe. Smokepaw really likes you, Graypaw, and after everything he's done for you if you like him back..."
"I don't want to though," Her voice is a soft whisper, and then she's breaking into tears.
"Look, I know how it feels to lose someone you care about, Pebblepaw died because of me, Graypaw. InkClan was treating two poor Council apprentices terribly and I sneaked into their cage, offered them cobwebs and food and helped them escape. The next day during the battle cobwebs were needed to heal him, but I had given them all to the enemy and he died because of me," I sucked in a deep breath, "But when I think back on it there's not a choice I would take back. I would still allow myself to develop feelings for Pebblepaw, I would still allow myself to become so connected to him, I would still give the captives those cobwebs because I wouldn't have been able to live with myself elsewise..."
I'm gasping for breath now, and only when Graypaw gently slides her tail across my cheek, do I realize I've been crying. Thinking about it, talking about it hurts.
"That's why, as amazing as he is, I can never be with Smokepaw," She whispered, "Not until I can teach myself to stop caring for him the way I do.
And then she's gone, a sad sag to her shoulders as she walks away as well, and I feel my insides being crushed. How precious the two of them could have been... I had ruined what could have been the only good thing left in the forest.
I ruined it. Just like I ruin everything else.
"I wanted to thank you, Redpaw," His sarcasm is well-hid, but I'm sure I can almost hear some venom in his voice. I don't turn around to look Smokepaw in the eye, I can't bear to.
"I told you not to come to me; I'm bad with toms and she-cats, I only made everything worse and ruined whatever chances you may have had..."
"What are you talking about?" His voice is confused and involuntarily I spin my head around to find his expression sincere as well.
He doesn't know, I realized, He doesn't know I only made it worse-or he didn't know until I was stupid enough to tell him.
"Graypaw came to me just a little while ago," He whispered, and suddenly I was confused all over again. Did he know or did he not? Or was he secretly sick of Graypaw and trying to get rid of her? "She told me that she was hesitant at first but that after you spoke to her she was sure that being with me was worth the risk of something happening to her or me or us."
"You didn't know?" We're both confusing each other more and more, but that confusion is only there for a moment before it's replaced by glee.
Who cares what made Graypaw change her mind? She can be with Smokepaw now and the two can look out for, and make the rebellion easier on each other.
"Congratulations!" A wide grin reached my face, and I can see for the first time in his face, how happy he is, how much this really means to him.
How much Graypaw means to him?
Did Pebblepaw think about me like that? I can't help but wonder, Did he spend days as an apprentice dreaming of me claiming that I did like him too? I hoped so.
But now wasn't the time to think about Pebblepaw, I knew. Right now I could be happy for Graypaw and Smokepaw and pray that they would last.
Right then, I could finally look at the good.
"So what made you change your mind?" I questioned, as I noticed a rabbit hiding behind a pair of bushes through the corner of my eye. Instinctively I dropped into a crouch.
"The more I thought about what you said the more it made sense to me," She whispered, "I mean, I don't want to die without falling in love. I don't want to go to StarClan with any regrets..."
I took another slow step towards the rabbit, and signaled with my tail for Graypaw to silence herself for a moment. There were a few tense moments of silence as I continued to slink forward, before I leaped through the air, landing on the rabbit, and killing it with a swift blow to the neck.
If I could remember correctly Pebblepaw had also died from a blow to the neck. I swallowed back a sob in my throat, and forced myself to seem enthusiastic as I turned back to Graypaw.
"I'm happy for you!"
"Have you ever considered getting another mate?" She tipped her head to the side, as I buried my rabbit into the ground, patting over it with my hindlegs before jumping back over the bush to join Graypaw.
"Never," I replied, "Pebblepaw and I had something special... I don't want to have to compare that to my relationship with anyone else. And, not that he was ever a selfish cat, but I doubt he would either."
"Well I can't say I could ever try again if I was separated from Smokepaw," She let in a happy sniff, "I mean he's set the standards so high, I would be disappointed with anyone who even tried."
"That's good, I suppose," I replied. I had invited Graypaw on a hunt, which turned out to be more of a girl-talk instead. I generally wasn't good with these kind of talks but she somehow made them easier for me to participate in."
"Thanks again, though," She whispered, "I mean it."
"Of course," I nodded, "It's good to have something decent taking place in Clan as of late. With the rebellion who knows what else you'll be able to enjoy."
She shrugged, "I wish there didn't have to be a rebellion. What do you think?"
"I-" Memories flashed through my mind, the pain, the regret the wars, the freedom, the chants, Firestar's death, FireClan's rebellion, "I don't."
"Oh," She frowned, "Well you'll have to decide sooner or later, I think. It looks like we're to be heading into a war and if you still haven't chosen a side, by then..."
"I'll fight by my loved ones," I whispered, "Not those who I support. And that means I'll be fighting for the rebellion-like it or not."
"You're a good cat," Graypaw whispered.
I glanced at her curiously, forcing myself not to say anything.
If only you knew, Graypaw.
If only you knew.
"Graypaw, do you here that?" I questioned straining my ears. I was almost sure I could hear the sound of someone talking a little further off in the distance.
"Hear wha-"? I stuffed my tail in her mouth, still straining to listen, sniffing gently in an attempt to identify the scent which had been disguised by that of fox-dung.
"We just need one cat," A gruff voice whispered, "Remember, Thornpelt, we aren't here to cause trouble-just make a statement-understood?"
"I mean it-don't try to start something."
And then silence. I pulled my tail out of Graypaw's muzzle and she glanced me curiously, surprised, as was I. One thing was clear, however; they weren't FireClan cats.
"Intruders," I whispered.
"Where?" Before Graypaw could even whirl around I felt myself being thrown to the ground and whirled around to find a tabby brown tom glaring harshly at me.
"Redpaw!" I heard a squeak beside me to see that Graypaw had been taken down as well. Her captive-a solid gray tom with amber eyes, hadn't been as merciful as mine-she had a long gash running down her back.
"Graypaw!" I shrieked, turning around and attempting to kick of the heavy tom who had sat on me. However, his weight was too heavy for me to thrown off.
The tom sitting on top of me reeked terribly of fox-dung, something I figured he had done to cover up whatever scent he held, "Who are you?" I spat, "And what are you doing on my Clan's territory?"
"We need to take a captive to prove a point of our strength to FireClan," The brown tabby claimed, flicking his tail at the tom who was holding down Graypaw.
"No, Council is too mighty to cover themselves in foxdung, don't you think?" The tom whispered, baring his teeth at me, and I winced at the foul scent of his breath.
"Take me," I offered, "Take me and leave Graypaw."
Graypaw whimpered something to me that sounded a lot like a 'no' but I ignored her, insisting, "Take me," I spat, "Leave Graypaw-if all you want to do is prove a point."
"We want a cat they love more," the cat who was standing over Graypaw meowed, as he pulled himself off her, but pinned her front left paw to the ground with his own. Graypaw let out a yelp, "She looks more lovable-no offense, ginger."
I bristled, but sucked in a deep breath, "Please-if you take me you'll have the attention of both InkClan and FireClan-none of the cats from InkClan even know of Graypaw."
"You seem too eager to go," The gray tom claimed, "We need someone who will appear frightened and scared and your gray-pelted buddy here seems to be a better fit."
"Leave Graypaw alone," I managed to hiss.
"No, kitty," The tom grinned, obviously enjoying the pain he was putting me through. The brown tom, frowned however, giving the gray one a look of disapproval.
"We're not here to torture apprentices, Thornpelt. Take the StoneClan cat and let's go. Remember what I told you."
And then I felt the weight being lifted off my shoulders. Instinctively I tried to dash for Graypaw to knock the tom off him, but before I could, I felt myself being hit in the head, with a sharp pair of claws, and everything felt fuzzy for a moment.
I woke up in the medicine cat's den. Smokepaw was staring at me in concern, Moonpaw-one of the few apprentices I had made friends with-at his side.
"Are you alright?" She squeaked.
"Graypaw," I croaked, pushing myself up, "What happened?"
The two exchanged a confused glance.
"We found you knocked out while we were on a border patrol," Moonpaw claimed, "We had to drag you back to camp-it's been a whole sunrise since then."
"They've left us alone."
"No," I shook my head, "No, they haven't."
"You should get some more sleep," Smokepaw decided, and made a move to turn around and leave. One part of me was begging that I did just that. But I couldn't-each second I wasted put Graypaw in greater danger.
"Graypaw!" I croaked, "They've got Graypaw!"
Now that got Smokepaw's attention. He whirled around instantly, a fiery glow of concern in his eyes. Moonpaw glanced back and forth between the two of us curiously.
"Who has Graypaw? What did they do to her? Is she okay? Is she mad at me? Did she say something about me? Do you think she's hurt?"
"Who has Graypaw?" She whispered. I figured she was assuming that among the three of us, she was the only one with a stable state of mentality.
"These two strange cats attacked us while we were out hunting," I managed to whisper, "And then they pinned us both down claiming they had to take one of us to prove a point or something. I begged them to take me but they must have knocked me out and taken Graypaw instead."
"Liar!" Smokepaw hissed, about to lunge forward, but Moonpaw held him back, while Smokepaw fumed seriously and I felt my insides taking a downward dive.
"I'm sorry, Smokepaw," I whispered, "I asked them to take me but..."
"No," He whispered, shaking his head back and forth, "I thought you wanted us to stay together, Redpaw? I thought you were trying to unite us? Why would you try this now..."
"Smokepaw," I hesitated, my senses getting a little blurrier, "Smokepaw please listen to me, Graypaw could be getting closer nd closer to death with each passing moment..."
He shook his head in disbelief, "But, Redpaw, we just got together-how could I lose her now? We didn't even get a chance to have our bright days!"
"I'm sorry, Smokepaw," I whispered, "But believe me when I say I know the feeling." I could feel my consciousness fading again. I had to be fast. "But you can keep her from leaving if you act fast. You have to speak to Hazelstar. Now."
There was a tight moment before he nodded, turning around, "Come on, Moonpaw."
When I woke up I was still in the apprentice den, Moonpaw standing over me, a concerned expression on her face. She snapped her attention to me as soon as my eyelids fluttered open.
"What happened?" I whispered, "About Graypaw?"
"They sent a patrol," She claimed, "To Council. They left quite a while ago but I don't think they'll be returning without Graypaw."
"They better not," I whispered.
"We just have to wait," She replied, "And hope that Council does have Graypaw and it's not someone else," She glanced at the ground sadly.
"Who else could it be?"
There was a long silence as we both tried to imagine.
I was on my feet and in the clearing as soon as I heard that the patrol had returned. My heart beating wildly as I watched them approach, my eyes were looking for one cat alone.
I felt my heart dropping into my stomach as soon as I noticed she was missing. They hadn't saved her. She was still in Council, or worse...
"I'm sorry, Graypaw," I whispered, more to myself that to her, "I'm sorry for letting them take you. For not convincing them to take me instead."
I felt a comforting lick on my ear, and turned over to find Smokepaw staring at me sadly. The look in his eyes held despair but an odd hope.
"Council didn't have her."
"We don't know," Smokepaw whispered, "All we know is Council doesn't have Graypaw. They never had her, she was taken by someone else... another side?"
"Who would-" Before I could finish my sentence I was cut off by a loud call coming from the HighBranch. I was impressed with Hazelstar's fast climbing abilities.
"FireClan listen up!" She didn't even bother to properly address us.
I sucked in a furious breath as she spoke, "As many of you know, we went to Council today to save Graypaw. However, when we arrived there we were greeted with the news that someone else took Graypaw. There is another group of dangerous cats out there and they want our attention!"
There was a tight moment as she waited for that to sink in.
I turned to Smokepaw, "Who is it?" I whispered, "Who else would...?"
"I have no idea," He replied honestly, with a troubled shrug, "No idea at all. It doesn't sound like something rogues would do..."
I had to agree.
"While we have no idea who these cats are we will stop at nothing to find out. They have taken a Clanmate and they must understand that when they mess with one of us, they are missing with all of us!"
A cheer erupted from the Clan. But to me it sounded weak. It sounded tired, and pained and not really there. Graypaw must have been more well-liked by the Clan than I had realized.
Next to me I was almost sure that Smokepaw was crying but I didn't say anything. How could one comfort him, when the cat he had just confessed his love to disappeared and her kitnappers weren't even known.
I turned around to find Ivypaw standing on the other side of me. She was shaking her had sadly back and forth, a dark light in her eyes.
"I knew rebellion would only bring bad."
"What are you talking about?" A young warrior who had been listening to Hazelstar whirled around and snapped at her, "After what they did to Firestar? We would just let them get away with that?"
"It's what he would have wanted."
The last sentence hung in the air, and I wasn't sure what to think. Smokepaw, let out a short gasp and I turned to him quickly but he shook his head, flicking his tail at me to indicate that he was okay.
But it wasn't; I knew. I had lost Pebblepaw and I hadn't been able to sleep, to eat, to breathe properly since. And I doubted he would either.
No, it wasn't okay.
I was woken in the morning by a female-like screech from Smokepaw. He looked embarrassed as soon as he realized that he had waken all of the apprentices, but more sad and scarred than anything else.
I could understand him.
The rest of the apprentices didn't say anything but many rolled over rather grumpily. I doubted Smokepaw could care but still felt angry at the other apprentices for feeling at all irked. Smokepaw had just lot the cat he loved for StarClan's sake.
Sighing, I tried to delve back into a sleep, turning and twisting, rolling over, shutting my eyes, keeping them open, thinking happy, sad, dull and exciting thoughts to discover than nothing worked.
Finally giving up, I pushed myself up to my paws and exited the den, confused. A part of me supported this rebellion, against the cats who had taken Pebblepaw from me, and a part certainly did not.
Is there a right answer to this?
I'd have been surprised if there was.
After a moment of hesitation, I exited camp. My pads brushing against the soft grass, I inhaled sharply. The scent of the night was beautiful but also haunting. As I pushed my way outside, and glanced up at the moon I couldn't help but notice how small it was tonight.
Please help us save Graypaw.
The elders would say that all cats, during their most desperate moments would believe in StarClan. They'd become the most faithful cats they ever could become. And then the danger would pass, what they wanted would either come or go and then they wouldn't believe anymore.
It was an odd thing, almost like a hope of sorts, I decided. It was both appealing and yet it was scary at the same time. What if you believe only to be crushed? Was it worth the risk? In a world where Council protected all, where our lives had held no real danger had there been any reason to risk our faith and belief?
But now there was rebellion and death and fear... With cats having nothing else to hold onto would they really turn back to the ancestors they had denied for so long.
I wasn't sure and, I decided, with a grunt, I didn't really believe I wanted to know what the answer to that question really was.
"Can't sleep either?" I whirled around to find Smokepaw staring at me hesitantly. He seemed beyond broken as he took a shaky step forwards.
"I miss her."
His voice was thick with grief and I inhaled sharply. I knew that tone, that feeling. Being crushed and downed and not knowing what to think...
"I feel as though it's my fault."
"It's mine before yours."
He didn't confirm what I said, but he didn't deny it either. I wasn't sure if I should be pleased or disappointed. When I first broke the news to Smokepaw he hadn't believed me. I hadn't entirely believed it had happened myself but in his mind it had been my attempt to pry them apart.
He clearly knew by knew by now that breaking that news hadn't been an attempt to do so. But I wondered if he thought I could have tried harder, been more determined to save Graypaw...
"I don't blame you," His voice was dull, "I don't blame you but I wish I knew who to blame. Who could be so heartless as to actually..."
"We all wish we did," I whispered.
"I... I know this sounds odd but I think it's one of us," His voice was gruff, "Maybe some of the members of FireClan who wished we hadn't rebelled, trying to get a message across..."
I snapped my attention to him.
"You think Graypaw is being kept in this camp?"
"No, no, no," He sighed, "Maybe they have some other secret base. Probably allied themselves with Council-maybe Council doesn't even realize it themselves."
"It wasn't Council and it wouldn't have been rogues," Smokepaw claimed, "I can swear to StarClan that it wasn't either. It couldn't be either."
StarClan was coming up more and more as of late. In the past few sunrises I had heard of the ancient Clan many more times than I had a moon before.
"I also... wanted you to know something," Smokepaw sighed. I turned to glance at him curiously. The look in his eyes almost killed me but...
"Graypaw, she... uh," He looked down at his paws, "She told me about your story with Pebblepaw. And I know you blamed yourself for his death, maybe you thought you had reason to do so but..."
"Smokepaw," I kept my voice tight, "Pebblepaw's gone. It doesn't matter anymore, does it? I mean once he's dead why should I even care?"
"Because," He whispered, "Because it never ends when we die. Not really."
"What are they doing here?" Moonpaw whispered as she entered the apprentice den, rolling her eyes dramatically. Next to me Ivypaw stiffened and I turned to Moonpaw sharply.
"Blood Division," She rolled her eyes, "Unless they plan to rebel-which the goody-goodies clearly do not, would not, I don't see what they'd be doing here. Unless, of course they were representing Council."
"Maybe if you opened your stupid little eyes you would understand," I hadn't meant to slap, but the realization hit me sharply, and I wasn't sure why or how or...
"If you're so smart, miss Ink, can you tell me what they happen to be doing here?" I wasn't sure whether or not to like Moonpaw. She was cool but obsessive, always spoke without thinking and could be terribly rude.
"They took Graypaw."
"And you think you know it all. If they took Graypaw why would they show up here and advertise that to us? Whoever took Graypaw won't be showing their face for a while."
"Because," I snapped, pushing myself up to my paws, "They took her to prove a point. Remember?"
As I exited the den, I could feel Moonpaw trailing behind me. She seemed unconvinced, but I was aware that she was thinking-considering what I had said to be true.
Smokepaw was in the center of camp, eyeing the Blood Division cats with a hatred that was so poorly masked, and I knew in that moment. I knew.
These were the foxhearts that had taken Graypaw.
I unsheathed my claws, but feeling Moonpaw's warning tail on my shoulder, sheathed them again. Starting a fight wouldn't be the best way to get my friend back. That wasn't my job. Not yet, at least.
"As I was saying," I listened intently as I paddled up, reaching the loud huddle of FireClan cats that had huddled around the Blood Division cats."
"We are not Blood Division anymore," A black tom with a white path over his left eye, whom I recognized at Bloodstar, snapped, "And we are not BloodClan either."
"What are you then?" Hazestar demanded.
"Blood Council. We plan to be overthrowing Council and placing a new rule in the forest. What we need is not a rebellion but new, better leaders."
Hazelstar snorted, "I will follow you over my dead body."
"We have your apprentice," The tom hissed, "Remember that."
The whole of the Clan seemed to stiffen at that and I sucked in a shaky breath. The tom was playing with fire and to bring up Graypaw now might not be the best choice.
Heart pounding as I watched his raise an eyebrow, I shut my eyes tightly, before blinking them back open. Hazelstar's expression seemed neutral-she was covering up all and any of her emotions.
"So," Bloodstar grinned, "Will you be joining us, to get on the good side of your newest rulers, or are you to be denying our new rule over the forest?"
Bloodstar shrugged, "Don't say we didn't warn you. You should also keep in mind that the moment you ally yourself with us you get back your apprentice."
Hazelstar struggled to keep her expression straight.
Bloodstar gave her a coy smile before doing around and doing exactly what she demanded, leaving me to stare in a combination of horror, surprise and helplessness.
"...Talonclaw and Redpaw," Hazelstar finished her long list of cats she was taking with her to attack Blood Council. I felt honored and scared at the same time.
What if this battle leads to Graypaw's death?
What if I have to watch another friend die, knowing there was something I could have done to prevent it but knowing I was helpless at that moment.
"Redpaw," I whirled around to find Smokepaw staring at me, his eyes practically begging. His tone was weak, fragile, hopeful. His eyes were red.
"I... I'll get her this time."
I hoped I could back it.
"FireClan attack!" Cats jumped into the clearing, howling as they threw themselves atop others. I felt my blood burning, as I scratched the stomach of a Blood Council cat.
Battles like this never happened, before. The only two real battles I had experienced had both taken place within the last moon and they were both horrible, terrifying.
They made me appreciate Council... almost.
I gave the she-cat I was fighting, a nice blow to the eye, and she doubled me over, giving me the opportunity I needed to abandon our fight.
As I retreated from our fight, I turning around. After a moment of glancing about I was able to tell which direction camp was in and was soon heading off in that direction, my promise ringing through my head.
I won't let Smokepaw down. I let Pebblepaw down, I let Graypaw down but Smokepaw would see that I could be good. I could be worthy. I promised myself.
As I weaved through cats, I aimed some blows at Blood Council cats and had to dodge plenty more. Battles were alive and real and there... They made life to fragile, so delicate, they made me stop taking it for granted as so many pairs of claws barely missed fatal places. How many times could one come so close to dying in a given time?
I could barely make out the entrance to camp, when I was bowled over my a brown tabby tom. He bared his teeth at me, blood was dripping down them, and I sucked in a shallow breath.
If Graypaw wasn't counting on me I may have let myself die.
But that wasn't an option, not with Smokepaw who was waiting in camp, pacing back and forth, hopign I could keep my promise, hoping I could bring back the cat he loved ever so much.
"What are you doing here, kit?" The tom hissed.
Summoning all of my strength, bringing the image of Pebblepaw, his dying breaths, into my mind, I inhaled deeply, tucking my feet in and then pushing them out with strength I didn't know I possessed. The tom went flying across the clearing and I found myself smiling in victory.
I will get Graypaw, I realized, I will get to be the hero this time.
And that was when I found myself being smacked in the back of the head and I was going down and down and down, and everything was going fuzzy and all I could think about was how I had made a mistake again and Pebblepaw and Graypaw and Smokepaw, that expression and...
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"It wasn't your fault."
That's what he said. That's what he wanted to think. It was what I wanted to think. It was what I wished was true, could be true, could free me from so many burdens.
"It was though."
We had lost the battle. Blood Division was no longer a laugh, just a little group of cats in the corner attempting to take over with no hope of doing so.
They really could end up being our next leader.
"Three dead, five clinging to their lives, and eight terribly injured," Ivypaw claimed as she entered the den, shaking her head back and forth. The defeat had been such a surprise to us all, I doubted that any of us had really thought we could do anything less than crush them.
"We almost lost you too, Redpaw," Moonpaw remarked dully from a little further off in the den. She shrugged when we all turned to glare at her, "Had I not dragged you out of the battle after you were knocked out you could be like Graypaw now... or worse."
"Shut up, Moonpaw," Smokepaw spoke through clenched teeth and I glanced at him sympathetically. The guilt that was chewing through me wasn't about to fade away, but above anything else I felt sympathy.
Graypaw wasn't in the paws of the amateurs we had thought Blood Council was.
"I'm sorry," Moonpaw looks down and I can't tell if she really is sorry or not. It's impossible to tell with Moonpaw and maybe that's one of the things I like so much about her.
"Let's pray to StarClan that they get better."
"I didn't know you believed in StarClan..."
"I didn't either."
There was a moment of silence as Smokepaw nodded, then shook his head back and forth, then nodded again, the naive look in his eyes completely gone.
I shrugged, fiddling with the begging on my nest for a moment before sighing.
"I suppose none of us did."
"Redpaw, may I speak to you?"
I whirled around to find Smokepaw staring at me. I swallowed, hoping he wasn't here to bring up the battle, to bring up Graypaw, my broken promise.
"Sure," I shrugged, not so sure.
"I wanted to ask you to assist me in something," He looked at the ground, his eyes darkened, "When you first joined FireClan you have friends with you... Now most of them have settled in and in under a moon have made this place their home. You have too. But I know InkClan is really where your heart belongs..."
Oh, great StarClan, is he going to ask me to go back?
I knew I would without asking any questions.
"I need to get away from here," Smokepaw sighed, shaking his head back and forth, "Please, Redpaw, I really need to get out of this Clan. Everywhere I look I see her. Graypaw. And it hurts. I want it to stop hurting, I want to go, get out of here, just..."
"We'll save her."
"I miss her, though. You lost Pebblepaw but you were never there waiting, not knowing if your hopes would come true or if they would crush you. Not knowing if it was worth hoping for or not."
"It's my fault, Smokepaw."
"Then make it up to me."
I knew I'd do whatever it was he was requesting, even if I didn't completely understand it. From what I understood he wanted me to cover for him when he escaped.
"I want you to come back to InkClan with me."
There was a moment before that settled in. I didn't know if that was good, bad, horrible, surprising, unbelievable, believable or...
It didn't matter. I would do whatever he asked of me
"Alright," I smiled, "When are we going."
I glanced back at the camp that had been my home for a moon, my recovery from Pebblepaw's death, the only home that Smokepaw had ever known.
"I'll miss it," Smokepaw murmured.
"It feels good though," I promised him, "Change. It feels really, really good. I don't think you'll regret it-not unless InkClan has gone really bad."
I was nervous too, however.
I didn't know that InkClan would take me back after I had chosen to leave. I didn't know that I wanted them to take me back. I didn't know what kind of memories the place would trigger.
But I had to go.
I promised Smokepaw and I owed him that much.
So, not allowing myself to hesitate, I sucked in a deep breath.
My heart was beating as I stood on the HighBranch. It was an odd feeling, having everyone's eyes on you. Something they would all forget within moments.
Something you wouldn't forget in your life.
"Cats of InkClan, I have gathered you here today for a very important ceremony!" Riverstar's voice rung through camp. She was much more stable than I remembered her being during the time she broke off from Council, "The most important of ceremonies!"
I glanced at Smokepaw in excitement. The pounding of my heart, took me back to all those times I'd watch all those apprentices I knew becoming warriors. I'd turn to Pebblepaw, eyes glittering, and we'd daydream about the time when we'd get to be there. About standing before the whole Clan, our ginger pelts brushing against each other as we held our heads high.
But instead of having his light russet pelt by my dark ginger one, I felt the black, warm pelt of Smokepaw. His gaze was hard but despite his pain I could tell he was happy. He was enjoying this moment. Any cat, no matter what they went through, would thrive for this.
It was, after all, what our lives had led up to.
"I, Riverstar, leader of InkClan, call upon my Clanmates and the spirits of our ancestors to look down on these apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to InkClan as a warrior in their turn."
"Redpaw and Smokepaw, do you two promise to uphold and stand by InkClan in their rebellion against Council; vowing to to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?"
Did I? Was I still a loyal InkClan cat?
I was quite sure I was. I had only ever left to Fire Division-now FireClan-because I needed to escape the pain of Pebblepaw's death which had been my fault. And I had been dragged back here by Smokepaw who needed to escape the pain of Graypaw being captured.
But it didn't matter, anyways. No matter how I felt there was only one answer to that question.
Smokepaw seemed more hesitant, taking the question more seriously. He shook his head back and forth then up and down, then turned to glance at Riverstar bravely. For a moment I thought he would refuse.
I could almost feel a breath of relief escaping from the Clan.
"Then by the strength of our Clan and our struggles for freedom, I give you your warrior names. Redpaw, from this moment you will be known as Redfur. InkClan honors your resistance and wisdom, and we welcome you as a full warrior of InkClan. Smokepaw, from this moment on you will be known as Smokehaze. InkClan honors your strength and honor and we welcome you as a full warrior of InkClan."
The Clan began to chant our names and I held tightly onto the moment. I hadn't got the warrior ceremony I always heard, with Council being the friend, the great rulers we had to impress, as opposed to the enemy but this almost felt better.
"Redfur! Smokehaze! Redfur! Smokehaze! Redfur! Smokehaze!"
I sucked in the chants, and when I turned to glance at Smokepaw he was taking it in greedily as well. Everything felt right during that moment.
Despite the fact that Pebblepaw was dead, Graypaw was in the captivity of Blood Council, who had also joined the rebellion as a different, third side. The only neutral side was Stone Division and that wouldn't be for long, the largest division in the whole of Clan would likely be able to made the greatest shift in strengths during the war.
But I wouldn't allow myself to worry about that during that moment. During that moment it was my warrior ceremony. During that moment, I would be happy and proud and know Pebblepaw would have felt the same way.
"Redfur! Redfur! Redfur!"
I was woken the very next morning by Harejump, one of the senior warriors. He had a grave look in his eyes that told me not to moan about my lost sleep and I wearily pushed myself up.
Once he was sure I had woken he proceeded to prodding Smokehaze, who was sleeping right next to me. His eyes were heavy but excited when he opened them, they still held the excited shine of being made a warrior.
Supposedly, by StarClan's tradition cats were supposed to hold vigil or something the night after they became warriors but Council had banned such from being done. Council didn't like spirituality, one could easily note. Council liked law and order.
And it had eventually backfired.
Once Smokehaze was on his paws as well, Harejump led us out of the warriors' den with a quick flick of his tail. Only once I was out of the den, did I realize how late it was.
Glancing at the moon which hung so high, and the nearly pitch-black night I figured it was around midnight. So either Riverstar was playing a nice prank or this was big.
Is she going to kick us out of InkClan?
I doubted it, but she had seemed hesitant to bring us-particularly Smokehaze back in, and I knew she was fearing that we might be spies from Council.
But Riverstar wouldn't let us in just to kick us out, she wasn't like that. If she really did suspect we were spies she would feed us false information or something more clever than this.
I glanced at Smokehaze questioningly and he shrugged.
"Don't worry," Harejump seemed to be guessing our thoughts, or at least some of them, "You aren't in trouble. It's just an urgent matter and we have to do it now."
This had my attention. I straightened my back, and paddled quicker as we were led outside of camp, past the entrance which I knew so well from my days as an apprentice and a kit. I could remember the first time my mother Gorsefall, now dead, had allowed me to paddle though it. I could remember the time when Pebblepaw and I had met right outside the clearing, it was where we had confessed our love for each other, where I had spent most of my time hanging out with my friends right after training sessions. It had become a part of me.
And for the first time, maybe, I was regretting the fact that I had let it go.
You didn't have a choice, I remind myself, You had to get over Pebblepaw's death and this place would only crush you more.
Once we were outside Harejump took a right turn, and led us behind a large bush, I could remember hiding behind so many countless.
There was a moment of hesitation, as he stopped before it, glanced about suspiciously, and then with a flick of his tail led us inside.
I was surprised by what I found on the other side.
Riverstar and Fishlegs were both sitting there, staring at some picture they had engraves into the cement. There were at least three apprentices, a good deal of warriors and even the medicine cat.
"So we can bring in the apprentices from here. Blood Council is ruthless and they'll love using them as bait. Then, right when they are about to take them, we can jump out, and Blood Council, realizing it's a trap, will start fighting us instead. In the meanwhile, the apprentices can easily sneak into camp where they will fight off whoever is left and then Redfur and Smokehaze will be able to easily poke through the back."
"What's going on?" Smokehaze questioned, sitting down next to the large crowd. I sat down as well, right next to him, and Riverstar shrugged.
"We're planning a rescue patrol for Graypaw."
"Do you even know where she is?" Smokehaze questioned, his eyes widening. I could literally feel the excitement, the hope, the fear radiating off him.
It was contagious.
"So," Fishlegs paused for a moment, glancing at each and every one of us, eyes serious, "This could be the most important event of this war so far. If we get Graypaw, not only do we have what could be used as a ransom back, we also prove a point. We show them that we're going to fight and we're going to win. Which is why we have gathered our strongest, fastest and wisest cats."
I felt confused. I wasn't any of those.
"And then Smokehaze and Redfur, who know and love Graypaw the most, therefor will be the quickest, the fiercest when in an instant moment where the whole patrol is put in jeopardy.
I felt a little hurt, that I actually hadn't been special, but shrugged it off as Fishlegs leaned even closer. His back arched, and I could tell from his strained ears that he was trying to make sure there was no one listening, not from Council, not from Fire Council, and not from our own Clan either.
"Alright, here's the plan..."
Smokehaze and I ate in silence. I could tell he was itching the speak about the rescue patrol, which would be taking place that day at midnight, but we had sworn to silence and secrecy.
We were not to speak of it at all.
"So...," I trailed off, taking a bite into my mouse, "Have you been missing Graypaw a lot lately?" It was the only way I could ask without bringing up the rescue mission.
"Yes," The look in his eyes was so bright, so radiant, I couldn't deny his love for the she-cat. I couldn't help hoping they would be reunited, that their story would be different than mine.
"What would you give to get her back?" I asked. I could feel Fishleg's gaze on me, but I shrugged. It wasn't like anyone could guess anything from the questions I was asking.
"Everything. My life, my Clan, my freedom, my soul," He shook his head back and forth and I could see how serious he was, "Anything to get her back."
"That's sweet," I smiled.
"I'm sure it is," I replied.
I'm sure it is.
We stalked through the dead of night, heartbeats pounding as one. One common goal, so many different causes. Some for freedom, some for nobility and some for love. All for Graypaw.
A part of me wondered why FireClan wasn't the one sending a patrol , but I didn't question it, and I wasn't complaining. I would have joined Blood Council in protest if I wasn't sent on this patrol; although I likely wouldn't have known about it.
"We're at the edge of our territory," Fishleg's whispered, although it didn't need to be said. The strong smell of Blood Division was undeniable-even the youngest kit could have known.
"We have to be really careful now," Riverstar added, as though that wasn't a given as well, "Keep in mind the plan and the signals. Stray in the shadows so you don't create your own."
She flicked her tail, something I could barely see under the lighting of the night, and we were following her into the dark, heartbeats suddenly accelerated, breathing faster, slower, louder, even more silent.
The moments were ticking.
I tried to imagine Graypaw. What was she doing. Was she hungry, cold, lonely, thirsty? Was she waiting for us or had she given up hope already, decided that these were the hands of fate and there was nothing she could do to deny them? Was she even there anymore, was she even alive?
My heartbeat held for a slight moment at the last question. What if Graypaw was dead? What if this was all for nothing? What if Blood Council could really prove themselves that ruthless? What if Smokehaze would spend the rest of his life in his own puddle of grief.
I forced myself to keep going, to throw one numb, excited, exhilarated paw before another. I kept telling myself she was alive, they wouldn't kill her. She was too precious.
I kept reminding myself that it could have been me. I could have made that me, this patrol might not be right now, I could be dead and Graypaw could be having her happily ever after with Smokehaze...
I didn't know what to think about that.
Would I have wanted it? Graypaw was getting a rescue patrol but I doubted the same would happen for me. I wasn't that well liked, I wasn't so precious to InkClan or StoneClan...
Would they have left me there to rot?
I scolded myself, yelled at myself inwardly for being so selfish. This was about Graypaw, about Graypaw, and not about me. This was about Graypaw.
Suddenly I found myself stopped alongside the cats before me. Riverstar hadher tail held up, and when I turned my head to the right and squinted just the slightest bit, I could clearly make out a camp. It was rather large too, Blood Council was tied with InkClan as the second largest of divisions. FireClan was the smallest, after Council, of course.
"It stars," Riverstar nodded, "It starts now."
I watched as the apprentices raced sneakily into the camp. Outside it was absolute chaos. The sounds of cats screaming, and tearing at each other was not mistakable. This wasn't like the previous battle. That one had been more experimentation, just Blood Council trying to show that it was a threat.
This one was war.
I didn't want to listen, wanted to close my eyes, wanted to turn around. The sounds alone were horrifying and I was grateful that I wasn't to be stuck in the battle. We were less than Blood Council in numbers-the battle patrol hadn't been all that large, but we had brought the strongest and fastest of our Clan. We stood a chance for long enough to get Graypaw out of there.
The sounds of fighting from inside the camp were enough to push me into action.
I exchanged a glance with Smokepaw who nodded forcefully. Without much hesitation, I forced my way through a bramble thicket, ignoring the pain that cut through me as they tore through my pelt.
"Graypaw, I reminded myself, Imagine how Graypaw feels.
And doing so, I shoved through the whole thicket, Smokehaze right behind me, obviously urgent, not at all caring for the blood that was welling around the corners of his pelt as he fought.
Once I had broken through the brambles, I found myself in the medicine cat's den, the place where it had been predicted that Graypaw was being kept... If she was alive.
After only a split second of hesitation, I glanced about the den, to discover that Riverstar had been right. I could barely make out two pairs of bright orange eyes-eyes that could only belong to Graypaw, from behind a large, massive bundle of brambles that she had been wrapped in.
I made a move for my friend, but before I could, I found my path being cut off by a scrawny black tom, who I figured was their medicine cat.
He barred his teeth, and snapped his tail. Moments later, there was another black tom right behind, likely an apprentice. They looked almost identical and I figured they were somehow related.
"Go, Smokehaze," I hissed underneath my breath, "Go and go now. I'll hold them off."
He nodded, and I flung myself onto the larger tom, bowling him over and causing little dots of blood to well where my unsheathed claws pierced him.
Instinctively the younger tom jumped atop me as well. I attempted flinging him off, unsuccessfully. But Smokehaze was advancing towards where Graypaw was captured. I grit my teeth as I felt a pair of claws against my back.
"Hurry, Smokehaze," I hissed, and the tom nodded.
I whirled around, and smacked the younger tom in the muzzle before nipping at his legs. He screeched and fell over. His father seemed conflicted for a moment, between him and I, then ran to help his son.
I used that moment to sneak a glance at Smokehaze, who was still unraveling the brambles, and too slowly and gently for my liking. I was aware that he didn't want to hurt Graypaw but we didn't have time.
"Hurry, Smokehaze!" I snapped, "Hurry up!"
He nodded, and began to speed and I whirled around jump in time to dodge a fatal bite to the neck. Angered, I smacked the father straight across the cheek, and attempted to nip and the son's legs again.
This time, however, he didn't fall for the same trick and jumped before I could do so, causing me to find myself underneath his unsheathed claws moments later.
I struggled to get off, but his father soon joined, and helped in holding me off.
Quickly glanced at Smokehaze I saw that he was done unraveling the brambles, and was now placing Graypaw on his neck. All he had to do was get out of the den with her and then I could escape. Until then, I had to hold them off.
I tried to spin around, but ending up lying sideways. For the third time, I attempted to nip the younger toms legs, and this time I succeeded.
The father tightened his grip around me, as the son had to let go for a split moment. When I glanced at Smokehaze, I realized that he was working his way out of the den.
Just a few more moments, I promised myself, enduring the pain of the claws as they struck my back. Glancing up I noticed that Smokehaze was out of sight.
I was done.
I spun around and, pulling my legs in, flung the father across the den. Before the son could reach me, I had dashed away, ignoring the pain that burned through me and forcing myself to go faster and faster till I had pushed my way out of the bramble thickets we had entered from, the darkness of the night engulfing me as I cherished my freedom.
As well as that of Graypaw.
"You can't see her yet," Falconwings stood before her den, a stern look on her face. Smokehaze was inside, the only one excused to seeing her, but the rest of the Clan was awaiting for the apprentice to make her way out of the den.
"How much longer?" I questioned.
"I don't know," She snapped, "Maybe by tonight, maybe in a few sunrises, maybe in a moon and maybe never," Falconwings rolled her eyes and flicked her tail at me in dismissal.
I huffed, withdrawing. I turned around and headed back towards the warriors den where I had arrived from. The talk about the raid was nonstop and all chosen for the patrol were bragging and story-telling without end.
All but Smokehaze, who was currently beside the healing Graypaw, and I.
It was odd, walking to the warriors den as opposed to the apprentice one. It felt cool and yet off. In a way, I had given up a stage of my life for a knew one. It was still there, in the noisiest den of them all where one could hear cats fighting, bragging, complaining, sleeping and eating but it wasn't...
Not that I didn't enjoy being a warrior. It was nice, not being woken every morning by your mentor, getting to make all your choices, only having patrols to go by.
And now that Council was gone the amount of freedom was even more grand.
Well, not entirely gone, but almost gone. I couldn't see Council winning the war. I couldn't see how they would get enough cats to even stand a chance. Unless, of course, Stone Division decided to stick with their old rulers, in hopes of staying on their good side.
Stone Division could just about determine it all.
They would write the end of this war into stone.
"Redfur!" I spun my head around to see Flockpaw, a lithe brown tabby she-cat whom I was good friends with, padding towards me, a bird in her jaws.
"Hey, Flockpaw," I smiled at the apprentice.
"So, I heard you were on the patrol," She winked, "You should show me that secret talent of yours. No offense, but i never knew you were one of the especially well-trained cats."
"I'm not," I shrugged, "I got chosen because I'm close to Graypaw."
She seemed to be remembering that for the first time, and her eyes widened. She offered me a half-smile which only lasted a few moments, "Is she okay?"
"I don't know," I sighed, "Falconwings, the old bat, isn't letting me see her. Only Smokehaze is allowed to be with her, and he's been in there since we've returned."
"He'll probably starve in there before he leaves her in peace," Flockpaw laughed, "How is she supposed to heal when they are likely mooning at each other?"
I tried not to show my disturbance at the idea. Thinking of Smokehaze as moony really wasn't working well for my mentality.
I gave her a smile, and glanced about for a moment, "I'm hungry," I claimed, "Would you be willing to share that with me?" I asked, flicking my tail at the large bird she carried.
"Of course!" She quipped.
I took in a deep breath, feeling good for the first time in a long time. I had done my job, I had helped save Graypaw, I hadn't messed up.
For once, everything had gone according to plan.
I hoped it would be the first of many.
"Graypaw!" I squealed, not at all sounding like myself, as I licked her face fiercely. Falconwings had just allowed me into the medicine cats den, a whole sunrise after we had saved her.
"Hey, Redpaw," She coughed.
"Redfur," I corrected.
Her eyes lightened, "Congratulations," She purred, "I bet you deserved it. Smokehaze here tells me that you were really fantastic during the rescue missions. You took a lot of blows for me, I heard. I hope you're doing okay and they aren't bothering you or anything..."
"It's fine," I promised her.
"Fantastic," Her whiskers twitched enthusiastically, "I can't wait for Falconwings to let me out of this den already though," She rolled her eyes, "I should get to see my new camp!"
"Are you..." I Hesitated, "Okay with being here. In InkClan."
"After Blood Council I can't complain about anything," She promised, "I feel really... scarred after that. Those cats are horrifying, I heard of some of their plans..."
That didn't sound good. If Graypaw had heard of their plans she was still a target. She had dangerous information and that made her dangerous and endangered.
She seemed to sense my worry because she smiled, "I already passed on everything I knew to Falconwings, who probably has that information with Riverstar by now. I'm no more of a threat than them."
"That's great," I smiled, "Did you find anything... serious?"
"Just all these control methods and ways they planned to keep us in line if they win this war and manage to somehow become the new Council."
"This one is bad enough," I moaned.
"My thoughts exactly," She sighed, "I don't like the thought of war but I guess there is no choice. And I guess this will be the side I'm fighting on."
"I'll fight with whoever you do," Smokehaze promised her.
"Redfur?" She glanced up at me, "I know you aren't fond of the idea... And I also know that Pebblepaw told you not to join the rebellion but-"
"Pebblepaw is gone," I snapped, straightening my back, "So what he thinks doesn't matter."
The two exchanged a hesitant glance and then shrugged.
"I, Riverstar, leader of InkClan, call upon my Clanmates and the spirits of our ancestors to look down on this apprentice. She have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend her to InkClan as a warrior in their turn."
"Graypaw, do you two promise to uphold and stand by InkClan in their rebellion against Council; vowing to to protect and defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life?"
Graypaw's voice didn't shake once. She didn't hesitate, didn't look down, didn't have any emotion in her voice. Just assurance.
"Then by the strength of our Clan and our struggles for freedom, I give you your warrior name. Graypaw, from this moment you will be known as Graystripe. InkClan honors your compassion and intellect and we welcome you as a full warrior of InkClan."
The Clan began to chant and without any hesitation I joined in. The only cat I could hear chanting louder than me was Smokehaze, his voice loud, proud and loving.
"Graystripe! Graystripe! Graystripe!"
She seemed almost as though she might burst in that moment. Her smile was wide and grateful. She deserved this, I knew. After everything she had been through she deserved this.
"Graystripe! Graystripe! Graystripe!"
Riverstar leaned in to whisper something into Graystripe's ears. Her eyes widened, and she quickly nodded, giving the Clan leader a flick of her tail.
"What's she saying?" I asked Smokehaze who shrugged.
"How would I know?" He snapped.
"That was harsh," I sighed, glancing at him curiously. He had been so happy only moments ago, "What's wrong, Smokehaze? Is something... bothering you?"
There was a tense moment and then he sighed.
I swallowed, "What is it?" Surely he hadn't lost interest in Graystripe now, after everything he had been through for her. All she had been through for him.
"Things can't be the same between us anymore," He shook his head, "She's no longer so innocent; she's scared. She'c cautious and we're worried about growing too close because what if... something happens again. To me, to her, to us. We both felt the pain and we both regretted ever growing so close and..."
He trailed off and I shook my head sadly, unsure.
There really wasn't an answer.
"Also, I'll be taking Redfur and Graystripe, since they will both be able to explain the devastating effects of both Council and Blood Council through first hand experience."
I shuffled a little as most eyes turned to me. I felt Flockpaw pressing her tabby pelt against mine in comfort, but it didn't shake away the feeling. I was becoming too well known for a cat who had done too little and not had succeeded nearly enough.
Riverstar was picking cats to go on a patrol to Stone Division. They had yet to pick a side in the war, and until they did so all were trying to convince them.
I nodded slowly, and glanced halfway across the clearing where Graystripe was sitting. Smokehaze was on one side and on the other was one of her new friends Echowave. I could tell she was nervous as well.
Never before had I been to Stone Division territory. I knew it was really rocky and rugged, the best place for any division, Clan or Council to reside if they were under the threat of an attack.
Which was another reason they were such valuable allies.
"Good luck," Flockpaw whispered. I could almost detect envy in her choice, but if I had the choice to get Pebblepaw back and not have to head on this patrol, I would doubtlessly take it.
"You'll get picked for one of these soon," I promised, running my tail along her pelt, trying to smooth it out, "I promise, Flockpaw."
"That's for Riverstar to promise," She whispered, "But thanks."
"Of course..." I stuttered, settling back. Stone Division had always made me curious and I was excited by the chance to wander on their territory.
"Clan dismissed," Riverstar decided, "I'd like to see Graystripe and Redfur in my den."
And then the Clan scattered. I padded over to where Graystripe sat, rather numbly. I gave her quick lick on the cheek, and couldn't help remembering how different she was from the Graypaw that tackled me my first day in FireClan... what was then Fire Division.
"I didn't want this," She whispered, "I don't want to be reminded of my days in Blood Council..." She shivered and I wrapped my tail around her slowly.
"Tell Riverstar that."
"But I promised loyalty even above my life-"
She actually took that seriously. She actually meant it. Graystripe swore loyalty to a Clan she had just began to live in.
Maybe, I decided, she hadn't changed that much.
"Some things are worse than death..."
Her head snapped up suddenly and I knew the thought had just struck her. She hadn't really thought of her imprisonment as worse than death.
But death couldn't be that bad, especially in a time like this. What was bad was the aftermath for those who were close to that who died.
"Graystripe, Redfur," I looked up to see Riverstar approaching us with a brief nod. I nodded back and Graystripe dipped her head down, very deep.
"Riverstar I-" Graystripe stuttered, than shook her head, eyes wide. I could tell whatever she was about to say was very hard on her.
"What is it, Graystripe?"
"I, um. I don't want to do this, Riverstar. I understand how important it may be but it just hurts to think about, talking about it is unthinkable..."
There was a moment of hesitation and a foreign look crossed Riverstar's face, "Alright, Graystripe. I'd appreciate if you rethought it a couple times, but if this is your final decision I can respect it."
"Thank you," Graystripe let out a sigh of relief. Riverstar smiled in return and flicked her tail, indicating that she could leave.
After a moment of hesitation, Graystripe flicked her tail back and turned around, paddling back to the warriors den that she had emerged from.
"So, Redfur," Riverstar glanced at me, "Are you still in?"
For a moment I debated giving a 'no', but then tried to imagine other cats meeting the same fate as me, because Stone Division wasn't there to help.
"Yes," I nodded, "Whatever it takes to help this succeed, Riverstar."
She smiled, "Thanks, Redfur. I just thought you should know how we were planning to do this. Stone Division is already expecting us, so it will be a preplanned, sophisticated meeting, unlike your most recent patrol..."
But I wasn't really listening as she droned off. I was daydreaming about almost everything. I felt as though on an emotional, physical, mental just everything overload. The past few moons were finally catching up to me, and I no longer knew where to run.
"Redfur!" I snapped my head to the side. Graystripe was staring at me, a conflicted look in her eyes. Her steps were hesitant as she walked over.
"I-I," She frowned, "I think I actually do want to go speak to Stone Division. I have to face it sooner or later before it corners me and I don't have any way left to escape, and I can't turn around and fight either...
"That's fantastic!" I purred, unable to help thinking about myself, and how she had known before me, figured out what I couldn't.
"But... I don't want to speak to Riverstar alone," She whispered, "Will you come to tell her with me? I hope it's not a bother but..."
I blinked quickly, "No, not at all!" I assured her, giving her a small smile, and leading her towards Riverstar's den. She was waiting right outside it, and perked as soon as she saw us.
"Something you wanted to tell me?" She asked.
"I'm coming," Graystripe swallowed, "I'm coming to Stone Division."
Riverstar frowned and for a moment I thought she was going to deny. Say Graystripe should have agreed before, and they had already made their plan.
But then she slowly began to nod and smiled, "Thanks, Graystripe. I really think this can make a difference. You have the story that will create the largest impact."
Graystripe nodded, "Right, thanks for allowing me to."
Riverstar seemed taken aback for a moment but she held her smile, "You are more than welcome, Graystripe. I can tell you the plan in a bit if that's alright."
Graystripe beamed, "Of course!"
And maybe I was beginning to hope. To hope that Stone Division would join us, that we would win the war, overthrown both Councils and leave in peace forever after.
Maybe just a little.
"...they saved me. I wasn't even their Clanmate and they went through all of that, risked so many lives to save me. Because they care. Not about FireClan, specifically, but about the forest. The Clans care about the forest. Council cares about power and Blood Council is worse, trust me I overheard a lot."
Stonestar seemed to be in deep thought.
"We need time to think," She decided, "We'll get back to you within a moon."
"Thank you," Riverstar nodded, pushing herself up, a smile imminent on her face, "Your consideration is appreciated, Stonestar."
And she flicked her tail, indicating for us all to get up. There was a moment of pause before all of the InkClan cats were on their feet and following her out of Stone Division territory.
Please, please let this work.
"No," I snapped, "No, I'm not doing this."
"Smokehaze, stop it, I'm not doing this, I can't do this, do you understand me?" I knew my breath was short but it didn't matter, I was angered, and I didn't really believe what I was hearing.
"Graystripe, it was different for you. I refuse to do this. You just talked to some random freaks about your little capturing. My mate died."
"Fine then, be like that!" I heard her storming away and sighed, glancing at the floor in misery. Of all the privelages and duties I had received due to Pebblepaw's death this was the very worst.
They want me to speak to his killers.
They want me to go to Council.
They want me to speak to Council.
They want me to speak to killers.
"Redfur, I understand that-"
"You don't understand.
There was a tight moment of silence and then he tried again, "Okay, Redfur. I know you're mad that they want your help to attempt making peace with Council, the cats who killed Pebblepaw."
"To put it mildly."
"But imagine the pain that burned through you. The guilt. The anger that's forcing you forward right now. Imagine that. Imagine others feeling it too. Wouldn't you want to spare them?"
Wouldn't you want to spare them?
Wouldn't you want to spare them?
Wouldn't you want to spare them?
Would I? Why should I have to endure that but not them? There was a small voice in the back of my head telling me that was fate. That this wouldn't happen to everyone because it wasn't meant to.
That others didn't need to feel that pain.
I sucked in a deep breath.
"Alright. I'll go to the meeting with Council."
I forced one foot in front of another, kept my head high. I couldn't show fear, or anger or emotion when I faced Council. I had to be strong and brave and fearsome.
Only I wasn't.
I felt broken all over. With every paw I put before another the image of Pebblepaw flashed before my mind. I had loved him, we had fit and were accepted and there was nothing wrong or not understandable about the two of us being together. But yet, somehow, we had been torn apart anyways.
You will not cry in front of these murderers. You can't give them the pleasure of seeing what they've done to you.
Another step. And another. We were getting closer and closer to Council. The plan was to discuss a peace treaty of sorts, at least until Blood Council was out of the way.
Had it been anything other than Blood Council, the ruthless group of cats once known as Blood Division who had captured Graystripe, separating her from Smokeheaze right after their confessions, making her new mate live through what she had feared the most, I would not have agreed.
But if we could come to some sort of agreement with Council, even if it was only temporary until the risk of Blood Council was removed, we could save lives and more of the pain that I had been put through.
"InkClan, FireClan," A tom waiting before a bramble entrance nodded as we approached him. Riverstar and Hazelstar dipped their heads in return. Both held eyes of anger, hurt, fear. Council had taken from them too. Inkstar and Firestar had both been murdered by Council. Inkstar and Riverstar had been mates while Firestar had been a cat whom the whole of the Clan had loved.
Being reminded of his death made me want to turn around and run. Return to the shelter of InkClan or FireClan, both of which had served as my homes, escape these murdurers.
Smokehaze, who had been paddling alongside me, pressed his dark pelt against me own. His eyes held sympathy and understanding, surely he would be able to compare this to the storm into Blood Council to save Graystripe. One that had, fortunately, turned out successful.
"This could bring the end of this war," He whispered into my ear. His cold breath brought the little hairs hanging out of my ears on end. This really mattered.
I made my back straighter, my expression flatter and pulled my stomach in. The tom on guard, poked his head inside, before returning to us and smiling.
"Come on in," He invited. Council was so different from us, it was impossible not to be jealous of them. They lived their whole lives in power; controlling, ruling, knowing everything.
What kind of a life would that be?
We pushed our way inside, where there were twenty cats gathered around in a circle. I remembered some of the faces, they had come after Inkstar's death to torture Riverstar, to push her to a point where she had caused a rebellion, turned the forest around, brought in the threat of Blood Council...
Everything had changed the night I met these cats.
"Do you believe in your system?" Hazelstar didn't waste a single moment asking her question. She didn't even sit, stood firmly as she faced the cats who had taken her beloved leader.
"Yes. We believe in peace and solidarity. Ripping each other apart over territory that can easily be maintained by a small group like us is pointless. We have brought a new way of life into the Clans and you should be grateful for it."
"Well we believe in our system too. We believe in freedom. But Blood Council doesn't have a system. They just want to kill, and they want power and revenge. Their rule will be the bloodiest, most oppressed of them all. You don't know what it feels like to lose, to have someone you love stolen from you because they wanted basic rights," Her voice was on the verge of cracking now, it had a power, a control to it, however, which seemed to have captured the full attention of all the cats of Council.
"It stings. And Blood Council will sting more. They will sting you-it's a feeling you have never experienced and should pray to never have to. But if we don't join sides..."
The cats of Council turned to each other and began whispering furiously. Hazelstar looked tired, hurt, shocked at how she had spoken, what she had managed to let out.
I was impressed too.
But Council was going to need more. More than what Hazelstar had provided if they were going to side with their enemies. And, after a moment of hesitation, I was sure I knew what.
"I saved your two apprentices."
Everyone turned around to look at me, surprised. The sound of my heart beating was the loudest thing in the small den and I sucked in a deep breath.
"The day InkClan broke off we took two apprentices prisoner. The way they were being treated was bothering me so I fed them, gave them herbs and freed them. Even though I knew they would turn to you. Just because we want freedom that doesn't make us ruthless monsters. We may have different systems but neither of us are monsters; we can still care for others..."
"For now, at least."
"Cats of InkClan!" A formal gathering was not required by Riverstar. Every cat in the Clan, all of whom knew about the meeting that had taken place the previous night, were beneath the HighBranch within moments.
Graystripe by my side, I began to paddle towards where the rest of the Clan had gathered in a huge rush. As we walked, we continued our slow conversation.
"I wonder where Council gets all these cats to fight with from. I mean, they aren't even that big. There had to be somewhere..."
"Rogues," I replied, "They made a deal with a group of rogues. I'm not sure what they will be getting in return, probably some territory, but you know how they can fight when given the motivation.
"Rogues are gross."
"Agreed," I offered a half-smile as we paddled up. Riverstar was quite mad at me as of the moment; letting go of the prisoners was not a choice she approved of, and she even went all over me about Pebblepaw's death, but Smokehaze, the blessed tom, stepped in to keep her off my back.
The issue was that is wasn't such a simple matter. I wasn't sure I would have made the same choice had I known it would cost Pebblepaw's life. What was being done was wrong but was it worse to betray your Clan?
Did I want to know the answer?
"Don't worry," Graystripe must have been reading my thoughts because she gave me a warm lick on the cheek, "You made the good choice and Riverstar will have to see that sooner or later. If you hadn't freed those apprentices we might not have made a treaty with Council and Blood Council could have destroyed the forest."
"Pebblepaw would have still been here," I murmured, looking at the light blue sky, "I can't help but wondering what his warrior name might have been. Pebblestone? Pebbleskip? Pebbleheart?"
"I like Pebbleskip the most," Graystripe smiled, nudging me in the shoulder. Unable to help it, I smiled back. The gray tabby had a way of keeping me cheery, even in the most dire situations.
"Cats of InkClan!" Riverstar began before everyone could even get seated. The excitement shone right through her eyes as she spoke, "Council have agreed to side with us until the threat of Blood Council has passed!"
There was a round of cheers from the majority of the Clan. Some seemed confused and there were a few protesting chants of "Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!
The sound of the chanting made me nauseous and the nausea it brought back could not be explained. The days when Inkstar was alive, when we were all waiting for a rebellion, not living one, when Pebblepaw was still around...
"We will attack Blood Council tomorrow as sundown," Riverstar continued, ignoring the majority of the protests, "The whole of InkClan shall join the battle. StoneClan is sending some cats here to guard the kits and elders, keeping some in their camp and sending the other half to the battle. Council should also be providing us with a good deal of..." Riverstar hesitated for a moment, "Rogues, who can aid us in battle."
"Blood Council will fall."
The silence was lethal, almost. It lasted a split second, it was doubt and misgivings. There had always been four divisions, or Clans, or groups in the forest.
What will happen if we become three?
Suddenly, I was doubtful. About everything I had been fighting for, everything I would be fighting for and if there even was a possibility of a bright future ahead for the Clans and Council.
Are we doomed for eternity?
Meanwhile, I was not very popular in InkClan. The news of my releasing spread rather quickly, and I was soon the topic of many rumors and gossip.
"I knew she couldn't be trusted. First she ditches us for FireClan and then she comes back a few moons later, after they rebel too. Riverstar should kick her out..."
"She thought it was okay because they were apprentices!"
"Well, if it did get Council to side with us, maybe the Clan shouldn't be too harsh on her. I mean, her betrayal might end up saving us from destruction."
"Don't mind them," Herbscent whispered, trying to lead me away towards the warriors den. I could feel all eyes trained on me, murmurs and thoughts traveling faster than the wind.
At that moment, I knew I shouldn't, I knew that there was no reason it should matter after everything else that happened, but I felt bad, and was a point near regretting my choice to speak.
Society still had an undeniable force, rebellion or not.
I tried to ignore them, tried to block out the murmurs that followed me wherever I went. The Clan didn't approve of my choice, they thought I was a traitor, not trustable... they thought I was everything from secretly Blood Council to secretly pregnant.
"Don't listen to them," Herbscent repeated as we entered the warriors den. She was a young warrior too; we had recently met one night when neither of us had been able to fall asleep. I for the usual reasons and her because she claimed she had a nightmare where her mother, an elder, had died brutally at the hands of a Blood Council cat.
"They'll forgive you," Herscent promised me, "When we deal with Blood Division they will realize the good in your decision."
"That's not a when, it's an if."
Smokehaze barred his teeth as we dashed closer and closer towards our border with Blood Council. His claws were already unsheathed and there was a dangerous look in his eyes...
Of course, it was natural. Blood Council had put Graystripe through so much torture. The memories still haunted her every night, the experience had shaken them both, and made their relationship more vulnerable than they had wanted it to be.
"Smokehaze," I glanced at him, "Don't get carried away. What would Graystripe think if you became a monster just to avenge her. Make sure to... control yourself."
"I will," He promised, "Don't worry about me."
There was a moment of understanding that passed between us; no matter what had happened to the cats we loved, no matter how much we had been hurt and cheated, we would keep ourselves together. We would meet as the same Smokehaze and Redfur back in InkClan's camp.
I ducked underneath a heavy tom, avoiding a lethal pair of claws. We were winning the fight quite comfortably, thanks to the well-trained cats brought in by Council.
If things continued this way Blood Council would be over.
I hadn't seen Smokehaze at all during the fight but I assumed he was okay. I imagined he was probably looking out for Graystripe; her last time here hadn't been pleasant at all.
"Redfur, watch out!"
I ducked, not sure who the call had come from, but grateful anyways, as a pair of claws flew right to where my head had been. I tackled the tom who had made the strike, catching him by surprise.
We rolled around for a while, scratching at each other furiously. I ignored the stinging feeling that shook my nerves every time his claws met my pelt.
"Get out of our territory, InkClan trash!"
"Get out of our forest!"
I slashed his muzzle, thinking about Smokehaze and Graystripe, thinking about everything that might unfold if Blood Council was able to take over the forest...
Before I could help myself I was standing over a dead body, doing exactly what I had promised myself, promised Smokehaze, silently promised Pebblepaw I wouldn't do.
I took a hesitant step back. I hadn't meant to kill, I didn't want to kill.
After a second of hesitation, I whirled around, tears choking me. I really was a traitor and a monster and I deserved to be executed and kicked out of the Clan...
But then I glanced around for a moment and realized something.
Cats were killing everywhere; this wasn't a skirmish or one of those patrol problems that the Clans had back in the days before Council.
This was war and rebellion and blood and death.
You didn't do anything other cats here aren't doing. You were protecting the forest, it's better one guilty cat dies than several innocent ones...
It was odd, though, how the rumors and gossip about me could still take over my mind even after I had killed a cat. I wasn't trying to let it, but somehow they worked their way in anyways...
"Redfur!" My head snapped up to see Graystripe rushing towards me. Her eyes were horrified, tears running down them and she buried her face into my pelt.
"What's wrong?" I questioned, "Did something happen, Graystripe?"
"Take me back to InkClan," She begged, "This place keeps scaring me. I was imagining it back there, I saw them torturing Smokehaze and then killing him, and then I Pebblepaw, the way I imagined him, dragging you back up to StarClan and I now right where my cage is..."
I swallowed, not deciding to question how horrible her treatment here must have been.
"Come on, Graystripe," I whispered, sliding one of her front paws over my shoulders, "This place is too harsh on you right now. Let's go home."
Falconwings shrugged, "She doesn't seem to be sick at all, Redfur. She's probably just scarred, and who wouldn't be, after staying there for so long."
"Okay," I inhaled my relief, "So can I go back to the battle?"
"No point, it should be done by the time you get there. As a matter of fact..." He craned his head for a moment and I turned around to see a giant patrol returning to camp, Riverstar leading them.
"They are back already," I whispered.
Not waiting for a response I dashed up to the patrol, and quickly next to Riverstar as the cats immediately scattered, some heading towards Falconwing's den, some heading to their nests and others to the clearing to meet up with other cats.
"How did it go?" I questioned.
"Well we won, I think, and we certainly weakened Blood Division but they aren't gone yet. They'll probably pull through this within a moon or so, and until then our treaty with Council has been put to an end. Again, we are surrounded by enemies. I just hope Stone Division can chose a side quickly.
"Why don't we try siding with Council for a longer period of time," I frowned, "Blood Council is already weak which would mean not much fighting with either side which would mean peace..."
"I know how appealing that sounds," Riverstar sighed, "I'd love that myself. I still am not over the death of my mate and yet I have to lead a huge Clan in a giant rebellion with so many sides that keep popping up from all corners, and secrets and traitors..."
"It's alright, Redfur, I can almost understand why you did. This rebellion has been hard on a lot of us, I think it was a rash decision... Everything would be so much better off now if I had controlled the Clan, told them Inkstar had done something terrible he deserved to get punished for. But there's no turning back after this point, whether we like it or not."
"I suppose not."
There was a pause and then I craned my neck for a moment, before glancing at Riverstar curiously, "Do you know where Smokehaze is? Graystripe needs some comfort at the moment, seeing that camp didn't do her psychology well, at all, and he's the only one who can really calm her.
"About that, Redfur, there was something I wanted to show you right outside of camp."
She blinked quickly and then flicked her tail, indicating for me to follow her as she led us outside of camp. I could feel my heart about to jump out of my throat.
Did Smokehaze get carried away? We weren't going to get carried away though, it was a mutual promise. If he got himself exiled...
I was expecting to see an ashamed, an embarrassed, a guilty or an angry Smokehaze when I turned around the corner but what I wasn't at all expecting was a stiff, not moving Smokehaze bloodied up, clearly dragged up to the entrance to camp.
"He pushed himself too hard," Riverstar whispered, "His need for revenge drove him crazy, he lost himself in the fight and they ganged up on him, tortured him and took him down together.
But I wasn't listening, I wasn't paying attention anymore. All that I could see was the limp body of Smokehaze, the memories flashing before my eyes how much he had hurt when he thought he could never see Graystripe again.
He had never considered the possibility that she may not ever get the chance to see him after the fight, it seemed.
And in that moment of acceptance, as I realized, understood and acknowledged that he was dead, I could feel this part of me floating away, running away, breaking off from me.
It hurt but it also felt good in a way.
One less thing to lose.
Graystripe sat silently in the medicine cat's den, grooming her paw. I swallowed, not wanting to speak to her now, but also aware that the sooner the better.
"Hey, Graystripe," I kept my expression neutral as I approached her, taking a few careful footsteps towards her. When she noticed me her eyes brightened.
"Hey, Redfur!" She smiled, "Do you know where Smokehaze is?"
My heart dropped.
"About that, Graystripe," I glanced down at my paws for a moment, before lifting my head again, "Smokehaze... Graystripe, Smokehaze..."
"Did he leave me?" Her eyes widened in a combination of fear and pain. It was a blow to my stomach. How could I tell her this, when it was clear how much she needed him.
But I didn't have a choice.
"He's gone, Graystripe. Smokehaze is gone. He got carried away trying to avenge you. What you saw... him being tortured by Blood Council warriors right before they killed him..."
"It was real."
I expected her to scream in protest, to sob loudly, to attack me and tell me to stop lying, stop playing games and take her to Smokehaze.
But Graystripe was different. She was more open to loss, more quick to accept it. Her eyes just widened, and a fat tear rolled down from one and then the other.
"I loved him."
"I loved him, as a friend, too," I whispered, "But he died for you, Graystripe. He died loving you, he died with his cause, his momentum being you. He loved you."
"Oh, Redfur, I don't want to believe it," She whispered. I bit my lower lip, running out of things to say. I wasn't good at dealing with loss, there was no way I could help someone else with it.
"Don't then," I whispered back, knowing it was the only thing I could say, "Don't believe it, Graystripe. If you don't believe in it than you won't have to feel the aftermath."
I turned around and headed out of the den, feeling my insides being crushed by the weight of what I had just said and what I had just suggested.
I began to bid farewell to the Graystripe I knew and loved and prepared myself to welcome a different one, who might be just as lovable but would remind me with every motion of what emotions caused in a time like this.
I watched from the corner of my eyes as Graystripe picket up a mouse from the fresh-kill pile. Her motions were stiff and her expression was soft but it wouldn't have been possible to guess her mate had just died if one just glanced at her.
Once the mouse was secured in her jaws, she glanced about until she noticed me, her eyes shifting a little as she took in my red pelt and orange eyes.
StarClan is you exist, I pray don't let her walk to me. Please don't let her walk to me, please don't let her walk to me, please don't let her walk to me.
StarClan didn't exist however, I remembered, as Graystripe made a beeline for me, her eyes shifting unpredictably with every step she took.
"It's not working," Was the first thing she said, as soon as she was right by me, "I try to tell myself it didn't happen but you wouldn't lie, and it looked real, it looked so real. Why deny reality when it's reality?"
"Because pain is a reality too," I replied.
"I want to console with you," She ignored me, "Please, Redfur. I think if we just... talk to each other about our losses maybe we can help each other getting over it. It's a long shot, maybe, but anything feels worth a try, the way my heart burning through my body right now."
"It hurts to talk about it, Graystripe."
"It hurts more not to."
Since when was she so wise? I wondered, but the answer was already there. Loss made people open their eyes, it made them smarter and more experienced.
And Graystripe had a point, if there was even a chance it might work, that I could get over Pebblepaw's death and the fact that I played such an important role in it, it could, just maybe, be worth the try.
"It hurts," She whimpered, "But it almost feels good, too. Because he's free now, he can watch over me from StarClan where there is no war, just peace and happiness."
"I don't believe in StarClan," I replied rather gruffly.
"Oh, I think you do," She whispered, "I think we all really do believe in StarClan. Only during the worst moments do we give into the truth, but it's back there, Redfur, just look for it."
But I didn't want to look for it. I didn't want to believe in something, because when you believed you had the risk of being lied to and fooled. When you believed something it only hurt more when it was torn away from you.
"I don't believe in StarClan," I repeated.
"You're stubborn," Graystripe smiled, "That's what makes you so strong, I guess. You get scared like the rest of us, but you don't have the ability to back down because you just... can't.
"I'm not strong," I whispered, "When Counters first came to speak to Riverstar, the night of Inkstar's death, I decided to stay alongside her, but when they came..."
"You ran," Graystripe sucked in a heavy breath, "But that had nothing to do with strength it was habit. Council had drilled it into our heads that they were boss and godlike."
"I'm not strong," I repeated, "Every loss tears me down from the inside. I try to look like I'm unaffected, like it isn't touching me at all, but on the inside it burns and it's eating away at me. I can't fight it-I'm too weak."
"None of us can fight it. The strong ones among us are those who can put on a brave face, and continue like nothing has happened. Who can pretend nothing happened, as you suggested. I'm not that strong though, Redfur. I can't pretend as though..."
That long moment almost tore through me.
"Let's make each other a promise," I offered. Her head shot up and she tipped her head curiously, looking like the old Graypaw for one, sweet moment.
"No matter what happens, we will keep it together. If we ever need someone to talk to… we turn to each other before doing something dangerous."
"You are trying to save me from the fate of Smokehaze, aren't you?" Graystripe questioned narrowing her eyes. I couldn't help remembering when she would have been too naive to guess that.
I didn't deny anything.
There was a heartbeat as she glanced at me wearily.
I was surprised by the fourth one. Three heartbeats was usually the amount of time it took to make a choice and give the response.
She looked up from the floor she had been starring at, a new fire returned to her eyes.
"Alright, Redfur," She whispered, her voice fragile, "I promise."
The whole of the Clan was crowding around Riverstar's patrol as soon as they returned from their meeting with Stone Division who still had not chosen between us, Counters and Blood Council.
Riverstar was easing all cats away, her gaze remaining neutral as she worked her way to the HighBranch and began to leap up it, not even pausing for a moment to take her breath, as I realized, for the first time, how truly committed she was to this.
She isn't just doing this for Inkstar, she's doing this for the Clan. She actually does love this place, she's not running it because she has to.
I was proud of my leader during the moment. For holding together, for going through so much even after losing the cat they loved so much. There were so many people out there we never thought to appreciate, we never thought to consider how much they had really put aside.
"Thank you," I whispered under by breath, knowing the only thing to hear me would be the wind.
"Oh StarClan, please let Stone Division have come to a decision already," Graystripe prayed. The mention of StarClan made me somewhat uncomfortable but I didn't say anything. I could not afford to get into a fight with Graystripe at the moment.
With every passing day the need to call the Clan together was getting smaller and smaller. As soon as Riverstar was upon that branch everyone was below her and listening.
Today she didn't even bother to make the ritual call, she just began to speak, something which felt odd and almost wrong even. The Clan was always addressed in a formal situation, before, during and what could be after Counters.
"Stone Division has not yet come to decision," Riverstar replied, "However they have promised upon everything that they will have their choice made by sun-high tomorrow."
The war could be determined by sun-high.
The thought brought a skip, a jump, a leap to my heart. If this could be over soon, I couldn't imagine how relieving it would be.
Riverstar flicked her tail in dismissal and moments later the Clan had scattered, leaving a blooming hope in my chest about endings that might be happy.
The next morning was complete chaos. When I first woke to noise I thought it was an excited buzz, which involved a lot of screaming, involving Stone Division's choice.
When I pushed myself up to my paws, and blinked my eyes open, however, I realized it was a battle. We had been ambushed, and all it took was a quick whiff to tell whom.
"To Blood Council!" There was a blood curling yowl that made my blood run cold, all the hope drain out of me, and the color leave the world.
Suddenly there wasn't beautiful shades of red, yellow, blue, green and purple anymore. There was just white and black and gray, everything was dark and helpless.
I prepared myself to jump into battle as my instincts had taught me but caught myself at the very last moment. I was tired of fighting and fighting with no end in sight.
It wasn't something I would have ever expected, no matter how drastic the situation. It wasn't something I ever thought I would have the nerve or energy to do.
I escaped camp, and the battle. I ditched InkClan during their battle against Stone Division who had now sided with Blood Council. But I didn't feel like a coward, oddly.
In fact, I felt braver than I ever had in my whole life.
It was odd, wandering around InkClan territory, past the pines, through the woods, by the river, while the sounds of fighting were coming just from camp.
There was a wicked urge within me to return to camp. It was my responsibility to help my Clanmates, but by now I knew there was nothing I could do.
This was would kill us all sooner or later, and why drag out the torture?
Maybe I did Pebblepaw a favor. Maybe I shouldn't be killing myself but should be proud of myself for going through so much pain to free him.
The thought almost made more warm, but not quite. I wasn't sure what I would do once I returned to camp. Leaving the Clans seemed like the best option at the moment.
Would Graystripe go with it?
I was entirely unsure. Graystripe was loyal, even if she hadn't lived the majority of her life in InkClan and she wouldn't leap at the prospect but she would surely understand my logic too...
"Pebblepaw," I whispered into the bright skies. If you could ignore the loud cries of battle it was actually quite peaceful when the territory was completely unoccupied.
Would I go leave if Graystripe didn't?
I wouldn't, I realized. She was the cat I loved most who was still breathing and I couldn't leave her for dead in such a fatal rebellion. I would stick to her, and she would feel comfort in knowing that.
Besides, even if I had the heart to ditch my Clanmates, absolutely no one could abandon Graystripe when she needed help. She had matured, but underneath everything she was still the same, lovable she-cat.
I sucked in the deep air, and suddenly a memory was floating through my mind. I snatched it, one of my childhood, and relished it as it played out before my mind.
Come on, Redkit, you slug!" Pebblekit yelped as I chased after him, running through the woods. Our mothers were further behind us, attempting to catch up. They would likely be furious once they reached us, but I couldn't stop and be eased as slow for the rest of my life.
Forcing myself forward with even more speed , I began to gain up on Pebblekit. He glanced back and his eyes widened in surprise as he noticed how close I was getting.
As I continued to gain up on him, and he continued to watch me, checking how far behind he was, his eyes missed a tree stump on the ground and he tripped, hitting the ground with a hard thud.
I laughed as I raced past him and through the bushes which had been the finish line, doing a little victory dance before breathing in the warm fresh scent of the air which tasted like victory.
The moment, and the taste of the air, only lasted for a split moment before I found myself being hoisted up by my scruff, in the jaws of a very mad momma.
The memory was sweet and innocent. I had actually been cute, likable, and almost like the apprentice version of Graystripe when I was kitten.
I missed those days so much, but I could hardly remember them.
Maybe that's why, I decided, We always assume those hidden moments are the best ones and we long for them, we want them back.
Sighing, I continued to paddle along through the territory. The fight was still continuing; I knew from my many experiences int he past moon that it shouldn't hardly be halfway through by now.
It was unlikely that Stone Division, or Stone Council, or Blood Counil, or whatever they referred to themselves as now would win. The patrol hadn't been too large from what I understood.
This was just a warning, a declaration.
Why would Stone Division side with Blood Council? They are currently at their weakest, and without their help there was no way Blood Council could have pulled it back together. They may as well have sided with someone who was already winning.
But maybe they didn't just want to win. Maybe they wanted power once this was over; something Blood Council was sure to have promised them.
Everyone's greed, hunger and ambition was tearing the forest in half.
"Who can save us now?"
"Can I answer that question for you?"
I whirled around to face an all too familiar face, one that haunted my dreams at night, one that somehow still managed to push me forward everyday.
I closed my eyes expecting the figure to be gone when I opened them again. But he was still there, floating, smiling that familiar smile at me. The smile I loved so much.
This isn't real.
This is all a bad, or good, dream. I'm going to blink heavier this time and I'm going to wake up in my nice den, excited to find out who Stone Division has sided with.
But I did blink and he wasn't going. He was still there, lingering, waiting, and I sucked in a breath, the truth hitting my sharply in the chest.
"The answer, love, is us. StarClan."
"Pebblepaw," I could almost breathe in his scent. I knew it wasn't there, I was only imagining it, but the sight of his stirred so many things within me.
"I've missed you," He whispered, taking several soft steps towards me. He was nearly transparent, he looked almost like a ghost.
"You never visited me," I murmured, looking down at my paws in disbelief, "I was left to think you weren't there anymore, that I would never see your face again..."
"I was watching you the whole time."
"You could have helped me!" I shrieked, taking a step away from his, disgusted with myself for being relieved at the sight of him, "I needed guidance and you-"
I choked on sobs and pain seemed to burn through his eyes.
"I wanted to speak to you, Redfur, believe me. StarClan wouldn't let me, though. They wouldn't let me near you because they said it wasn't our place to interfere."
"And it suddenly is now?"
"As you must have noticed, the war doesn't ever seem like it's going to end unless something it done and it's done fast. StarClan has been left with no choice but to interfere."
"I never knew you existed. Graystripe said I was hiding myself from your being, but I always thought she was desperate and needy so she believed in you..."
He ignored me, and continued speaking.
"However, StarClan hasn't made a choice yet. They don't know if they want Counters to continue their rule or the Clans to return to what they once were. And until we come up with a choice they can't intervene."
"Great StarClan," Something felt odd about saying it. Maybe, it was the belief spreading through me. These cats really did exist and they really could help us.
The war might really end. There really might be a happily ever after and freedom for all these cats. Pebblepaw can visit me, I'll never be alone.
He seemed to be reading my thoughts because he spoke with a dull thick zone, "I can't constantly be with you, Redfur. I'm dead, and you... you are not. You have to live and lose and learn from that."
"But you will unlearn everything if you gain back what you have lost. I can only be a figure, a spirit to you, Redfur. Until the day you join StarClan I am no longer a part of your life."
"Then I will join StarClan today."
"I would never speak to you again," He vowed, "You wouldn't get to see my face if you even considered the possibility, Redfur. The forest needs you right now, anyways. More than I do."
"What difference can I make?"
"Every living cat makes a difference. You have Graystripe, and a story a little more unique than others. And it's really the story that counts. You can win people over by telling them of your experience... You can help me winning StarClan over. I can tell them of your strength and how you still hold high, how you hold a friend high while you can barely keep yourself on your feet..."
"StarClan wasn't supposed to exist," I whispered, "You were only supposed to be parts of myths, just something to hold onto when you have nothing else to grasp."
"That's what I thought too, Redfur. Keep fighting, keep holding on and one day, one day, you will get to join me in this peaceful paradise."
"I will," I promised, "For you."
There was a second of silence before I spoke again. "I'm sorry," I whispered, "About giving the cobwebs to the apprentices. I shouldn't have done that."
"It saved the forest. If Blood Council was at its previous state when Stone Division joined them, the future of the forest would be beyond lost."
"Thanks for dying an honorable death and saving the forest," I whispered, taking a step towards the only tom I ever loved. Our noses were nearly touching as he inhaled slowly.
"Thank you for letting me."
"Anytime, Redfur. You know that, no matter what happen, I always have and I always will love you. Ever since that day when I first saw you as a kit..."
I smiled, a real smile, the biggest smile since he had left me, "I love you too, Pebblepaw."
Hello, I'm Redfur, the she-cat who has guided you through the story of the rebellion in Clan and their attempt to break off from Counters. From the first declaration to the day when the final group has taken their side, I have shown you the story.
And I've learned a lot from it.
I was once an innocent apprentice. I can still remember the day when Pebblepaw and I curled up together after Riverstar declared independence. I was worried about what to come. I never expected this.
I've felt the need to be the one to share this story with you, because I feel as though I have a story worth hearing. I'm not the superhero who sweeps in and saves the day, I have the average approach, but I've lived through a lot too. A lot of things I can't bear to keep to myself.
But there is a time when we all have to say goodbye, and for me that is now. The story's not over; you haven't seen the worst and the best of it yet, but this is where I bid farewell.
From here on out, I will be allowing someone else; someone you may be familiar with, to narrate the rest of the story. Someone else who can take it better from here.
But I enjoyed telling you my story. Not enjoyed, rather, but appreciated the chance to. Graystripe was right when she said it makes it easier to talk about everything.
I can't thank you enough for listening to this, and I hope that maybe you've learned a thing or to by hearing-I know I've learned a lot by saying it.
Farewell, traveler of stories. You'll hear about me a good deal later, but you won't be hearing about it from me. I hope you enjoy the remainder of this tale and the rest of your lives as well.
Thank you, again.
My debt can never be repaid.
"Welcome home, Smokehaze," I smiled at the dark pelted tom, as he glanced about the lush forest. Normally, the tom might have had someone closer to him to welcome him to his new home, but StarClan was currently in the middle of a large meeting that I had hardly been able to convince myself to leave.
But even if there was someone else to welcome him, I was quite sure I would have been there too. Smokehaze helped and guided Redfur more than I ever could have hoped a tom would be willing to.
"Where?" He glanced about, "Whoever you are, you have to send me back down to the forest. I'm avenging Graypaw, getting rid of the monsters that captured her!"
"You died three sunrises ago, Smokehaze," I whispered to him, "StarClan wasn't letting you come yet because of some issues involving timing or something."
"So this is..." He glanced back and forth, around the starry forest which must have been so new, so foreign to him, "StarClan?"
"You'll grow used to it," I promised, "It only took me a few days. And maybe you'll miss your life for a while, but you can still watch over Graystripe from here, if you want to."
"I'd like to see her now," He demanded.
"Well not quite yet," I smiled at him. He really did care about Graystripe; something which had already been quite clear seeing as he died for her.
"Who are you, though?" Smokehaze questioned, "And will my mom, and Firestar be here? Is Pebblepaw here? Maybe I can say hello to him and tell him that Redfur was really sorry and she misses him a lot."
"I am Pebblepaw," I offered with a smile, "And yes, you can find your mom and Firestar and every good cat who ever died here. However, StarClan is currently in the middle of a very important meeting."
"Pebblepaw?" His eyes widened, and he smiled, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Pebblepaw. I've heard a lot about you, but I never thought I'd get to see you."
"Well I never thought I'd find myself here while I was alive," I murmured, "It's so sad that Counters felt the need to hide our existence from the divisions."
"Did they even know?"
"Yeah, they did," I replied, "StarClan visited them so many times in their dreams before telling them we were real and telling them to make that clear but I guess that feared it might start a rebellion..."
"A rebellion started anyways," Smokehaze replied and I couldn't help but smiling. I really liked the tom, it was easy to see what Graystripe saw in him, and I was sure we would get along very well. I didn't have many friends and it would be quite a relief to finally have someone I could hang around.
We were silent for a few moments, and then Smokehaze glanced at me curiously, his eyes shifting back and forth, "I would have thought my mom could at least welcome me, even with a meeting."
"It's the most important meeting ever," I whispered, "I only left because I'm only an apprentice and I knew I couldn't make much of a difference."
"What's it about?"
I swallowed, "StarClan is about to chose between Clan and Counters."
"I can't go, Redfur," Graystripe was whispering to my mate, "I understand every reason why you think in could be an idea to go rogues but... It's not InkClan or FireClan it's this forest. I belong here, I can't imagine any other life."
Redfur seemed hesitant, and I could tell she was debating if she should try harder to convince Graystripe to leave but she decided against it because she sighed.
"You know I couldn't go without you, Graystripe. But if you ever change your mind please tell me; I don't want to hang around here any more than I have to."
She nodded silently, "I won't though."
They were hiding behind a few bushes, speaking in hushed voices far outside of camp. They had taken a quick break from rebuilding InkClan's camp after the recent attack from the newly sided Stone Division.
"Stone Division are such weasels," Smokehaze hissed as we watched the two she-cats beneath us, chatting silently, "They had to ruin everything!"
"Yeah," I sighed, "And StarClan could have fixed it, but they can't decide between Council and Clans. I would have thought the answer should be obvious; Counters are convinced on keeping the Clans from believing in us."
"True," Smokehaze sighed, "But maybe they fear that freedom can bring chaos. I mean, just look at what happened when they tasted a little bit of freedom. The forest is in chaos."
"That's what happens when Counters tried to keep a cap on us, though," I sighed, before turning to face his desperately, "We have to find a way to convince StarClan to side with InkClan and FireClan."
"And then what?"
"We can't find out until one side wins this war," I hissed, "And we can both agree it's much better InkClan and FireClan than Blood Council."
"I like that idea," Smokehaze sighed, "But there are so many good dead cats. We're just two random cats; how are we supposed to convince StarClan on which side to take?"
"By finding someone to support us," I offered, "Someone who is powerful enough to have the power to win many sides over to the side of the Clans."
There was a ticking moment and then at the same time: "Firestar."
"I really am honored that you two would come to me," Firestar smiled at us, as he pushed himself to his paws, before tipping his head at Smokehaze, "You've grown up so much, Smokehaze," He whispered, "I'm sorry I had to put you through so much in such a short period of time. It must have hurt..."
"It's fine," Smokehaze whispered, smiling back up at his leader. The love between them was undeniable-I had heard that Firestar was a fantastic leader that adored his whole Clan and had a Clan that adored him.
"Anyways," I coughed awkwardly, "We would really appreciate it if..."
"Again, I'm grateful," Firestar flicked his tail quickly, an awkward urgency in his eyes as he glanced back and forth.
Oh StarClan no, he's going to decline for whatever reason or another. He's not going to help us because he's scared or reluctant to do something.
"And believe me, I would," He claimed, "But here's the thing, Smokehaze and Pebblepaw," He glanced down shakily, "I don't want StarClan to side with the Clans."
I felt as though a heavy boulder had been torn at and ripped straight through my gut. It felt as though all my insides had been crushed with one, massive blow. I was nearly gasping for breath and Smokehaze was shaking his head back and forth, tears dotting the corner of his eyes.
"Well, there's something more I think you should know," Firestar claimed with an inward breath, "I've been with Council this whole time. From the very start..."
"They killed you!" Smokehaze protested.
"That was planned," Firestar replied, "Counters asked me and I agreed to let them kill me and make it look like I had done something to anger them. The sparks of rebellion in Fire Division were reaching a dangerous point and their plan was to get a show out of Fire Division, because of the rage over my death, which they could stomp over in order to scare Fire Division to a point where they would never imagine rebelling. Their plan failed, however, and it only further ignited the rebellion. It was stupid of me to think it would work... I put my division in danger."
Time ticked slowly, and Smokehaze was glaring Firestar down, eyes so full with rage I was surprised Firestar didn't drop dead, despite the fact that he wasn't even alive anymore.
"I've been with Council this whole time."
"StarClan must have been really, really desperate," Smokehaze hissed, "If they were really going to let a swine like you into their land."
"I know, Smokehaze."
"I had loved you," Smokehaze snapped, choking on tears, before whirling around and marching away from his leader. I gave Firestar a deathly stare before following after Smokehaze.
"We have reason to believe there will be a huge battle in a few sunrises between the Clans, divisions, Councils and Counters," Riverstar claimed from atop the HighBranch.
Murmurs were whirling about camp at the announcement.
"This battle could very likely be the last of your life," Riverstar claimed, "I hate to say this, but it's the truth. It's more than likely half the forest will be wiped out if all sides really do clash in this battle. It likely won't end until there is a victor to this war."
The Clan quieted, glancing back and forth in fear, "I understand this might make some of you want to leave, and I will respect that choice, but I'd like you to consider your lives after that. How long could you really go without a Clan? Anyways, I told you this so you could bid farewell to anyone you cared about within the next few days; the sooner the better. And this is me bidding you all farewell. The chances that I'll make it out are terribly low. I want you to know that I was proud to lead this Clan. I am proud you all stuck with my this far, I'm proud to be able to look down upon and call you my home. My family."
And then, all at once, every single cat erupted into a familiar chant that used to scare me, but warmed my heart at the moment.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
The energy was vibrant, it was their approval of Riverstar, of InkClan of the rebellion. It was their vow to stick with the Clan no matter what happened, it was their vow to their home.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
The smile on Riverstar's face could not be replaced. And unable to help it, I found myself chanting too, all the way up from StarClan where I knew they couldn't hear me.
I missed my old home everyday. I missed it more than my daily schedule, more than I missed the excitement at my approaching warrior ceremony, more than I missed Redfur even.
The chanting continued and continued, relentless. Even Redfur, who had been thinking of leaving the Clan, was chanting her eyes proud and energetic.
"I love her," A voice whispered and I turned to see Inkstar staring longingly at the scene unfolding before him, "I know it makes me a terrible leader, but she always came before anything else."
"You should be proud of her," I claimed, ignoring the part about loving her more than the Clan, something I had already known.
"I am," he replied and I knew that he really, really was.
"She doesn't have to die and meet you here in a few days," I offered to him, "Firestar... he refused to help us, he sided with Council, but you are one of the most recent leaders and the most powerful person I could think of..."
"But I was never really a good leader," Inkstar sighed, "I only ever took the job to impress Riverstar and get her attention. Yes, it worked, but..."
"Then do this for her."
"I... I..." he hesitated, "Okay; alright. I'll do it. For Riverstar."
"This is the way things have always been," Inkstar urged, "There were always four Clans and a StarClan above them. Even in the time where we were Thunder, River, Wind and Shadow; there were four and there was borders and skirmishes but that was okay. Because that was how things worked."
"Things change," Firestar claimed, swallowing gently. The two leaders were arguing with each other before the most of the old Clan, and though they were both trying to keep it friendly no one knew how long it would last.
"Imagine what the ancient Firestar would think."
"Firestar is long gone, faded from StarClan and the many lands beyond, even!" The new Firestar protested, his voice sharp, "It's not about them anymore, it's about us."
Some cats from the ranks of StarClan nodded in agreement and I bristled. Firestar was a good talker, and a good liar too. Of course he could fool the Clan into thinking he wanted the best for everyone.
"It's never just about us, though," Inkstar whispered, "It's about those around us. The cats we love, those we want the best for, those we would die trying to protect... It's not about us."
"Our time is running out," Firestar whispered, "StarClan has to come to a decision before the battle takes place. It can only be a few sunrises left..."
"Let's side with the Clans."
"The Clans will destroy the forest!"
"Counters already have!"
I shut my ears, not wanting to listen to anymore. Smokehaze sat in the corner of the large crowd, his eyes pained. Firestar's revelation had been a huge blow to him, it was obvious.
It probably would have been for me too. He had trusted and loved the leader, Firestar was someone he was willing to put his life on the line for, someone he knew would put their life on the line for him...
And then it turned out he was with the enemies the whole time.
I could still clearly remember my words to Redfur as I died. I encouraged her to avoid the rebellion, I had thought it was a terrible idea at the time, it had brought my death, but not I wasn't sure how I couldn't support it. Counters had been suppressing us...
It was bound to happen sooner or later, and if it didn't work now cats would try later. Eventually, sooner or later, the power had to be overthrown.
No one appreciated being ruled.
"Stop arguing!" The loud boom was not mistakable, and every single StarClan cat whirled around to find out whom it had come from. Every single StarClan cat was left with their jaws hanging over.
Standing right before us, looking old but steady was the Firestar who joined the forest as a kittypet all those moons ago. The one who was the center of all the kit tales, the one who saved the forest countless times.
There weren't even murmurs as Firestar walked through the crowd. He was obviously searching for someone and his eyes stopped when they reached Smokehaze.
My heart skipped a beat.
What does he want from Smokehaze?
"Smokehaze!" Firestar boomed, taking a step towards the tom, "My many times great grandson. You are the one who must save the Clans from this war!"
There was a moment of silence.
"Yes you," Smokehaze seemed numb from surprise as Firestar dipped his head shortly at him, "I've been waiting so long to wait, to greet you. And now, you get to make the choice."
"You get to pick the fate of the forest."
Moments ticked. I already knew Smokehaze's choice. He glanced about the crowd of cats uncertainly, all eyes on him. I gave him a reassuring smile which he failed to return. As his eyes circled about, I saw them get caught on the younger Firestar. He gave his leader a glare before sucking in a deep breath and turning back to face the whole of the crowd. He sounded certain but uncertain as he spoke.
"I chose Counters!"
"I'm sorry, Pebblepaw," Smokehaze murmured, looking down at his paws, "It's just; Firestar always wanted what was good for the Clan. And he did this too because it was good for the Clan, I know it..."
"Maybe," I sighed, "But he's not always right."
"He's my leader."
A few moments ticked by and, not sure of what else I could say, I pushed myself up to my paws and gave him a hard glare, "Graystripe."
I wasn't sure where the word came from but it seemed like the right thing to say. Some part of his expression shifted as I whirled around and marched away, hoping that Smokehaze could change his mind on time.
Hoping that there was still hope.
Every cat living in the forest was lined up, prepared for battle right in the heart of Council's camp. It was the battle every cat had been anticipating. I was able to make out Redfur, her pelt quivering as she held her posture, and Graystripe right beside her.
Any moment now the battle would-
All cats turned their heads up where the noise was coming from to find Firestar, the one who led FireClan, paddling down from the clouds where he resided.
Instantly there were murmurs.
"I speak from and for StarClan!" he announced, "And yes, we do exist. Something Counters have known all this time; something we never wanted to be a secret."
The murmurs were massive.
"And StarClan wants you to know," He coughed, "All of the dead cats you loved and knew and admired would like you to know that we don't approve of this battle. There is already a side we would support and we would like to win the war."
"Speak," All five leaders demanded at once, their tones desperate, all praying for it to be them StarClan wanted, all praying for it to be-
"StarClan has sided with C-c-c-"
I sucked in a breath, awaiting the blow.
I blinked quickly. Smokehaze had changed his mind. Smokehaze changed his mind and spoke to someone about it and StarClan picked the Clans!
The cheering was undeniable-some was even coming from Blood Council and their cats-but with each passing moment, each call that reached my ears, I felt a sickening feeling growing inside of me.
I was suddenly doubtful.
My doubt, however, was distracted by the sight of Redfur smiling up at the skies. Though she couldn't see me I knew it was for me. And there was no way I could resist.
I blinked my eyes and suddenly the forests of StarClan was gone and I was standing before Redfur. She was smiling and grinning as she licked my happily. Next to me I could feel as all these other StarClan cats began working their way down as well.
The Clans were cheering, Counters looked unsure and those from Blood Council were either delighted, they must have secretly not wanted to win the war, or furious.
I glanced at Redfur and suddenly there were too many words to say, too many things to express, just so much we couldn't get out.
Which was why less was more. Which was why I only had to murmur two words to capture everything of the past moons, every one of the events that had happened since the night Inkstar had been murdered.