Quest of Courage is the first book in The Mating Quest.
A bright she-cat entered the dark tunnel, shaped by the lava which had flowed through there at one point in time. She entered the cool cave, her footsteps echoing along the dark tunnel, as the moist ground splashed water over her paws. She noticed that she was the last one to arrive, as she saw two other cats facing the shinning gem in the center of the cave.
The tom turned around when he noticed her, his black pelt, which had been stained by the water he lived in, rippled as his back flexed, so that he could see her face. "Hello," he quietly greeted her and she dipped her head in response.
The other one, a lithe brown she-cat, was barely visible in the dark cave except for her glowing yellow eyes, "Tomorrow will start dark times," she murmured and the other cats agreed with their silence.
The bright she-cat dipped her head with worry, "The Mating Quest is a time of war for the clans, Branchleg. Our clans begin to make claims, in hopes that their packs might become victor. It has been almost two seasons since we last had one, and your cats are not known to be fighters. How does your clan intend to survive?" There was no teasing or threat in her voice, just worry and curiosity.
Her yellow eyes glared through the dark amber fog of the cave, "We will find away, we always have survived. I hope you don't doubt that, and I think our pack this year is very strong, stronger than the one from the last Mating Quest." but there was doubt in the young cats eyes and the others sensed it.
"If you need us, we will always be here for you," the tom softly told her, "our friendship goes beyond boundaries, don't hesitate to come to us for help." She other cat nodded as well, and gratitude was visible through her beady eyes.
"Well," Branchleg finally meowed, "Might as well get it over with."
The cats nodded as they all lowered their head, and touched the precious large diamond with their noses. When they opened their eyes they were standing together across a large tabby tom, with glistening green eyes.
All three cats gasped at once, "Islandstar." When the Mating Quests were assigned there would be an important cat who did so, but the founder of all three clans had never done it before. They all realized this Mating Quest must be important.
He didn't allow time for questions though, "Messengers of the clans, for that's what you are, this Mating Quest will be far more challenging than any other we have seen before." The cats looked at each other nervously and the tom continued, "The gem with which you communicate to Starclan, is fading. It's magic might only last another season, and the clans need to communicate with us."
This didn't surprise them. Lately, whenever they visited the cave, their dreams had been fuzzy, and sometimes they couldn't hear the messages Starclan cats had to give them, "So, this year’s packs must compete to find the new diamond. However, it won't be easy. Are you ready to hear the challenge of this Mating Quest?"
The cats looked at each other and nodded, "We are ready!" they called in unison and the tom nodded, pleased.
"This Mating Quest, the packs will be sent to cross the hostile forest, where they will need to summon all of their courage. They will then have to use all of their strength to swim to another island. On the way they will stop at a small island located in between the two where they will have to use their loyalty to make a decision. If they make the right decision, they shall reach the next island where they will have to climb the volcano and enter it, this will require their honor, to do what needs to be done. When they get the diamond, the final step will be returning the gem back to their clan, on the epic journey back, where they shall be tested on their power to love."
The three cats nodded as the tom slowly started to fade. They were all whispering the directions in there head, for such a thing was not to be forgotten.
When they opened their eyes, they were back in the shadowy cave.
"Well," the tom managed to say, "We might as well get back to our clans and tell the leaders so that they can send the packs."
The two she-cats nodded as the bright pelted one stopped to make an announcement to the island, from the small cave which they stood in. Her voice was loud and clear, and all of the clan cats were sure to hear it, if they were awake.
"The Mating Quest has begun!"
Featherbreeze prodded Roboflight and she grumbled as Featherbreeze whispered, "Hey Roboflight. Are you awake?"
Roboflight sat up and blinked her eyes. There was worry in them as she replied, "I never fell asleep," she murmured, "How could I when we start our Mating Quest today?" Featherbreeze nodded and the two cats paddled out of their den, a hole in one of the many hills on Mountainclan territory. Together the two cats gazed at the rising sun, and the flurry of colors that came with it.
"I wonder what Starclan had in store for us," Featherbreeze whispered softly, her voice blending with the slight winds. Roboflight took a step closer to her friend and their pelts brushed, as they warmed each other with their friendship.
The two cats had been almost like sisters ever since they were born. They had been born together around the same time, and were inseparable as kits. They had played all of their games together and eaten all of their prey together. They had been apprenticed at the same time, as they were in the same pack.
As apprentices they had talked to each other about their training and mentors, and how they felt about the Mating Quest which they knew would arrive soon. They had become warriors together with the rest of their pack, just a few sunrises ago, and like all newly made warriors, they would be starting their Mating Quest today.
Now, as the two cats sat in silence, Roboflight finally began to realize what this journey might mean. Completing it would mean that she was accepted as a full warrior into her clan, she might finally be able to communicate with the toms in her pack, whom she had ignored, and might even choose one as a mate. Best of all she would gain the characteristics needed to become a strong, dependable warrior.
But Roboflight knew this journey would also bring loss, and she would have to be prepared to face it. Around two to three cats were lost every Mating Quest; sometimes they would die, sometimes they would quit, and sometimes they would be lost, and only Starclan would know where they were. There was a chance that Roboflight or Featherbreeze might meet that fate.
She sighed, all would be revealed when the medicine cats returned. They would then be assigned to their quest, and Pikestar would select who the leader of their pack would be. Roboflight didn't really know any of the other cats, but had still offered to be the leader of the pack, if Pikestar saw it was appropriate. Featherbreeze hadn't volunteered, because she was a quiet cat, who was kind but kept mostly to herself, except around loved ones.
"What do you think our quest will be?" Roboflight asked turning to her best friend, "Do you want it to be easy or hard?"
Her friend thought for a moment before responding, "I honestly don't have a clue to what our quest will be. I don't think I want an easy quest though. The point of this journey is for us to develop the skills necessary for survival in a clan, and the harder the quest the more skills you develop."
Her friend nodded, satisfied with the answer. The sun began to rise even higher and Roboflight started to get worried, "What's taking them so long? Normally the call would have been made by now. I hope something hasn't gone wrong." The worry was visible through her gaze and Featherbreeze laughed her light gray pelt shimmering as her blue eyes shinned with amusement.
"Calm down, Roboflight," she purred, "They normally make the call around this time, give them a few more minutes. Even if they haven't announced it by then, it’s probably all okay. There have been several times it had been called late. Last time they brought back the description of the journey around night time and everything turned out fine," noticing that her friend wasn't calmed, she soothed her, stroking her tail against Roboflight's, ginger and white pelt. "Don't worry, Brightsky won't let us down, we can trust her, and Starclan wouldn't dream to forget about today."
This calmed her down a bit and the two cats continued to sit in peace, under the rising sun. Some warriors walked by noticing them, as they sat in silence, ominously waiting for the dangerous journey ahead. There were no apprentices left to gaze at them curiously, they had all become warriros a few sunrises ago, and the clan was still waiting for three more kits to be born before they could organize the next pack.
This morning didn't have the usual hustle of clan life. The cats that emerged, didn't go to patrol borders because that would be done later, when the quest was finally announced. The time of the quest was one of battle and bloodshed. The cats that were remaining at camp would use this time to try to steal territory from the other clans, as it was the only time the warrior code allowed them to. This would cause several battles, and they would continue until the packs had returned, one of which would be the victor of the Mating Quest.
The winning pack's clan would earn the right to take a piece of territory, that lied in the middle of all three clans, so it was precious to them all. It happened to be rich with all sorts of prey, due to all off the different habitats which were combined there.
Any territory stolen from the winning clan would also be given back, and they would be able to keep all of the territory which they had won. That was the importance of being the first to complete the quest.
The thought of losing worried Roboflight. The clan would still take them in; any cat who completed the quest was accepted as a warrior, regardless of their performance. However, it would disappoint the clan, especially since Mountainclan had a reputation for winning The Mating Quest. Last time the victors had been Oceanclan, with a close tie to Mountainclan and Cloudclan had been embarrassingly far behind.
This year Cloudclan would be sure to make sure their warriors were prepared, and the Oceanclan cats would probably be as cunning as ever, using their wits to get them through the challenges. "I hope our opponents aren't too difficult to beat," she admitted to Featherbreeze, "I really want to win it."
"We all do," Featherbreeze murmured, "It is a very important thing to win, so our quest will not be very easy; it never has been. However, I think we can win, Roboflight. Our group is very diverse in talents, as we have had some time to realize in the past eleven moons we have spent with them. Some of us are quick, some of us are smart, some are cunning, some are leaders, some are creative and some are strong. I think we have an advantage because we are all so diverse."
"That's what I am worried about," Roboflight mumbled and Featherbreeze looked at her, curious, "I am afraid that since we are all so different we won’t be able to work together. A pack that can't work together can't win at all. I want to win; I at least want to make it back home."
Featherbreeze looked thoughtful, but didn't get the opportunity to respond because they were cut off by a loud yowl coming from the lava tunnel, where the medicine cats were meeting, to discover what the challenge of this Mating Quest would be.
"Well," Featherbreeze finally meowed as the cats began to walk towards the Highhill, where Pikestar would send off the pack, "We're about to find out if you're right."
And she got up, following the cats to where Pikestar was waiting.
Roboflight prayed as she walked down to the center of camp, flanked by several other warriors, where her destiny awaited her.
None of the cats were happy by the look on Brightsky's face when she finally arrived, and Roboflight was no exception. She wasn’t exactly sure what she had wanted her Mating Quest to be, but the look on the medicine cat’s face, was not a word she would have wanted to use to describe it, regardless.
Brightsky wasted no time as she paddled up to the top of the Highhill. It was not very crowded, even with twelve cats standing on it, because the hill was very broad, as was tall. She turned to Pikestar, who had a slightly worried expression on his face.
“So what is our Quest this time?” he asked her.
“Don’t you first want to select who the leader of the pack will be?” she asked, a little curious. “They might want to know before I announce what the quest will be on.”
“Already did.” Pikestar replied, and Roboflight felt a small rush of pride return. She had been selected to lead her pack through the challenges of the Mating Quest. Brightsky must have guessed it was her; by the way all of the clan cats were looking at her.
She nodded and took a step forward to address the clan, “Cats of Mountainclan, are you ready to hear this year’s Mating Quest?” It was loud, strong enough for all three clans to hear it. Roboflight felt a sensation of relief that they would not be at a disadvantage because the other groups started before them.
The cats yowled in approval, although some cries contained worry or doubt. The ten cats chose to say nothing. Roboflight glanced at them as the cats cheered and she heard the Oceanclan medicine cat, Riggedclaw, asking his clan if they were ready. Her group was a total blend of personalities as she had come to know in the time she spent training with them.
As in all packs, there were ten of them; her, Featherbreeze, Driftingcloud, Inkpelt, Bravescar, Petalfall, Aquatail, Boulderclaw, Sandpelt and Firehowl. They were not entire strangers to her, but the only one she felt comfortable speaking around was Featherbreeze.
Due to their differences, the cats hardly mingled with each other, which put them at a disadvantage as compared to the other packs, which probably had more luck getting to know each other. There were, of course, small groups of friends, consisting of two or three cats, but they all kept to themselves.
Roboflight had not experienced problems with any of them, except for Firehowl. The black tom and his ginger stained muzzle thought that they were too good for any other member of the pack. They had never fought, with words or claws, but she would constantly send him death glares, and she knew that he would catch them.
But know as she stood, waiting for her destiny to be revealed, she found herself begging Starclan that she could learn to cooperate with these cat and work together. It would be their only chance at survival.
When the clan quickly quieted down, the call was heard from Cloudclan as Brightsky began, reciting something from her memory, “This Mating Quest, the packs will be sent to cross the hostile forest, where they will need to summon all of their courage. They will then have to use all of their strength to swim to another island. On the way they will stop at a small island located in between the two where they will have to use their loyalty to make a decision. If they make the right decision they shall reach the next island where they will have to climb the volcano and enter it, this will require their honor, to do what needs to be done. When they get the diamond, the final step will be returning the gem back to their clan, on the epic journey back, where they shall be tested on their power to love.” She paused and took in a deep breath.
Roboflight felt the fear run through her body. She had never heard of a Mating Quest that sounded so hard, but yet mysterious. They were usually very clear, and stated where you had to go, and what you had to do there. This didn’t sound quite as simple.
Brightsky seemed to notice the murmuring among the cats, and Featherbreeze took a step closer to her friend; Roboflight gladly accepted the warmth. “The diamond which we use to communicate with Starclan is faltering,” Brightsky announced, “This year’s pack must find the replacement for it inside of a volcano, on a different island, meaning they will have to cross the forest, swim across the ocean and climb into a volcano.”
Utter silence. Roboflight swore she you have heard a mouse tail drop. Her silence was greeted by those around her, and a dark look entered Brightsky’s face, as she noticed the reaction of the cats. She seems to fear something and Roboflight guessed what it was. All the cats knew but none had the courage to ask Pikestar.
Pikestar answered it for them anyways, “Well, the clans have survived hardship before and they shall continue to. I think it is a great experience for a warrior to have, so I have no intention of calling it off.”
“So are we going now?” Roboflight asked as she felt the felt the butterflies banging against the sides of her stomach, trying to break free.
Pikestar nodded, “You can choose to eat first, and you will be able to eat as much as you please before we go, or, if you have decided not to waste any time, you can head off right away. The call is yours, Roboflight, you are the leader.”
Now the butterflies were speeding up, pounding even harder, and Roboflight feared that she might throw up in front of all the other cats. She looked at her pack, they didn’t seem hungry but they weren’t well-fed either. She heard a slight rumble coming from her stomach at the mention of food.
But they would lose time, and the other packs would be far ahead of them by the time they were done eating. Sighing, she realized she would have to do what was best for her pack. They would eat later, once they had covered enough land.
She turned to her pack and nodded at them before turning to the clan, “We will leave now, so that we don’t waste any time.”
The clan leader nodded, as if he understood and he dismissed the clan. They all remained however, to watch the pack take the first steps on their journey. Roboflight turned to her pack, and noticed that most seemed pleased with her decision. Some cats looked at her, a little annoyed that she had ruined their chance to feast.
Slowly she paddled down from the Highhill, and the cats all followed her lead. No cat approached them at the bottom of the hill, and Roboflight continued to walk, leading her pack, to the border of the clan. The clan followed them, up to the border where they stared, some chanted for the cats, and Roboflight sucked in all of their support.
Beyond the territory of the three clans, lied a vast forest. The clans had chosen to form by the sea instead of inside the forest because it would be far too dangerous; there were snakes and poisonous critters that sheltered there as well as unfriendly rouge cats. Besides, the forest didn’t stand a chance next to the edge of the island, when it came to the view.
As Roboflight crossed the border, she could feel several cats with their gazes locked onto her back. She heard the soft steps coming from her pack as she led them into the forest, which began right where Mountainclan territory ended.
From a distance Roboflight could see another pack, entering the forest. She guessed that they were Oceanclan, by the dark glimmer on their pelts, but she couldn’t tell for sure, because the Oceanclan cats and the Cloudclan cats both entered the forest from the same area of land.
The forest seemed hostile and unwelcoming even from just the edge of it. Roboflight pushed her fears away, reminding herself that there were nine other cats depending on her to survive, and a clan that was counting on her for victory.
Fog was already starting to settle in, and Roboflight sent one last long glance at her home. She would miss it on the long journey, and she already felt homesick, but pushing herself onward, and ripped her gaze away from the clan she had grown to love.
She had officially started The Mating Quest, and until it was complete, there would be no return from it.
“This way,” Roboflight indicated towards her group, flicking her tail towards another path that extended through the forest, “I’m sure this is the way to the edge of the island.” Seeing the doubtful looks her pack was giving her she tried to put on a confident smile, “Come on guys, you can trust me!”
But to tell the truth since the moment they set foot into the forest Roboflight had felt her insides deflating. As soon as they started she knew they were lost, with no idea where to go. They had barely started but they were already desperately lost, and her pack was not being fooled by the look she planted onto her face. They weren’t taking it very well either.
Driftingcloud was the first to protest, “Come on Roboflight….” She moaned, “We all know you’re going the right way. Why didn’t we stop to feast before we left, I think that was a horrible call on your part.”
Roboflight turned around to face the scarlet she-cat and felt a prick of jealousy run through her. The she-cat was so beautiful she could easily get any tom to do whatever she asked them. If it came to a competition for leadership between the two, she would easily win all of the toms over just by a little flick of the tail.
“Well,” she retorted, “I guess we could have, if you didn’t mind the prospect of the other packs being halfway through the forest by the time we even began our journey,” she eyed Driftingcloud, “I don’t know about you, but victory matters to me. I want to bring home victory and honor to our clan. That’s what we are here for; to prove ourselves to our clan, not to stuff our stomachs.”
There was a deadly glare in her eyes, “Well, Roboflight,” she sneered, her nose high, “I don’t see how you intend to beat the other packs, or even catch the smallest mouse when you don’t even know where we are. You can deny it all you want, but we know that we are lost. I knew it was a bad idea for you to lead us.”
Roboflight felt her insides boiling; a combination of anxiety and anger. This is what she had feared would happen if Pikestar picked her; that the pack might turn against her, and claim that they no longer wanted her in charge.
Roboflight tried to remind herself to keep calm. This was exactly what Driftingcloud had wanted; for her to get angry and admit her fears in front of the whole pack. She managed to put on a straight face, “Well, Driftingcloud, as none of the clans have ever been here before, I do not doubt that the other clans are lost as well. I wouldn’t be surprised the slightest bit, either.”
“Ah ha, so you do admit we are lost.”
Roboflight ignored her as she turned around to lead her pack to another one of the several paths branching through the forest. She stopped to smell as she always did, but this time she caught a strange scent of foreigners.
She indicated with her tail for the pack to stop. “What is it?” Aquatail asked, as the cats crowded around the path. Roboflight continued to smell trying to identify what the scent was when Sandpelt guessed it.
“Rouge cats,” he hissed, “Very fresh, they are probably in there right now.”
Roboflight turned around, “Then we should probably avoid that path. I don’t doubt we would win, but we can’t afford to waste any time or energy with rouges.” The pack seemed to agree with her on this one, because they didn’t hesitate to follow, as she continued straight.
Seconds after she turned around, Roboflight felt something barreling onto her. She turned around, ready to warn whichever cat had toppled on her when she realized it was a rouge cat. She hissed as the strong tom brought down his claws on her face. She screeched with pain, as her pack rushed to her aid.
They were stopped however, by a group of rouges, who jumped out of the trees. Spitting out her fur and blood, she gasped and raked her claws along her stomach. He immediately let go, doubling back in pain, and she took her chance, jumping on him and swiping with every chance she got.
He was battered and bloody but he didn’t turn around to run. He just leaped back onto her. Roboflight could hear her clan mates struggling with the other rouges, and she inhaled deeply, before tucking in her hind legs and sending the rouge on top of her, flying and strait into a tree branch. The impact must have knocked him out because he didn’t get back up, when he fell to the ground.
Roboflight quickly rushed to the aid of her pack, but they seemed to be having a harder time. They were all fighting their own battle, while the rouges fought together. They were also outmatched by several cats, and Roboflight knew to take no chances on a mating quest.
Jumping onto one of the rouges she called, “Retreat Mountainclan!”
The cats didn’t hesitate to drop their battle and dash, to whichever direction they could. They all ran past the bristles on the bushes and over the thorns which lied on the ground, just trying to get away from the rouges.
Roboflight quickly joined them, and as she ran through the woods, she realized that the rouge cats weren’t following. After running a little more she stopped, and turned around. That was when she realized what a mouse-brained idea it had been to call a retreat. She couldn’t see any other member of her pack, and it would be impossible to find them in this forest, which none of them had ever been inside anymore.
She felt herself overwhelmed. She had already made the worst decision possible, proving that she was not the slightest bit fit to have led the pack. She felt herself getting slightly angry with Pikestar for choosing her, but angrier with herself for blowing it, by making a stupid choice which had not been thought through.
She tried to take in a deep breath, and calm herself down. Her clan mates couldn’t have gotten far, and they would have stopped when they realized that they weren’t being followed. They would have to be nearby and they would all be looking for each other anyways.
Almost as if to back her thoughts, she saw Petalfall, one of the she-cats from her pack, paddle out of a bush, looking for her pack. She didn’t notice Roboflight, until she turned around, when she ran up to her and gave her an affectionate lick.
Roboflight accepted it, glad that she had gotten it, as opposed to claws or words that would have stung like claws. She licked her back and the two cats stood in silence for an awkward moment.
Roboflight had never really become friends with Petalfall, but from what she had observed she was a kind she-cat who never put anyone down. She found herself grateful that she had run into her as opposed to Firehowl or Driftingcloud.
“Well,” Roboflight finally cut into the silence, “We might as well start searching for the other members of the pack. They can’t have gone too far.”
Petalfall nodded but as Roboflight looked into her eyes, she realized that the pretty she-cat was already lost; in worry and in the memories of her clan.
Roboflight decided not to comment, as she led her through the forest. She had all of her senses sharp, listening carefully for any of her pack members.
However, it was strangely Petalfall, who didn’t seem to be paying any attention to her surroundings, who heard Driftingcloud’s voice.
“Roboflight,” she whispered, “Is it me or do I hear Driftingcloud.”
Roboflight stopped for a moment and tried to concentrate on her surroundings. It didn’t take her long enough to hear the whiney voice of the ginger she-cat. She was obviously with another cat, because she seemed to be discussing something.
“Come on!” Roboflight called with excitement to Petalfall, as she bounded up to them. Petalfall quickly caught up to her and Driftingcloud eyed them with surprise.
“Strange that you dare to show your face around any of us after you make a mistake like that,” Driftingcloud spat, and Roboflight all of her joy at finding them leave. She doubted that she would get to keep her position as leader of her pack for much longer.
She was with Boulderclaw, and the large brown tom didn’t comment. Roboflight just bristled, before sighing, “Come on,” she finally said, “Let’s start looking for the others.”
“Wait,” Driftingcloud blocked her path, “I think that you have proved you are not worthy of leading anybody. I will help us find the rest of the pack.”
Petalfall interrupted from behind her, “It doesn’t work that way, Driftingcloud. When a pack wants to take the leadership away from the leader, they vote on it together, and then decide. There are only four members of the pack here. You have to wait until we find the others.”
Driftingcloud let out an impatient huff, and moved aside so that Roboflight could lead. But Roboflight felt no relief, she just wished they would make her quit and get it over with already.
She took in a deep sniff of air, to see if her clan mates had left any trail. Instead she found a Cloudclan scent. She paused for a moment, before flicking her tail to her clan mates. “Come one,” she called, “It’s the only trail we have. Maybe the others thought along the same lines as us.”
The other cats followed her, their noses pricked for any scent of their clan mates. Roboflight heard Driftingcloud mumbling about how she wished Pikestar had picked someone else, she sighed.
This was going to be a very long quest.
By night, they still hadn’t found their pack, and the three other cats were all very agitated, even Petalfall, who had been trying not to hurt her feelings.
“Well,” Roboflight finally had to say, yawning, when the sun was no longer visible, “We should probably build a small shelter den and rest for the night. We will continue our search tomorrow, when we have regained our energy.”
None of the cats protested. Instead they all got together and began shoveling at the soil, building a small den. Roboflight joined them, and trying to shake off some of the guilt she offered to take the first watch, to which none of them objected.
A twig snapped in the distance and Roboflight’s eyes fluttered open. She twirled around for a moment, before deciding that it might have been a squirrel. The thought of prey made her mouth water, and she began to wonder if they should have eaten before they left.
She could feel her eyelids shutting back together and tried to blink the sleep out of her eyes. She hadn’t slept since the previous day, since she hadn’t fallen asleep the night before, due to her excitement, which she was regretting now.
Suddenly a leaf crunched, bringing Roboflight back to her senses. Her shift should have been over a long time ago, but she felt guilty that she had got her pack into this situation, and didn’t feel it would be appropriate to make anyone else stand guard.
As she heard a light footstep, she decided that she might as well catch the prey that was lurking around, waiting to be eaten. The excitement she might get from the hunting could keep her awake.
Slowly she left the entrance to the small den, and began walking around, her senses sharp. When she heard another crunch from right behind her, she slowly turned her head to find the largest rabbit she had seen in days. She quietly turned around and dropped into a stalking position. Slowly, she took a couple steps forward, and pulled in her breath.
The rabbit must have felt her, because at that moment it dashed. Roboflight leapt and missed it by a fraction of a mouse tail. Cursing under her breath, Roboflight began to pursue it, chasing after it, as it bounded through the forest.
Roboflight didn’t know how far she chased it, but just when the rabbit was right under her claws, another pair of paws snagged the rabbit and gave it the death blow. Roboflight looked up to see a dark blue cat standing in front of her. Slowly she sniffed and realized that it was not a rouge cat, but an Oceanclan cat.
“Hey,” she protested, “That rabbit was mine, give it back!”
The dark tom grinned, “Why should I do that? I was the one who killed it so that makes it rightfully mine.”
Roboflight gritted her teeth, “Because I led it straight into your paws, and because I saw it first! You would be stealing from me, Oceanbreath!”
He shrugged, “What matters is who catches it, and that would be me, so unless you want to face my pack of hungry warriors you’d better get your little tail out of here.” He paused for a moment and took a step closer to Roboflight. She felt herself going red as the tom sniffed and then back away. “You’re a Mountainclan cat,” he commented.
Roboflight rolled her eyes, “The Ocean must seriously be rotting your brains. Yes I am Oceanclan and I have an even hungrier pack behind me, so I would suggest you hand over my dinner.”
He looked confused, and Roboflight couldn’t help getting a bad feeling in her stomach, “Wait…” he murmured, “I just saw Mountainclan walking by, not too long ago, down that path,” he used his tail to indicate towards a trail, “So what are you doing here? Did you run away?”
Roboflight felt herself getting light-headed. She was tired and her brain could only process so much at once. The good news was that she had a vague idea of where another group of cats from her pack might be. Sighing she took in a deep breath. It wouldn’t be wise to reveal to this tom that her pack was lost and split up; they might want to take advantage of it. In a quiet voice she lied, “Yes, I ran away. Now will you please give me back my dinner?”
He grins, “That means you don’t have an angry pair of hungry cats behind you! In that case my answer will be no.”
She snarled at the tom, and had to resist the urge to send her itching claws, straight down his face. He seemed to be enjoying her struggle with her anger though, because he began walking in slow circles around her, a large grin visible on his face, “Please make this easy on yourself, and just leave. The pack you abandoned doesn’t stand a chance anyways.”
Roboflight took in a deep breath, and slowly backed away from the tom. She tried not to look at the delicious prey under his paws, as she slowly turned around to dash. As she ran through the woods she kept whishing she could have raked her claws down the arrogant toms back.
Typical Oceanclan she thought sourly, Always thinking their better than the other clans. Hot-headed jerks!
When the little den was insight, she quickened her pace and ran straight up to it. Peeping her head inside, a wave a exhaustion hit her again, but she chose to ignore it, she had to keep going.
“Come on guys!” she yelled, and their heads all bolted up, ruining their deep sleep. “What’s the matter?” Bolderclaw asked loudly, “Have we been attacked?”
“No,” Roboflight replied, and excitement leaked through her voice, “I know where the rest of the pack is! Come on!”
Driftingcloud, who had been ignoring her, finally turned to face her, “Really, how?”
“Long story,” Roboflight answered, “Let’s hurry up before we lose them.” The cats nodded and followed Roboflight as she bounded out of the den.
There seemed to be a trace of bitterness in Driftingcloud’s gaze that Roboflight had been the one to locate the rest of the pack. Roboflight was betting that she would have loved to have been the one that knew where they were, so that she could shove it in Roboflight's face.
Together the cats paddled, through the dark of the night. Sure enough, when they reached the path the Oceanclan warrior had pointed at, they got a fresh Mountainclan scent. All drowsiness gone, the cats began to hurry down the path, in search of their pack.
They walked for a very long time, and they were still walking when the sun had began to rise. By now, Roboflight was ready to collapse with exhaustion, and it was everything she could do to stay on her feet.
Eventually, when she thought she would collapse at that moment, a grin opened up on Boulderclaw’s face. “I can hear them!” he cried and he took a turn right, before running up to the noises that Roboflight could finally hear.
Despite the soreness in her bones, Roboflight dashed after her clan mates as they hurdled through the leaves and twigs scattered all over the ground of the forest. She could hardly sense her exhaustion, as she saw the rest of her pack standing right in front of her.
All of the stress and lack of rest came rushing back, however, when she saw the look of anger and annoyance in some of their eyes. She had already let them down. She could feel Featherbreeze approaching to give her support when her knees buckled and she could feel her stomach scratch sharply against one of the rocks lying on the ground as her world went spinning into darkness.
Firehowl was right in front of her face when Roboflight woke up. She gave a small yelp, and took a leap back. The black tom just huffed and stood up, “You’re finally awake,” he commented, “Now we can finally go.”
Roboflight stretched and couldn’t ignore the deathly glare Firehowl was giving her. She wanted to swipe her claws across his face, she already knew every insult he was thinking, just by looking into his fierce red eyes. The red eyes she despised so much…
Firehowl finally turned around, “Come on!” he called, “The clan is waiting for you.”
“Where are they,” she asked, “Did they leave us behind?”
He grunted, “Yeah, right,” as he began to paddle through the forest, “They set up a small camp. Today is a resting day. We are going to heal and sleep and eat.”
Roboflight would have put on a grin and licked him if it was a different cat. They walked together in an eerie silence until they reached the small camp. Petalfall as standing guard and she dipped her head at the two cats.
They walked inside the camp where Driftingcloud was sitting, an extremely satisfied look on her face which worried Roboflight. As soon as she saw the approaching cats she walked straight up to Roboflight.
“You’re one vote away from losing your leadership!” she snarled and turned to Firehowl, “Please tell me that you would like to take her leadership away! All we need is for you to say yes…”
Firehowl looked thoughtful and then he finally shrugged, “I am not saying anything,” he declared, “She’s not perfect but none of us are much better.”
Driftingcloud stared at him wide-eyed and angry, “So your answer is…”
“No,” Firehowl replied casually, “Sorry to let you down, Driftingcloud.”
At that moment Roboflight could have licked even him, but she resisted the urge, as the cranky she-cat turned to her once again, “And I suppose you want to keep leadership.” When Roboflight didn’t reply, she huffed and stomped out of the den.
But the truth was that Roboflight didn’t know if she wanted to remain leader. She truly doubted her abilities now. It was true that she had lead the rest of the cats back to the pack, but it had been her that got them in that situation anyways.
Firehowl exited too, and Featherbreeze entered with a smile on her face, “You woke up!” she exclaimed, and she dropped a mouse that she was carrying in front of her, “Here. You must be starving.”
Roboflight gratefully accepted the food and as she chewed she turned to look at Featherbreeze, “Who was the other cat?” she asked.
“Huh?” Featherbreeze seemed slightly surprised.
“The other cat that wanted me to stay,” Roboflight explained, “Since they need six cats there must have been one more who wanted me to continue leading and I know it wasn’t Driftingcloud.”
“Oh,” Featherbreeze seemed a little uncomfortable and Roboflight started to get a little worried. Finally the gray she-cat sucked in her breath, “They were Aquatail and Boulderclaw,” she explained. When she noticed the surprised look on her friends face she dipped her head, “I voted for you to go.”
Roboflight stared at her friend in horror. The one cat she could trust in the pack, no longer seemed to trust her. She dipped her head, “I’m sorry Robo,” she murmured, using the nickname she had given her when they were kits, “You just seemed like a different cat when you were leader, I wanted my friend back.”
Roboflight didn’t want to believe it, and Featherbreeze sighed, realizing that she already had lost her friend. She quietly paddled out of the den, leaving Roboflight alone with her thoughts.
And Roboflight’s thoughts were not good. No one trusted her anymore. Not her pack. Not her best friend. Not even herself.
Roboflight stretched her legs as she blinked her eyes open. The sun was at its highest, and Firehowl was curled up, still sleeping on the other side of the den.
The pack had rested for a day, but Roboflight had decided that they would have to leave in the afternoon, so that they didn't fall too far behind.
But it was definitely worth the days rest to be a little behind. The pack was now rested, organized and full. They had spent a lot of time hunting, and trying the food of the jungle. It was true that they would take a mouse, squirrel or bird to them any day, but the food wasn't as repulsive as they thought.
There were different kinds of birds, with large fuzzy feather that kept a cat full for a day, and from what Roboflight had herd they didn't taste too shabby, the different rodents that crawled around the ground were juicy and tart. Some of the food, none of the pack would have ate, even if they were starving to death. The large insects and long slimy things were not approached, which Roboflight was grateful for; she wouldn't want them making the small camp smell disgusting.
The pack had also done some planning. They couldn't plan which way they would go because they knew nothing of the forest, but they decided at what time of the day they would stop traveling, when they would hunt and who would be assigned to what roles during their journey.
Roboflight didn't have anyjob but leading the pack, as through the forest. She couldn't help caring that Featherbreeze would be setting up the dens, and that Driftingcloud would be keeping half of the watches, as much as she hated both of them.
Outside of the little den, which could barely contain them, most of the pack was socializing while they ate. Some cats were gone; Roboflight guessed that they were hunting.
Petalfall moved aside so that Roboflight could squeeze in between her and Inkpelt. Roboflight suppressed a purr; Petalfall hardly left Inkpelt's side, and she could sense that they would become mates any day now.
The cats ate in silence for a long time, until they heard loud footsteps, approaching rapidly. All of the cats jumped to their feet and turned to face the direction the noise was coming from. Roboflight kept her tail down, ready to jump on the intruders.
The bushes rattled and Sandpelt dashed through them, Bravescar and Aquatail at his side. Roboflight’s muscles tensed, as did those of the cats around her. They all sat back down, except for Roboflight who greeted the cats.
“Hello Sandpelt,” she tried to sound friendly, “Is something wrong?” There obviously wasn’t something wrong, because a huge grin spilt across the pale toms face. His green eyes glittered and Roboflight realized that he was hiding something behind one of his paws, which he had pulled back.
Roboflight couldn’t stop her suspicion. She tried to reassure herself that Sandpelt would never bring something that could harm the clan; that three members of the pack would not turn on their friends.
She breathed a sigh of relief when Sandpelt purred and asked, “Guess what I caught today while I was hunting!” When Roboflight turned to look at the cats that had gone hunting with him she saw worry and disgust in their eyes, as well as some amazement.
Roboflight tried not to show her curiosity, “Spit it out, Sandpelt,” she meowed irritably, “Or at least show it to us!” He grinned, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you…”
Slowly he pulled his paw forward. Hidden under it was a large at fat creature, it’s mouth was sticking out at an awkward angle, and it was so long that it was stringy, even being as fat as it was. It was looped around his paw, and there was a small gash on its spotted skin, where the skin appeared to be shedding and blood had dried over.
Driftingcloud, who had been talking to Boulderclaw, finally turned around. When she saw the large animal, she screeched and ran back into the den, trying to run away from something that was already dead. Roboflight snorted, Driftingcloud might have the looks, but she was missing out on some serious brain.
Roboflight cautiously walked up to the large thing, “What is that?” she asked him and noticing the little fang that were awkwardly sticking out of its mouth, “Did it bite you?”
“It’s one of those small slimy things we see on the ground!” he exclaimed, “Only much, much bigger.” “Can they poison you?,” she asked, “Because if it bit you, then you are in risk of dying soon.”
He laughed, “It bit me but I doubt that they can poison. Besides, the bite wasn’t that deep,” Roboflight inspected the cut which she now saw, on the side of his forearms, and realized that it was rather deep. There was still some blood flowing out and she sighed.
“Well, I guess the only way to find out is to wait,” she sighed, “Honestly, Sandpelt I don’t know what got into your head, running after something like that!”
“Maybe some sand!” One of the cats in the back suggested and began to laugh. Roboflight ignored the silly comment and waited for his answer.
“Come on!” he grinned pulling the creature up, “This thing will feed the whole pack! How could I turn down such I large offering. I did go out to hunt, after all.”
“Eww…” “I’m not eating one of those!”
“Help yourself, Sandpelt!”
“Suddenly those disgusting bugs seem appetizing,”
The pack was buzzing about how gross the thought was and Sandpelt just grinned even more, “Just try it guys! Maybe it will taste like the best thing in the world!” All of the cats looked doubtful, and he shrugged.
He walked up to one of his friends and sat down next to him. His friend slid far away from the pale tom, so that the long tail of the animal didn't touch him. With a broad grin on his face the tom stuck its tail in his mouth and bit it off, slowly chewing it, as the clan watched him with excitement.
After chewing for a few seconds he coughed, and began to gag, stuffing his paw in his mouth to pull out the little chunks of its tail. When he finally pulled his paw out of his mouth he gasped, then made a sour face.
“I guess I should have just left it there.”
The pack snorted with agreement.
He shrugged, and walked up to the stack of prey, picking out a vole, “At least we know now,” he tried to offer optimistically, “I was dying of curiosity.”
Roboflight wasn’t and she doubted that the rest of the pack had been either, but she didn’t tell him, as not to ruin his spirits, which seemed unusually high for someone who was lost on The Mating Quest.
“Come on,” Roboflight called to her pack, as they seemed to be lagging behind, “We need to catch up to the other packs!”
“Come on!” Driftingcloud moaned, “Roboflight the sun is starting to go down and we’ve been walking for hours. We’ll catch up some other time. I bet the other packs are all resting right now! And I’m hungry,”
She rolled her eyes, “Can you keep your mouth quiet for a few seconds, Driftingcloud,” she snapped, “You only make us more tired with your needless complaints! Besides, if the other packs are resting, we should take advantage of the opportunity to get ahead!”
Driftingcloud huffed, “Why do you care about winning so much? As long as we complete the quest it should be okay…”
Now all of the pack turned on Driftingcloud, with glares that could crack ice. Some cats began murmuring to each other about how unlucky they were to end up with this pack. Roboflight was a little lost on words and Featherbreeze jumped in.
“If you don’t understand the point of this quest, then you might as well quit. Just leave the pack, and we will all be happy, because I want you to understand that none of us really enjoy your presence! None of us would mind it if you just left us right now!” She spat, “You need to stop assuming that we are pleased with the situation! We all knew this was coming, so why are you acting like you’re so surprised?”
Driftingcloud shut up and that, and just marched away from Featherbreeze to walk on the other side of her, beside Petalfall and Inkpelt. Petalfall gave her a hostile glare but Inkpelt didn’t react. The black tom wouldn’t react if he was bitten by a dog.
Featherbreeze turned to look at her hopefully and Roboflight turned around, ignoring her old friend. There’s nothing between us now she reminded herself, she wasn’t there to support me when I needed her, when there was no one left. I can’t offer my friendship to her anymore.
She felt a sad presence around the gray she-cat, but Roboflight refused to acknowledge it. Bravescar was paddling right beside her, as they continued the tiring walk.
She heard Aquatail call out to her, “Hey, Roboflight, do we even know where we are anymore!”
“There’s no way of knowing for sure,” she replied, “but my senses tell me that the ocean is this way,” she paused and looked and the wet soil beneath her feet, “There are also a lot of paw prints here,” she informed the blue she-cat, “I’m not sure if that means something but it’s the only lead we have.”
Aquatail didn’t reply, but Roboflight guessed that she wanted to complain; only she couldn’t because of what had happened to Driftingcloud. Roboflight was wondering if Featherbreeze had needed to be so harsh, but they were all restless right now and they had no time for comments that might have been coming from a kit.
Soon, the moon began to rise, and their pace slowed down even more, as Roboflight had to acknowledge the fact that it was time to stop. She turned around and flicked her tail, “Let’s set up the camp,” she told them, “And some cats will have to go hunting, so that we can eat in the morning, and then continue right away!”
The cats nodded as some cats went off to catch some prey, while Roboflight joined the other half as they began to dig into the ground, to make a small shelter, where they would have to squeeze in.
“Roboflight, are you awake? Roboflight get up!”
Roboflight’s eyes fluttered open to find Petalfall standing over her, “Is something wrong?” she asked a little worried.
“I don’t know,” the cream cat responded, “It’s just that Sandpelt keeps acting weird. He woke me up five times tonight.”
Roboflight gave her a funny look, “How could you wake up after we almost collapsed from walking so much yesterday?”
She shrugged, “I am a very light sleeper,” she responded, “I will wake up at almost any noise and Sandpelt made a lot of noise tonight. He wasn’t awake but he kept moaning and spinning around. He coughed a lot too, and when he rolled over, I could see sweat where he had been sleeping,” she looked worried; “Do you think he is sick?”
Roboflight walked up to the pale tom, and tried to prod him awake, “Sandpelt, get up!” she called. The pack stirred and she leaned into his ear and whispered fiercely, “We have been attacked by rouges!” Still no response came from the pale tom.
Roboflight sighed and turned to Petalfall, “I’m sorry, I'm not a medicine cat,” she responded and some worried glittered in the pretty she-cats eyes as Roboflight shrugged, “It’s probably nothing, though. It was a tiring day, for all of us. Maybe he got tired quicker than us, he just didn’t want to show it.”
Petalfall shrugged and Roboflight walked back to where she had been sleeping, “Good night, Petalfall,” she murmured, “Try to go sleep,”
As sleep began to take over Roboflight’s body once again she heard Petalfall snort, “It’s the mating quest, you’re not supposed to have good nights!” Roboflight was asleep before she could respond.
When she woke up in the morning she saw, that there was a considerable amount of prey staked up. She walked over and picked out a rabbit, before walking out of the cramped den. Most of the pack was outside eating. The only missing cats where Sandpelt, who was still sleeping away, and Firehowl. Roboflight honestly couldn’t have minded it less that Firehowl was missing.
She gazed around the clearing, trying to decide where she should sit. Not beside Featherbreeze, for sure. Petalfall was with Inkpelt and Driftingcloud, and Roboflight planned to avoid the whinny she-cat at all costs.
Aquatail didn’t seem very inviting, there was a glum and angry glare in her eye, and she was eating with Bravescar and Boulderclaw. That didn’t really leave anyone else, so Roboflight just sat down on her own, closer to Aquatail’s group.
As she chewed the squirrel she could barely taste its juicy flesh. Nothing seemed right anymore without Featherbreeze. She heard Aquatail arguing with the other cats in this group. Aquatail was trying to defend her, while Bravescar was being extremely critical and Boulderclaw remained neutral.
Roboflight realized with distress that if the cats of the pack were willing to argue about a cat who was sitting within ear shot, that their relations with each other couldn’t get much better.
When Firehowl returned, he looked around a little before sitting down beside Roboflight. He glared at her, and she glared back. The two cats didn’t say anything to each other as they ate their food for the day. Roboflight sighed, wishing she could enjoy the prey, which was a blessing from Starclan, more than she was at that moment.
When the cats were all done eating, they waited right outside of the den. Roboflight urged the cats who were taking the longest to hurry up, and when there was no one left eating Roboflight turned to her pack.
“Are we ready to go?” she asked them.
They all nodded their heads and Dritingcloud stifled a yawn. Roboflight could tell that she wanted to say something but the whole pack was glaring at her, none of them appreciated her comment the previous day, and Roboflight doubted that she had the courage to make another complaint even if she walked so much that her paws fell off.
“Alright then,” Roboflight finally said after the long awkward silence, “We should probably get going now.” She didn’t wait to see their tired faces. She just turned around and began to leave the sight.
“Wait!” she heard Boulderclaw call, “Where’s Sandpelt?”
Roboflight stopped, remembering that he had not been there, “Can you check the den, he might still be sleeping,” she called over her shoulder, “When you wake him up, give him some prey to eat along the way. We’ll walk slowly so that you can catch up!”
He nodded and he dashed back into the den, while the rest of the pack followed Roboflight back out to the wild, where the trees grew wildly.
They walked for a while, and Boulderclaw didn’t come to report that they had caught up, but eventually Roboflight assumed that they had. None of the cats were really comfortable with each other anymore.
Different cats walked beside her at different points in time, none of which she had a real conversation with. At one point, however, both her nose and Aquatail's caught sniff of something that was their best clue as to which direction to go.
“Oceanclan!” Roboflight had exclaimed before turning around, “We have our first lead,” she called, “We will follow Oceanclan!”
A look of slight satisfaction entered most cats’ eyes but it was Featherbreeze who protested this time, “What if they went the wrong way too? We might be following them only to find ourselves lost even farther in the forest!”
Roboflight had to admit she had a point, but once again it was a different member of the pack who scolded the whiner.
“Well, I don’t think they can be in any worse shape than us,” Firehowl had rolled his eyes, “We are in such a desperate shape that anything would come good to us,” that tore away the light that had entered some cats eyes, “Oceanclan is obviously in better shape.”
Featherbreeze had looked away, ashamed and nobody made anymore comments, as Roboflight changed her direction to follow the fresh Oceanclan scent.
As they continued paddling with their sore pads in that direction, Roboflight felt a small chill coming up her back, as she felt a leaf fall on her nose. She shook it off and turned to the cat that was standing beside her. For now it was Inkpelt, “Leaf-bare is approaching,” she warned, “Soon the prey will be low, and there will be whitecough and then eventually greencough. We will be very unlucky that we don’t have a medicine cat apprentice among us.”
“I think we are already unlucky,” Roboflight heard a mumble coming from behind her. Both cats turned around to find Bravescar staring at them with a dark expression on his face.
“What makes you say that?” Roboflight asked suddenly worried, “Please tell me that you don’t have a disease yet! It would be far too early!” she shuddered. If a cat got sick, she didn’t think there would be any way out for them, unless they quit or one of the other clans were willing to cooperate so that they could save lives
“Greencough will look beautiful next to this,” he murmured, “You’d better come check it out, Roboflight, you’re our leader.”
Roboflight nodded, “Give me a second. I’ll be right there,” he nodded and turned around. She turned back to Inkpelt, “Could you take my place for a couple seconds?”
He nodded, as if he really had a choice and Roboflight turned around and bounded towards the back of the pack where Bravescar and Petalfall were waiting for her. Roboflight turned around when she had caught up to them, and began to paddle alongside them. “What is it?” she asked. Bravescar took a step back so that Roboflight could see Sandpelt. She almost screeched. It was something she might have nightmares about for a long time.
His eyes red all over, and his pale skin was now a greenish color. His nose was a little blue and he staggered as he walked. Some of his fur and fell off and the rest was very patchy, threatening to fall off any moment. He opened his mouth to say something, but he coughed and closed it. Roboflight noticed sweat oozing out of his body, and her eyes finally turned to his legs.
His legs the leg which had been bitten by a snake was now a deep green color. Like trees, but without the beauty. She stared at it. There was hardly any fur left on it and the skin underneath looked thin and papery.
“Stop!” she called to her pack, and they all turned around, curious at what might have made their leader so desperate.
The cats all approached and some of them turned to look away when they saw his horrible condition. “It must have been that creature,” Bravescar moaned, “Why did he have to be so mouse-brained as to run after it.”
“Stop it,” Petalfall snapped at him, “He is the one going through the pain, don’t make it worse for him, you jerk!” Bravescar snarled and Inkpelt stepped in between the two to split them apart.
Driftingcloud had her eyes closed but see couldn’t resist the opportunity to talk, “We once had a bite from one of those creatures when I was a kit. I remember now, they were called snakes,” she shivered at the thought of them, “The cats who was bit also looked horrible, but the medicine cat had him back to normal within days, minus a few clumps of fur.”
“But we don’t have a medicine cat,” Aquatail moaned.
“Wow, Aquatail, you are one observant cat,” Firehowl rolled his eyes and Roboflight wanted to rake her claws across his face, “This is obviously Roboflight’s fault, she should have paid more attention to something that was potentially dangerous to one of our clan mates, but now that it is too late for that, the only alternative is to find a medicine cat from another clan.”
Roboflight nodded and suddenly she regained her senses, now that she was used to Sandpelt’s horrifying look. “Come on,” she called to her pack and she ran back to the front, “We have to catch up with Oceanclan to see if they have a medicine cat apprentice.”
Petalfall gasped, “Are we seriously going to ask another clan to heal one of our clan mates. That will make us look weak. They will demand something in return and we will be at an even bigger disadvantage.”
Roboflight looked at her, “We have to;” she replied grimly, “Sandpelt’s life depends on it.”
She sighed, “Then we should hurry up before we lose them,”
“That’s what she was saying,” Featherbreeze rolled her eyes, and Petalfall glared at her. Roboflight didn’t give them time to argue. She just continued to follow the scent a very brisk pace. The pack didn’t have any choice but to follow, her almost running.
Roboflight hardly felt the soreness in her pads. She knew she should stop but she couldn’t bear the thought of being responsible for a cat’s death. It didn’t take them long to catch up to Oceanclan. They were able to see the dark pelted cats at a distance by evening.
As tired as she was Roboflight mustered all of her energy, “OCEANCLAN!” she yowled. The cats all turned around. Roboflight waved her tail, and began bounding towards the other clan, with the rest of her pack at her tail.
She immediately recognized the tom that she had fought with before, when the pack turned around and began to walk towards them cautiously. He seemed to be leading the pack.
“Roboflight!” his eyes widened when he noticed it was her, “I thought you left your pack.”
She rolled her eyes, “I lied. You think I would tell you if I was lost from my pack?” he shrugged, and Roboflight couldn’t help noticing the way the setting sun reflected over his back, made it look like his pelt was the dark night and the reflection was the moon.
“Tidalpelt,” one of the cats interrupted, “Just give us the signal and their pelts are off.”
He grinned at Roboflight, “What do you think, ginger, should I do it?”
“NO!” Roboflight yowled, “We aren’t here to fight,” she paused slowly and forced herself to say the next words as both packs looked at her expectantly. She reminded herself of Sandpelt whose body was rotting by the second, “We are here for help.”
Some of the Oceanclan cats laughed and Tidalpelt gave her a curious look, “With what?”
Roboflight signaled for her cats to bring Sandpelt up. When the cats from Oceanclan saw his form they gasped and some even screeched.
“We have no medicine cat,” Roboflight explained, “And we know that you have a medicine cat, so we need yours to heal Sandpelt. It shouldn’t take her too long,” there was a pleading tone in her voice.
Tidalpelt, who was disgusted by Sandpelt’s state, seemed to be considering it when a sharp voice from behind snapped, “This is my decision, so I should get to choose,”
A blue she-cat stepped out from behind the pack, “Rainfall, I think you should consider helping him…” Tidalpelt began but she cut him off.
“I am the medicine cat, and I will not betray my pack by helping another clan,” she protested, “I will not help him.”
“But the medicine code extends beyond boundaries!” Roboflight protested. She shrugged, “I am not a full medicine cat until I finish this quest. So I don’t have to follow any code yet.”
“If you aren’t a full medicine cat then you shouldn’t have the right to make your own decision!” Roboflight shot back, at the cruel she-cat.
“I shouldn’t,” she responded, “But you shouldn’t either. I will not help an enemy, no matter what state they are in!”
Roboflight looked sadly at Sandpelt, “Please!” she begged, “You can’t leave a cat like this…”
“That’s exactly what I will do,” she responded before turning around and continuing to walk. She turned back to face her pack, “Come on!” she cried to them, “Let’s go!”
Tidalpelt looked at Roboflight sadly, “I’m sorry,” he whispered and she could tell he really was. She sadly dipped her head as he turned around to join his pack.
The Oceanclan cats paddled away as Mountainclan remained in place, watching sadly. Roboflight heard Sandpelt let out what must have been a very painful cough and Bravescar walked up to her, “What will we do now? We can’t just leave him to die!”
“We won’t,” she assured him, “None of you are going to like what I will say next but we don’t really have a choice,” she slowly began as all of the cats looked at her curiously, “We have to steal Rainfall.”
Roboflight slowly crept through the bushes. She turned to look at the cats behind her. Inkpelt, Petalfall, and Boulderclaw were all waiting for her signal. She took in a deep breath. None of the cats had liked the idea of kidnapping a cat, but they didn’t have a choice unless they wanted to abandon Sandpelt, which was not an option.
Suddenly, she heard the footsteps she was waiting for. Seconds later, there were screeches and yowls. It sounded so real Roboflight was slightly worried that Driftingcloud and Firehowl might actually be clawing each other’s pelt off. She told herself that was nonsense.
It woke up all of the Oceanclan cats, who had been resting under the shelter of a large tree. They all turned to Tidalpelt, and Roboflight prayed that he would cooperate with the paln. Fortunately, he did.
“Let’s go check it out,” he ordered before pointing to Rainfall, “You stay here, until we return.”
The medicine cat nodded as the whole clan disappeared, trying to investigate the noise. Roboflight felt her clan mates gaze on her back and waited for a moment before turning to them, “Now or never!” she warned them and the cats all hurried out of the bush, straight up to the tree.
Rainfall’s eyes widened in alarm, “What are you doing here?” she asked and when she noticed the dangerous expressions on their faces she opened her mouth to call her clan.
Boulderclaw was on her before she had the chance to move. He held his claws over her throat, “Don’t make a noise,” he threatened.
“Boulderclaw, we are not here to kill her,” Roboflight warned him, “Don’t get aggressive.”
The blue cat took advantage of the distraction and twisted herself over so that she was standing over the tom. A couple second later she had herself pinned down by the three other cats. She spat out some fur, and Roboflight noticed with relief that there was hardly any blood on the floor. As much as she hated the annoying she-cat, hurting her was not something that she would dare to do.
She flickered her tail at Boulderclaw, “Your job is to make sure she doesn’t yell,” she ordered him, “If she does then… just improvise.”
He nodded, understanding as Roboflight turned to the two other cats, “Let’s just get her back to the camp.”
Slowly they began to drag her away from the Oceanclan camp, and to that of Mountainclan. She didn’t dare call out for her clan, the look on Boulderclaw’s face scared Roboflight as well, and she began to wonder if he might become a challenge to control deeper into the quest.
When they finally reached the camp, Roboflight left the three cats to watch for Rainfall, while she went to check up on the rest of her clan, who were causing the distraction. They were told to continue until she showed up.
She quickly ran over to the area where Driftingcloud and Firehowl had been ‘fighting’, to get the attention of the Oceanclan cats. The sight she came across worried.
Tidalpelt, with an annoyed Oceanclan pack behind him, was arguing with the Mountainclan pack. Roboflight walked up to them curiously, “What is going on here?” she demanded playing along with her pack, “Is something wrong, Oceanclan? Tidalpelt?”
He was glaring, but she realized that the glare wasn’t for her, but the rest of the pack. He turned to her and his gaze softened a bit, in a way that only she could catch, “You should tell your cats not to make so much noise in the middle of the night when we are all trying to sleep! We thought we were under attack!”
Roboflight turned to her pack, “What were you doing awake at this time?” she asked them with a fake curiosity, “You should tell me before you leave camp,” she warned them and a hidden smile passed between her and the cats of her pack.
“We just wanted to do some battle training,” Firehowl protested, “And they came to interrupt us,” he glared at them, and they returned the look, as Roboflight realized that maybe she shouldn’t take the looks Firehowl gave her a little too personally.
“Well,” Driftingcloud huffs, “I just needed to do something to get poor Sandpelt off my mind. I just couldn’t stop thinking about how bad it was that no one would help him,” It was everything Roboflight could do not to fall over laughing at her smart yet angering come-back.
Roboflight could see regret entering Tidalpelt’s eyes, but the rest of the cats remained defiant, “Why don’t you watch out for your own cats, instead of begging us to heal them,” a cat from the back protested and Roboflight decided it was time for the scene to come to an end.
She turned to face the rival cats again, “It doesn’t matter why we made the noise. If we don’t attack you, there is no reason to be provoked. If my cats wish to train, then they may do so.” She gazed into Tidalpelt’s eyes and found herself pulling away from them, before turning around.
“Please don’t disturb us on this topic again,” she warned them as her pack followed her back to their camp.
When Oceanclan was out of ear sight they all began to laugh, despite the situation, “Should have seen the look on their faces,” Driftingcloud wheezed through massive laughter and Roboflight found that she was able to enjoy the pretty she-cats presence for once. This is how it should be, she thought, not a pack that can hardly stay together.
When they finally reached the camp, all of their laughter died away, even at the sour expression on Rainfall’s face. Roboflight walked into the den which they had created and found Sandpelt sleeping uncomfortably, sweat staining where he slept, and Roboflight felt another stab of sympathy for the cat. He had never imagined this when he playfully ran off to catch a snake.
She walked up to him, and pulled him up. He was hardly conscious as Roboflight dragged him up to Rainfall. “I know you hate us for this,” she whispered pleadingly, “But we need you to heal him. We will let you go as soon as you do.”
She looked at them sourly, “I will do it,” she spat, “But this is something against my beliefs; you have made me desperate.”
“Kidnapping medicine cats is against our beliefs,” Roboflight answered softly, “But you made us desperate when a life was at stake,” she stared sadly at the pale cat, whom she had placed on the floor, “We couldn’t put him through anymore pain. He is being tortured as we speak.”
She rolled her eyes, “Fine. I will heal him, but you have to leave” she warned and when the cats looked at her curiously she added slowly, “I don’t work well under pressure. It is my biggest challenge as a medicine cat.”
Roboflight nodded to her pack, it wasn’t like Rainfall was going to kill him; she knew that wouldn’t end well at all. She might be a cold cat, but she wasn’t stupid.
The pack slowly left the area, and walked to the other side of the small camp they had set up. Some cats began to talk nervously, but Roboflight just sat silently. It did snag her attention, however, when Driftingcloud indicated for Inkpelt to come to her using his tail. Roboflight couldn’t help being curious at what the two cats would talk about.
She grinned when she saw Petalfall paddling right behind Inkpelt. She could tell that the cream cat would gather the last piece of courage to ask him if they could be mates, anytime now.
“What is it?” Inkpelt asked Driftingcloud curiously.
She smiled at him sweetly, “Inkpelt, I know we aren’t very far into this quest,” she began a little slowly, “But just a few moments in this forest is enough to get to know a cat,” she shot Roboflight a deadly glance which she did not miss, but pretended to have, “So, I realize that I do know you well enough by now, well enough to ask a very important question.”
He looked at her curiously, Petalfall was no less curious than the black tom, “What is that question?”
She took in a deep breath, “Will you be my mate?”
Roboflight could hardly believe it. She looked at Petalfall and there was an angry look in her eyes, but Roboflight saw no fear. Petalfall must have been sure that Inkpelt would deny Driftingcloud.
Roboflight felt Petalfall drop cold, and she felt bad for the she-cat. Petalfall was probably thinking about how, if she had been a few seconds quicker she might have Inkpelt at the moment.
Driftingcloud purred and began to rub against Inkpelt. Petalfall watched with hatred and hurt in her eyes. Roboflight turned away; she had more important things to worry about, Inkpelt and Petalfall would have to sort things out later.
Roboflight paced the area rapidly, waiting for Rainfall to reappear. It wasn’t very long before she did. “I’ve healed your cat,” she informed them, and the dark moods seemed to lighten a bit, “It will take a couple hours for him to heal, but just let him rest for a while and he will be better.”
Roboflight dipped her head, “I am sorry that we did this to you, Rainfall, you are free to go home now.”
Surprisingly she didn’t make a rude comment, just titled her head a little before nodding, and walking away from the camp for a few moments, before running off to find Oceanclan. Roboflight sighed; it would be worth all the trouble once Sandpelt healed.
The cats all paddled up to the resting Sandpelt. He seemed to be sleeping silently now, and Roboflight breathed a sigh of relief, “We should probably leave him to rest,” she said, “I need some cats to go hunting, some cats to guard, and some cats to do some scouting so that we can figure out which direction to go in tomorrow.”
The cats nodded as they split into several groups. Driftingcloud and Inkpelt went hunting together; their pelts brushing as Petalfall sourly followed Aquatail to scout ahead. Roboflight still failed to understand why Inkpelt would accept. He had never shown any type of affection to Driftingcloud before.
Roboflight stood over Sandpelt, she wanted to watch his progress.
Minutes later, Sandpelt stirred, “Roboflight,” he croaked, “I need to tell you something while I still can.”
“Shh,” Roboflight soothed him, “You will have plenty of time later. Rainfall has healed you and you will be better before you know it.”
He slowly put his head back down, before jerking it back up frantically, “Listen, Roboflight!” he claimed, “I will not get better!” When Roboflight ignored him he coughed and continued however hard it might have been to talk, “Rainfall didn’t heal me, she only made me worse!”
“Of course, she did,” Roboflight snapped, “She said so herself.”
“She’s a liar,” he hissed, “While she was ‘healing’ me she leaned into my face, and claimed that she would give me all the wrong herbs so that I would die even faster. I don’t have much longer.”
Roboflight looked at him, and realized that he was not getting at all better, but that he was much worse. She barred her teeth, “Her pelt is gone,” she growled, “She will pay.”
“Can you grant my last wish?” Sandpelt wheezed as his head slowly started to fall back.
“Anything you ask for,” Roboflight promised.
The pack sat over Sandpelt’s body sadly.
“Their pack has declared war against us,” Bravescar growled, “We need to respond.” Roboflight shook her head, “Oceanclan is not responsible for the doings of one cat. As much as I want to rake my claws down her pelt, we can’t just barge into their camp and attack. We will find others ways to avenge Sandpelt.”
The pack nodded and Aquatail asked, “Are we going to sit a vigil for him tonight? We might fall behind…” she trailed off.
Roboflight had to think for a moment. She didn’t want to fall too far behind, but they had to honor Sandpelt, he had died because he was hunting for his pack. She finally made a decision.
“We will sit vigil for him during the day,” she announced, “And we will set off tonight. Those who wish can rest now.” The pack seemed pleased with her choice, for once, and Roboflight realized that things like this did bring them together.
Roboflight sat vigil the rest of the day, despite that all of the pack wanted her to rest a little. When the sun had finally set, along with the last flecks of its light, Roboflight told Bravescar who had also been sitting for Sandpelt’s vigil to wake up the rest of the clan.
As they had been doing before, the pack continued to follow Oceanclan’s trail, in hopes that they knew where they were going. As Roboflight walked through the darkness of the night, she could feel leaves crunching beneath her feet, dry and crunchy. Leaf-fall was almost over, and that meant that it wouldn’t be long before Leaf-bare. She shivered at the thought of what the cold season might bring.
The pack was glum, as they paddled through the darkness of the night. Even the sound of a small twig snapping would jolt everybody back to their senses.
Eventually, when the moon was at its highest, Roboflight decided to take a break. She turned around, “Let’s set up a small camp. We will continue tomorrow morning.”
The cats nodded as they split up to search for a good area to sleep. Roboflight watched them, on the verge of drifting to sleep, when she heard a voice from behind her.
“You don’t belong here,” Roboflight turned around to find a massive ginger tom. “We were just passing through,” she whispered, “We won’t be here for long; just tonight,” it was a rouge cat.
“I was talking about the forest,” his eyes narrow, “You have been in the forest for a fair amount of time now. I have heard from several rouges that you have been lurking around,” he barred his teeth, “We have seen your type come here before, on these suicide missions. We always warn them, and they promise that they will only be here for a short amount of time. But not too long after, they send another group of cats here.”
“I’m sorry,” she meowed apologetically, “but there isn't anything we can do, now that we are half way through the forest.”
A dark look entered his eyes, “If you turn around now, and never come back, we will spare you. If you continue then you face the risk of attack, and we will not hesitate to kick out intruders,” his eyes narrow, “Do not leave us a message, because we are always watching you. The trees, leaves and soil will tell us your message. We know every move you make.”
He didn’t give her time to respond. He just turned around and paddled back into the darkness of the night, with Roboflight staring after him. She didn’t need to think to know there was no way they could turn around. They were at war with the rouges, already. She turned back around to her pack, who had now found a nice place to sleep for the night. Taking in a deep breath she paddled over to them. Bad news was the last thing they needed right now.
But that was exactly what they would get.
“Inkpelt! What happened to you?” Roboflight exclaimed walking up to the black tom, whose pelt was covered in scars and gashes, “If I didn’t know better I would think that rouges attacked. They have yet to confront us, you know and I am on very high alert.”
He shook her away, “It was nothing,” he claimed nonchalantly but his eyes told her otherwise. “It’s not nothing,” Roboflight insisted, “If it was something in the moss, then we should remove it before someone else gets hurt,” realizing she sounded far too worried she added with a twitch of her whiskers, “And a sharp rock will not hurt you that bad, Inkpelt. I might have made poor decisions but I am no fool.”
“Fine,” he finally gave in, “Petalfall was having some bad dreams, and she must have accidently unsheathed her claws. Unfortunately, I was in the way, and her claws landed on my pelt. She must have been having some bad dreams, not to notice.”
Roboflight nodded, knowing what Petalfall’s dream that caused the ‘accident’ had been about. She looked into his deep black eyes, trying to find any emotion in there at all, but he didn’t show any. She wanted to shake him and ask him what was wrong, how he could ignore Petalfall like this just because Driftingcloud was pretty.
She sighed, “I will speak to Petalfall.”
He didn’t respond, but she wasn’t sure if she imagined some relief in the grunt he gave her.
When she walked into the small little tunnel her pack had dug in she noticed that only a few cats were left inside. Petalfall was among them, looking angry as she tried to hide her blood-stained paws. Roboflight flicked her tail at the pretty she-cat indicating for her to follow, as Roboflight exited the den and turned around walking to the back of the den, where no cat could see them.
“Yes,” Petalfall snapped and Roboflight realized that she had lost the motivating she-cat, whose care had helped Sandpelt every step of the way. Driftingcloud, as well as his death must have been too painful for her to handle them all.
“Petalfall, I know that you are upset about Inkpelt, but that doesn’t mean you should claw his pelt off while he sleeps.” Roboflight meowed.
“You’re right,” she snarled, “I should claw Driftingcloud’s pelt!”
“Look, Petalfall,” Roboflight sighed, “I can’t stop you from glaring or arguing with them; I have too much to worry about without these stupid disagreements, but I can’t have you attacking your teammates. I know you don’t want to work with them, but if something like this happens again, I will have to think of a serious consequence.” And she paddled off without giving the cream cat a chance to retort.
Roboflight resumed her position in front of the den, where they were staying tonight. The cats now seemed to be getting a light breeze, so they had stopped following Oceanclan and started following the breeze. Oceanclan must have been thinking along the same lines, however, because they occasionally picked up their scent. They still had found no trace of Cloudclan and they had figured that the relaxed cats were enjoying their time in the forest.
When all the cats had woken up, Roboflight decided that it was time to leave.
“Firehowl, and Sand-“ she cut herself off remembering with a stab of guilt that Sandpelt wasn’t there anymore, “And Featherbreeze,” she corrected but the pack hadn’t missed her mistake and a dark look entered their eyes, “Can you two keep the first watch.”
They now assigned cats to keep watch while they walked, staying behind and scouting ahead to make sure the rouges weren’t nearby. They hadn’t been attacked yet, but Roboflight had heard the cat and it was clear that there would be an attack sooner or later. She hoped it would be later but they still needed to be on high alert. There weren’t enough of them, especially with Sandpelt gone, to win a fight and their only choice would be retreat. That hadn’t worked out well last time.
After paddling on for a long time, trying to follow the direction they felt the wind coming from, Roboflight called it a break. The cats all split up to catch prey. Roboflight used to have them share prey but now she just let the cats eat whatever they caught. If a cat didn’t catch anything then Roboflight would assign a cat to help them out.
There wasn’t any trouble until after they were done eating and Roboflight ushered the cats up so that they could continue. Firehowl mumbled something about his poor legs and Roboflight resisted the temptation to jump on him.
“Firehowl, you continue keeping watch,” she announced, to get revenge on the tom for his complaints, “Driftingcloud will be the other one.”
“Where is Driftingcloud?” Inkpelt asked, turning his head around, trying to find his mate.
Roboflight turned around and noticed that the she-cat had not returned at all. She turned to Petalfall, but there was a bland look on her face. Roboflight began to doubt if she had something to do with it.
“Bravescar,” she called, “Take Petalfall, Aquatail, and Inkpelt with you on a small patrol to find Driftingcloud,” she sighed, before remembering something and quickly adding, “If it is rouges, do not attack. Come back here and we will make a plan to save her. Do you understand?”
He nodded and led the cats selected to begin their search.
As soon as they were out of sight the cats heard a voice boom from behind them, “They aren't going to find her.”
It was a rouge cat, impossible not to tell, but he didn't look hostile. It looked like he was just trying to help, and there was no malice or threatening gaze in his eyes.
“What makes you say that?” Roboflight asked, “How would you even know?”
“I saw her,” he replied, “The pretty ginger cat. She was walking in the opposite direction, and she was mad. Mumbling something about flowers making her trip,” he looked at them as if they had any idea why she might be complaining about flowers of all things, but Roboflight just shrugged, assuming it was her usual complaints.
“She probably just got lost,” Roboflight claimed, “That is why we sent out a patrol to find her.”
He looked at her gravely, “You seriously think she wants to be found?”
“Of course she does, wouldn't you.”
“She was talking about going back home. I know you are on some type of journey and she was mumbling about how she had enough of it. I don’t think she meant to get lost, but it doesn't look like she wants to come back either,” when he saw the doubt in her eyes he added, “She was walking in the opposite direction of you on purpose. Or she has a horrible nose.”
“Her nose is just fine,” Roboflight admitted, now a little worried.
“Look,” he sighed, “just forget about her. She didn't seem like a pleasant cat…”
“She was a part of our team,” Roboflight responded.
“She doesn't want to be anymore,” he retorted, “I’m one of the only friendly rouges with no means of attacking, but the others are preparing to strike. If you turn around to find her, your only chance of survival will be to turn around. It is either her, or your stupid quest.”
Roboflight was too busy debating whether or not she could trust him to worry about the way he had insulted something they were risking their lives for, “Thank you,” she finally said, “When my pack comes back, we will discuss.”
He nodded, “Just listen to my advice. It will be better for both of you if you don’t bother finding her.”
Roboflight nodded as he walked away. She turned top face the remaining members of the pack, and there was an eerie silence. “Well,” Aquatail finally broke it, “I never really liked her that much anyways,” she shrugs, “But if she really is lost and not running away then we need to find her.”
Boulderclaw looked dull, “How will we ever know if he was telling the truth,” then he groaned, “Why can’t this thing ever get easier. It almost feels like a punishment to become a warrior.”
Roboflight personally agreed but she didn't state is as the rest of the pack waited in silence. Their spirits were not lifted when the patrol returned with news, but without Driftingcloud.
“We caught her scent, but it just keeps going farther away from us,” Bravescar sighed, “It almost seems like she is running away.”
Roboflight turned to look at her pack, and realized she was about to be forced to make another decision. One that had no right answer, but all wrong answers. No wonder her pack wasn't pleased with her leadership; there were no correct choices to make.
However, if the rouge wasn't lying, and all of the evidence they had seemed to be on his side, then they needed to leave her behind. They couldn't return back to their clan without completing the quest a warrior needed to make. And to be honest, Driftingcloud hadn't helped all that much. She had just put them on even higher nerves, and it didn't help the pack improve morally.
“We’re leaving her behind.”
Roboflight noticed that most of the cats weren't as upset as they would have been with another cat. Petalfall even had a smirk on her face, and Roboflight couldn't help thinking it was extremely cruel of the cat to be happy about a loss. She reminded herself, that she had told her it would be okay if the fights were verbal or mental, so she wouldn't be able to warn her about that.
Inkpelt was outraged.
“We can’t leave her behind,” he spluttered, “And I can’t believe that you are quitting so quickly. We need more proof.”
Roboflight sighed, “We were told by a rouge that she was running away.”
“So we trust the words of rouges now?”
“He was not hostile,” this time it was Aquatail, “And if the information he gave us was false, it was because he was mistaken.”
“Then he was mistaken,” he shot back, “If we were willing to steal a medicine cat to save Sandpelt why can’t we just search for my mate?” A look of bitterness entered Petalfall’s eyes and Roboflight looked at him seriously.
“Sandpelt was on the verge of death,” she answered, “Driftingcloud ran away, and she will not die unless she annoys a cat so much they decide to slit her throat!”
Angered, Inkpelt jumped on top of Roboflight, his claws unsheathed. She was totally unprepared so she was thrown off balance and her paws began to flail as he snared, “ You've annoyed me so much I will slit your throat!”
Bravescar, who had come to be Roboflight’s second in command, jumped on top of Inkpelt in an effort to pull him off. Inkpelt turned around and leaped on him. The two cats fought viciously and Roboflight tried to jump in to help, but she felt a sudden pain on her tail holding her back. She turned around to see who it was.
She turned to look at her, “Are you crazy?” she asked, but Petalfall had scratched her across the face before she could answer. Suddenly, mad at everything the she-cat had done so far, Roboflight scratched her back and the two cats began to fight. It wasn't long before more of the pack began to join in until they were all attacking each other, to express the frustration that they had been unable to show.
Being the leader, Roboflight realized it was her duty to stop it, as much as she wanted to rake her claws down the pelt of almost every cat in her pack.
“Stop!” she yowled, and slowly the battles died away. She sighed, “I can’t pretend I don’t want to, but we need to save our strength for the rouges, that will probably show up any moment now, and for the long trip.”
Slowly the cats pulled off each other but the cats didn't apologize to each other or gaze into each other’s eyes. Instead they all got up and stood behind Roboflight.
“We will regret this,” Inkpelt murmured and pain entered his eyes, “Please, Roboflight. I know she might be annoying to you, but she is a good cat. I actually knew her.”
Roboflight sighed, actually feeling some pity for the cat that had just jumped on her, “I’m sorry, Inkpelt, but it isn't a sacrifice I can make right now. And I’m sure it won’t turn out that bad.”
His eyes told her otherwise but Roboflight ignored them as she flicked her tail at the cats and continued to walk, pretending like the short battle had never happened.
And as they began to paddle, Roboflight realized how strong all of the cats were. They had survived three hard blows; Sandpelt, the rouges and now Driftingcloud but they were still in it, not the slightest bit prepared to give up.
She also realized that this final blow didn't seem to be as hard as the other two had been. For the first time the cats seemed to have their heads up, so that the breeze might catch in their pelt and so that they could clearly see the sun through the trees. Roboflight figured that the fight had helped them release all of their stress and worry, and they no longer had to carry it on their shoulders.
Then again, Roboflight thought with amusement, despite the situation, maybe it’s because Driftingcloud isn't here anymore.
“Roboflight!” Bravescar yowled as he ran up to her from a distance. The whole pack stopped, in the middle of their tracks, fearing the worse.
“What is it?” she asked the dark ginger tom.
“Rouges!” he hissed and Roboflight felt her pulse increasing.
“Where?” she asked frantically as Aquatail, who was the other watch approached. Bravescar opened his mouth to answer but his question was answered for him, when suddenly the bushes rustled and cats jumped out of them, springing on the pack.
Roboflight yowled in rage, as she tried to fight them off. She began thinking quickly, like last time their only hope was escape, but this time it would be even worse if they got split up, with the rouges that would be hunting them down. She had to give them all a place to meet, but the cats hardly looked at their surroundings. They just relied on their feet and their noses.
“Head back to the old camp!” she called, hoping they would all go to the right camp; the one they had spent overnight. The cats seemed to hesitate for a moment; remembering what had happened last time, before deciding they would have to test their luck. Instantly they were all gone, dashing away, with the rouges at the feet. Unlike previously, however, the rouges didn't leave their trail.
Roboflight tried to outrun the cat, but her scars were heavier and her injuries slowed her down, despite all of her efforts. When she reached the place they had camped that day, the cat was still on her, and she had no choice but to turn around and fight him. As she fought, she noticed that no other cats were there and began to fear that it had happened again, when she heard a plethora of voices, from all around her.
Soon, there were several Mountainclan cats in the area, with many still not there, and Roboflight realized, as she dodged a fatal blow, that they had not managed to shake off the attacking cats either. They are really out for blood she thought with despair, our blood.
The old camp exploded into a battle zone as Roboflight realized she had done nothing but move where the battle was taking place; which had drained even more energy from the members of her pack. It wasn't long before there were eight members of the pack; trying to take down up to fifteen rouges. They might have been stronger but they were inexperienced with the habitat and they were outnumbered.
Just when Roboflight was sure they wouldn't be able to fight any longer and that they would be at the mercy of the vicious cats, something behind the bush rustled. Roboflight braced herself for more rouges but found her nose smelling Cloudclan as pale tabby warriors exploded into the clearing, attacking the rouges.
Roboflight took a step back as a cat began to take on one of the cats she was fighting, but quickly joined in when the Cloudclan warrior was faced with another opponent. Together the two questing cat were enough to scare the rouges, who had also grown tired from fighting the Mountainclan cats who could put up a fight, away from the area, and they were running away.
Roboflight turned around to help another clan mate or even a Cloudclan cat when she realized that there weren't any rouges left. She looked at her pack and relief shined in their eyes as she felt it growing inside of her too.
A Cloudclan cat, the cat that Roboflight realized must be the head of their pack stepped up to her, and Roboflight sipped her head, “Thank you, we are in your debt.”
She shrugged, “Rouges are a common enemy for all of us on this quest. We may be rivals but we are not enemies,” she smiles, “I am Softdusk by the way,” she introduced herself, “Who are you?”
“Roboflight,” she responded and as she gazed at the Cloudclan cats. She realized that there were at least three cats were missing from their group.
“We have lost three cats,” she told her noticing the curious look on her face, “One got lost, and two ran away, to live as loners near the old territories,” her eyes hardened with confidence, “But we will still win this; we still can,” and Roboflight felt that only to prove her point did she ask, “You seem to be missing two cats.”
Roboflight nodded, “One poisoned and one lost; possibly ran away.”
“She did not run away!” Roboflight heard Inkpelt protest from the back.
Softdusk seemed thoughtful for a moment, “Rouges are a threat to us too,” she finally claimed, “They have threatened us, saying that if we didn't turn around they would hunt us down.”
Bravescar approached, “They said that to us too.”
She was thoughtful, “And it was just made pretty clear, that precautions aren't enough to avoid them, as well as that only one pack can’t hold them down.”
Roboflight nodded curious what she was getting at.
She finally came to the point, “I have thought about it and consulted my pack,” she finally explained, “And we have an offer to make; until we reach the ocean we will have to cross, Mountainclan and Cloudclan can stick together, to hold off the rouges.”
Roboflight had no idea how to respond.
“Can you give my pack some time to discuss it?” she asked, “We should have an answer by tonight. Until then, we can camp here, right beside each other but in different dens.”
She nodded and indicated towards a large golden tom, “Lionclaw, can you help them setting up their den.”
He nodded as the Cloudclan cats began to walk across the patch of land where Mountainclan would be staying, “Hello,” he purred and Roboflight was surprised by how friendly a cat could be to their enemies-or as Softdusk had put it- their rivals. She reminded herself that this was Cloudclan, easy-going and worry free, and that they might even treat the rouges like this.
As Lionclaw began to set up nests, alongside some Mountainclan warriors Roboflight began to think out loud, in hopes to get them thinking as well. “It would provide security, and protection. We would have more cats to hunt, and we could sleep more since there would be more cats to keep guard,” she slowly began.
“But we don’t know their reliability,” Boulderclaw tried to reason, “Softdusk may have called us rivals but I am not sure how true that is. In the clans we are rivals but out here…” he cuts off and the pack gets his message. Lionclaw looked up at them a little curiously but didn't say anything, realizing it is not his place to interfere.
“Rouges are larger enemy,” Aquatail interrupted, “If they really will stop following us after we reach the ocean I believe it is definitely worth it.”
Some cats nodded in agreement but other hesitated. Roboflight looked at them, “I can’t make a huge decision like this for the whole pack. I think we should have a vote.” She flicked her tail in one direction, “Cats that don’t like this idea go there.”
She pointed her tail in the other direction, “Cats who like the idea go there.”
Aquatail, along with several other cats, paddled over to one side, with some other cats going the other way. It wasn’t by much, but Roboflight realized that they would be staying with Cloudclan.
She turned to Lionclaw who was now done setting up the dens, “Can you take me to Softdusk?” she asked him, “I want to tell her our decision.”
He put on a smile that only Cloudclan could manage, considering the setting and led her across from where Mountainclan would be spending the night, to where the Cloudclan cats were sitting.
Softdusk seemed relaxed and confident, “Have you made your choice?” she asked and Roboflight nodded.
“We decided that we will stick with you, but only until we are out of this wretched jungle.”
A midnight black tom emerged, “I wouldn’t call it wretched,” he argued, “If you actually look at it you will see how pretty it truly is. Taking out the bugs, of course,” he added a little hastily, and Roboflight realized that another advantage to sticking with Cloudclan was that they would be able to keep the Mountainclan packs spirits up. Something Roboflight failed to do herself.
Softdusk laughed, “That’s true, Ripplecrest, but I can’t say I will miss it,” he shrugged before turning around and she turned to address Roboflight, “So when do you want to get going.”
“Tomorrow,” she replied, “My pack needs some time to rest.”
She nodded, “We can give you that,” before smiling and waving her tail. Roboflight dipped hers in return before turning around, walking back to her pack, as she wondered, yet again, if they were really making the right decision.
Traveling with Cloudclan did turn out to be Roboflight’s best up to that point in the quest. With more warriors they were safer, better fed and Cloudclan did have a way of easing the tension created by the quest. And Roboflight could tell that her pack was pleased too. They traveled together and when they were sleeping, they set their camps up, next to each other so that they would just need one guard.
They traveled with Cloudclan for several days, resting during different times; sometimes journeying in the night.
One night as they traveled, Roboflight lifted her nose to see if she could scent anything, and was greeted with a pleasant surprise, “We are almost there!” she jumped and the cats around her had grinned with joy. Many of the cats had also pulled their noses up, to discover that the ocean was in fact very near.
The cats had been planning to rest then, but out of their excitement they couldn't bring themselves to stop walking along the path they had chosen to follow. Soon, however, they came across bad news. Before them lied a vast river, with currents flowing madly. Roboflight felt her throat get dry.
“There is no way we can cross this,” she murmured.
“But this is clearly the quickest path,” Softduask murmured, “Still, we can’t cross it, so I guess we will have to take a different path.”
“But we can’t rest now!” a cat from behind complained, “Not when we are so close. None of us will get a wink of sleep.” The two leaders looked at each other for a moment, their gazes meeting each other before realizing they were thinking the same thing.
“We will continue,” Roboflight announced, turning to face the rest of the pack, “But we will have to find a path that goes around this river so it will take longer than we had originally thought.”
But the smell of the ocean kept their spirits up and they nodded with shimmering eyes, so the two packs continued to travel through the dark of the night. The river seemed long and endless but the cats’ spirits were in place, and Roboflight didn't want to waste it.
Eventually, however, Roboflight realized her legs were getting a little sore, and time to rest was long overdue. When she was about to turn around and tell the cats to rest she heard a loud screech from behind her and turned around to see several rouges, all lined up together. With a jolt of horror she realized that even two packs, combined wouldn't be enough to take them all down.
“We told you to leave,” a tabby tom warned them, “And now you will pay the price with your lives,” and as he said that he leaped onto Softdusk who quickly dodged. But even with the two packs combined, they were still outnumbered more than two to one, and when two more cast went after Softdusk, she was pounded down.
Roboflight was running to help her, when she was approached by two other rouges and found herself, too occupied trying to fight them both off at once.
Soon the packs realized they were outnumbered and that they would have to call a retreat. The leaders didn't even need to make a noise; all of the cats were running at once, trying to get away from the deadly pack of rouges.
They began to run back in the direction they had come from, and like the previous time, the rouges didn't leave their trail. And soon they found themselves locked into a corner, with the deadly river on one side and the brutal rouges on the other. “Choose your death,” their leader smirked.
Roboflight was about to reply when she heard another pattern of footsteps. She saw another group of cats coming straight out of a camp and she realized that it was Oceanclan, also being chased by rouges. Soon, the three packs were all cornered together.
“Let’s hit three birds with one stone,” he smirked.
The Oceanclan cats took one look, and Tidalpelt glanced into Roboflight’s eyes for a moment. She saw an apologetic glance in them before he turned to face the river, flicked his tail at the clan and jumped in, Oceanclan closely behind him.
Roboflight watched for a moment as the natural swimmers crossed the strong river and pulled themselves up on the other side.
The leader of the rouges thought for a moment, “Okay, maybe two birds,” he finally decided.
Roboflight looked at one side of the river, then the other. Her eyes glanced at the other side of the river, where the Oceanclan cats were watching, waiting to see what would become to the other packs. Roboflight realized that her pack was waiting for her, Cloudclan could have a different decision than Mountainclan now. She sighed realizing she was about to pick which way to die.
As she looked between the two choices she realized that this was one of the important parts of her quest; she needed her courage to survive this quest, but she didn't like the thought of the horrible river grinding on the other side. She would never make a jump across, but unless she tried.
She reminded herself that there were seven cats behind her, and a whole clan waiting as well as the diamond Starclan needed. Taking a deep breath she turned away from the rouges and faced the river. She could feel them smirking, sure she would die and it only gave her more determination.
She took a few steps back, and took in a deep breath before running forward and making the jump of her life.
Roboflight felt herself soaring through the air for one moment, before she was inside the soaking water the next. She began to cough as she frantically tried to fight the current, but she was no swimmer. She felt the water pulling over her head as she tried to gasp for air, but the current was too strong.
Realizing she couldn’t fight it, and that she was facing her death she stopped fighting and let the current begin to sweep her away, her throat burning from the lack of oxygen.
After floating for a few moments she felt the pressure in her body being relieved, and forced her eyes open to find Tidalpelt dragging her out of the river. He carried her up to the shore where she coughed the water out of her mouth before pulling herself up and looking across the river where the rest of her pack was staring miserably at the river.
She turned to Tidalpelt, “Can you please save them?” she begged.
Oceanclan cats were fiercely competitive but they were also known to have a sympathetic side. Tidalpelt nodded, “Tell them to jump, we will catch them.”
She turned back to her pack, “You have to jump!” she screeched, “It is you only way out!”
The cats looked hesitant for a moment with the rouges baring their teeth menacingly. Finally Bravescar nodded to the cast and they all began to jump of the river. In a flash, they were fighting the currents of the water with Oceanclan cats pulling them out.
Roboflight tried to help by pulling the cats farther away from the river and pulling them back up to their feet.
Soon all of the Mountainclan cats had crossed the river, but Cloudclan seemed doubtful.
“You have to jump!” Roboflight yowled, “They will kill you if you don’t.”
The rouges were approaching the cats slowly, their claws scraping against the soft ground.
“How do we know we can trust you?” Softdusk asked, “You have no reason to help.”
“We are rivals, not enemies, remember?” Roboflight reminded her. Softdusk hesitated for a moment, looking both ways.
Finally she flicked her tail at her pack and leapt across the river, Tidalpelt was there to help her out immediately. It wasn’t long before all the Cloudclan cast had jumped over the river, to the safety of the other side.
The rouges didn’t seem discouraged, however. The leader grinned before leaping over the deadly river himself. Like the other cats he fell into the water, but it seemed that he knew how to swim because he was soon standing right before the clan cats. “You wouldn’t dare!” Tidalpelt hissed, “There is only one of you, against several of us.
“You are trespassing,” he replied, “We warned you to leave, and now you will pay the price!”
The next few moments seemed to be hours long as he leaped at Roboflight, aiming to kill. She opened her eyes, wide unprepared, as he slowly continued to advance. She was making her final prayers to Starclan, prepared to leave when she saw a flash of ginger, then red, as Firehowl leaped at the cat, his claws extended teeth bared.
The two cats both fell to the ground, their claws attacked to each other’s pelt as they both slammed against a rock which Roboflight hadn’t noticed until then.
The leader of the rouges gasped before his body went limp as blood slowly began to ooze out of Firehowl’s head.
“Firehowl!” Roboflight screeched running towards the black tom. The rouges on the other side of the river gasped, at the sight of their dead leader as they turned around and ran back towards the shelter of their home.
Roboflight felt herself looking for Softbreeze, a cat from Cloudclan training to be a medicine cat, “You have to heal him!” she begged.
She sadly walked up to the tom, his ginger muzzle only darker, stained with the blood pouring from his body. She turned around and shook her head sadly, “I’m sorry, Roboflight he’s gone.”
“Noooo!” she wailed as Featherbreeze walked up to her friend pressing her pelt against Roboflight’s. She didn’t deny her friend’s comfort letting her suck in all of her guilt and pain. The cat she had come to hate, had sacrificed his life for her, and she never even got to apologize.
“It’s okay,” Featherbreeze murmured as Roboflight cried into her pelt, “It’s okay.”
The clans slept together that night, one cat guarding for the rest of the exhausted ones. Roboflight insisted on sitting vigil for Firehowl but the cats told her she would have to do it the next day, as she could barely stand on her feet. She was dragged to the den that night.
The next day, when the cats were finally out of their phase of shock, and they actually turned around to see what lied ahead on the other side of the river, they were greeted by a wonderful surprise.
The land was cut off, a very short distance away from where the cats were standing, and was replaced by a shimmering ocean. The water lapped gently at the sides, as the sun’s reflection glimmered, moving along with the tides.
“It’s beautiful,” Featherbreeze murmured as the three packs stood together, watching the glorious sun rise.
“It’s too bad Firehowl never got to see it,” Roboflight murmured both sadly and with amazement, “Or Sandpelt.”
“They do see it,” Bravescar replied walking up to the she-cat. He turned his head up the sky, “They see every last bit of it.”