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|Resurging Rain||Succeded by: |
"Get off me," groaned Rainkit. A heavy dark brown tom was laying on her, and she shoved him off. "Mosskit!"
Mosskit woke with a start. His head brushed the bramble bush under which was the nursery, and he glared at his younger denmate before rolling over in his nest of moss and bracken, snuggling closer to his mother, Orchidtail, and his sister, Littlekit, before falling back asleep with his paw over his ears.
Now that she was awake, Rainkit peered out of the nursery and saw warriors trotting back and forth, and a large tortoiseshell she-cat sitting on top of the Highledge, grooming her paws, while a dark gray tom paced beneath her, giving her a report.
The tortoiseshell she-cat leaped down into the hollow of the camp, and called to the tom. "Pebblecloud, assemble a border patrol, if you will, make sure all's quiet on the ShadowClan border. I'm going to lead a hunting patrol. Weaselnose! Get Scorchpaw. You're going to come on a hunting patrol with Firepaw and myself!"
A dark ginger tom, who was washing himself next to the warriors' den, looked up and nodded to his leader. "Will do, Twilightstar." He poked his head into a crevice in the tall cliff rising up around the camp, and called, "Scorchpaw! Get up! We're going on a hunting patrol!"
Moments later a dark red she-cat came padding out, blearily blinking sleep from her tired eyes, but brightened when she saw her her denmate, a ginger she-cat, standing next to the leader. "Firepaw!"
"You're up early," purred Firepaw, nuzzling her younger denmate. She looked up at Twilightstar, who was also her mentor. "Where are we going to go?"
"How about the abandoned Twoleg Nest?" ventured Weaselnose. "That's always rich in prey."
"Great idea," mewed Twilightstar. "Come on."
Rainkit drew her head back into the nursery. Her mother, Stormflight, was still snoring loud as a badger, so Rainkit settled down and began to wash her paws. Even though it was almost sunhigh, the queens and the kits were still asleep, though Littlekit appeared to be stirring, her cream-colored pelt gleaming slightly in the sunlight that cascaded through the arms of the bramble bush.
Rainkit jerked around towards the camp when she heard a cat call her name, but no cat was looking towards the nursery. She went back to washing her paws.
The voice again. Rainkit poked her head out of the nursery, and glanced both ways, but again, saw no cat.
"Rainkit!" Rainkit looked up to see a light gray she-cat with starry fur sitting in the nursery next to a darker gray cat and a strong, golden-brown cat. "Rainkit."
Rainkit began to tremble, but the she-cat smiled kindly. "It's okay, little one. We have come to you to tell you something."
"About the Great Battle," interrupted the darker gray tom, whose blue eyes glinted sightlessly. "The Dark Forest and some bitter, neglected, left out cats against the rest of us and StarClan."
"The battle in which all three of us died," mewed the golden cat. "I am Lionblaze, Rainkit. I couldn't be injured in battle, but that battle was one in which I was destined to get hurt...and I died."
"I am Jayfeather. I was a medicine cat, and I could see in my dreams. I also had a special connection with cats of the past..."
"And I am Dovewing. My senses are stronger than other cats', I can extend them far away, I can see things at the edge of the forest, hear conversations in other camps," meowed the pale silver-gray she-cat.
"Together," chorused all three. "We are the Three."
Jayfeather turned to Lionblaze, and Dovewing settled down beside Stormflight, licking her gently between the ears. "This is my great granddaughter," Dovewing mewed. She turned her pale golden gaze on Rainkit. "You are my great-great-granddaughter. My daughter's son's daughter is Stormflight. My sister is Ivypool."
"Ivypool?" Rainkit gasped. Ivypool was one of the elders, the oldest in the Clan. She was virtually blind, and half deaf.
"Yes, Ivypool," mewed Dovewing, a glimmer of amusement in her eyes. "She is one of the only survivors of the Great Battle."
"How come she survived?" breathed Rainkit, her green eyes wide.
"Because she was a traitor, at the beginning," growled Jayfeather, and Dovewing whipped around, her neck fur beginning to bristle.
"She was not a traitor!" hissed Dovewing. "She didn't know." She turned to Rainkit. "My sister had joined the Dark Forest at the beginning, not knowing what they were planning because she felt neglected. She didn't know why I was receiving special attention, and it made her feel terrible. I didn't know why, and we frequently fought about it. In the end, I told her, and Lionblaze and Jayfeather convinced her to spy for us on the Dark Forest. The Dark Forest believed she was on their side for the whole battle. They never realized that she was killing the Dark Forest cats, because none of them ever lived to tell the others."
"And then, of course, we were killed as well," interjected Jayfeather. "By Tigerstar, no less."
"You were killed by Tigerstar. Brokenstar has vanished out of the Dark Forest for good. He's faded. But we were both killed in the end," Lionblaze said with a sigh. "If only we had lived."
"You might have been dead by now," reminded Dovewing.
Rainkit just stared at the Three fearfully. "So why are you....why did you come to me?"
"You have a great destiny, Rainkit," said Jayfeather, turning his blind gaze on the kit, who flinched. "But fire, yes, fire, will be your destruction. Be warned."
"Like Firepaw?" echoed Rainkit, but the three cats were already fading, as Stormflight sat up.
"Rainkit, just who are you talking to?"
"StarClan," muttered Rainkit, too low for her mother to hear.
And then she realized: She had forgotten to ask the Three who had won the battle.
"Littlekit! Littlekit, get back here! Don't get under Nightfire's paws!"
Orchidtail's mew jerked Rainkit awake, and she peered around in the gloom of the nursery. It was just after dawn, and Littlekit was already working with the medicine cat. Rainkit could tell that her denmate wanted to be a medicine cat and not a warrior.
My apprentice ceremony! remembered Rainkit with a jolt. It was her sixth moon, and she was excited for her ceremony.
"I'm glad we waited for you," mewed Mosskit sarcastically. "It's been so much fun being stuck in the nursery for an extra moon, waiting for you to become an apprentice."
"You didn't have to wait," retaliated Rainkit, but after seeing the dismay in Mosskit's teasing eyes, she instantly regretted her words. Littlekit and Mosskit had been kind enough to wait for her so she wouldn't be left alone in the nursery, but Flowertail would be kitting soon...she was still grateful, however.
Almost all of the apprentices had become warriors as well, mind the exception of Scorchpaw, who was still recovering from a deep wound as well as a sprained paw that she had gotten over two moons ago from a ShadowClan warrior. Firepaw had become Firepelt, Moonpaw Moonshadow, Fernpaw Fernfur, and Pinepaw Pinewillow.
"Your ceremony's going to be at sunhigh, Twilightstar said," mewed Stormflight sleepily. "Go outside. You're as excited as a newborn kit."
Rainkit bounced out of the nursery with Mosskit on her paws. Littlekit had pretended not to hear her mother and had continued helping Nightfire mix herbs.
"Attack!" screeched Mosskit, and, as Rainkit turned around, alarmed, she was bowled over by the muscular brown scrap of fur. The two wrestled for a moment, before a haughty voice wrenched them apart.
"Kits fighting already?" It was Firepelt. Rainkit leaped away from Mosskit and dusted herself off. "Or are you just in love?"
"Shut up," hissed Rainkit. Firepelt pretended to be offended, but still looked smug.
"Show some respect, kit," she growled, putting as much contempt in the last word as she could. She stalked off, and Mosskit stared back at her, affronted. Rainkit remembered that she was his sibling from an older litter, and realized it mustn't feel good to have a mean show-off for a sister.
"When did she get so mean?" inquired Mosskit, licking his chest fur with embarrassment. "We've always gotten along well...she always wanted to advise me, and she helped me with my hunter's crouch, and told me about the warrior code and how nothing is more important..." He trailed off, sharing an awkward glance with Rainkit. The two inched away from each other.
"I think I hear Stormflight calling my name," lied Rainkit. She darted into the nursery.
"Yeah...me too," mumbled Mosskit, and he trotted over to the fresh-kill pile, snatching a shrew off the top of it.
"Rainkit, you have reached the age of six moons and it is time for you to be apprenticed. From this day on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Rainpaw. Your mentor will be Firepelt. I hope she passes on all she knows to you."
Firepelt's jaw dropped.
However, the young warrior rested her muzzle on Rainpaw's head, and Rainpaw reluctantly licked her mentor's shoulder. When she backed away to stand next to Mosspaw, whose mentor was Blackpelt, and Littlepaw, who, as predicted, was standing next to Nightfire with happiness radiating from her eyes and pelt.
Firepelt began to smile.
"No! Lower!" snapped Firepelt. "How many times, Rainpaw?"
Rainpaw flattened herself to the ground. "Higher!" Rainpaw raised her hindquarters a few centimeters. Firepelt sat back.
Rainpaw had been practicing her hunting crouch since dawn when she had gotten back from the dawn patrol, and it was almost sunhigh. She was itching to sink her claws into some kind of prey before she raked them across her smug mentor's face.
"Now try and catch that mouse over there," Firepelt ordered. Rainpaw slid forward, not lifting her paws from the mossy ground to create less noise.
Rainpaw stopped and tasted the air. The scent of fresh-kill was blowing straight towards her, so far, so good: she could smell the mouse; the mouse couldn't smell her.
"Pounce!" Firepelt's mew was loud and clear, and Rainpaw saw the mouse freeze, its tiny paws still clasped around the seed it was eating. Rainpaw became as still as the trees around her, slunk forward a few more tail-lengths, and pounced, landing with her paws squarely on the mouse's back, stunning it. She killed it with a quick nip to the spine.
Firepelt nodded somewhat grudgingly, but there was appreciation in her eyes. "Not too bad," she remarked. "I can taste squirrel. Go catch me one. Don't go past the Sky Oak."
Firepelt darted off. "See if you can catch a squirrel before I catch a bird!" she called. Rainpaw didn't have time to explain to her mentor that since it was greenleaf already, shouldn't there be more prey towards the Sky Oak, which annually shed acorns?
However, Rainpaw was determined to beat her mentor for once. She sat back, tasted the air, and immediately smelled squirrel to her left, away from the Sky Oak, but not beyond. The tabby apprentice darted forward, silent as a snake.
She spotted the squirrel, nibbling on an acorn that it had probably scavenged from beneath the boughs of the Sky Oak. The squirrel was sitting down on a rock, its bushy tail fluffed out, sitting right in front of a large opening, similar to that of a tunnel, but darker and seeming more mysterious.
Rainpaw listened. The squirrel had tensed, despite the fact that Rainpaw was downwind of it. It had scented something from inside the tunnel...something sinister. It fled before Rainpaw had the chance to pounce, and within moments she was faced with the largest creature she had seen so far in her seven moons.
The creature was red like Socrchpaw, but massive, with black paws, pointed ears, huge, slavering jaws and a bushy red tail that was tipped with white.
"Rainpaw! Run!" And Rainpaw ran.
She could tell that the fox was pelting after her, and she did her best to attempt to lead it away from the camp, though her efforts failed when, as she hared past the thorn barrier, many cat-lengths from the entrance, the fox halted, gazing at the thorn barrier, than growled, barked triumphantly, and plunged into the camp.
"Stormflight! Orchidtail! Stay in the nursery!" A yowl came from inside the camp.
"FOX!" yowled Scorchpaw. "Nightfire, fox! Save the supplies!"
"I'll defend you, Scorchpaw!" cried Littlepaw, and she planted herself in front of the nursery as Rainpaw skidded into camp behind the fox.
"Rainpaw? Rainpaw, where are you?" wailed a frightened voice. "Rainpaw, come back!"
Rainpaw stopped and turn, recognizing the voice. Firepelt. And then everything went black.
Rainpaw awoke to a pale gray face swimming in the air above her, and two other cats joined the first.
"D-Dovewing? Lionblaze? Jayfeather? What are you...? Am I--am I dead?" Rainpaw's voice trembled, but Dovewing consoled her.
"No, little one, you are not dead...it is not your time yet," Dovewing mewed gently.
"What about Firepelt? Is she okay?" For once, Rainpaw was concerned for her mentor, who had obviously known about the fox and the squirrel.
"Firepelt's okay. She's resting beside you, you know," snapped Jayfeather gruffly, gesturing with his tail to a ginger figure lying next to him in the medicine den.
"Why--?" But the StarClan cats seemed to know what she was thinking.
"Firepelt was hiding up a tree nearby. She had hoped that by saving you, her apprentice, she would be able to be more honored by her Clanmates. She feels neglected next to her brother Moonpaw, Moonshadow, who is always getting compliments because he was the deputy's apprentice, and she felt like she should be getting special treatment because she was the leader's apprentice. Her path is not an easy one, and we urge you not to make it harder," Lionblaze said with a cough. "I'm sorry, Rainpaw."
"Can I go back now?" Rainpaw pleaded. "I want to tell Firepelt I'm sorry. We'll have to be better friends, we're mentor and apprentice!"
"Oh, little Rainpaw," Dovewing said softly. "You will never be friends. Only one of you can live. Fire and Rain must douse each other to see who will win."
Rainpaw woke up with a jolt, her head colliding with Littlepaw's paw. The cream apprentice jumped back in alarm.
"I'm so sorry!" she cried. "I was just looking for some thyme...you know, for shock. Also, some cobwebs, you're kind of bleeding a lot, I mean the fox did grab you, thank goodness only Blackpelt and Appleleaf are the only other ones hurt as well as Firepelt, I mean, not that it's good that they're hurt, but, you know, that more cats aren't hurt, and it must have been so terrifying facing that fox, I mean...oh, yes, poppy seeds, you might want that for your shock as well, I mean, you're probably shocked and confused, and poppy seeds will give you a whole lot of nice sleep, and maybe some foxglove seeds? Oh no, no, no, not foxglove that's poisonous! Remember, Littlepaw, foxglove is poisonous! Bad foxglove, bad foxglove, bad foxglove," rambled Littlepaw, then stepped back when she saw Rainpaw looking dazed.
"How do you remember all of that?"
"Well, normally I'm a whole lot better, but today--"
"Um, actually, don't answer that," mewed Rainpaw. "I'm okay." She tried to sit up, but Nightfire pushed a firm paw back down on her chest from where she was checking on Firepelt.
"No, Rainpaw, you're not okay. You're suffering from serious shock, you're confused, and you've sprained your hind paw. You are most certainly not all right," mewed Nightfire firmly. "Now, Littlepaw, give her the poppy seeds and I'll make her a leaf wrap for when she gets up. "
"I don't need--"
But Nightfire shoved the leaf containing the poppy seeds into Rainpaw's face, and the apprentice had no choice but to lick them up and fall alseep to the soothing sound of the bubbling pool in the back of the medicine den.
Rainpaw's claws scored the trunk of the tree as she struggled for the next pawhold. She heaved herself sideways onto a branch, and then sat at the top of the tree staring down at her substitute mentor.
Moonshadow was talking with Owlstorm, who was laughing. Rainpaw gave a triumphant yowl. "Firepelt never would've let me climb this high!"
Moonshadow shared an embarrassed glance with Owlstorm. The young silver tom was standing in for her mentor as Firepelt was complaining of a bellyache as well as her tail hurting. The fox had bitten half of it off as she fought it in the camp, she claimed. Nightfire said she had found a bunch of ginger fur left on some brambles.
"Should I tell her to get down?" Moonshadow asked the older warrior anxiously. Owlstorm shook her head.
"It's good practice," shrugged Owlstorm. She also looked fairly worried, but the reason why became apparent within the next few moments as she whispered in Moonshadow's ear, "I'm afraid she doesn't have that good of a relationship with Firepelt. I've found the two spitting at each other during battle practice. I'm worried that one day Firepelt will just go too far..."
Rainpaw leaped lightly down to stand beside her stand-in mentor and the senior warrior. "Hi. Can we hunt?"
Owlstorm nodded. "See if you can bring me back a mouse and a bird."
Rainpaw slunk away, her tail sticking straight out like a stick, sliding her paws over the ground. Her ears were pricked for any sound of movement, her mouth open to try and detect the scent of prey.
The apprentice padded towards the ShadowClan border. Above her, she heard a bird singing on a branch. It fluttered down right in front of Rainpaw's nose, and she snagged it with a claw before biting its spine and killing it. She buried a hole and scraped earth over her catch, before sitting up and staring out over ShadowClan land.
There was a black feather on her nose, which made her sneeze. An eerie silence fell over the air, like there was no an absence of voices. A twig snapped to her left, and she turned, seeing a familiar ginger pelt leaning over the border towards a dark ginger tom.
"I'll meet you tomorrow," said a swift voice.
"Please! Don't go..." The familiarity of the second voice rang in Rainpaw's ears as she sat on a pile of leaves, frozen, listening to Firepelt talk to a cat that smelled so awful it burned Rainpaw's nose.
When Rainpaw was sure that Firepelt had gone, she crept through the trees and saw a dark ginger tom sitting on his side of the border, washing his paws. He was on ShadowClan land, but he was obviously not a warrior.
"What are you doing?" Rainpaw asked in a sharp voice, trying to stay hidden so that the tom assumed there were cats bigger, stronger, and more powerful than she.
"Washing my paws..." replied the cat, staring into a branch over the ThunderClan border. "Show yourself!"
Rainpaw nervously stepped out. "My...my mentor's gone for help, you know!" she stammered. "There might be more of you around!"
The cat cocked his head. "And why would there be more of us? I come alone."
"You're...you're a kittypet! I've heard stories about...I can't...you might...I can't trust you!"
"Loner," corrected the tom quickly. "But why? Why can't you trust me? Because I was meeting with a cat from your own Clan? Firepelt's a lovely warrior, you know."
"She tried to kill me!"
"My name's Tiger. Meet me at moonhigh."
The sun was high in the sky by the time Rainpaw woke up. She had decided not to go meet Tiger at moonhigh, so she wouldn't be betraying her Clan. She would just have to find out more.
Rainpaw was pacing the spot where she had seen Tiger before, and, soon enough, he showed up on ShadowClan territory.
"I waited for you at moonhigh you know," he mewed in the same matter-of-fact voice he had used the day before.
"I couldn't come! I'm already betraying my Clan by meeting you," Rainpaw hissed. "How'd you find out about Firepelt? Why do you like her so much?"
"You don't...you don't know?" mewed Tiger disbelievingly. "You don't know about...about me? I was Tigershine, I was the greatest warrior, but then I was exiled from ThunderClan!"
"I'll explain in a moment...but you seriously don't know? You've been listening to the elders for over six moons, and you don't know about me?"
Rainpaw shook her head. "But tell me about Firepelt. Why's she so special to you?"
Tiger sat back on his haunches, and stared at the sky. "Firepelt and I...well, she was Firepaw then, but Firepelt and I go way back. Ever since I...well, I used to be ShadowClan, you know, but I loved Firepelt so I moved to ThunderClan. My father was leader of ShadowClan then...and Firepelt's father was deputy before Pebblecloud, so we were both quite close to the leaders, in relationships...but then there was this horrible, horrible battle between ThunderClan and ShadowClan. So many ShadowClan warriors suffered wounds from the brambles and the claws of ThunderClan warriors that most of the fighting cats died. My own father had lost a life from an infected belly wound during that battle. But anyways...why I was exiled? I had to choose between saving Twilightstar and saving my father. My new Clan leader, or my own flesh-and-blood? My father was on his last life....but I didn't know how many Twilightstar had left. You can imagine the choice I made."
"Your father?" whispered Rainpaw, and Tiger nodded.
"Twilightstar lost a life, and Firepelt's father exiled me in the name of Twilightstar, who was still recovering from her death...she still has plenty more to go, however, maybe three or something...but anyways, Firepelt is special...she's had a troubled past, Rainpaw. I'll tell you everything, if you like."
Rainpaw sat back and nodded.
"Firepelt was born to two cats, named Shiningtail and Willowfern. Shiningtail was a WindClan cat, and Willowfern a RiverClan cat. They both moved to ThunderClan to split their differences, pretending to be loners by disguising their scents when they stumbled onto the territory. Firepelt wasn't even a moon old when the two decided to leave her with ThunderClan. Shiningtail proved himself to be a talented warrior, fit for hunting mice, shrews, and birds as well as rabbits. He quickly rose to the position of deputy under Twilightstar. Firepelt didn't even know she was half-Clan...not even a drop ThunderClan, until recently," meowed Tiger. "And...and Firepelt was so torn when she realized that she was half-Clan. She was always so loyal to the warrior code...and...do you want to know why she was so bitter...why she's so...so aggravated and annoyed with you? Why she hates you so much?"
Rainpaw nodded cautiously. Tiger gave her a small smile.
"I can't tell you that now, Rainpaw."
"Not now, little one. In time. Now go back to your Clanmates and be nice to your mentor."
Rainpaw hunted on her way back, so as not to arouse suspicion, and brought back two starlings and a squirrel.
Just as she was carrying the prey back into camp did she realize: she had never, not once, mentioned her name to Tiger.
"Rainpaw!" A pebble dropped outside the den, and the tabby she-cat poked her head out of the apprentice's den.
"What?" she hissed, looking around. Rainpaw looked both ways before settling back down inside her nest and curling up. Another rock dropped outside the den.
Rainpaw tromped outside and saw a pair of glowing amber eyes staring at her.
"Yes! Follow me!"
Rainpaw nervously followed the loner out of the camp and trotted behind him. After passing a bunch of indistinguishable trees, she saw him disappear down a tunnel. Anxiously, she followed.
"Tiger! Tiger! Where are you?" wailed Rainpaw after a few moments of total darkness. She felt a tall on her forehead, and heard his voice murmur in her ear,
"Grasp my tail with your teeth," instructed Tiger, and Rainpaw calmed as light shone in a cave up ahead. They entered a larger cavern, where a river ran through, going from one side to the other and disappearing in the darkness, and moonlight shone through a hole in the roof.
"Sit down," ordered Tiger. Rainpaw sat.
"Why have you taken me here?" she demanded.
"You asked why Firepelt was bitter towards you," Tiger mewed softly. "Why she hates you so much?"
Rainpaw nodded cautiously.
"Because your father is Pebblecloud," Tiger's voice was a whisper. Rainpaw drew back, disappointed.
"What does that have to do with anything? Mosspaw's dad is Breezeclaw."
"Yes, yes, but Pebblecloud's grandfather, Weedfur, killed Willowfern. Yes, Weedfur was a senior warrior (very old, and he had kits when he was very old as well) at the time, and he didn't know any better...he was confused...and he fed her deathberries. He explained to her berries that would cure her disease, but he got the color wrong, and so the queen ate the berries. There was no saving her then. Firepelt was distraught, but Shiningtail was able to overcome his grief and find strength, and that strength made him become deputy. He almost killed Weedfur, but Sunsong stopped him. Sunsong was Weedfur's daughter...and Sunsong was a beautiful, beautiful cat. Young, agile...pretty...a great hunter and fighter...the perfect cat. I almost took her as my mate, but Firepelt....well, back to the point: Weedfur's mate, Cloudwing, had decreasing health, and she killed Shiningpelt, and Weedfur's your great grandfather, so obviously, she hates you for killing her own father...an elder against a new warrior," explained Tiger. "Now you know."
"Thanks," mewed Rainpaw. There was an awkward silence.
"Don't trust him," a voice whispered, and Rainpaw whipped around.
"Did you hear that?" she asked.
"No," mewed the same voice. "He can't hear me. Turn, Rainpaw, you'll see me on the ledge." Rainpaw obeyed, and saw a sightless cat with bulging gray eyes and barely any fur, just a few tufts along his spine. His body was lumpy, and his claws were curled like rats.
"Goodbye, Rainpaw," mewed Tiger. He began to walk away.
Rainpaw began to panic. She could hear Tiger's pawsteps echoing around the whole cavern, and she struggled to figure out which way he had gone.
"Tiger!" she yowled in the darkness. "Come back! Stormflight! Pebblecloud!" The young cat stumbled over her own paws and tripped, landing hard on her face. She heard a CRACK! and blinding pain shot up her left leg.
Rainpaw wailed. Her fur was fluffed up in fright and anger, and her hindleg was throbbing.
Suddenly, she felt a soft tail touch her flank, and turned to see a pair of glowing green eyes staring at her in the darkness. She could make out the shape of a scrawny, but sleek, white-and-ginger tom with a very pale muzzle and glittering eyes.
"Who are you?" gasped Rainpaw.
"A friend," replied the mysterious cat. "I shall guide you, young one. It is not your destiny to be stuck in these tunnels forever as I have been."
"Not your destiny," chimed in another voice. Rainpaw whipped around and saw the same hairless cat with the bulging gray eyes and the rat-like tail, with the lumpy body and the twitching ears.
"Not. Your. Destiny."
"Jay's Wing, my friend?" mewed the first ginger cat.
"Fallen Leaves," mewed the newcomer, a dark gray cat. Jayfeather had arrived as well. "Rock." Jayfeather nodded to the old cat. The former medicine cat turned to Fallen Leaves. "You must get her out of here. She mustn't die. She is part of a great destiny that is too big for you to even imagine. Greater than the Three."
Fallen Leaves nodded. "Of course. You may accompany us, if you wish."
Jayfeather shook his head. "I can't. But I have explained this to you." Rainpaw was shocked to find that the strict and blunt medicine cat was getting choked up. "She can't die, Fallen Leaves!"
"What's wrong?" Rainpaw asked uncertainly. "Jayfeather, I--I'm scared, but...why are you so--?"
"Upset?" asked Jayfeather, barely choking back a sob. "Because you're my kin, too, Rainpaw. I've been watching over you since you were a kit! Your destiny is greater than that of any other cat, and I've...I've grown to care for you. Now that I'm dead, I'm not limited by the boundaries of being a medicine cat!"
Rainpaw realized what he meant. "Thank you, Jayfeather. I'm...I'm honored."
"Yeah," he mumbled uncertainly.
"Come. It shall rain soon," intervened Fallen Leaves. "Let us go. Come, Rainpaw."
Rainpaw followed the cat (Warrior? Apprentice?) through a tunnel which twisted turned, sloped up and slanted downward, until they finally emerged. Fallen Leaves said goodbye at the mouth of the tunnel, briefly touching his nose to Rainpaw's shoulder, before making a shadowy retreat back into the tunnels.
"Why can't you leave?" Rainpaw whispered after him, but the faint sighing of the trees was the only thing that answered her.
"He tried to kill me!" shrieked Rainpaw.
"I know, now shut up!" hissed Firepelt, slapping her tail over the mouth of her apprentice.
"So did you!"
"Did not," spat the mentor defiantly, before closing her eyes and trying to make the fur lie flat on her shoulders. "Okay, I was trying to save you. You may not understand, but I have no idea how you found out about Tiger. You've either been eavesdropping, or you've been visiting my dreams or something, but that isn't important right now. We might be nearing a battle with WindClan. Now, since they're agile, when they spring at you--"
"I know why you hate me," blurted Rainpaw. Firepelt looked surprised, and sat up from how she was crouching. "I'm sorry for what my great grandparents did, but I am not Weedfur or Cloudwing! I'm sorry both of your own parents were killed, and I'm sorry you're half-Clan! But my father is deputy now, and it's not my fault! You don't have to take it out on me!"
Firepelt's face was a mask of indifference, but Rainpaw stared deep into her green eyes, which were glittering with incredulity, fury, sadness, and a tiny bit of fright about the knowledge her apprentice possessed.
"Well, Rainpaw," she said, trying to sound polite and controlled, "I'm sorry. Let's start over, and pretend that I know nothing of your parentage and that you don't know I'm half--half-Clan, and you've never met Tiger, and I've theoretically had no parents. You're a talented cat, Rainpaw, we just need to get along better! For StarClan's sake, please don't talk back to every direction I give!"
"I'm sorry," mewed Rainpaw quietly. "I'll try, Firepelt. I swear, I will."
"Me too," agreed the warrior. She lowered her voice so Rainpaw could barely hear it, but it seemed like she wasn't even talking to the wind. "I'm sorry. I will do better."
A blow flew over Rainpaw's ear and she rolled over onto her back. She leaped up and saw the back of a ginger pelt, before the fur snagged underneath her claws. Rainpaw was flat on her mentor's back, and Firepelt struggled to get up. Finally she gave up, panting.
"Whew. You're good at this, Rainpaw. In a few sunrises, we'll be able to beat WindClan in this upcoming battle," mewed Firepelt. "Come on. You get first pick off of the fresh-kill pile. I'm definitely telling Twilightstar about this!"
The mentor and apprentice had gotten along quite well since that day when Rainpaw had confronted Firepelt about Tiger. Firepelt had become increasingly polite, and Rainpaw firmly shut her mouth whenever Firepelt accidentally let slip a scathing remark here and there.
"I caught a magpie!" boasted Mosspaw once they were all in the camp. "Rainpaw, what did you catch?"
Rainpaw laughed and batted black and white feathers off of her denmate's face. "I caught a--"
A red tom with a narrow face leaped into the camp, screeching a battle cry. A stream of cats followed him, and the ThunderClan cats scattered, taking up their posts. Rainpaw dashed to the elders' den with Mosspaw.
The whole Clan had been preparing for an attack by WindClan, and Twilightstar had even gone far enough to assign them posts to defend inside their camp. The tortoiseshell leader didn't believe in the tension that WindClan had created, and she most certainly didn't want to be the one to attack. She knew it had only been a matter of time before the lithe and agile cats attacked ThunderClan, and she had a feeling it wouldn't just be a border skirmish.
Immediately a ginger tom charged for Rainpaw and Mosspaw, followed by a reddish-pink she-cat that was skittering on the rocky ground in the ThunderClan camp.
"Fallow--Fallowstep!" wailed the she-cat, "Help!!"
The ginger tom whipped around and hauled his apprentice up. Rainpaw lashed out with a hind leg and hissed into the den to the elders. "Get back against the back wall and stay there!"
"Yes, leader," mewed Ivypool mockingly. She nudged Halfleg back into the den.
Rainpaw yowled as a heavy blow landed on her back, and she whirled around with and slashed with her claws, biting with her teeth. The apprentice reeled backwards and skidded back down onto the floor of the ravine, scrambling for the entrance.
"Rosepaw!" screeched Fallowstep, but he gave the defenders one last, fleeting look and dashed after her at full speed.
"Mosspaw!" gasped Rainpaw, gesturing with her tail down to were Redstar had Twilightstar in a death grip. "Look!"
"Twilightstar!" yowled Mosspaw, but Rainpaw held him back.
"Let me deal with him," she ordered. "Stay here and keep Ivypool and Halfleg safe."
Rainpaw raced towards the WindClan leader, flicking her tail to Scorchpaw to join her. Together they bowled over the red leader just as he was opening his jaws and lowering his mouth to Twilightstar's throat. The leader croaked feebly as the WindClan cat was tugged off of her, and Rainpaw hissed at her to go.
"Fernfur!" wailed Blackpelt. "Fernfur, help m--!"
The black warrior's voice was abruptly cut off, and he rolled off of a gray she-cat who hefted herself off from under him and scrambled away from the dying warrior.
"SWEETNOSE!" roared Blackpelt's son. "Sweetnose, you are going to PAY!" Fernfur dashed after the she-cat, whose blue eyes were filled with terror and surprise at what she had done.
Blackpelt was pawing at his throat. A gray tom padded toward him, and a turn of the head revealed it not to be Smokebreeze, like Rainpaw thought, but Willowstorm. Rainpaw scratched Redstar's back as Stormflight leaped on the leader, and ran to attack the merciless WindClan cat.
"Get away from him!" she screamed, and Willowstorm backed away.
"I wasn't--" protested Willowstorm, but Rainpaw cut him off with a blow to his head.
"Rainpaw. Get...get...Waterstar," gurgled Twilightstar, who was coughing from the medicine den. Rainpaw began to argue, but Twilightstar's fading eyes urged her to run for RiverClan.
"Waterstar! Waterstar, help us!" yowled Rainpaw.
But the RiverClan camp was empty, and she heard a battle cry from her camp. RiverClan was not going to help them.
Despite the revulsion of going to ShadowClan for help, Rainpaw was set on it. She flew through the camp, ignoring the distraught mewls of the remaining kits, elders, and queens. She bounded through the forest until she reached the pines of ShadowClan.
"Stay back!" A snarl halted Rainpaw as she flew towards the border. "ThunderClan filth," mewed a tortoiseshell tom haughtily.
"Run," mouthed a dark brown tom, who was standing next to a small white apprentice. The apprentice's green eyes widened pleadingly, and she flicked her tail anxiously, gesturing back towards her border.
"Run," the apprentice hissed, and Rainpaw recognized her as Smallpaw, the sister of the only other apprentice in ShadowClan, Cinderpaw. The tortoiseshell tom whipped around, looking for the source of the noise, but the warrior and apprentice stayed silent and unblinking as his amber gaze raked over them.
"Must have been the trees," he muttered. "Now, you bit of fox-dung, would you like to be shredded?"
"No," squeaked Rainpaw. "Thunder--"
"I don't care about ThunderClan," whispered the tom, leaning over the border so that he was nose to nose with Rainpaw. "It's you tresspassing I care about!"
"We're under attack and we need your help!" pleaded Rainpaw desperately. She could see a scary gleam in the tom's eye.
"We must help them, Killer," mewed Smallpaw's mentor.
Killer whipped around. "Shut up, Tawnyfur!"
"He's right," piped up Smallpaw. "I'm going to get help." She bounded away, and Killer flung himself after her with a roar. The apprentice sprinted harder, and soon the two disappeared.
"Please come," begged Rainpaw, turning to Tawnyfur. "We need help, and Twilightstar's dying!"
"Smallpaw will get there before Killer," mewed Tawnyfur confidently. "She's fast. And even if Killer won't come, Clawstar can assign him to guard the camp. Nettle and Claw can talk some sense into them, they're the most sensible of those former rogues."
"Thank you," whispered Rainpaw when a few warriors appeared on the horizon, bounding towards the two. "This way!"
A ginger she-cat, a black and gray tom, a dark gray she-cat, a gray tom, and a black tom trailed behind Smallpaw, with a battle-scarred red tom following them.
They all darted after the tabby apprentice as she raced towards her camp, still hearing the shrieks of her Clan.
"StarClan save us!" wailed a voice Rainpaw could recognize as Twilightstar. "StarClan, help us!"
With a yowl, Rainpaw launched herself into camp and onto the back of a brown she-cat with bushy fur, while clawing a blue-gray cat in the face with her hind legs. She could smell the RiverClan stench clogging up the camp, and she did her best to fight her way through the struggling mass of screeching cats.
"Rainpaw!" screeched Mosspaw. "Look out!"
Rainpaw whirled around and gave Palepaw a scratched muzzle to remember her by, and then plunged back into the battle. She gripped a huge and muscular gray tom by the shoulders, and Mosspaw came to join her with Scorchpaw bouncing at his side.
Suddenly both of the apprentices' eyes widened in fear. "No!" yowled Mosspaw, and launched himself on the ginger ShadowClan she-cat. "We can't fight them all! It's hopeless!"
"Get off me, frog-brain!" spat the ginger she-cat. "We've come to help! Now let's claw some fur!"
With a screech, ShadowClan jumped into the fray. RiverClan and WindClan moved as one, fleeing to the thorn barrier to scatter. In the midst of all of the terror, a tortoiseshell tom jumped upon a falling red body, and Rainpaw cheered. Redstar was going down!
"No!" cried the ginger she-cat, spinning around again. She raced towards the red figure, which Raiinpaw realized wasn't Redstar at all. And the tortoiseshell wasn't Twilightstar.
"Clawstar!" wailed the she-cat. "Clawstar, our kits!"
"He has nine lives, Claw, it's all right," mewed the black and gray tom comfortingly. From across the camp, Nightfur, a black tom, swallowed uncomfortably, before leaning over to whisper in the dark gray she-cat's ear.
The she-cat gasped. "N-N-Nightfur...! You...!"
"No," whispered Claw. "No, no, no, wake up, Clawstar, wake up! What about Shinekit and Sunkit and Petalkit?"
"He's not dead!" snarled Claw to the dark gray she-cat. "Shut up, Ashtail! You know nothing, nothing about Clawstar!"
"He's Nightstar now," mewed a soothing voice, and Nightfire padded out of the medicine den. "Anyone who is injured, come to me, please! Littlepaw, we have many injured cats, so ready our supplies with fresh cobwebs. Come here, dear, I'll give you something for shock," mewed Nightfire kindly to Claw, who was wailing over the body of her leader and who must have been her mate.
"Nightstar! Nightstar! Nightstar!" chanted ShadowClan, their eyes gleaming as they looked upon their new leader.
"Not. For. Long."
And the standing cats watched, terrified, as the black tom was torn apart underneath the claws of the former rogue, Killer.
"I'm leader now," he snarled. "You will all bow down to me. We may have been allies today, ThunderClan, but we will never, ever, work together again. Come, ShadowClan!"
No cat moved.
Killer lunged out and grabbed Smallpaw, pressing a claw against her stomach. "If no one follows me within the next moments, she will be the first to die under my reign. Now, I repeat myself! ShadowClan, come."
No one hesitated to follow their new leader out of the ThunderClan camp, leaving the bodies of their fallen behind.
"Blackpelt? Blackpelt, wake up! You're in the medicine den, Nightfire's cared for you, you're all right. Please wake up, Blackpelt," pleaded Mosspaw, prodding his mentor. "Blackpelt?"
But the shining green eyes were closed, the black pelt was smooth, only the belly fur clotted with blood, and the scar still remained visible on the young warrior's forehead.
"I'm sorry, Mosspaw," mewed Nightfire sadly. "He's gone."
Mosspaw buried his face in the dead warrior's fur and began to sob. Rainpaw sat back in the medicine den, her own eyes closed, but her breathing steady. One of her ears was torn and her muzzle was stained with blood. Tufts of multi-colored fur clotted her claws, but she looked peaceful.
Nightfire bowed her head and backed up. Littlepaw gently licked her brother's head and began to soothe Flowertail, who was very close to kitting but was recovering from fever and shock after the battle.
"Pinewillow! Moo-oonshadow! Fernfur-r!" A distraught mew rang through the camp. Rainpaw jerked up again, and a thought flew into her head.
Pinewillow. Moonshadow. Fernfur. Firepelt. Siblings. Mother? Father?
"Firepelt," mewed Rainpaw dumbly. "Firepelt."
"Shh, dear, Firepelt's all right," soothed Nightfire.
"Bring me Firepelt," hissed Rainpaw. Nightfire dashed away after hearing the venom in the apprentice's voice. Within moments the ginger warrior had scrambled into the den.
"Rainpaw? Rainpaw, are you all right? Oh, your ear, Rainpaw!"
"What about Pinewillow? Moonshadow? Fernfur? Who were their parents?"
"Halfleg...Halfleg and a now dead cat," Firepelt replied shakily, taken aback by the firmness in Rainpaw's voice.
"Does everyone know?"
"But you're....you've always been...!"
"I've never tried to pretend...I love them, and they love me, but we know we're not brother and sister."
"I've come to clean your moss," announced Rainpaw, shoving into the elders' den. Ivypool turned her head, her pale eyes glinting, then clouding over.
"Hmm?" she asked.
"She's come to do our moss, Ivypool," soothed Halfleg.
"Oh. Okay! Rosepetal, can you--" mumbled Ivypool.
"I'm not Rosepetal anymore, Ivypool. I'm Halfleg, remember?"
"I don't care what your name is. Cinderstar may have changed it once you broke both of your legs, but you'll still be Rosepetal to me," mewed Ivypool stubbornly. Her silver and white tabby pelt gleamed in the dim light.
Halfleg shook her head. "Well, I'll start moving my moss. You had better get a move on as well, Ivypool."
The old she-cat grunted, but extracted herself from her nest, shaking moss from her pelt, and clawed it together into a ball, shoving it at Rainpaw. Within moments the two she-cats had rid their nests of the moss, and Rainpaw threw it out of the camp, bringing in fresh moss from Nightfire.
"Nice moss," remarked Ivypool. A screech came from the nursery. Ivypool's eyes clouded over. "Kits?"
"Flowertail," meowed Rainpaw in reply, shoving a pawful of moss at the elder. "Ivypool. Halfleg."
"Thank you. Now, go talk to Flowertail and tell Mosspaw to bring back some mouse bile! He was begging for a story the other day, but he has to work for it!"
"I'll tell him, Ivypool," promised Rainpaw. "Mosspaw!"
Darkness had fallen.
"Get your smelly paws off of me," groaned Rainpaw, pushing the other apprentice over. He had been covered in mouse bile since sun-down, after staying extra long in the elders' den to hear the end of the Great Battle story. He had slipped when carrying the smelly moss out of the camp, and it had fallen all over him. Mosspaw had thought it was a WindClan warrior, and squealed, squirming all over the ball and getting the stink all over his pelt. His sister, Littlepaw, pushed him into the stream to clean himself. It didn't work.
"So we won!" he muttered in his sleep, but heaved himself off of his denmate.
Rainpaw looked around. So Ivypool wasn't the only still living survivor of the Great Battle, she learned. It was a common mistake, because Rosepetal (Halfleg) didn't have the same name as she did before. She only survived because she was kitting during the time of the battle.
Rainpaw was running through the forest.
The scent of mouse hit her tongue like a flash of lightning, and she pounced upon the small piece of prey, swiftly killing it and then settling down to eat it.
Rainpaw started, and looked around with a sigh of relief to see the Three settled down on the grass across from her.
"Hi, Dovewing, Lionblaze, Jayfeather," greeted Rainpaw.
"So you've learned about Halfleg, eh?"
"Yup. What's so special...I mean, why was she ignored?"
"Because she knew," mewed Lionblaze simply. "Darling Rosepetal."
"No. Cinderheart," replied Lionblaze. "But that's not the point. She knew about Fallen Leaves, the Ancients, the Dark Forest, the Tribe of Rushing Water..."
"But she doesn't know now."
"No," said Dovewing. "She doesn't. She's forgotten it, and it's just as well, I suppose..."
"Why did WindClan attack us so viciously?"
"I was getting to that," mewed Jayfeather. "You know Redstar, correct?" Rainpaw nodded. "His father was my half-brother. Mine and Lionblaze's. Redstar's grandfather was our father."
"So Redstar's father is half-Clan?"
"No, dear Rainpaw," whispered Lionblaze. "We are half-Clan."
The last thing Rainpaw saw before darkness consumed her was Jayfeather's pleading blue eyes and his tail wrapped around hers.
The Clan held vigil for Blackpelt and Pinewillow, who had died a few sunrises after the battle from an infected wound.
Mosspaw was sitting with his nose buried in his former mentor's fur along with Orchidtail and Shortleap, the warrior's parents. Fernfur, Moonshadow, Firepelt, and Halfleg were gathered around the young warrior, as well as Thrushleaf, the dead warrior's former mentor.
"Flamefur, you will take over Mosspaw's training," announced Twilightstar in the morning, her voice ringing through the camp. Flamefur bowed his head.
"Thank you, Twilightstar. I will do all I can to help this young apprentice achieve--"
But his short speech was cut off by a screech from the nursery. "Flowertail!" burst Smokebreeze, dashing to the nursery. "Flowertail, I'm coming!"
"You can't go in," mewed Littlepaw. "Stay. Out."
"Let me see my mate," snarled Smokebreeze, trying to shove past her. Littlepaw was no match for the older warrior, but Breezeclaw leaped forward and dragged his Clanmate back by his scruff.
"Respect your medicine cat," the warrior warned. Smokebreeze backed away, and then pounded into the warrior's den. This was a battle Flowertail must fight alone.
The whole Clan was growing restless as the sun sank low in the sky. Pebblecloud was just returning with a hunting patrol, and they worriedly dropped their plentiful catch on the huge pile. "She's still kitting?" he mewed in an undertone to Rainpaw, who nodded.
A sigh of relief came from the nursery, and Littlepaw poked her head out. "You can come in now, Smokebreeze!"
Smokebreeze drew his head up from where he was curled outside the nursery, and immediately slipped inside. His overjoyed mew rang through the camp. "Those are wonderful names!" he trilled, and pounced out, shaking his head to clear it of the moss that had fallen onto him. "Oakkit, Shadekit, and Blackkit!"
Blackkit was most likely named after Flowertail's brother, Blackpelt. She had violently protested staying in the nursery through his vigil, but Nightfire had warned her she had better. Blackpelt would understand, she had soothed.
"How's Flowertail?" some cat asked.
"She's still recovering from her fever," replied Smokebreeze, still happy. "But she's getting better. Littlepaw's got her on some thyme, and Nightfire's made sure she eats feverfew at sunrise and sunset every day for the next few sunrises."
Rainpaw sat back on her haunches, satisfied with the queen and her kits' health. Thank StarClan, she thought. I thought Flowertail and the kits would never make it through this!
The apprentice turned to her mentor. "Can we go hunting?" Rainpaw begged Firepelt. "We haven't been out in ages, and my legs are aching with the anxiety of Flowertail's kitting!"
"Of course." Firepelt's voice was tight. "Come on, Rainpaw. We might be able to fit in some night battle training if we're lucky."
Rainpaw padded out of the camp beside her mentor. "What about Mosspaw? Shouldn't he help us train?" she asked, bouncing along. Firepelt shook her head.
"I need to talk to you, Rainpaw," she began. Rainpaw stopped. "I know you're close to Mosspaw. But I should warn you--"
"If this is some lecture about me being too young, there's nothing going on between me and Mosspaw! He's a friend," interrupted Rainpaw.
"It's not that, but that's good to know," Firepelt continued with a small smile, her eyes serious. "But...you have to know something, Mosspaw, he's not what he seems to be. He's really...you should have seen him with Blackpelt in training one day, they were vicious! I...I'm worried about him, that's all, I suppose, but--"
"Maybe he's just ambitious?"
"I doubt it, Rainpaw...you should have seen him...but I want to tell you something I've overheard...through the trees, but I've heard it from multiple cats who are reliable sources on it, however, so...I've heard that Mosspaw was getting...friendly with some cats from other Clans..."
"He wouldn't," Rainpaw interjected, concerned. Rainpaw was uncertain and frightened. She was one of his best friends and confidants, beside Littlepaw, and she was a little bit hurt that he didn't tell her.
"I want you to watch him, Rainpaw. Think of it as a...pre-assessment." Firepelt's eyes suddenly gleamed. "Yes, a pre-assessment."
"Got it." Rainpaw tried to sound confident, but inside she was trembling. She was supposed to spy on her best friend! "I'll stick to him like a burr in his pelt."
Rainpaw followed the dark brown apprentice through the undergrowth, watching his tail disappear through a thorn bush, and she clambered silently up a tree to stalk him from above.
It was daylight, Flowertail was recovering, and her three kits had already opened their eyes. Oakkit was a brown tabby she-cat, Blackkit a black she-cat, and Shadekit a handsome tortoiseshell tom.
Suddenly Mosspaw stopped. He stared around, then, tail twitching, looked up. His eyes found Rainpaw, and she froze. If he saw her, he didn't show it, because he kept on walking towards the ShadowClan border.
Three warriors melted from the shadows and padded towards him. Rainpaw could recognize Swiftnose, Darkpelt, and Ashtail, all of whom participated in the battle.
"Hi," Mosspaw mewed nervously.
"Hello," replied Ashtail. "You have information for us on how to...overthrow Killer?"
Mosspaw nodded. "StarClan...StarClan have told me that even the greatest tide can be controlled by the rain. I think...I think it means Rainpaw's got to be the one to kill him."
"But that doesn't even make sense," interjected Darkpelt. "I mean, it's probably some Twoleg nonsense, but everyone knows StarClan controls everything...unless it was a prophecy?"
"It most likely was," agreed Mosspaw.
"We said no such thing!" mewed a cat from behind Rainpaw, and she whipped around, almost losing her hold on the branch on which she was resting.
Jayfeather was sitting behind her with Lionblaze, Dovewing, and a black she-cat Rainpaw hadn't seen before.
"Rainpaw, my sibling, my sibling, Rainpaw," introduced Jayfeather monotonously. "Now, that apprentice is a lying bit of fox--"
"He's not," argued Rainpaw. "He's normally--"
"Keep your voice down," implored Hollyleaf. "I don't believe they properly introduced me, I'm Hollyleaf, their sister."
" 'Their' as in Lionblaze and Jayfeather?"
Hollyleaf nodded. "I was the one child of Leafpool and Crowfeather that wasn't part of the Three. And Mosspaw's a liar."
"He's just trying--"
"We know what he's doing, dear," interrupted Dovewing kindly. "And we do approve of it. He's trying to help the other Clans, despite how that's against the warrior code, but he understands what Killer will do. He won't stop at ShadowClan."
"Can't you send a tree to crash and kill him?" hissed Rainpaw.
"Once would look like an accident, but an omen. Twice would be suspicious. Three times would make ShadowClan think StarClan wasn't happy with them (which we're not), four would make ShadowClan know we're not happy with them. And nine times...ShadowClan would reject us," mewed Dovewing.
"How will I kill him nine times?"
"With guile," retorted Jayfeather. They disappeared.
So had the Shadow/Clan cats. Mosspaw turned to go.
He froze for a moment. "You can come down. I know you're up there, Rainpaw. And I'm not happy with you."
"I can't believe you, Rainpaw!" Mosspaw sounded furious.
"I can help you!" pleaded Rainpaw. "Please, Mosspaw!" She ducked as he lashed out with an unsheathed forepaw.
"No," snarled Mosspaw.
"But you said--"
"ShadowClan don't want some other cat from ThunderClan, especially a she-cat, to be the one to kill their vicious leader! Some of them would kill you to keep you from stealing their glory--"
"That's what you want then, isn't it?" spat Rainpaw in defiance. "To kill me? Thanks a lot, Mosspaw."
"No! Rainpaw, I--"
But Rainpaw stalked away. As soon as she was sure she was out of sight of her denmate, she began to race towards the stream, stopping only when she was just at its banks. Across the border, a ShadowClan patrol prowled, consisting of Killer, Strike, and another she-cat that Rainpaw had never seen before.
"Nettle!" Strike hissed, jerking his head towards Rainpaw. Rainpaw backed away, but the dark brown she-cat, Nettle, shook her head gently. Stay, she mouthed. We'll help you.
"Hide," whispered Strike, gesutring to a small clump of weeds as Killer opened his jaws to scent the air.
"ThunderClan," he mewed softly, turning to his companions. "Know what that means, friends? There's a cat around. And when I get my claws on it, it will be sorry..."
Strike and Nettle feigned puzzlement, but Strike opened his mouth. "Well, we are at their border, aren't we?"
"Don't you be smart with me!" growled Killer, and in an instant his claws were at Strike's throat. "Now," he released him, "if I hear another word..."
Strike nodded fearfully.
"Let's go," decided Killer. "Must just be the border..."
They began to pad away. Rainpaw held her breath, not daring to breathe the sigh of relief that was bursting from her mouth. A loud noise came from behind her, but Rainpaw stayed still.
Suddenly, the reeds were torn apart and Rainpaw saw amber eyes right at her throat, before everything went black and she sank into unconsciousness.
"How could he? That wasn't his path!"
"You were the one who gave him one of his lives, Yellowfang."
"Stop bickering," another voice mewed from the shadows around Rainpaw. She blearily blinked open her eyes, and saw with a jolt, Clawstar sitting beside two she-cats, a tortoiseshell and a gray pelted cat with matted, patched fur.
"You're one to talk!" retorted Yellowfang, embarrassed.
"I was supposed to! It's my duty as a StarClan cat! I was former leader!" Clawstar replied, ruffled.
Rainpaw looked around and saw the three, most likely all ShadowClan, though the gray cat, Yellowfang, didn't look a thing like a ShadowClan cat, cats disappear. Three familiar pelts materialized around her.
"Jayfeather! Lionblaze! Dovewing! What....what am I doing here? Am I..." Horror gripped the apprentice. "Am I dead?"
Dovewing shook her head. "But barely. Killer nearly pulverized you, but luckily Whiskertail was gathering herbs nearby and was able to save you. You're with ShadowClan now. Nettle and Strike tried to aid you, but they couldn't do that without betraying their own loyalty to StarClan and the true leader of ShadowClan."
"We can't tell you," mewed Lionblaze softly. "I'm sorry. But we have to tell you something..."
"What we said in that tree," Jayfeather said, "we meant it. You must be the one to kill Killer! Take away all of his lives..."
"Kill a cat nine times!" Rainpaw cried. "That's horrible!"
The Three exchanged a glance. "Well, we were at his ceremony..." Dovewing murmured carefully, "and...well, he didn't get nine lives. Clawstar said, lying of course, that there were seven other leaders alive, and that they had all deserted ShadowClan at one point in time....or another. Blackstar went to live as a kittypet...Rowanstar mysteriously disappeared after four lives, leaving five that he had kept, apparently, and his own deputy, Dawnpelt, became leader, she deserted too. ShadowClan has had a botched history, Rainpaw. Clawstar's the only one to have lived out all nine of his lives since Tigerstar's reign. Of course, he tried to protect ShadowClan but was killed all...at once, I suppose.
"So go live, Rainpaw," Dovewing mewed.
"Fight your hardest," warned Lionblaze.
"And remember....no matter what, no matter who loses faith in you, we believe in you."
"Forever," chorused all Three. "Until all eternity."
Mosspaw stared at his denmate with cold eyes, before turning his back on her and following his mentor.
Flamefur gently shook his head, and turned back around, following his apprentice. "Soon enough, you'll be a warrior," he encouraged Mosspaw, who had just missed a catch.
"Not if I keep up like this," hissed Mosspaw.
Flamefur shrugged his small shoulders, and padded deeper into the forest. Once the two were out of earshot, Rainpaw turned to Firepelt with an annoyed sigh.
"Now he hates me!"
"Well, you know what he was up to, don't you?" Rainpaw nodded glumly.
"I only had one mission," complained Rainpaw. "Not that I wanted to do another one," she added quickly.
Firepelt nodded curtly. "Killer...even though I was never part of Mosspaw's plan, I agree with him. He has to be taken away."
"He only has two lives," blurted Rainpaw. Firepelt turned around.
"Yup," replied Rainpaw grimly. "Two."
"Rainpaw, this is great!" purred Firepelt. "Two! Oh, great StarClan, thank you so much, thank you, thank you, thank you! Rainpaw, this is going to be so easy!"
They soon padded back to camp, fresh-kill swinging from their jaws. Twilightstar hopped down from her den with Pebblecloud at her side.
"Scorchpaw! Weaselnose!" Twilightstar called, and Rainpaw bounced excitedly over to her friend.
"You're going to be a warrior!" cried Rainpaw. "A warrior, Scorchpaw!"
The red warrior looked happy, but slightly embarrassed.
"All cats who are old enough to catch their own fresh-kill gather here to hear me speak!"
Cats bounded out from all of the dens, emerging from the dirtplace, bounding from the thorn tunnel.
"I, Twilightstar, leader of ThunderClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down upon this apprentice. She has trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend her to you in turn. Scorchpaw, do you promise to uphold the Warrior Code, even at the cost of your life?"
"I do," mewed Scorchpaw strongly. Her pale green eyes blazed with happiness as Twilightstar opened her mouth to speak her new name.
"Then, by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Scorchpaw, from this moment on, you shall be known as Scorchwing. StarClan honors your warmth and honesty, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan."
The Clan was filled with tumultuous cheers. "Scorchwing! Scorchwing! Scorchwing!" they chanted, and the new warrior beamed.
"Come on," mewed Thrushleaf, gesuring with his tail. Raventail and Appleleaf, the newest warrior, beckoned her as well.
Moonshadow limped out of the medicine den, his ears perked. Fernfur followed him more carefully. Both warriors had just suffered from infected wounds, as well as Smokebreeze and Stonetail. The four warriors were still weak despite the time span fom the battle to the present.
"Okay, cats, Pebblecloud, take a patrol to the lake and see if there are any water voles or any other water prey...we want to keep ourselves plump, because Greenleaf is almost over, everyone! Let's go, let's go," ordered Twilightstar, flicking her tail.
"All right," decided Pebblecloud. "We'll do it in teams. Stormflight, Orchidtail, Fernfur, come with me. Raventail, you go with Thrushleaf, Firepelt, and Rainpaw. Meet at the Sky Oak after you've caught a good share. Let's go."
The teams of four cats bounded off. "I'm the oldest!" argued Thrushleaf. Raventail shook her head.
"No, I am! Orchidtail had me before Owlstorm had you!"
"Please, please!" Pebblecloud's voice said from behind them. "Thrushleaf, I'm replacing you with Orchidtail. Orchidtail, lead the patrol so I can keep an eye on this young one." His voice was stern, but his eyes gleamed.
Once they reached the lake, Pebblecloud led his patrol to the left while Orchidtail went to the right. The tortoiseshell she-cat stopped a few tail-lengths from the lapping shore, and then flicked her tail for them to split up. Firepelt led Rainpaw towards the water, and together they sat at the shore, sniffing through the rocks to see if any small rodents or birds were pecking at the fallen seeds.
"Thrush!" whispered Rainpaw, gesturing with her tail to where the small bird was perched on a large rock, pecking downward at a few seeds.
"Go on." Firepelt nudged her forward with a small smile, and Rainpaw slunk over the rocks, moving closer to the thrush. She pounced.
The thrush went limp, and Rainpaw sat up, feathers stuck around her muzzle.
"Great catch!" congratulated Firepelt.
Suddenly a few cats emerged from the WindClan border farther down the strip of beach. And they weren't WindClan.
The RiverClan cats swarmed towards Firepelt and Rainpaw, who were joined by Orchidtail and Raventail.
"Waterstar? Minnowfoot? Hazelclaw...Otterwing, Brownpelt, Fishtail? Would...would you like to see Twilightstar?" asked Pebblecloud. The RiverClan leader shook her head.
"No," she sneered. "It's not Twilightstar we would like to see. It's the skin of your pelts. RiverClan, attack!"
Hazelclaw leaped on top of Rainpaw, who bit him hard on the paw. He screeched and hopped back, cursing and limping. He scored his claws across her face. Rainpaw felt blood spatter his claws, and her vision suddenly went red. She stumbled back. Hazelclaw yowled triumphantly, but it was abruptly cut off as Rainpaw pounced on him, sinking her claws into his back and not letting go.
"You're just another piece of prey," she snarled in his ear, then bit down hard. Rainpaw blinked away blood and saw Firepelt sending Jaytail spinning away, reeling. Palepaw bowled over Rainpaw while Firepelt took on Hazelclaw.
"Get out of it, Palepaw," snapped Rainpaw, kicking him in the belly as she got on top of him. They rolled over and over, and suddenly the RiverClan cat was on top of her, hissing into her face.
"It's Palewhisker now, apprentice," he growled. Rainpaw gripped his leg in her teeth and didn't let go until her teeth scraped bone and the new warrior squealed in pain.
"Go back to the nursery, Palekit!" she spat. Rainpaw spun around to face another warrior, but more kept coming. Pebblecloud's other patrol had arrived, and they were fighting like fire as well. The RiverClan warriors were brutal, however, and Pebblecloud couldn't spare a moment to hiss at anyone to go for help. Even if he did, all of the fighters knew that the RiverClan cats would hare after them and catch them, possibly raiding their camp and hurting their kits and elders.
Rainpaw thought of Shadekit, Blackkit, and Oakkit with a jolt, pretending to be RiverClan and ThunderClan, and play-fighting, not knowing that a real battle was taking place far beyond their reach. Twilightstar would never know, and the whole patrol would be killed.
Rainpaw screamed. A muscular gray tom had his teeth in her tail, his amber eyes glinting maliciously. "Stonenose," she cried, fury spilling over her voice. Her face was still dripping blood, and it spattered on the pale gray pelt as she leaped on him, ripping her precious, ragged tail out ofhis jaws and pouncing on him with such ferocity that he backed off for a moment, before plunging back in and biting and scratching her with all of his might.
"Too weak, kit?" he taunted, until a flying ginger shape bowled him over. Firepelt was scoring her claws across his belly, and he squeaked like a kit every time the sharp claws of the orange warrior scored a scar in his flank and underbelly.
Together, the mentor and apprentice pummeled the senior RiverClan warrior until he fled, wailing, hopefully back to his own camp.
Palewhisker was back on top of Rainpaw, but Firepelt hauled him off and threw him by the scruff towards the lake.
"Help! I can't swim!" he cried, and Rainpaw watched as he flailed in the water.
"Get out before you kill yourself," snapped Waterstar, looking around from where she was engaged in combat with Pebblecloud. The deputy was able to clamp his jaws around her leg and pull, raking with his hindclaws on her exposed gray belly.
Palewhisker scrambled out.
"Hoping for pity?" asked Rainpaw. "You're not going to get any from us!"
For some reason, Palewhisker smirked. "Yup. I'm getting it from my own Clanmates."
Another tangle of fur landed on her back, flattening Rainpaw to the ground. "Get off me!"
She heaved and an orange cat went flying. Rainpaw gasped in horror. "Firepelt!"
"Think again!" The cat spun around. It was a tom, and he looked angry. He advanced towards Rainpaw, who lunged out with her hindlegs to give Palewhisker a scratched face. Rainpaw's own face was still spilling blood, but she tried to blink it away and ignore the swelling of her jaws and forehead.
A gray she-cat emerged from the screeching mass. "Come on, Fishtail," she simpered. "Let's finish this scrawny apprentice quickly. She can't even take care of herself!"
"Yes, Graycloud," agreed Fishtail. "Let's." And together, they pounced.
Rainpaw rolled away and they landed on the pebbles. The cats had all thinned out into one band, RiverClan forcing ThunderClan towards the lake.
Rainpaw felt water lap at her hindpaws, and she blindly lashed out at her attackers, surprising them. She slipped on a wet rock, and went under the water. The bank fell away beneath her paws, and she was thrown back up, tossed around by the swirling current.
Hazelclaw emerged again from nowhere, and sank his teeth into her scruff, propelling her towards the shore.
"Thank you," Rainpaw gasped.
His jaws closed around her throat, and everything went black.
Rainpaw looked around and saw more cats than she had ever seen in her life gathered around her.
In the front were the familiar pelts of the Three, Hollyleaf, Yellowfang, Fernshade, Clawstar...Nightfur...a light brown tabby tom and a fluffy white she-cat, a ginger tom, a gray tom, multiple black and white cats....an aged leader, who was sitting proudly, and grooming her blue-gray fur. A black and white she-cat sitting beside her. And then there was Blackpelt and Pinewillow, the newest members of StarClan, only second to Rainpaw.
"He killed me?" Rainpaw whimpered. "Hazelclaw killed me!"
"Indeed," agreed Dovewing solemnly. "But these...these cats won't be your Clanmates yet. Birchfall, Whitewing, Firestar, Graystripe, Mousewhisker, Hazeltail, Bluestar....Moonflower."
"Don't you understand, Rainpaw?" interrupted Jayfeather. "You must live!"
"You're going to live a second life."