Strike pushed his way through the ferns, tears attempting to make it to his eyes but he told himself that he would be strong and he would not let them fall.
Bella would want him to stay strong. Bella would have stayed strong. Bella deserved someone who could stay strong. And I had to prove to myself that I deserved Bella.
That this wasn't destiny's cruel way of telling him that she was always too good to be true-that she was too special, too rare, to have been something he could just have.
Strike sucked in a sharp breath, praying that the humans would be taking good care of her now-helping her with her disease. She had claimed that it could be fatal the last time they met...
That had been three weeks ago.
A part of Strike wondered if she could be dead, although the greater part knew that she couldn't be. That somewhere he would have felt her absence. It would have to be impossible for him not to know if Bella died.
Strike turned his head up to the stars and sent them a silent prayer, wishing Bella were right beside his. He knew exactly what we would talk about that night, especially since Bella loved to gossip about the different groups and Clans of cats that lived around them.
Today they would have delved into a conversation about SpringClan-a group of cats that lived in a forest a little further off.
"Why?" Bella would gasp, her eyes wide with concern for cats she had never met, her voice quivering with an odd excitement, "What reason would they have?"
"Rouges attacked them," He would claim, his voice flowing through the darkness softly, reaching her ear alone, "And they had no choice but to disperse and abandon the Clan..."
"Well that's really a pity," Bella would claim, shuffling her paws awkwardly, "You know, I've always found the concepts of Clans fascinating..."
Then she would delve into her fantasies about the Clans and what she thought was so particularly special about them, and he would smile listening to her rambling on.
Then, maybe, she would turn to Strike with wide, curious eyes and ask, "Do you think that maybe one day we could join one of those Clans? I've always wondered what their life might be like."
Then he'd snort and call her ridiculous.
But now, Strike knew that he could never give that reaction again.
IStrike thought about SpringClan, about it's members, about how hopeless they must currently feel. So lost, as if the thing that was the basis of their lives had just suddenly collapsed.
And he realized that he knew exactly how they felt.
In that single moment everything flashed through his mind. Those midnight strolls with Bella. The breeze that would run through their fur, the leafs that would shuffle behind them, the moon that would always be at its highest whenever they spoke. Bella. Bella. Bella.
He had taken them all for granted. He made a vow to myself, and to the stars.
If he ever saw Bella again, if they ever got the chance again to have another stroll across the lawns at midnight, then, he promised, he would take her to the Clans.
He would take her to the Clans.
"Rainpaw?" A frail voice whispered and Rainpaw spun her head around slowly, alert for any rouges that might be near, before realizing that it was just Scorchpaw.
"Hey Scorchpaw," Leaf whispered, quickly dashing next to where she stood under a large elm tree, staring ahead blankly, "How are you doing?"
"I miss the Clan."
"Are you thirsty? Or hungry?" She questioned, "It must be harder now, with no Clan to help us gaining things we took for advantage only three sunrises ago."
"I don't care about food or water," Scorchpaw whispered, "I want my Clan back. I want to go back home, and I want to share tongues with the other apprentices, not eat alone. I want to lie in my soft nest, not under this ugly tree, I want to be a Clan cat not a rogue."
"We all do," Rainpaw whispered reassuringly, "But sometimes you have to learn to say goodbye."
"You can really just say goodbye to the Clan?" Her eyes flashed sharply, and Rainpaw flinched, not sure what to say as Scorchpaw continued, "I mean, I guess it's not there anymore, but I still feel it. I think I would know when it's truly gone. I still breathe like SpringClan still exists. Because the moment SpringClan is truly gone is that I will no longer be able to breathe."
"But it is gone," Rainpaw hissed in frustration, "I wish I could return to my old home, the home I loved so much as well, but it's over now, Scorchpaw."
"It will only truly be gone when you truly believe that," She raised an eyebrow, "You don't believe what you're saying, Rainpaw."
"I'm Rain now," Rainpaw claimed, swallowing a heavy lump, "I forgot to tell you. Since I'm no longer a part of the Clan I have no reason to carry a 'paw' behind my name."
"Forever." Saying the words pained her more than she was letting on but it had to be done. Scorchpaw was wrong-the Clan was over now. There was no more hope. Everything was lost.
And if Rainpaw wanted to survive without it, then she would have to get over it fast, before the memories of her old home could drag her down.
Rain chewed on the wet mouse, ignoring the harsh shiver that was attempting to creep up her back, and trying to block out the harsh noise of rain hitting the rough ground.
Life without SpringClan was harder than she had ever thought it may be.
And she was wondering back to what Scorchpaw said now, about the Clan not being completely destroyed yet. About there still being hope. A chance.
She hated being proven wrong about anything, but if her friend was really right, if they really could bring SpringClan back...
Rain quickly snapped herself out of her thoughts to sharply remind herself that they couldn't bring SpringClan back. And that, even if they did, it would be destroyed again by rogues.
This was her life now, whether she liked it or not.
And, Rain realized with a sigh, the sooner she accepted it, the better.
The forest was luscious, wide, and everything Rain's previous home had failed to be. Sunlight filtered through the many leaves planted onto the branches of trees which were widely distributed around the area. There was a faint scent of new-leaf and the flowers were all in full bloom, little buds of berries beginning to form on the bushes.
The feel of the wet grass tickling her paws made Rain smile, as she continued to glance around in wonder, wishing that this was where her Clan had lived.
Maybe if they had been inhibiting this forest their home would still be around...
Don't think like that! She snapped to herself, pulling in a shaky breath, as she continued to breathe in the combined scent of the forest and new-leaf.
There were also two other smells she couldn't completely identify. They were odd-and she knew they belonged to cats but it wasn't a scent that could have been created by one cat. It was as though there were two large groups of cats that shared a scent and they were deliberately leaving it there.
She paused for a moment, turning her head up to admire the brightness of the sun, before deciding to explore the forest a little.
However, before she could take another step, she felt the whole forest she was located in spinning, and fading from her eyes at a rapid speed to be replaced by a different place which put everything in comparison.
"I have to find that forest," Rain hissed to Scorchpaw, "I know I have to find that forest; my dream, it made it so clear that it was where I had to be..."
"How do you know it even exists?" Scorchpaw questioned, "It was probably just a place you dreamed of that you really liked, and wish you could go to."
"It's real," Rain promised her, "I promise you it's real."
"I trust you," Scorchpaw replied, her voice steady as she leaned in and gave Rain a quick lick on the cheek, "In fact, I'll come with you-I could really use a change of scenery. I hate living near twolegs."
"I know," Rain scoffed.
"It's beautiful," Scorchpaw murmured, her eyes wandering dreamily across the forest, "It's absolutely wonderful-I love this place, it's all one could ask for in a home."
"I know," Rain replied, glancing about, "It's exactly like what I saw in my dream."
The two cats sat down, and tentatively began to lick their paws, neither of them saying anything, as they appreciated their surroundings."
"It was definitely worth the four-day journey," Scorchpaw claimed, "I think this is where I want to spend the rest of my life... until the Clan comes back together, at least."
"Me too," Rain replied, "Do you think any other cats live here?"
"Allow me to answer that question for you," I gruff voice claimed from behind them and they spun around to find a group of five, muscular cats, teeth bared and claws unsheathed.
"Yes. There are other cats living in this forest-and you are invading their territory."
"Who are you?" Rain squeaked at the large tom whose den they were sitting in. It was obvious he was the leader of the Clan, for by now, she was able to realize it was a Clan.
"I'm Winterstar," He claimed, "Not that it should concern you. What are your names and do you have one good reason for us not to shred you for stepping over our territory."
Wow, he's a lot tougher than our Clan leader was.
"I'm Rain," Rain quickly replied, "And this is Scorch-although she still goes by Scorchpaw," Seeing the confused look on his face I added, "We're from SpringClan. Or we were. Before the rogues came and tore the place apart."
His eyes widened in sudden surprise and he turned to the two other warriors who were both watching him curiously, "If you two may go," He claimed, "I must speak to these apprentices-er loners-in private."
The two cats both nodded and exited the den quickly, not even hesitating, or pausing to doubt their leaders command. They seemed a lot more uptight and obedient than the carefree SpringClan had been.
Rain sighed, another wave of homesickness hitting her as the two Clan cats exited.
"You two," Winterstar quickly turned on them, "You two were meant to end up here. StarClan-who I am sure you are aware of-visited me in my dreams last night. They told me two cats by the names of Rain and Scorch would come here, claiming they were from a Clan taken apart by rogues."
Scorch and Rain exchanged an unsure glance, not sure whether or not to believe what the Clan leader was saying. It didn't sound very plausible.
"They told me that RainClan had to move here, that this was the forest destined for them to live in. They claimed they had sent the rogues to disperse you so that you could come back together in this forest."
"But we would be stealing your territory," Rain was confused as to what the leader was playing at.
"If StarClan's wants such to be they must have a good reason," He claimed, "I am not the one to question their requests. It was, after all, thanks to them that we get to live in this blessed forest right now."
Scorchpaw and Rain exchanged glances and Winterstar sighed, "I understand if it's not very easy for you to believe me right now, it probably sounds very... odd and unexpected... but I can tell you both miss your Clan," Her gaze turned to Scorchpaw, "Especially you."
They were both silent and Winterstar let out another loud sigh, "We're actually a rather friendly forest-in general at least. We don't like loners and rogues very much, but half this forest is almost too much for us to patrol. I'm sure AutumnClan could say the same."
"So, would we take some of both of your territories?" Rain questioned, giving him a curious glance, "Does AutumnClan even know about this?"
"We'll give you a third of our own territory," Winterstar offered, "It doesn't sound like a lot, but this forest it rather large and with the amount of territory given to you it will make up for a whole sixth of it."
"We're not in a position to decline..." Scorchpaw claimed, "Although I can't exactly say we're in a position to accept either. You'd have to speak to our Clan leader-Springstar who is probably searching through garbage for something to eat right now."
"Bring her to me then," Winterstar claimed, "Bring her to me and we shall speak. I couldn't imagine a reason she wouldn't want to bring the Clan back together."
Rain and Scorchpaw nodded, as Rain began to feel a sensation of hope unraveling from within her. Could I be about to get SpringClan back?
"Now go bring me your leader," Winterstar claimed.
Nodding the two former apprentices, dashed out of his den, eager to find Springstar as quickly as they could so that she could speak to Winterstar.
"That's her," Rain whispered to Scorchpaw, her heart skipping a beat in excitement as she glanced at the leader of SpringClan... or, rather, what SpringClan had been.
"She looks... different," Scorchpaw observed.
Suddenly, Springstar turned around, her blue eyes flashing as she directed her attention to the apprentices. Rain couldn't help noticing how much darker her usually light gray pelt seemed.
"Rain? Scorchpaw?" She regarded us curiously, "Don't you two have anything better to do than follow me around? I'm not a Clan leader anymore..."
Rain glanced at Scorchpaw hesitantly, before sucking in a deep breath and turning to face her former Clan leader, "About that, Springstar..."
"Springstar! Springstar! Springstar!" The Clan, cheered as Springstar stood before the newly named TallBranch. Rainpaw beamed, cheering alongside the rest of her Clan for their returned leader.
While the Clan was definitely not as big as it had been before the rogues attacked, there were still a fair amount of cats that had returned-and even some new members.
Springstar had immediately accepted the offer made by WinterClan, more than delighted to have a chance to restart her Clan in a new, safer forest. Not long after, she had asked Rain and Scorchpaw to spread the news that SpringClan had returned, and just a few moments ago she had declared the TallBranch-a big, sturdy and high-up branch on one of the biggest trees in their territory as the replacement for their old HighStone.
It didn't feel the exact same, as Rainpaw was able to recognize. Some of her friends were missing, the territory was still unfamiliar, and a new deputy(the previous one had been killed in the attack by the rogues) was in the process of being picked-something that never should have had to happen in such a delayed manner.
But the fact that it wasn't identical didn't mean it didn't feel good. She loved her Clan, and to have it back, even if it wasn't as grand as before.
Next to her Scorchpaw was chanting the loudest, obviously delighted to have her Clan back.
She never gave up on SpringClan Rainpaw realized even when we all thought our lives as Clan cats were over she didn't let go. She always believed in this.
The apprentice den in SpringClan's new territory was smaller than before, but Rainpaw still liked it more. It had been made by ferns and brambles that hadn't been woven together too tightly. She could make out little flecks of sunlight, seeping through the holes, which lit up the den. The moss was warmer and softer, and the air felt fresher. There weren't as many apprentices either so Rainpaw almost felt as though there was more room for her.
As soon as Rainpaw entered, she threw herself at the nearest nest, curling herself up-still exhausted from the long days work. Hunting was much harder when there were less cats to do it-so any cats who weren't patrolling had to spend their whole day hunting.
Scorchpaw was already in the den by the time Rainpaw arrived. She was chewing on a large vole, a happy sparkle dancing across her eyes as she ate.
"I always knew I could have this back," Was all she said, once Rainpaw had settled in the nest next to her own, "I told you that the Clan couldn't be gone."
"I know," Rainpaw replied, smiling, as she laid down and began to settle herself into a hazy sleep, "I know."
"We're under attack!" A loud cry called through camp, and Rainpaw quickly jumped to her paws.
Is it WinterClan? I always knew there was something suspicious about the way Winterstar just gave us land. I always knew there was something suspicious about this-it was always far too good to be true."
"Rogues!" Any cry echoed through the dens, and this time Rainpaw felt herself being struck sharply by the memory of the previous attack-what they had done and taken from her.
"Not this time," She whispered under her breath, quickly dashing out of her den, to see a group of at least fifteen rogues running towards them, almost at the entrance of camp, claws unsheathed and teeth barred.
She turned to find Scorchpaw standing beside her, eyes shinning sharply, an unmatched fury in her gaze.
"SpringClan attack!" The loud call came from Springstar, as the rogues, now right before the entrance to camp, continued to approach.
Without hesitating, Rainpaw threw herself onto one of the rogues. This was SpringClan's chance to prove they had really made it back, and they would not fall to the same obstacle.
Rainpaw bit into the shoulder of the heavy tom she had jumped on. She felt a clump of filthy brown fur getting caught in her mouth and spit it out, as she dodged a blow to the head by the tom.
Unsheathing her claws, she aimed at the tom's face, but he ducked, before clawing her flank, and she ignored the sudden burst of burning pain in her back.
"Get out of my camp," Rainpaw hissed, as he bowled her over. Struggling for a moment, she drew her legs in, before pushing them back out, kicking the large tom off him.
As soon as she was back up on her paws, she was looking for another cat to attack. Noticing that Shrewpaw was struggling with a wiry she-cat that had him pinned, Rainpaw jumped onto her, attempting to pry her off Shrewpaw.
The rest of the battle was pretty close to a blur for Rainpaw. She jumped from cat to cat, avoiding fatal blows and ignoring the stings of teeth marks in her shoulders and the gashes on her pelt.
It was halfway through the battle when Stormeyes, the medicine cat, dragged her out of the battle against her will, claiming her wounds were too deep to continue fighting.
Rainpaw could remember ignoring the throbbing feeling in her head, trying to send Stormeyes off, claiming she was alright, and then darkness...
"Rainpaw? Are you alright?" She blinked her eyes open to find Scorchpaw staring at her in deep worry, "Rainpaw? Rainpaw?"
"I'm here," Rainpaw coughed, glancing around to realize she was in the medicine den. Everything still felt fuzzy, and she wondered if she had pushed herself a little too far.
"Did we win?" Rainpaw questioned, "Did we defeat them?"
"We did," Scorchpaw smiled, "And there have been at least ten new cats that have come to join since we did so. We've officially proven that we can fight and defend for ourselves."
"If so many more cats are coming how are we going to fit them all?" I asked, confused, "We didn't get that much territory from WinterClan."
"I'm sure something will be figured out," Scorchpaw promised, "We really are a Clan again now. We won't be taken down again-not by a petty group of rogues and not by anything else either."
"That's great to hear," I smiled, "Has Springstar selected a new deputy yet?"
"Not yet but it can't be much longer," Scorchpaw replied, her whispers twitching, "I’m curious as to who it’s going to be!"
"Me too, " I claimed, but before I could add anything else Stormeyes had entered and was shooing Scorchpaw away for disturbing me despite my protests.
Once Scorchpaw was gone, I settled back into my nest, finally feeling at peace for the first time since the Clan dispersed.
We've proven we can defend ourselves this time-that we will always return and we will never quit. That we are truly a Clan. SpringClan.
"Bella!" Strike could hardly believe his eyes when he saw the pretty she-cat standing before him in the fields where they would always meet, "Is that actually you."
"Strike!" A soft voice purred, "I've missed you so much!" Bella bounded up to her mate, and began rubbing her fast against his while Strike purred happily.
"It's been so long, Bella, you had me so worried that you would... leave me."
Bella laughed, "Silly, I'd never leave you. Not yet, at least. I still have so much exploring I want to do. I couldn't die only spending my life trapped in a house."
Strike remembered the promise he had made himself a while ago.
"Bella..." He paused, "There was something I wanted to offer to you."
"Yes?" her eyes glittered in curiosity.
"Well, I know you've wanted to see the Clans. You've done so much hinting and I just keep shooting it down, calling it ridiculous."
"I wouldn't go to them," She smiled, "I would miss you too much."
"Well..." Strike shuffled his paws shyly.
"Come on," Bella smirked, "Spill already, Strike."
"Alright, alright," He sucked in a deep breath, "Bella, if you still want to come to the Clans, I'd be more than willing to join one with you. I'd like to go to the Clans with you."
"You mean..." She paused, "You'll take me to the Clans... to live there?" There was a wild hope in my eyes, and I knew this had been the right choice. This was what I owed her.
"Yes, Bella," Strike smiled, "I want us to go the Clans."