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The following story is rated Moderate.

2017 Note- WARNING: CONTAINS ULTIMATE CRINGE. READER BEWARE.

Allegiances

Allegiances Here

Betrayal

Ashheart writhed in pain as her kits arrived. Leafpelt smiled as he, medicine cat of the Clan, kneaded her belly to help the kits along. Their mother was the cat who’d rejected him as a mate, long before he made the decision to become a medicine cat. Ashheart had led him along the fantasy that she loved him, then turned her back on him. When WindClan got into the fight with ThunderClan, Leafpelt had put his focus on his more important wounded Clanmates. Silverstreak, Ashheart’s mate, ended up dying of infection. Too bad.

Ashheart cracked her stick as Leafpelt pressed a little too hard. “That hurts! You could hurt my kits!”

Ignoring her, Leafpelt began speaking. “You led me to believe you loved me.”

“Not this again!” Ashheart mewed. “It was friendship, and nothing more.”

Leafpelt continued. “Do you really think I’d let Silverstreak’s kits live after your betrayal?”

A kit slithered onto the mossy nest, born dead. Leafpelt smiled maniacally. “I’ve accomplished a death. Three more to go.”

“No!” Ashheart tried to bite Leafpelt, but she was weak, kitting, and he nimbly dodged away. Leafpelt knew she was already having complications. He knew exactly which herbs and techniques might save the queen and her kits. But he left Ashheart to struggle on her own. If he came any closer, she would probably use her hind legs to kick him away.

Another kit appeared, motionless. Ashheart cried out in sadness. Two of her kits were dead. Following right after was a little gray kit. And it was moving. Leafpelt hissed in frustration. A kit who died of being crushed would be easy to pick out. Leafpelt would have to think of a better way to get it out of the way later.

Ashheart bent her head to lick it, rubbing its fur gently.

“I’ll name you Creekkit,” she meowed gently. More harshly she mewed to Leafpelt, “Don’t you ever touch a hair on her pelt, or I will rip your throat out, from StarClan if I need to.”

Then she tensed as another spasm wracked her body. There was one more kit.

But it didn’t survive, and neither did the queen. Ashheart was still, and so was her son.

Leafpelt calmly picked up the gray kit, but inside he was bouncing off the walls with triumphance. Ashheart had paid for it, and so had three of her kits. This kit would be just one more small obstacle on his path.

Pushing his way out of the nursery, he faced a group of surprised cats.

“Ashheart is dead,” he announced. Horrified gasps echoed through the camp. “This is her only surviving kit, Ruinkit.”

A plan was formulating in Leafpelt’s mind, a twisted plan some might call vile. But to Leafpelt, it was pure genius.

*** *** *** *** ***

Tunnelstar got up as his medicine cat, Leafpelt, walked up to his nest.

“What is it?” Tunnelstar asked.

“I’m sure someone’s told you that Ruinkit is the only one to survive Ashheart’s kitting.” Tunnelstar nodded. “Well, I have even worse news. I received a prophecy from StarClan, before Ashheart’s kits came. It was an extremely windy day, and from the wind, a flower sprouted. It grew tall, reaching for the sky. Then a petal fell off and burned to ashes, and from those ashes grew a weed that choked and strangled the flower till it withered and died.”

Tunnelstar’s mouth was dry. He knew what Leafpelt was getting at. “She’s only a kit. What harm can she do?”

“I’m not sure, but we must be on the lookout,” Leafpelt meowed. “We must discipline her strongly, even cruelly if necessary, to make sure that she doesn’t follow a dark path. Ruinkit must learn the warrior code or else WindClan will fall.”

“I don’t want to treat her like she isn’t a cat,” Tunnelstar replied. “Is there any way we could teach her more gently?”

“Think, Tunnelstar,” Leafpelt meowed. “I’m not sure myself, but we must both think to come up with the best solution to this problem.”

“Don’t tell this to anybody,” Tunnelstar warned. “We don’t want to cause a panic, or make Ruinkit feel singled out.”

“Of course.” Leafpelt dipped his head and left. Tunnelstar sighed. He was crushed between pity for the kit and worry for his Clan. He tried to fall asleep and clear his mind, but sleep was a long time coming.

*** *** *** ***

Barkflower greeted the visitors with a perky face.

"Hi," she meowed.

"Barkflower, these guests have a request for you," Orangestar meowed. He gently licked her ear. "I'm leaving this decision completely up to you."

"Ashheart died during kitting," Tunnelstar explained. "We've just learned that Nimblewind will soon be having kits, but Ashheart's only surviving kit, Ruinkit, needs milk to survive. We're asking you to be her mother until Nimblewind kits and we can return Ruinkit to WindClan."

Tunnelstar and his companion, Puddleleaf, stepped aside to reveal a shivering gray kit with a few splashes of white. Barkflower's expression softened.

"Of course I will," Barkflower mewed. "It's in the warrior code to never abandon a kit in need."

"Thank you," Tunnelstar mewed, dipping his head. "Nimblewind's kits should come in a moon. We'll take Ruinkit home then."

The tiny little kit mewled pitifully and nuzzled her way towards the smell of milk. Barkflower watched as Ruinkit took her place among her own kits, and the WindClan cats left.

Taken

"Pass me the moss, Ruinkit!" Ruinkit batted the moss to her sister Twigkit.

"Nooooo! We're losing, Treekit!" Blazekit howled. "Come on! Birchkit, let's get the moss!"

Even though Treekit and Blazekit were a bit younger than Ruinkit, Twigkit, and Birchkit, the littermates were tough. Treekit and Blazekit liked to tackle their opponents when they played mossball.

"RAWR!" Ruinkit flopped to the ground as Treekit landed on her.

"I've got the mossball!" Birchkit cried, and Ruinkit struggled to get Treekit off her.

"Prey pile!" Uh-oh, Ruinkit thought. A prey pile was when two or more kits piled on top of their victim. If Blazekit made a prey pile with Treekit, Twigkit would be open but she alone couldn't get the mossball from Birchkit.

"Oomph!" Ruinkit felt Blazekit pile on top of her.

"Ow! Blazekit, you're too heavy! What if we switch?" Treekit suggested.

"Fine." Blazekit got off, and so did Treekit. Then Ruinkit bolted away, charging straight for Birchkit and the mossball.

"He's gonna score, Ruinkit!" Twigkit yowled. "You run faster than me! Catch up to him!"

Ruinkit put on an extra spurt of speed and slammed into Birchkit. They tussled around with sheathed claws for the mossball, before Ruinkit managed to wrench it from his grip.

"I got it, Twigkit!" Ruinkit shouted through the moss in her jaws.

"Get her!" Birchkit yowled. All three kits were on her tail now. Ruinkit heard a thud as Twigkit wrestled with one of the other kits, but that still meant she had two kits chasing her.

Ruinkit tossed to mossball onto her stick pile and scored.

"Yay! We win, Twigkit!" Ruinkit pranced around happily. All of them were panting from the exertion. Then Ruinkit turned, wrinkling her nose at an unfamiliar scent. It reeked of rabbit and wind, nothing like the comforting smell of ThunderClan.

"Come into the nursery," Shinedew ordered. "All of you."

Ruinkit was puzzled by Shinedew's strictness. Usually the she-cat was kind and soft, somehow the mother of her two rambunctious kits.

Inside, Barkflower put her kits protectively in the curve of her belly. Ruinkit began to suckle, and this time Barkflower didn't push her away. Following her lead, Twigkit and Birchkit began suckling too. Barkflower laid a paw on Ruinkit's back lovingly. Ruinkit purred, grateful for the motherly gesture.

Orangestar, Ruinkit, Twigkit, and Birchkit's father, poked his head into the nursery. He looked at Barkflower's grave expression and nodded. Barkflower seemed to wither, and drew Ruinkit closer to her.

"Greetings, Barkflower." A stinky smell wafted into the nursery. It seemed to be coming from the newcomer, a big black tom.

"Is it time already, Tunnelstar?" Barkflower asked weakly. The black cat, who Ruinkit assumed was Tunnelstar, nodded like Orangestar had. "She's only a moon and a half old. Please. Wait a little longer. I feel like she's my daughter now, and she feels like I'm her mother."

"Nimblewind has kitted," Tunnelstar replied. "I'll be taking Ruinkit now."

"What?" Ruinkit cried. The stinky cat couldn't possibly take her. "No! I want Barkflower and Orangestar and Birchkit and Twigkit and Shinedew and her kits! And you reek!"

"You'll get used to it," Tunnelstar meowed, "All WindClan cats smell like this."

"WindClan? I don't want to go to WindClan!"

"Ruinkit!" Blazekit cried. "Don't go!"

"Yeah, don't go, Ruinkit!" Twigkit chimed. Soon all the kits in the nursery were yapping, begging for Ruinkit to stay.

"I want to stay with ThunderClan!" Ruinkit yowled. But Tunnelstar picked her up by the scruff. Ruinkit struggled, reaching out desperately for Barkflower. "Barkflower! You're my mother! Make him not take me!"

Orangestar shook his head. "Barkflower isn't your mother. A WindClan cat was."

The ground seemed to cracked open and Ruinkit was in free fall. "No! Barkflower is my mommy! Barkflower is my mommy!"

"Barkflower, is Orangestar lying?" Birchkit asked. Barkflower mutely shook her head. She let out a pitiful mewl instead, as cats can't conjure tears of emotion.

"NO! NO TUNNELSTAR! NO WINDCLAN! I WANT BARKFLOWER AND TWIGKIT AND BIRCHKIT!" Ruinkit howled. "DON'T TOUCH ME!"

Ruinkit wrenched herself from Tunnelstar's grip. He'd been holding her gently, as if he didn't want to make her feel afraid, but it just made it easier for her to escape. Ruinkit launched herself behind Twigkit and Birchkit, who sat up straighter and puffed out their chests to protect their sister. Blazekit and Treekit snuck out from Shinedew and joined the kit fortress.

"You can't touch our friend," Treekit announced.

"Even if she isn't my sister, she's still my sister!" Twigkit cried.

"Yeah!"

But Barkflower broke the kit fortress. "Ruinkit has to go." Her voice cracked with misery.

The kits lost, and Ruinkit was yowling with fury and woe as Tunnelstar carried her away.

Barkflower had let Ruinkit be taken, even though she'd seemed to be shattered doing it.

Does she really love me like I'm her kit? Did she ever love me like that?

A New Life

Ruinkit sulked. Tunnelstar tried to explain the situation to her, but Ruinkit couldn't understand. Then she'd been shoved with a cat named Nimblewind. She was supposed to be deputy, but since she had kits, Lightfeet had taken over.

Nimblewind was nice, and she was as motherly as Barkflower, but it wasn't the same. Ruinkit felt hollow, empty without her old family. Nimblewind's kits weren't old enough to play with her either.

"Come have some milk, Ruinkit," Nimblewind offered. Ruinkit ignored her hunger and shook her head. Just then, her stomach growled.

"Your tummy wants milk," Nimblewind mewed. "Come on."

Reluctantly, angry at her traitorous tummy, Ruinkit suckled from Nimblewind's belly along with tiny Nightkit and Nettlekit. Nimblewind began washing Ruinkit's fur, and she knew it was because Nimblewind wanted her to feel at home.

In WindClan. Ruinkit had always played Invaders with Twigkit, Birchkit, Blazekit, and Treekit. WindClan was supposed to be the evil Clan. ThunderClan was the good one.

Exhausted, feeling betrayed and drowning in sorrow, Ruinkit slipped into a tranquil, dreamless sleep.

Nimblewind offered Ruinkit milk again when she awoke, but Ruinkit declined.

"It's rude to say no when someone offers you something." Ruinkit turned and was facing a brown tom.

"Leafpelt. She's only a kit, and she's still adjusting," Nimblewind mewed. "Ruinkit, would you like a mouse instead?"

Ruinkit mewed, "Fine."

She padded out of the nursery, feeling Leafpelt's hawk eyes follow her. She picked up a mouse from what looked like the fresh-kill pile and began gnawing on it.

"Aren't you going to share with Nimblewind?" It was Leafpelt again.

"What, is it in the warrior code that a kit can't eat without sharing?" Ruinkit snapped.

"You can't finish the whole thing," Leafpelt pointed out. "And it's expected of a Clan cat to respect their elders."

Sighing, Ruinkit went back into the nursery. This time she felt more than Leafpelt's gaze on her, but also those of the other WindClan cats.

"Here, Nimblewind." Ruinkit set down the mouse. "Leafpelt said I have to share."

"Thank you, sweetheart." Ruinkit recoiled at the kind words from the cat she barely knew.

Ruinkit was determined to sneak out and get a look at ThunderClan to see how her previous Clanmates were doing. At sunhigh, she snuck out of the WindClan camp. Yesterday had been a blur, and Ruinkit had no idea which way ThunderClan was, so she stuck her nose in the ground and searched for Tunnelstar's scent. She found very faint scents, stronger ones, and then decided to follow the one strong enough to have only been made yesterday.

Ruinkit followed the scent to a stream. Lo and behold, she spotted ThunderClan on the other side. Tentatively she stretched out a paw to cross before remembering how the ThunderClan cats had let her be taken. Ruinkit contented herself watching the breeze ruffle the trees like it ruffled the ones surrounding the camp.

She felt a little less angry now. It was very peaceful to watch the territory. The familiar scent of ThunderClan washed over her, and she basked in it. Ruinkit felt homesick, her heart panging with a deep longing for her old life.

"There you are!" Ruinkit whipped around and spotted Tunnelstar. "We were so worried about where you went!" Though Tunnelstar looked like he'd been scared out of his fur with worry, Ruinkit refused to accept the possibility that WindClan could care about her.

Tunnelstar led her shamefully back into the camp.

Well I have no name for this chapter

Leafpelt looked at the gray kit entering his den. Fury roared inside of him. Why was this kit allowed to live? Why did this kit look so much like Ashheart?

"Tunnelstar said I need to learn the warrior code from you," Ruinkit muttered. Leafpelt gloated at the name he'd chosen for her. It was so much easier for Tunnelstar to believe that she would lead WindClan to its demise than if she'd been called Creekkit.

"Well, I've heard about where you went today," Leafpelt began. "The first thing you must learn is that a kit can't leave the camp until he or she is six moons old."

"I know that," Ruinkit snapped. "Did Tunnelstar send me here for you to yap things I already know at me?"

This ignorant brat! The apprentice version of Ashheart seared Leafpelt's mind. Ashpaw had only sometimes spoken her mind to the warriors, but mostly told Leafpaw what she thought rather than get in trouble. She'd loved him back then, then denied any of it was real.

"Obviously you aren't adhering to the rules, so I need to discipline you." Leafpelt glared at the kit. Bitterness about Ashheart's betrayal surged through him, and he made a tiny scratch line on her nose. "Do not tell any cat where you got this," he hissed. "If anyone asks, you were playing with a bramble thorn in my den."

Ruinkit, with wide eyes, nodded meekly.

"Good. Now your next lesson is that you can't get too friendly with another Clan."

*** *** *** ***

Every seven days, Ruinkit had to go to the medicine den and meet with Leafpelt to learn more about the warrior code. She kept silent about the little nick he'd made on her nose. Leafpelt's position as medicine cat carried a lot of weight in the Clan, and she doubted anyone would believe her story.

Moons passed, and Ruinkit felt a bit more comfortable with WindClan and Nimblewind. Nettlekit and Nightkit were strong enough to play with her now, though she had to be gentle and make sure she didn't hurt them.

"Ruinkit, can we play WindClan versus ThunderClan?" Nettlekit asked, looking up at Ruinkit hopefully. A thorn jabbed her heart.

"No. Let's play WindClan versus RiverClan."

"Okay!" Nightkit mewed cheerfully. "We'll be WindClan, and you're the RiverClan cat!"

They play-fought until Nimblewind brought them all a rabbit to share.

"Mmmmm!" Nettlekit mewed. "It's delicious!"

It was Nettlekit and Nightkit's first time eating rabbit, and Ruinkit let them enjoy the fun. She bit the rabbit meat silently, chewing and watching the kits laugh.

"Come inside now, kits," Nimblewind called. "Ruinkit's going to be an apprentice soon. She needs to get cleaned up."

Eyes wide, Ruinkit tottered back into the nursery. Nimblewind washed her fur as the smaller kits squealed in delight.

"Ruinkit's gonna be an apprentice!" Nettlekit trilled. "Who's her mentor going to be?"

"Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath the Tallrock!" Tunnelstar's announcement made Nightkit and Nettlekit screech with excitement before Nimblewind hushed them. Leaving her own kits in the nursery, Nimblewind took Ruinkit out into the camp.

"Ruinkit." Ruinkit looked up at Tunnelstar. "You are now six moons old. From this day on, until you have earned your warrior name, you shall be called Ruinpaw."

"Ruinpaw! Ruinpaw! Ruinpaw!"

"Your mentor will be me." Shocked gasps echoed through the Clan. Rarely ever did a Clan leader take on an apprentice. Ruinpaw touched noses with her mentor once he leaped down from the Tallrock.

Ruinpaw braced herself for whatever treatment she was going to get. She began to suspect Tunnelstar and Leafpelt knew something. They both seemed to take a special interest in her.

The hairs raised on the back of her neck as she realized that Leafpelt was also following her to her first lesson as an apprentice.

Something was definitely going on.

"Can we eat the prey we catch?" Ruinpaw asked.

"Of course not," Leafpelt mewed crisply. "All prey immediately goes to the elders, queens, and kits, and the warriors get their pick after that. You should know this."

Look who's being rude now! Ruinpaw glanced at Tunnelstar.

"Relax, Leafpelt," Tunnelstar mewed. "Most 'paws have this question. Ruinpaw, you can go to camp now. Leafpelt and I have something to discuss before we get back. You can take a piece of prey once you've given some to the elders."

"Okay, Tunnelstar."

*** *** *** ***

"Leafpelt, you shouldn't be so hard on her," Tunnelstar demanded. Leafpelt felt like glaring at him, but kept his face calm.

"She could go the wrong way," Leafpelt argued.

"She could go the wrong way from being treated like this!" Tunnelstar cried. "What do you have against her? If we treat her like a normal, sensible cat, nothing will go wrong."

"We have to be cautious, and I will do it how I feel." Leafpelt knew that Tunnelstar would be a threat to his plans. Something had to be done. Tunnelstar might get suspicious soon, and Leafpelt had to prevent it.

"Promise me you'll treat her like a cat, Leafpelt."

"I promise that I will from now on. But just keep her from the Gathering. If this is an issue concerning all Clan, the other medicine cats might have been warned by StarClan, and will recognize her."

A Great Loss

Tunnelstar limped into the medicine den, about a moon after Leafpelt's "promise."

"Got...in a...skirmish with...RiverClan," he panted. "I could lose a...life. Herbs?"

"Of course," Leafpelt mewed. "I wouldn't want you to lose your last life, do I?"

Tunnelstar narrowed his eyes, then mewed, "I don't...think so."

"Here, these will ease the pain." Tunnelstar lapped up the huge amount of poppy seeds and quickly grew drowsy. Leafpelt smiled and brought out the stalks with pretty little white flowers.

"Eat this," Leafpelt instructed. Tunnelstar, heavily sedated, obediently, though slowly, began eating the hemlock. Leafpelt turned away to shove the rest of the water hemlock in the very back of the medicine den. As soon as Tunnelstar began writhing, ready to scream, Leafpelt stuffed moss into his mouth. and held it down with his paws.

"I'll be treating cats outside," Leafpelt announced. "Tunnelstar needs the space in the medicine den."

Leafpelt treated the other wounded patrol cats for a while, careful not to work too long before announcing to the Clan that Tunnelstar was dead, as he didn't want them noticing the scent of death.

Returning to his den, Leafpelt feigned a gasp of shock and horror. Pelting out of his den, he yowled, "Tunnelstar is dead! Tunnelstar is dead!"

*** *** *** ***

"Take me to the Moonpool," Nimblewind mewed. She was determined to take her role as the leader of WindClan as soon as possible. The faster she became leader, the faster Nettlekit and Nightkit could be apprentices.

Leafpelt nodded. "Of course. But eat some traveling herbs first."

Wrinkling her nose, Nimblewind choked down the bitter herbs and they set off.

When they reached the Moonpool, Nimblewind took in the beauty of everything. The grass shimmered in the moonlight, and the pool itself reflected the moon, which quivered at the slightest breeze.

"Lick the water," Leafpelt mewed. Nimblewind obeyed and felt the ice-cold liquid slide over her tongue and travel down her throat. It tasted as fresh as the air after a heavy rain. Her eyelids drooped heavily, and when they opened, she was in a bright, sunny meadow. She winced at the glaring brightness.

Confused about where to go, Nimblewind wandered towards the faint sound of voices.

"I'm warning you, Leafpelt--" Nimblewind knew immediately that something was wrong. She wanted to move closer, but a claw tapped her shoulder.

"This is not for your ears," a voice whispered. It was her mother, Featherdust. She'd been a warrior, then a kittypet, then a warrior again, and grew old and died in WindClan. "Come with me. We need to turn you into a Clan leader." Her eyes glowed warmly.

Nimblewind followed her into a quiet spot. Eight other cats were lined up.

"With this first life, I give you love," Featherdust mewed. "Use it to protect your Clan from the dangers they will face. Feel the love that fuels you to put your Clan before yourself. Treat every Clanmate like you would your own family."

Featherdust touched noses with her, and agony seared her body. Nimblewind fought to stay still.

Now her brother, Sprintflight, stepped forward.

“With this life I give you wisdom,” he mewed.

A shock coursed through her body, and everything was blinding, like a flash of lightning. Pain ripped at every limb, and she experienced every moment of Sprintflight's life, and the perfect, serene wisdom that encased him as he ascended to StarClan. A cool stretched over her, and the pain disappeared. She felt stronger with these two more lives.

"With this life I give you strength, and even more love. Use it to lead your Clan with power and have the Clan at the center of your heart," Rabbitfur murmured. Nimblewind trembled a little when she saw him, felt him brush his fur against hers. He was the father of her kits, dying right before Ashheart. She shivered when they touched noses, and it didn't hurt this time. She got very warm and tingly, soaking up the love, and the strength that poured into her. They touched noses for a little longer than they should have, Nimblewind enjoying the sensation of his warm, thick pelt.

Finally they broke away and Bramblepool came forward. She was the old medicine cat who'd saved five RiverClan kits and returned them to their mother, but not without dying from her injuries soon after.

"With this life I grant you compassion," Bramblepool mewed. When she touched noses with Nimblewind, she felt the agony again stronger than ever, but it came with a feeling of power. Nimblewind shut her eyes tight to endure the pain. "Feel the compassion to care for every and all cats, WindClan or not. Compassion, in your paws, will bring WindClan to even greater heights."

"I give you forgiveness." It was the old Clan leader, Tunnelstar. "Forgive cats for the sins they may commit in the past and focus on what problems they might be causing now. Forgiveness will keep you from straying down a dark, twisted path, a path that one of the cats in your Clan has followed."

The tom's words were ominous and grave. After he'd given her a life, she asked, "Who's gone evil?"

Tunnelstar only dipped his head in apology. "I cannot tell you. Fate will push away the curtain in time."

A kit padded forward. It was Breezekit, a little tom who had died from a fox attack. Nimblewind remembered the grief his mother had felt when he died.

"Thank you for comforting Willowbreeze when I died," Breezekit mewed. "Now I give you a life of caring. Use this to care for every Clan member like they are your kit, like I am Willowbreeze's kit." Wisdom sparkled in the little kit's gray eyes, and Nimblewind felt glad that he was happy now. His life hurt the most, as Nimblewind went through the saddest moments of his life. His death knocked the breath from her lungs. He'd died thinking his mother didn't love him enough to save him in time. But Nimblewind knew he was over it now, at peace with the incident.

Breezekit's mother, Willowbreeze, came forth.

"I thank you for being a friend," Willowbreeze meowed, "and I give you a life for trust. Trust in StarClan that everything will turn out okay, trust in yourself that what you are doing is for the best."

Willowbreeze's touch sent shivers through Nimblewind. She felt colder than ever and the cold bit into her like sharp fangs. At the end of it, however, she felt lighter, as if she could ride the wind if she wanted.

Now came her mentor, Lionpelt.

"With this life I give you power," Lionpelt rumbled. "Use it to speed your paws, sharpen your claws, and strengthen your muscles. Use power to lead your Clan in battle against its enemies."

Lionpelt's life hurt the most, but she felt power flow into her and become a part of her, mingling with the lives she'd gotten from the other cats. She rocked on her paws, feeling like she could bounce through the forest if she wanted.

And last came a cat she didn't recognize. She was a small, lithe, pale brown tabby. Her yellow eyes glowed with knowledge and strength.

"My name is Windstar," she mewed. "I am her to give you a life for bravery. Use it well as a leader of WindClan, to never bow down to your fear and follow your heart, with StarClan's guidance."

Nimblewind felt like she couldn't receive any more lives, already filled to capacity. But still she touched noses with Windstar and trembled. The new life burst through her, drenching her. She felt every moment of Windstar's life, from being first betrayed by a friend to becoming the leader of WindClan. The agony was almost too much to bear, and Nimblewind let out a squeak of pain.

Windstar stepped back. "I now hail you by the name of Nimblestar. Your old life is no more. You have now received the nine lives of a leader, and StarClan grants you the guardianship of WindClan. Defend it well; care for young and old; honor your ancestors and the traditions of the warrior code; live each life with pride and dignity."

"Nimblestar! Nimblestar! Nimblestar!"

Then the cats of StarClan faded away, and Nimblestar awoke. She remembered Tunnelstar's ominous words about a traitor. She wasn't sure if she should look for the cat or wait as destiny unveiled.

Leafpelt stirred next to her.

"Nimblestar, I trust that you have been told about a betrayal in the Clan?" he asked.

"Yes," Nimblestar whispered.

"Good, because I know who it is." Softly, he mewed, "Ruinpaw."

Nimblestar gasped. "It can't be! I was her mother for a while. Ruinpaw can't be that evil!"

"But-" Leafpelt protested.

"No!" Nimblestar struggled to calm herself. "I don't believe you, but you are my medicine cat. I will keep my eyes on Ruinpaw, but we can't act until we have proof of her misdeeds."

"Very well, Nimblestar."

New Mentor

"Let all cats old enough to chase their own prey gather beneath the Tallrock!" Ruinpaw padded excitedly out of the apprentices' den into the camp.

"It is time for me to choose a deputy," Nimblewind announced. "I say these words before StarClan so that the spirit of our warrior ancestors hear and approve my choice. The new deputy of WindClan is Bladegrass."

"Bladegrass! Bladegrass! Bladegrass!"

"Now, we have two kits ready to become apprentices. Nettlekit, come forward." The ginger kit did as she was told.

"From this moment on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Nettlepaw," Nimblestar mewed. "You will be the apprentice of Puddleleaf."

Puddleleaf stepped forward to touch noses with his new apprentice.

"Nettlepaw! Nettlepaw! Nettlepaw!" Ruinpaw joined the yowls of the Clan.

As the chant dwindled, Nimblestar raised her tail for silence. "Nightkit, step forward. From this moment on, until you have received your warrior name, you will be known as Nightpaw. Your mentor will be Breezemuzzle."

"Nightpaw! Nightpaw! Nightpaw!" the Clan yowled.

"Now, Ruinpaw." All eyes turned to her. Ruinpaw shrunk back shyly. "We all know that your mentor Tunnelstar is deceased. From now on, Sparrowpelt will take his place."

Ruinpaw walked towards the brown she-cat and touched noses with her.

"And now, return to your duties!" Nimblestar meowed, then leaped down from the Tallrock.

"What have you learned so far?" Sparrowpelt asked. "I need to gauge where you are in your training."

"Um, Tunnelstar was teaching me how to hunt," Ruinpaw mewed. "I can catch mice and voles well, but not rabbits or birds."

Sparrowpelt nodded. "Battle training?"

"Oh, Tunnelstar hadn't taught me a single move," Ruinpaw replied. "He said that we should wait a bit before we get to that."

Sparrowpelt frowned. "I'm sure Tunnelstar had his reasons, but I don't understand them. The first thing I'll teach you, then, is how to fight."

They headed for an open part of WindClan where most apprentices trained.

"Here, attack me," Sparrowpelt mewed. Ruinpaw leaped and batted at her mentor's cheek. Immediately she was bowled over and Sparrowpelt held her paw in a position to rake her belly.

"Your technique is all wrong," Sparrowpelt explained. "Tuck in your tail, or else you're vulnerable to a tail yank. If you're leaping, crouch like this. It's kind of like a hunter's crouch." She demonstrated the position. Ruinpaw tried to copy. "No, shift your leg a little to the right. There. Now I want you to spring onto my back. If you were in a battle, your claws would be unsheathed so you could grip better. Just unsheath them a bit, okay? Only enough to hang on, like a badger ride."

Ruinpaw leaped, putting all the strength she could into her jump. She landed on Sparrowpelt's back and clung tightly.

"Good job!" Sparrowpelt mewed.

They practiced some more moves until sunhigh.

"Let's go back to camp," Sparrowpelt meowed. "That's enough battle training for today."

Ruinpaw selected a rabbit from the fresh-kill pile and took it to the elders' den.

"Do you like rabbit?" she asked.

Gleamfoot shook his head. "No thank you."

"Oh, rabbit's my favorite," Whiskerberry mewed. "I'll share with you, Ruinpaw."

Ruinpaw set the rabbit down and crouched next to the old she-cat.

"Would you like to hear about Flareburst?" Whiskerberry asked. Ruinpaw nodded. She had no idea who Flareburst was, but any story an elder offered had to be good.

"Well, Flareburst was a young tom who, if he was still alive, would be old enough to be your father," Whiskerberry began. "He was the most popular cat in WindClan, always good-natured and- what's the word?- buddy-buddy with everyone. However, his perfect personality took a dip all of a sudden. He grew more nervous and sad, became someone very hard to talk to, and when he was happy, you could see that he was only trying to force a smile on his face."

"We all tried to talk to him," Gleamfoot added, "but he would brush us away, tell us he was busy, and disappear for half of the day every day. Everyone was used to him being cold by then, and we all figured he was there to sulk. Till one day when his sister, Sunberry, decided to follow him and try to console him. But what she found was him nuzzling and cuddling a kittypet named Mango."

"Sunberry sprinted back to camp yowling at the top of her lungs, 'Flareburst is mates with a kittypet! Flareburst is mates with a kittypet!' When he returned that day, we all gave him the cold shoulder." Whiskerberry's eyes darkened and she sighed. "We shouldn't have. We really shouldn't have."

"Why?" Ruinpaw pressed, wondering what Whiskerberry regretted so much.

"Because he got into the biggest argument WindClan had ever seen with Sunberry and ran away to live with Mango," Gleamfoot answered. "Seasons later he returned and tried to amend his relationship with his sister, but they started arguing again. I don't know provoked him, but he flew at her in a frenzy and gravely injured her. Right after that, he disappeared again."

"Sunberry died of her wounds," Whiskerberry meowed sadly. "Her mate, Emberclaw, caught Flareburst crossing the border of the Clans and killed him. He came back, announced that Flareburst had died under his claws as revenge for his mate. He died a moon later from a badger attack."

Ruinpaw was silent. Finally, she meowed, "Wow." All he wanted was to be with the cat he loved, and because of that he, his sister, and her mate are dead.

"Do you want another story?" Gleamfoot asked. As much as Flareburst's tale had left her mind reeling, she was eager for another story.

"What about Tigerstar?" Ruinpaw suggested. "Barkflower told me that Tigerstar was the worst cat who ever lived. Or about the Great Battle."

"Ah, yes," Gleamfoot meowed. "I can tell you about Tigerstar, though I'm sure you'd like Whiskerberry to tell you about the Great Battle. She was kitted right after it, you know, and heard the stories from the warriors who fought in it themselves."

"Tell her about Tigerstar first, Gleamfoot," Whiskerberry mewed.

"It was long, long ago, before the Clans had come to the lake," Gleamfoot began. Suddenly, Blackpaw poked her head into the den.

"Ruinpaw! Come quickly! Look at this!"

"Go on, Ruinpaw," Whiskerberry encouraged. "The story can always be heard another time."

Ruinpaw left to see what the commotion was. A huge pheasant lay in the center of camp.

"Dewpaw, Quietpaw and I caught it!" Blackpaw mewed proudly, puffing out her chest.

Ruinpaw gazed at it in awe. It could feed about half the Clan. "Great catch! Can I have some?"

"No, the elders and queens must eat first." Ruinpaw didn't need to look at who it was. She knew the medicine cat's voice all too well.

"I never said that I wasn't going to share with them, Leafpelt," she spat. "Just go away."

"Ruinpaw!" Dewpaw gasped. "Don't talk to Leafpelt that way."

"Yeah, well he shouldn't be so mean," Ruinpaw retorted. "He's always picking on me."

"Maybe because he sees what you're doing wrong," Dewpaw argued. "Must be side effect from living with ThunderClan. You're just a troublesome kit and Leafpelt is trying to put some WindClan in you."

"I am not troublesome!" Ruinpaw argued.

"Both of you, hush!" Sparrowpelt hissed. "Dewpaw, Bladegrass wants you on patrol. Ruinpaw, I need you to search the elders for ticks. Go see Leafpelt for mouse bile, and you will get along with him. Do you hear me?"

"Yes, Sparrowpelt," both kits mumbled.

"Good. Now go."

Ruinpaw reluctantly entered the medicine den. Leafpelt was in there, sorting his herbs.

"Leafpelt, I need mouse bile," Ruinpaw muttered.

"Of course." Leafpelt rolled a wad of moss dripping with mouse bile towards her. Wrinkling her nose at the bitter odor, Ruinpaw gingerly hooked it on her claw and carried it to the elders' den.

"Back already?" Whiskerberry mewed.

"Yes, I need to search for your ticks," Ruinpaw meowed.

"Well, I've got one right at the base of my tail that I can't get out," Whiskerberry commented. "The tail's always a tricky place for me to get my ticks out. But I'm sure you can do it."

Ruinpaw dabbed the moss at the spot Whiskerberry was mewing about and a large, fat tick fell to the ground. She squashed it with her paw.

"Don't worry about me," Gleamfoot mewed. "I can get all my ticks out myself."

Ruinpaw finished Whiskerberry's ticks at sunset.

"Wow, Whiskerberry, you had ticks everywhere," Ruinpaw meowed.

"Yes, I just can't take them out myself," the elder replied. "I'm too old for that. Quietpaw herself is my daughter's daughter's daughter. You know, her father once killed a fox with only his sister..."

Ruinpaw's day brightened a little, hearing the endless number of tales the elders had to share.

The Ice

Leafpaw found a piece of ice connected to a stick just outside the borders of the Clans.

Interesting. Very, very interesting. When he held it by the stick and tilted it at just the right angle, a straight line of light landed on the grass and it began to smolder. Depending on the material the light was upon, the more it burned. A dried leaf even caught fire.

This piece of ice never melted. It was a curious thing, though Leafpelt knew it gave him the power to destroy anything with fire.

If you haven't figured it out, he found a magnifying glass.

Leafpelt wrapped his ice with some leaves and stuck them together with tree sap. Though it left his paw pads sticky, the discomfort was a minuscule problem on this perfect path to revenge.

*** *** ***

"Ruinpaw." Ruinpaw turned around and found herself facing a pale gray tabby tom.

"Who are you?" Ruinpaw demanded. "How'd you get into camp?"

"I've always been here," the tom mewed. "My name is Silverstreak." The name rung a faint bell in Ruinpaw's mind, but it was too faint for her to pull up any memories.

"What do you want?"

"I want nothing but to be able to warn my daughter," Silverstreak mewed.

"Your daughter isn't here. Leave." Ruinpaw's hackles rose.

"Ruinpaw, don't you recognize him?" A shimmering dark gray she-cat who looked much like Ruinpaw appeared. "Do you recognize me?"

Ruinpaw stared at the two cats. "No. All I know is that you should get out. The warriors will wake up and they'll chase you out of here."

Silverstreak laughed. Ruinpaw shivered at how much it sounded like her own laugh. "Ruinpaw, we're your parents."

Ruinpaw gaped at them. "You two are my parents? So you're Ashheart?" Ruinpaw gazed pointedly at the she-cat.

"That's right, Ruinpaw," Ashheart mewed. "We need to warn you. You're in danger. Leafpelt hates you because I rejected him. He even left Silverstreak to die."

Ruinpaw had always known the medicine cat had ill intentions, but she never would've guessed he'd take it that far.

"I can't forsee how you'll survive," Silverstreak meowed, "but I know you will. Be safe."

"We love you, Ruinpaw," Ashheart whispered as the two cats faded away.

Ruinpaw woke up, trembling with dread. Leafpelt was going to kill her. But if she told the Clan she knew about Leafpelt's plans, who would believe her? Who would trust her enough to take her seriously? After all, her name was Ruinpaw. And Leafpelt had the esteemed position of a medicine cat.

"Ruinpaw, time to wake up," Sparrowpelt called. Ruinpaw groaned and got up groggily.

As soon as she did, her nose picked up a bitter scent. Every head in the apprentices' den whipped towards the camp, where flickering red flames engulfed the camp. Screeching, she fled her den with everyone else.

Somehow she was at the border, facing a brown tabby tom, green eyes glowing with a murderous light.

Leafpelt.

Scorched

Leafpelt grinned wickedly. "Well, Ruinpaw, I see you've come to behold my creation."

Ruinpaw yelped. "This was done by you? Ashheart and Silverstreak were right! You are trying to kill me!"

"Do not mention their names," Leafpelt hissed. "Silverstreak took Ashheart away from me. She loved me, then denied it completely."

"Leafpelt." The tom whipped his head around, as did Ruinpaw. Ashheart's gray figure appeared before them. "I admit now that I liked you. But it could never have been more than that. With Silverstreak, I found the tom that I love."

"You conned me!" Leafpelt spat. "You led me to believe that you loved me, and I wallowed in that fancy for moons, even an entire season-circle!"

"I am sorry for that, Leafpelt," Ashheart mewed. "I made mistakes. But you must turn away from them and move on."

"I can't move on!" Leafpelt argued. "I was so, so deeply in love with you and you turned away from me, treating me like a dirty piece of prey! Your mate and your kits are a reminder of how I failed you enough that you would turn to a jerk like Silverstreak!"

"You didn't fail me, Leafpelt," Ashheart meowed calmly. "Silverstreak was a bully only as he was adjusting to life without his family. I saw beneath that to the kind tom he was and I brought it out."

"No. No, that isn't true." Leafpelt shook his head as if to clear it.

"Then you are in the deepest form of denial."

Leafpelt let out a wordless yowl of rage and shoved Ruinpaw into the blistering heat of the flames.

"RUINPAW!" Ashheart cried.

Screaming, Ruinpaw blindly dashed into the stream that separated ThunderClan from WindClan, trying to douse the fire that ravaged her fur.

Pecan

Ruinpaw opened her eyes. The glaring, blinding sunlight of noon filled her vision.

"You're awake." Ruinpaw lifted her head. A tortoiseshell tom sat before her. "Finally. You've been sleeping for almost a day."

Ruinpaw cocked her head. "Who are you? How did I get here?"

"My name's Pecan," the tom replied. "I have no idea how you got into my place. You just showed up."

"I'm Ruinpaw," she offered. Pecan nodded in acknowledgement.

Ruinpaw surveyed her surroundings. She was under a bush. Next to her was the stream that bordered the Clans she'd lived in.

"Am I outside of Clan territory?" she wondered. She must have wandered here in a haze of agony.

"If you mean away from the psycho who found a magnifying glass and started a fire, then yes," Pecan meowed.

Ruinpaw breathed a sigh of relief. Suddenly she froze up in terror. She looked back at her fur. It was singed black, clumps of it burned away. She knew some would grow back, but most wouldn't.

She tried to get up, but a sharp burst of agony lit up her raw pads and battered body. She let out a hiss of pain as she slowly lowered herself to the ground.

"You okay?" Pecan meowed.

"Yeah, just sore." Ruinpaw winced at the odd feeling of bare skin touching grass. "And hurting really badly."

"Well, at least you weren't burnt to a crisp," Pecan commented. "Here, you can have my starling. I don't think you'll be in good enough shape to hunt."

Ruinpaw's ears flicked up in surprise. "You can hunt? You look only a little bit older than me. I can't catch anything more than a mouse."

Pecan shrugged. "I learned how to hunt quickly. Out here, it's the first thing you learn."

The life of a loner must be pretty harsh, Ruinpaw thought as she bit into the vole Pecan had pawed over to her.

"I'll go hunting for my own meal," Pecan meowed. "Be back soon."

Ruinpaw polished off the vole quickly. Feeling thirsty, she padded to the stream and lapped up the liquid. Tentatively, she dipped a paw into the water, feeling its coldness temporarily soothe her burned pads.

She gently put the rest of her body into the stream. It felt so good to have the water alleviate her pain.

When she got out, however, she was shivering. She wanted to shake out her fur, but she knew her wounds would throb even more. Instead, she huddled on a sun-warmed rock, licking her fur the wrong way to allow more heat in.

Pecan returned with a squirrel.

"How'd you know that Leafpelt set the fire?" Ruinpaw wondered.

Pecan shrugged. "I was just walking by, and he was there, examining a magnifying glass."

"What is a magnifying glass?" Ruinpaw asked.

"It's like a circle of ice attached to a stick for huamns to hold," Pecan explained. Ruinpaw figured that the humans was his word for the Twolegs. "The ice, called glass, never melts, and it makes a small beam of light appear that can set flammable things on fire."

"Like dried herbs?"

"The cracklier and crispier, the better."

Ruinpaw understood how Leafpelt had done it. He had comfrey, dock, and chervil in abundance. There were other herbs that did the jobs these did, so they were expendable. He probably used this "magnifying glass" to start the fire. Ruinpaw gazed at her reflection in the water, looking at the patches of fur missing from her coat.

"I wonder if I'll grow enough fur back to stay warm," she commented out of the blue.

Suddenly Pecan laughed. Ruinpaw jerked her head up. "What is it?"

"I just realized something," he meowed, "about how all my housecat friends would be obsessed over their image after being badly burned like you are. You're more worried about how warm it will keep you in winter."

Winter seemed to be leaf-bare, and she supposed housecats were kittypets. Ruinpaw took a bit of pride in how easily she translated his vocabulary into hers. They sat in silence as Pecan munched on his squirrel.

"I need help from a medicine cat," she mewed finally.

"A what cat?" Pecan asked, cracking a squirrel bone.

Ruinpaw explained the function of a medicine cat to Pecan, but she lay off on the parts about StarClan, as she didn't want him to consider her a weirdo. His companionship was nice, and she didn't want to be alone on her trek back to the Clans. Plus, she was certain that Leafpelt's place was in the Dark Forest rather than StarClan.

"Why? What've you done to him that was so bad?" Pecan chewed the last of squirrel meat. Great StarClan, he's a fast eater, Ruinpaw noticed.

"Nothing," she replied. "It's just that I'm a reminder of his jealousy. My mother rejected him and took my father for a mate instead of him."

"Ah, love," Pecan meowed. "It can fill up the gaps in a cat's life with happiness or drive them towards the darkest paths possible."

Ruinpaw nodded. Pecan looked only a moon or so older than her, yet he acted far more mature and knowledgeable for his age. What had he been through to make his seem so much wiser?

"I'll come with you to this medicine cat," Pecan meowed. "It sounds like this Leafpelt is a very dangerous cat."

Ruinpaw nodded. "Thanks."

"Well come on then," Pecan meowed. "There's no point in waiting around doing nothing."

Ruinpaw thought hard about which Clan she should go to. ShadowClan tended to be hostile towards outsiders. RiverClan was always known for being generous with herbs, and so was ThunderClan.

Ruinpaw's heart twisted. She wanted to avoid the Clan that had given her up, and escape the pain that was inevitable if she went there. Yet she knew that if she didn't go there, she might never reconcile with them. The betrayal ran deep in her soul, and it would be a relief to free herself of the burden.

Pecan noticed her dark expression. "Ruinpaw, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," she said with a sigh.

Pecan examined her for a bit, then turned away. Ruinpaw figured he knew something was up, but didn't want to butt in.

They reached ThunderClan by dusk. It would have been faster if she wasn't so weak. Every step of the way was agony, and most of the time Pecan had to help her. Ruinpaw knew it would be easier to reason with well-rested cats, and Pecan agreed. They set up their nests away from the border but close enough to keep it in view.

"Hey! Get away from our territory!"

Ruinpaw looked up. A ThunderClan patrol faced them, their hackles raised.

"Blazekit?" The ginger she-cat looked nothing like the kit Ruinpaw had known before. She was larger, more muscled than the average apprentice, and her brownish eyes held a ferocity Ruinpaw had never seen before.

"Ruinkit?" Immediately Blazekit leapt forward, nuzzling Ruinpaw wholeheartedly. "What're you doing here? What happened to your fur?"

"I-I'll explain later," Ruinpaw promised. "I guess you're Blazepaw now?"

"Right!" Blazepaw's head bobbed up and down so quickly in a nod, Ruinpaw seriously considered whether it would fall off or not. "You're an apprentice too? Who's your mentor? Did they tell you to come here?"

"Actually...no, Sparrowpelt didn't tell me to," Ruinpaw mewed. "I'm travelling with Pecan."

Blazekit sniffed the air. "He doesn't smell like a Clan cat or have a Clan cat name."

"He's a loner," Ruinpaw explained. She turned to the warriors, who were watching the conversation quietly. "I need to see Fernleaf."

The silver she-cat (Ruinpaw recognized her as Bubbleslash) glared at her coldly. "If your Clan didn't send you, what business do you have here?"

"I promise, I'll tell you everything but only after talking to Fernleaf," she meowed.

The yellow tom, who Ruinpaw couldn't remember, sniffed. "I suppose we can let you in. But if I find out you're a spy, I will rip the fur off your pelt myself."

"Ain't he a sweet one," Pecan whispered. Ruinpaw and Blazepaw giggled.

Every cat in the camp had their eyes were on the two visitors. Three cats jumped up and sprinted towards them. Ruinpaw recognized them as her playmates, all apprentices now.

"Oh, Ruinpaw!" Twigpaw mewed. "I missed you!"

"So did I!" chimed Birchpaw and Treepaw.

"What are you doing here?" It was Orangestar, the tom she'd once thought was her father. It had always confused her why he seemed more detached with her than his own kits. Now it made complete sense.

"I need to see Fernleaf," Ruinpaw stated for the third time. Orangestar motioned for Ruinpaw to come alone, leaving Pecan with the apprentices. He led Ruinpaw to the medicine den, though she knew where it was from her time living in ThunderClan.

"Fernleaf, Ruinpaw would like to speak with you," Orangestar meowed, dipping his head in greeting.

Fernleaf smiled. "Finally."

Secrets Revealed

Ruinpaw jumped. Finally? Had Fernleaf been waiting for her? Why?

Fernleaf smiled. "Ruinpaw, I have a reputation among medicine cats for being very close in my relationship with StarClan. They told me that you would come with information I need to hear."

Orangestar's ears shot up in interest, but Fernleaf shooed him away. Reluctantly, he exited the den.

Ruinpaw had intended to get medical help, but decided to tell Fernleaf about the situation first.

"It's about Leafpelt." Fernleaf's eyes darkened.

"Him." There was a note of contempt in her voice. "There was always something off about him. He even tried to pursue a relationship with me."

Ruinpaw frowned. Leafpelt was a medicine cat. He wasn't supposed to have any love interests. Even stupider was that he approached Fernleaf of all cats

"He loved my mother, Ashheart," Ruinpaw explained. "She didn't love him back, so he left my father to die and keeps trying to kill me. He's the one who started the fire in WindClan, and shoved me into it." Fernleaf gasped. "I came here because I need to see a medicine cat."

"Stormfall!" Fernleaf called. A very dark gray tom bounded over. He looked just barely old enough to be considered warrior-age. Ruinpaw remembered that he was Fernleaf's apprentice. Now he had his medicine cat name.

"Yes, Fernleaf?" Stormcloud meowed.

"I need you to care for Ruinpaw," she instructed. "I must consult StarClan, but first, how bad is her burn and what herbs will help?"

Stormfall examined her. "Her burns are between second and third degree. We should use aloe vera and milkweed for them, chervil against the infection, honey because she probably inhaled a lot of smoke, poppy seeds and lavender to ease the pain."

Fernleaf smiled. "I couldn't have done better myself. Go ahead and treat her now, Stormfall. And honestly, Ruinpaw, how did you make it so far?"

"I think the water helped," she admitted. "But it hurt so much on the way here. Will my fur grow back?"

Stormfall frowned. "Sorry, Ruinpaw, but pretty much all of it won't. These burns are really bad."

Ruinpaw whimpered.

"Hey, at least you aren't dead," Stormcloud meowed. He unwrapped a glob of honey and sprinkled it with poppy seeds. "Eat this. It'll help."

As the honey slid down her throat, it soothed the ache that pained her every time she breathed. The poppy seeds numbed her almost instantly, and she was quickly fast asleep.

*** *** ***

Fernleaf stuck her tongue into the Moonpool. Immediately, she was transported into the forests of StarClan. She wandered around, searching for a member of StarClan. A lone cream she-cat sat facing a waterfall.

"Flutterfoot!" Fernleaf bounded towards her old mentor. Flutterfoot affectionately gave her ear a lick.

"You want to know about Leafpelt, don't you?" Flutterfoot meowed. Fernleaf nodded.

With a wave of her tail, the scenery changed. Fernleaf stood at a crossroads. The path in front of her shone brilliantly, leading to the forest where she'd just been. Another seemed to go on forever. One to her right, as equally bright as the first path, led to a place next to StarClan, but not a part of it. And the one behind her was clouded in darkness. Though it was hard to see, it somehow demanded more attention than the almost blinding other two roads.

"Where are we?" Fernleaf meowed in wonder.

"This is where every soul stands before travelling to their afterlife," Flutterfoot mewed. "Before us is the road to StarClan. The other path shows you how to get to get to a different place for the dead who lived honorably. The Tribe of Endless Hunting lies there, for example. To your left is where two kinds of cats go: those who wish to be reborn and those who do not believe in life after death. For those who will be reborn, the path forks and they follow the one that ends in a cliff dropping them into their new life. For those who believe that death is truly the end, their path meanders on endlessly. And I'm sure you know where the road behind you leads."

Fernleaf shivered. "The Dark Forest."

Flutterfoot nodded. "Look at the cat on its path."

Fernleaf squinted, trying to make out the murky shape shrouded in darkness. It was brown, with eyes as green as leaves. "That's Leafpelt."

"Yes. On that path, he once had the chance to turn back and lay in the light. But when he killed not only Ashheart, her mate Silverstreak, their three other kits, and tried to kill Ruinpaw, he was lost to the evil that he followed so blindly."

A question popped into Fernleaf's mind. "Is there a place for the souls who die in the life after death? Those in StarClan who fade into nothing or died in the Great Battle?"

"Not exactly," Flutterfoot mewed, "those souls are reborn instead. But few cats know of this."

"How do you know?"

Flutterfoot sighed. "In my first life I was an Egyptian cat named Beloved. In my second, I was Velours, the cat of a French noblewoman. Now, I am Flutterfoot of the Clans. It is only after you have lived your third life that you regain all your memories." Each time Flutterfoot mentioned her old life, her image shimmered, and she changed first into a spotted gray tom, second into a dark, dark red she-cat. "But we are not here to talk about me, are we?"

Fernleaf shook her head, though her interest was quite piqued.

"Ruinpaw is destined to die because of Leafpelt," Flutterfoot continued. "You can save her only if she has Pecan with her."

Fernleaf tilted her head in confusion. "How can I change her destiny?"

"After living three lives, you learn that not everything is set in stone," Flutterfoot mewed. "It was already a stroke of luck that Pecan found Ruinpaw. They will fight with each other. If you can prevent it from happening, ease the tension, or help them reconcile, her life will be saved."

"It's my duty to save lives." Fernleaf dipped her head. "Thank you, Flutterfoot, for this information."

Slowly, the world around her dissolved, and she was back at the Moonpool again.

Resolved

Leafpelt was filled with elation. His plan worked perfectly. They- he refused to call them Ashheart's family- were erased from the world.

"Leafpelt," Nimblestar meowed, "have you seen Ruinpaw?"

Leafpelt shook his head. "No."

A mournful expression crossed the leader's face. She sighed. "I will miss her."

"It's probably for the better," Leafpelt meowed. "After all, she was planning on destroying WindClan. She may even be the one who started the fire."

Nimblestar scowled. "Leafpelt, this accusation is stretching it a bit, don't you think?"

"Perhaps," Leafpelt replied calmly. "You never know."

"I will send out just one more search party," Nimblestar meowed, ignoring his comment. She lay down, her eyes surveying the remains of the camp. They'd lost Lilypool, Dewpaw, and suffered many injuries. "We need to seek shelter with one of the other Clans. ThunderClan would be the most welcoming, I guess. They have a reputation for taking in any cat, regardless of who they are or where they come from."

"They have two medicine cats rather than one," Leafpelt added. "Together, I suppose we could patch up our entire Clan."

"Then it's decided," Nimblestar mewed, arching her back as she got up and stretched. "We're going to ThunderClan."

*** *** ***

An odd scent wafted through Sunblaze's nose. He bristled. WindClan. His brother Stormfall stiffened beside him.

The first two cats to enter the camp were Silverwish, his former mentor, and Cerulean. They were leading Nimblestar and Leafpelt.

"Where is Orangestar?" Leafpelt asked, searching for a ginger-and-white pelt. Sunblaze knew he wouldn't find one. Orangestar was on a hunting patrol. "We must speak with him."

Stormfall's ears flicked up. Carefully, so as not to be noticed, he slunk into the medicine den. Sunblaze followed.

"Ruinpaw," Stormfall hissed. The young cat's head jerked upwards. Sunblaze winced at the sight of her. Her glossy, sleek fur was very thin and patchy at the legs. Her tail and coat were sprinkled with furless spots. He forced himself to ignore it all. "Leafpelt is here. I need to hide your scent in this."

He picked up some herbs. Sunblaze recognized them as lavender and peppermint (over the moons, Stormfall's medicine cat knowledge had rubbed off on him.) Sunblaze helped him rub it all over Ruinpaw's fur.

Fernleaf came in. Her eyes widened in surprise as she realized what they were doing. Wordlessly, the two medicine cats snuck Ruinpaw out of the den as the WindClan cats talked to the warriors. Stormfall looked back and mouthed, "Her bedding," before turning back to his task.

Huh? Sunblaze stared at the moss that had been used for her nest. What did Stormfall want him to do? Then he caught a whiff of Ruinpaw's scent and wanted to smack himself for being so stupid. Of course. Her smell still lingered on the nest, and he needed to get rid of it. Sunblaze picked up some rosemary. He figured that they didn't need it, as there were many other herbs that did its job. He chewed it into a paste and smeared it over the bedding.

The air smelled thickly of herbs, and Sunblaze figured it was a job well done.

*** *** ***

"It isn't that hard," Stormfall insisted. "Just jump, dig your claws in, and repeat."

Ruinpaw stared at the tree before her. Climbing it did look hard, and she had no idea how he insisted that it wasn't.

"Ruinpaw, hurry," Fernleaf meowed. "We don't have much time! Leafpelt will be asking for us soon."

Ruinpaw grappled with the terror that filled her. Bunching her muscles, she sprang onto the lowest branch, gripping it tightly. Panting wildly, she heaved herself up.

"Higher," Stormfall demanded. "Anyone could see you from there."

She scrambled up the tree until the thick curtain of leaves made it hard to see. "Is this okay?"

"You're good," Fernleaf called. "Stay there until we come to get you."

Ruinpaw waited for what seemed like ages. She had no idea when, but, curled up in the sturdy boughs of the tree, she dozed off.

"I smell catmint over here." Ruinpaw sat up abruptly, almost falling out of the tree. It was Leafpelt.

"What do you mean, catmint?" Fernleaf asked. "Are you sure you're feeling all right?" Ruinpaw knew that the worry in her voice wasn't for Leafpelt. It was for her.

"Yes, I'm fine," Leafpelt mewed. Ruinpaw peered through the leaves and spotted the tom's tabby pelt. She heard his noisy inhale for the scent of catmint. Her muscles grew taught, ready to spring out and run at any moment.

Leafpelt's head swiveled around, eyes narrowing. "I smell peppermint in that tree. Peppermint doesn't grow on trees."

As Leafpelt approached, catmint forgotten, she burst out of the tree, landing on Leafpelt's back. She heard a loud thump and yowl of agony as he collapsed. His leg was twisted at an odd angle, and she figured it was dislocated. Her heart hammered in her chest as she sped towards the camp, desperate to find Pecan, or Orangestar, or anybody.

She spotted Pecan, Screechowl, Earthpaw, and Barkflower sharing tongues.

"Ruinpaw!" Barkflower cried, noticing her panicked expression. "What's wrong?"

Ruinpaw tensed. Barkflower's scent washed comfort over her, even though it was thickly blocked by the smell of the herbs on her coat. But why? This was the cat who'd given her up. Barkflower was a mother who, when needed most, did not mother her kit. Even when Ruinpaw had come back to ThunderClan, she hadn't come to visit her in the medicine den.

"Leafpelt found me," she replied hesitantly. She looked around. "Where is everybody?"

"Silverwish and Orangestar are leading a group to attack a fox den," Barkflower informed her, "and Nimblestar is going back to fetch her Clan. Anyone else not here is on a hunting or patrolling the border."

"Ruinpaw, are you okay?" Pecan asked. Screechowl and Earthpaw stood behind him, watching curiously but knowing that they had no place in this mess.

"She's alright, Pecan," Barkflower mewed. She led her to the apprentices' den. "Earthpaw, can she use your nest?"

"Sure," Earthpaw replied.

Ruinpaw sank into the soft moss. Barkflower settled in next to her, then shooed away the other cats.

"I'm sorry." Ruinpaw turned to Barkflower. What was she sorry for? Reading her expression, Barkflower meowed, "I'm sorry I just gave you up to WindClan like that. I know you resent me for that."

"How-?"

"I've had many kits," Barkflower cut in. "I know. As a mother, I can tell. I want you to know I love you, okay?"

"Okay," Ruinpaw whispered. A weight, a huge burden that she'd been tiptoeing around for so long was released. Barkflower regretted her decision, and admitted that she loved Ruinpaw.

Maybe, even with Leafpelt's killing mission, her dead family, and a chaotic kithood, the world was alright after all.

Two More Stars

"You have to decide what to do with Leafpelt," Orangestar mewed.

Nimblestar bit her lip. "Honestly, I have no idea. I completely believe you. Leafpelt has been trying to tell me that Ruinpaw was going to bring WindClan down, and Tunnelstar told me that one of my cats have gone astray. I don't know how to punish a cat for this degree of evil."

"I'm right here, you know!" Leafpelt yowled. He didn't bother running, though, because he was circled by a troop of warriors from both WindClan and ThunderClan.

"We know you are, but we don't care," Bladegrass snapped.

"What about banishment?" Silverwish suggested.

Nimblestar shook her head. "No, that isn't good enough. He killed unborn kits and their mother, left the father to die, and tried to slaughter the last remaining daughter. I understand that we usually banish wicked cats, but..." she trailed off, her point already made.

"The death penalty," Bladegrass offered.

Leafpelt screeched in terror and tried to escape, but his guards managed to hold him back. Finally, he gave up, and lay on the ground whimpering.

"Think about how Ashheart, Silverstreak, and their kits feel now," Nimblestar berated. She turned back to her deputy. "Bladegrass, find a way to arrange his death." As she said the last word, she grimaced, closing her eyes tightly.

"I know it's hard to be cruel like this," Barkflower mewed, laying a comforting tail on her shoulder, "but you have to remember that he is a serial killer. If you love Ruinpaw as much as I do, you'll want justice for all the pain Leafpelt has caused her."

Nimblestar shook her head to clear it. "Yes. Thank you."

Ruinpaw watched the conversation in silence. It was a dream come true. Leafpelt would be dead, and she wouldn't have to worry about him plotting to kill her behind her back. It was over.

Poison was what they decided. Tomorrow morning they would pin him down and force him to eat deathberries and hemlock. Nimblestar and Orangestar each placed two guards around him. Greenmoon and Burrowstep watched him during the night.

"Ruinpaw." Pecan's voice jolted Ruinpaw out of sleep. His green eyes sparkled.

"What?" she murmured groggily.

"I was wondering if I could show you something," he meowed excitedly.

Ruinpaw got up. Pecan didn't even try to hide how thrilled he was that she was coming. They walked to a spot just outside the borders of the Clans. The grass grew greener and taller than the moors of WindClan, untouched by cat paws.

They went over a small hill, and Ruinpaw gasped.

Down at the bottom lay a pocket in the ground like a miniature hollow between the rolling green hills. Flowers dotted the area, and the grass beneath her paws had a soft, silky feel. The moonlight caressed every inch of land, giving the place an ethereal, serene beauty.

"I found this place yesterday, and no one noticed I was gone," Pecan explained. "I thought it would be cool to share it with you. Do you like it?"

Ruinpaw had never seen this side of Pecan. Honestly, she wasn't exactly sure what his personality was. He was usually a straightforward cat, and knew most of the answers to her questions. And yet here he was, trying to impress her.

She was pretty impressed.

"It's awesome," Ruinpaw breathed. She gazed in wonder at everything around her. "I wish I could show you something this amazing."

Pecan smirked. "I think I've got you beat."

Ruinpaw quirked a smile. "Not for long. I'll find a way to outdo you soon."

"I'd like to see you try," Pecan taunted.

Ruinpaw growled playfully and tackled him.

"Whoa!" Pecan yowled as he was bowled over. "How often do you react this violently?"

Ruinpaw cuffed his ear with sheathed claws. "Only when I'm challenged. I must always prove how superior I am."

"Now I feel challenged!" Pecan swiped at her tail.

They play-fought for a while before lapsing into silence. Finally, Ruinpaw let out a loud yawn.

"I'm exhausted," she mumbled. "Let's go back."

Pecan bounded forward. "Race you to the camp!" he called.

"That's so unfair!" Ruinpaw yowled, sleepiness making her gait sluggish.

"Too bad!" Pecan called with a chuckle. "Besides, running will wake you up!"

She couldn't help but laugh as she forced her weary legs to pelt after the prancing tortoiseshell tom.

As they entered the camp, panting heavily, a bloodcurdling screech shattered the silence of the night. Ruinpaw's blood turned to ice at the sound. All of her elation at Pecan's surprise slipped away.

A fleeing brown shape sprinted past them, dashing away from two cats on the ground.

Not just on the ground. They were dead.

Bubbleslash burst out of her den. Seeing the bodies, she yowled her rage to the sky. Burrowstep lay in a twisted position, as if he'd been thrashing wildly as he died. Greenmoon's unstaring eyes were wide open, and he bled from a long gash in his stomach. Leafpelt was nowhere to be seen.

The silver she-cat whipped her head around to face Nimblestar, who was at the front of the crowd that gathered around the scene.

"This is all your fault!" she spat. "If you hadn't waited to kill that traitor, my brother would still be alive right now! He killed a family, set a fire, and now slaughtered innocents! You shouldn't have waited! He should've died yesterday!"

"Bubbleslash, I understand you're distraught-" Orangestar began.

"DISTRAUGHT?!" Bubbleslash cried. "There are two more stars in the sky because of your medicine cat, and you expect me to be calmer?"

"He never said that," Bladegrass argued.

"If any cat finds Leafpelt, you must kill him immediately," Nimblestar announced. "I think I speak for Orangestar when I include ThunderClan in this rule." The ginger tom nodded his consent.

"Now please, go back to sleep," Silverwish called.

"Or keep vigil for the dead," Bladegrass suggested. "Those who chose to do so could also keep an eye out for Leafpelt."

Bubbleslash, fury burning in her blue eyes, mewed, "I'll do it."

"I'll join the patrol watching for Leafpelt," Pecan meowed. His announcement was met with surprised looks from the Clan. After all, he was a loner.

"I will too," Ruinpaw mewed.

Soon they had eight volunteers, all ready to catch and kill a murderer. The elders, with more catpower managed to bury the dead much faster.

"Two more stars," Bubbleslash snarled as she prowled the camp. "For two stars, I'll put one more star in the sky where no stars show."

Ruinpaw shuddered. She knew that Bubbleslash was speaking out of pain, but her words still sent a shiver down her spine.

Two stars... she thought as she kept an eye out for Leafpelt. Two more stars in the sky.

On the Hunt

A rustle at the edge of the camp made Ruinpaw's ears prick up. A shape was stealing away from the camp. She narrowed her eyes and nudged Pecan. Together, they crept silently forward, following the cat.

As soon as they got close, Ruinpaw called, "What are you doing?"

The figure, shrouded in shadow, turned, ice-blue eyes piercing the darkness.

"Bubbleslash?" Pecan gasped.

Bubbleslash growled. "What are you two doing here?"

"Finding out what you're doing here," Pecan replied. "Where are you going?"

Bubbleslash bit her lip. "To find Leafpelt. And kill him."

Ruinpaw's eyes widened. Bubbleslash looked completely determined to kill him. She wanted revenge for her brother.

"Don't tell anyone," the warrior hissed. "I can't go back to the Clans until I'm done."

"You mean you don't want to be talked out of it," Ruinpaw interpreted.

"Yeah," Bubbleslash admitted.

"We can help you hunt him down," Pecan offered. "But I can't promise we'll kill him with you."

Ruinpaw knew Bubbleslash had to let them come, or they might tell the Clan.

"Fine," she spat. "But don't get in my way."

"We promise," Ruinpaw mewed.

Bubbleslash glared at her suspiciously. Finally, she huffed and turned away.

"I found his scent over here," she meowed, motioning to a bush. "It leads this way." She lifted her muzzle and pointed.

"Okay," Pecan mewed. "Lead the way."

By nightfall, they'd left the Clans far, far in the distance. It was amazing how far they'd gotten, but it took a toll on Ruinpaw. Her paws felt like they were about to fall off as they set up their nests for the night. She wished they could've taken breaks during the trek, but Bubbleslash's intense "I Will Flay Him Alive and Put His Entrails on Public Display and Take His Heart as a Souvenir" expression kept her from complaining.

"Go get moss for the nests," Bubbleslash ordered Pecan. "Ruinpaw and I will go hunting."

Pecan scampered away obediently, and Ruinpaw decided to follow Bubbleslash.

The she-cat whipped around, hissing. Her anger seemed to heat up the air around them. "I didn't say we're hunting together!"

Her furious tone made Ruinpaw cower. "I'm sorry," she whimpered.

Bubbleslash softened ever so slightly. "Just...go hunting and stay away from me. I need some time alone to mourn Greenmoon and think of all the ways I can mangle Leafpelt's corpse. Or living body. I'm not picky."

Ruinpaw snickered. Bubbleslash might have sounded serious about that, but she found it a little funny anyways.

Bubbleslash nudged Ruinpaw roughly. "Go hunting," she ordered, but the aggressiveness had left her voice.

"Got it." She sniffed the air, searching for the scent of prey.

They returned to their temporary camp with a vole, a rabbit, and a sparrow.

Ruinpaw kept the sparrow for herself and pawed the vole over to Pecan. Then she frowned.

"Umm...where's my nest?" There were only two nests, both large enough to fit full-grown warriors.

Pecan pointed to the slightly larger one. "Right next to mine."

Ruinpaw examined it. There was no way to clearly, or even vaguely, tell the border of the nests.

Pecan gave her a cheeky grin. "Oh, look, we're sleeping next to each other tonight."

Ruinpaw scowled, but she didn't really mean it. "You jerk! How am I supposed to match you now?"

Pecan smiled smugly. "That's the whole point."

"Argh!" Ruinpaw swatted him. "You little cheat."

"It's not cheating," Pecan argued, slipping away from her paws. "I'm just making sure you can't do better than me. And isn't that a good thing for you?"

"Not if it means that I can't beat you!" Then she turned around. Her bird was missing. "Hey, where'd it go?"

"Where's what go?" Pecan asked before noticing that his fresh-kill was gone too. He turned to Bubbleslash.

The she-cat was shaking with silent laughter. The missing prey lay next to her.

"You two were so busy mooning over each other," she chortled, "you didn't notice me stealing your prey!"

Pecan shook his head in disbelief. "Man, you are one stealthy ninja cat."

"What's a man?" Bubbleslash asked.

"And what's a ninja?" Ruinpaw inquired.

Pecan just shook his head in disbelief. "Never mind."

"So, can we get our fresh-kill back now?"

Bubbleslash tossed the prey back to them. "Here you go. Try to eat rather than fantasize about the kits you're gonna have."

Ruinpaw felt her fur grow hot in embarrassment, even though she most definitely hadn't been thinking about kits. She was way too young for that.

Ruinpaw tried thinking of squirrels to chase out the awkward, uncomfortable train of thought she was having.

After enjoying her sparrow, she settled into her nest next to Pecan (who jokingly insisted that she got one-fourth of the mass of moss and he got the rest). The chirping of crickets, warm greenleaf air, and (though she would never say it out loud) the comforting feel of Pecan's back against hers slipped her into a quiet, dreamless sleep.

They continued their journey early in the morning. Brisk winds ruffled Ruinpaw's pelt, and the sky was painted with soft pink and orange hues.

"Isn't it wonderful?" Ruinpaw whispered to Pecan, motioning to the sky. He nodded, spellbound by the sight of the gorgeous dawn. "It's just as great as you."

Pecan gasped. "Dang it! You actually did something sappy, and I can't think of how to counter it."

"So I win?" Ruinpaw asked hopefully.

"Nope. That was amazing, thank you, but I'm not sure it's on the same level as showing you my secret favorite spot."

Ruinpaw was slightly disappointed, but she knew that he was right.

Bubbleslash was out of earshot, so she couldn't add her input about "the lovebirds" as she called them.

"NO!" The yowl rang through the forest. "No, no, no, no, NO!"

Ruinpaw and Pecan picked up the pace, catching up to Bubbleslash. She gazed in horror and fury at the stream before them.

"His scent is gone," she meowed hoarsely. "He crossed this stream and washed away his scent. Now we're stuck searching every bit of land around the water for his smell. We could be here forever." Soft, plaintive mewls escaped her throat.

Ruinpaw closed her eyes, trying to process what was going on. What could she do to fix it? What alternative was there? Did they have to give up?

She opened her eyelids and saw that a gleam was caught in Pecan's green eyes.

"I have an idea," he announced. "We split up and search the area for his scent. If we can't find it in the next two days we turn back and hope he's been eaten by a fox."

Bubbleslash slid her claws out, and she seemed to light up again, fueled by her anger. Every drop of sadness was gone, and, if Ruinpaw hadn't just witnessed it, she never would've known how heartbroken she was just a few moments ago. "Yes. That should work. I'll go that way- Ruinpaw will go that way, and Pecan, you can search over there."

"Sounds like a plan," Ruinpaw mewed, and they split up, ready to resume their hunt for Leafpelt.

Viola

Ruinpaw didn't find any of Leafpelt in the area she searched. Disappointed, she circled back to the stream to wait for the others.

Pecan was already there. He shook his head, telling her that he hadn't found any clue either.

Bubbleslash returned, her blue eyes bright.

"You find Leafpelt?" Ruinpaw asked excitedly.

"Yes," Bubbleslash mewed. "Come on, let's hurry, we've got a cat to kill, remember?" Ruinpaw nodded but she wasn't sure that she liked how nonchalant Bubbleslash was about murder.

They continued on their trek until sunhigh. Ruinpaw was exhausted. They'd been walking for so long, and the heat didn't help at all.

Then she stiffened. A new scent flooded her nostrils, of another cat, but she knew it wasn't Leafpelt.

"...Pecan?" a voice croaked. Ruinpaw's head jerked to the left, where a cat lay in the bushes. She was a dark, dark ginger, like rust, and her gray eyes were dull with pain. She was missing fur in several places, the evidence of a fight, and her muzzle bore a long scar down her face. Ruinpaw could tell that she was once beautiful, but hardship was written all over her.

"Viola!" Pecan exclaimed, rushing forward. Ruinpaw felt a slight jab of jealousy, but she fought it immediately. She shouldn't overreact about every she-cat Pecan expressed concern for.

The she-cat, who Ruinpaw assumed was Viola, smiled faintly. "It's good to see you again. How long has it been?"

"Almost an entire year since we were left the house," Pecan replied. An odd expression crossed his face. "Is Mom okay?"

Viola sighed. "No. She died during the storm, just like I thought you did."

Pecan looked down. "Darn. She said she would wait for me, so we could find Dad together." He glanced up at her again. "What happened to you?"

"A terribly annoying group of cats," Viola spat disdainfully. "I can fight them off, but they always come back, again and again."

"I can help you," Pecan offered. "You can come with us and we'll protect you when the rogues return."

Viola smiled gratefully. "Thanks. You're a great little brother, you know that?"

"Only because you told me," Pecan meowed.

"I hate to interrupt your littermate time," Bubbleslash interrupted, "but we really need to get going and kill Leafpelt, you know?"

"Of course," Viola meowed, dipping her head graciously. "I wouldn't want to stop you."

As they continued on, Pecan introduced Viola to Ruinpaw.

"Viola, this is Ruinpaw, my girlfriend," Pecan mewed. Ruinpaw had no idea what a "girlfriend" was, but Viola seemed to.

"Ah, so you finally found one," she teased.

Pecan grinned. "Well, you've never had a boyfriend, so who are you to talk?"

Viola arched an eyebrow. "I had one, until we left our home and I didn't get to see him again. You just don't remember him, because you were too young."

Pecan deflated ever so slightly. "Oh. I guess I was wrong."

Viola turned to Ruinpaw. "Anyways, nice to meet you. But what's with your name? Your paw isn't lame or anything."

"Oh- in my culture, 'paw' is the suffix used in an apprentice's name," Ruinpaw explained. "I guess I can say that my name's Ruin. When I was a kit, I was Ruinkit, and when I become a warrior I'll be Ruin-something."

Viola made a face. "Who names their kit Ruin? No offense to your parents, but that is a seriously terrible name. Can I call you Rue instead?"

"Um, sure, I guess," Ruinpaw mewed.

Soon, they reached a small pond. The water was surprisingly clear. Ruinpaw wondered why until she realized that the pond was little more than a dip in the ground that a stream flowed through. Leafpelt's scent showed that he'd stopped there for a drink.

"Let's rest," Bubbleslash announced. "This seems like a good place to stop. Plus, we're catching up to Leafpelt. It smells like he was here just recently."

This time, Bubbleslash and Viola went off to hunt. Ruinpaw and Pecan would be making the nests.

"I'll do our nest this time, and you can do Viola's and Bubbleslash's," Ruinpaw told him.

Pecan lifted his tail in salute. "Yes ma'am," he mewed mechanically. Ruinpaw stifled a giggle.

By the time they managed to scrape together enough moss and ferns to make the nests, the hunters returned with fresh-kill.

Ruinpaw took the hare and padded over to Pecan. "Want to share?" she mumbled over a mouthful of fur.

"Gladly," Pecan mewed, eyeing the hare hungrily. "I call first bite." And with that, he sank his jaws into the prey, not only dragging it from Ruinpaw's grasp but also pulling out a huge chunk of meat.

Ruinpaw gaped. "How are you going to finish that?" Pecan's reply was a series of grunts, as his mouth was too full to answer properly. He swallowed some of it, shifted the food enough to speak, and meowed, "Like this." He quickly gulped down the rest of it.

They finished eating by sundown. Bubbleslash slid into the water.

"If you're paws are sore, which I'm sure they are, get into the pond," she called. "It helps a lot."

"Race you!" Viola yowled. She and Pecan took off, jumping into the pond and showering droplets all over Ruinpaw.

"I'm going to get you now!" she yelled. She ran towards the water and leaped- carrying herself surprisingly far- and landed with a massive splash. The two littermates tried to paddle away, but they were too late and got the full fury of the wave.

"You foxheart!" Bubbleslash cried.

Oops, Ruinpaw thought, realizing that she'd also doused Bubbleslash. The warrior swam forward and slammed her paws into the water. Ruinpaw ducked underwater to avoid the splash, and instead got a flurry of bubbles to the face.

Ruinpaw soon came up for air. But as she did, she heard Pecan yowl a wordless battle cry and he yanked her below the surface.

Flailing her paws madly, Ruinpaw spluttered up to the surface.

"That was for getting me wet," Pecan meowed. Ruinpaw tested the depth of the water, and found that her paws could touch the bottom. She launched herself out and smacked him down again.

The bad part about play-fighting in water was that when Ruinpaw finally left the pond, her fur stubbornly stayed drenched, no matter how many times she shook out her pelt. She shivered in the cold.

"I'm so cold," Ruinpaw mumbled as she flopped down onto her nest.

"So am I," Pecan mewed. "But it's nice that we're sleeping together. We can share body heat."

Though Pecan's pelt was about as cold as hers, she felt a warm, fuzzy feeling spread through her as he wriggled closer. A purr escaped her throat, evoked by the sweet comfort of Pecan's company.

She fell asleep with a gentle smile dancing across her lips.

Walls

Bubbleslash prodded everyone awake at dawn. Ruinpaw yawned, blinking blearily. "Do we have to go now?"

"We're so close," Bubbleslash mewed. "I can practically taste his blood."

"Um...yeah, of course you can." Ruinpaw edged away from the vicious she-cat. "So we're headed that way, right?" She pointed in the direction that Leafpelt seemed to have gone.

Bubbleslash growled a bit angrily. "Hurry up already! I have a cat to kill!"

On the next break they got in their journey, Ruinpaw watched Pecan and Viola exit their resting spot. She decided to follow them and boo them, just for fun. But as she drew near, her breath caught in her throat and she froze. Quickly, she ducked behind a bush and peered through the layer of greenish gray leaves.

"You can't stay here," Viola whispered. "Do you not hear Bubbleslash? She's a murderous beast, just like everyone says Clan cats are."

"She's trying to get revenge for her brother," Pecan argued. "And...I can't leave Ruinpaw."

"I know you care about her, but she's trying to kill a cat too," Viola meowed. "I'm worried about your safety. Interacting with killers? I know they have other sides, and I've seen them, but you can't keep being with them. Remember that all the Clan cats are terrible."

"What do you know about Clan cats?" Pecan bristled. "I've been around them much longer than you have."

Viola looked down. Her gaze was troubled. "While I traveled without you, I discovered some things about Dad. You want to know why he left us?"

Pecan was silent, but his expression revealed his desire to know.

"He went back to the WindClan to find his sister," Viola spat bitterly, "and when he did, they didn't welcome him back because he was a 'kittypet'. They went so far as to slaughter him, Pecan. Because he chose Mom over their stupid code. A brutal code that your girlfriend and the rest of her Clan follow."

"Flareburst," Pecan whispered softly. Ruinpaw felt like she'd been struck by lightning as she remembered him from the story the elders told her. Flareburst. The tom who'd been killed by Emberclaw and shunned by the Clan. "They- they did that? When we smelled death in the same place we scented him?"

"It drove Mom insane. She swore that she would search for him forever, even through the territories of the spirit land if she had to, remember?" Viola's face was a mixture of fire and ice. "Everyone knows about the Clans. Remember Holt? The old tom who we met, who told us of how the Clans think they're good, but they can be evil too. They persecute other cats, calling us loners or rogues, and wage war against us if we do something as small as catch a piece of prey in their territory. So come with me, and we'll leave these stupid bloodthirsty Clans behind."

"But...Ruinpaw..." Pecan mewed faintly. Ruinpaw's heart leaped- would Pecan stay with her?

"You'll get over it, like I got over Jack," Viola insisted. "We can leave right now, when they won't notice."

This is the cat who was nice to me, who I considered somewhat of a friend. A companion, at least. She'd really try to take Pecan away, even though she knows how much I love him?

"I...maybe..." Pecan's words drifted off.

Ruinpaw snapped. He dared to even consider it? She burst out of her bush, scaring the daylights out of the two littermates, a wild ferocity alight in her eyes.

"Don't go with her!" she yelled. "She should leave instead! All I wanted was to hunt down Leafpelt, not lose the one cat I've loved in-in that way! Just get your mangy pelt out of my life!" A huge, gaping chasm yawned in her chest where her heart should be. Would he really leave me if Viola convinced him?

"You're a violent cat like every Clan cat!" Viola yowled. "Why should Pecan have to stay because you tell him to? You're a stupid, ignorant, cutthroat badger-heart!" Filled with rage, Ruinpaw launched herself at the russet she-cat. They rolled around in a blur of fur and the flash of claws.

Pecan stepped forward, trying to separate the hissing, spitting cats. "Guys, just stop!"

Ruinpaw swatted Viola a final time and stepped back, glaring at her with vehemence. Warm blood dripped down her ear. Viola spat blood out from a cut on her muzzle.

Pecan took a shaky breath. "Look. Viola, I can't go with you. The Clans aren't just vicious monsters. Every cat has a reason for what they do. And Ruinpaw, how dare you attack my sister? You could have just yelled at her some more, but fight her? Both of you, just leave. Please. I need some time without two she-cats arguing with each other and breaking my eardrums."

"Fine. I'll leave for good, if you're too stupid to see straight," Viola barked. "Be wary of the savages you live with, Pecan. I just wanted to save you before you turn into one yourself." She turned and stalked away.

"I-I'm sorry," Ruinpaw whimpered when she was gone.

"I told you to go!" Pecan snapped. "Leave already!"

Rebuffed, Ruinpaw scuttled away, simultaneously sobbing and dying.

*** *** ***

"Viola's dead." Pecan's voice was husky from screaming. The world was crumbling around him. Her blue eyes, once sparkling with life, were glazed and listless. Her powerful legs were twisted at an odd angle, rendering her lame. The others padded up beside him, but he barely noticed.

"How...?" Ruinpaw asked.

"Rogues," Bubbleslash spat. "Their disgusting scent is all over her."

"I promised to protect her," Pecan murmured. "I took her into the group so that we could, and the moment she's out, they strike." His voice cracked and he buried his face into his dead sister's fur. The smell of death filled his nostrils, making him want to choke, but lying underneath it was Viola's fragrance. He breathed it in deeply before backing away.

Pecan fixed Ruinpaw with a glare that said, This is all your fault.

She stared down at the corpse shamefully. Her message was so obvious, it was like she'd spoken out loud. It is my fault.

Pecan swore loudly. Ruinpaw and Bubbleslash didn't notice, probably because they had no idea what he was saying. He cursed so bad that he was almost glad his family wasn't there to scrub his tongue.

"Those stupid *censored* *censored*!" Pecan finished.

"Are you talking about us?" Three cats slunk out of the bushes. Two she-cats and a tom. The one in the front held her head up high. "That was very rude. I guess I'll be polite and introduce us. I'm Cory, that's my sister Lira and her mate Stone."

"What did you do to my sister?" Pecan demanded.

"Oh, her?" Stone mewed, pointing at Viola. "She was fun to kill."

Letting out a yowl of pure rage, he lunged at Stone, claws unsheathed, but Lira expertly blocked the way and flipped him onto his back, pinning him down.

"You want a fight?" she hissed, spraying spittle all over his face. "I'll give you one." She raised her paw, ready to slash open his stomach.

"NO!" Ruinpaw screeched. She soared through the air, shoving Lira away. With that, Cory and Stone attacked.

Pecan and Bubbleslash joined the fray. He wrestled with Stone, rolling around as he dodged and swiped. One of Stone's blows landed hard on his cheek. Pain erupted through his face, but he fought on anyways.

A shriek of agony pierced the clearing. Everyone froze. Lira lay on the ground, blood bubbling up from a slash in her throat.

Cory stood in horror. "Lira, I'm sorry- I was aiming for her- oh no, oh no, oh no..."

Stone rushed to her side, nuzzling her cheek fiercely. "Lira. Don't leave me, please."

Lira looked up at him. Sadness lingered in her pain-filled eyes. For the briefest moment, her mouth twitched into a smile glowing with love, and then went slack.

Cory and Stone let out moans of misery.

"Get out of here," Cory grumbled. "We have no time to kill you. So go."

"Tell me why you killed my sister," Pecan pressed.

"She stole my kits from me," Cory hissed. "She found them after I'd lost them and gave them away. A she-cat named Kendall tricked her into believing that they were hers, eve though I told her that they were my kits. And the next thing you know, Kendall sold them for five mice. Five mice. Now they're with some humans in a town that would take over a lifetime to reach."

Pecan felt like his limbs were made of ice as his stomach did a backflip in disgust. Viola had unknowingly handed kits to a monster.

"I'm sorry," he mewed.

"Yeah, well, it doesn't change the fact that Coriander, Parsley, and Chive are gone."

"Look," Pecan meowed, "I don't know much about kits, but I do know that my mom loves my dad enough to spend her entire life looking for him. If you have nothing better to do, show the same love for your kits."

Pecan and Ruinpaw's nests were separate that night. It was uncomfortably cold without her warmth next to him. He found himself shivering even though the night was hot.

Loneliness clawed at his heart. He'd lost his girlfriend and his sister in the course of a single day. The walls between them were dark, foreboding, and seemingly impenetrable. He closed his eyes, but the comfort of sleep was as faraway as the moon.

If You Don't

A tail rested on Ruinpaw's shoulder. She turned around, eyes widening in surprise as she gazed at Fernleaf. Standing behind her was a cream she-cat she couldn't recognize.

"How-"

"Flutterfoot invited me," Fernleaf interjected, motioning to the unknown she-cat. "She's a StarClan cat."

"Oh" escaped Ruinpaw's lips. "What are you here for?"

"You and Pecan were fighting," Fernleaf stated. Ruinpaw blinked. How had she known? "Please, tell me why."

"I chased off his sister," Ruinpaw mumbled guiltily. "I said some mean things to her, and after she left, she was killed by a group of rogues."

"Tell me more," Fernleaf urged.

"Well, Viola- his sister- wanted him to leave because she thought Bubbleslash and I were bloodthirsty brutes. I-I got upset because he considered it, and told Viola she should leave."

Fernleaf shifted uncomfortably. "Toms. I don't have much experience with them..."

"Perhaps I can help."

"Ashheart?" Ruinpaw gasped. Her mother smiled warmly in reply.

"Ruinpaw, we all make mistakes in a relationship," Ashheart meowed with a sigh. "I almost lost Silverstreak once because he didn't like how close Leafpelt and I were. Not that he was jealous, but he didn't like Leafpelt's influence."

"Just over that?"

"Just over that," Ashheart echoed. "But it meant a lot to him. So I talked it out with Silverstreak, and found out that he was worried that I would turn cold and rude like Leafpelt. As soon as I learned that he cared for my well-being, I cut off Leafpelt- and you can see what that's done to him. That's not the point, though- the point is that we all mess up, but what really matters is whether we can fix our errors or not. Talk to Pecan, and maybe you two can work this out."

"Thank you, Mother," Ruinpaw whispered, burying her nose in Ashheart's fur. "I should've realized that. I should've talked to him instead of stay quiet and mope."

"We're cats," Ashheart mewed. "We make mistakes. None of us are perfect."

They stood there for a while, embracing each other, before Ashheart stepped back.

Abruptly, the world around her melted away. The only cat that remained was Fernleaf.

"Sleep, Ruinpaw," she murmured softly. "You need your rest."

She brushed Ruinpaw's head with her tail, and her consciousness slid away.

*** *** ***

Flareburst glanced up to see a brown she-cat, her coat shimmering with the light of the stars.

"Get out of here," he growled, recognizing her instantly. "I want nothing to do with StarClan."

"Technically, I'm not a part of StarClan," Fernleaf mewed. "I need your help in saving a cat named Ruinpaw."

Flareburst snorted. "What kind of name is that?"

"A name given to her by a traitorous murderer," Fernleaf replied calmly. "She's from the same Clan you used to be in. Will you help?"

"No," Flareburst meowed firmly. "WindClan betrayed me, so I don't see any need to do anything for them."

"What if your son is involved?"

A shiver of rage made Flareburst's pelt look like a thorn bush.

"How dare you?" he spat. "Are you such a foxheart and a thug that you'd threaten Pecan?"

Fernleaf tipped her head quizzically. "I'm not exactly sure what 'thug' means, but I suppose it isn't a word to describe nice cats, is it?"

Flareburst's silent glare was confirmation.

"Well, I can tell you that StarClan isn't the one who included Pecan in Ruinpaw's destiny," Fernleaf meowed. "The writers of fate, whoever they may be, are the ones who did. Trust me, if it was in my paws, I'd yank them out of the trouble they're pitted in. But it's not. So will you help? All you have to do is talk to Pecan."

"I guess I have to," Flareburst grumbled. "Tell me, what will happen if I don't?"

Fernleaf took in a shaky breath. "Look into the future yourself. StarClan isn't the only one with that power."

Flareburst closed his eyes. Rather than seeing darkness, his vision was filled with a blindingly bright light.

The sight before him made him almost lose his ghostly meal.

A Twoleg was squawking and waving around a gun like the one Mango's housefolk owned. This one, however, was making loud cracking noises. Flareburst recognized his former Clanmate, Leafpelt, laying in a pool of blood. A blue-gray she-cat was limp on the ground. Her sharp blue eyes were clouded with death and tinged red with her own blood.

Another loud "BANG!" directed Flareburst's attention to his left. He gazed in horror as Pecan weakly flailed his limbs. Blood gushed from a wound in his side. A young gray she-cat sat beside him, weeping. Suddenly, she keeled over. The sound of the gun rang in Flareburst's ears.

Four cats killed if he didn't get over his selfishness and make words come out of his mouth.

Flareburst pulled himself out of the vision as fast as he could. The quiet around him was never more soothing.

"Well?" Fernleaf prompted.

"Yes," Flareburst mewed, still recovering from the shock. "I'll do it."

*** *** ***

"Dad!" Pecan yelped, jumping up happily. He buried his nose into his dad's thick fur like he used to when he was a kit.

"Hi, Pecan," Flareburst meowed, smiling. It was so good to see his son again. "How've you been?"

Pecan's ears drooped. "Not very good. I had a falling out with Ruinpaw, my, um, girlfriend."

"Why?" Flareburst asked.

Pecan sighed. "Viola wanted me to leave Ruinpaw and Bubbleslash because they're out on a quest to kill Leafpelt."

A low growl rumbled in Flareburst's throat.

"No, let me finish, Dad," Pecan cut in. "Leafpelt has been trying to kill Ruinpaw her entire life. He killed Bubbleslash's brother, Greenmoon, and, yeah, I agree that hunting him down is a bit vicious, but she has reasons."

Better reasons than why you died, echoed through his mind. The same thought went through Flareburst's.

"Ruinpaw was hurt that I considered her offer and chased out Viola," Pecan continued. He stopped to take in a shaky breath as he reined in his emotions. "After she left, the group of rogues I promised to protect her from attacked her. And killed her."

Flareburst stood still, looking like he'd been smacked. No. How did I not see this?

The answer came to him immediately. Because he'd let his search for Mango take over his afterlife and he'd forgotten to check in on his kits. Because Viola and Pecan weren't very high on his list of priorities.

What a father he was.

"Look, Pecan," Flareburst mewed, wrapping his tail around him. "Understand that it was everyone's fault here. How would you feel if Ruinpaw wanted to run away from you?"

"Like the world is throwing slimy dead fish at me while putting me out in a thunderstorm," Pecan grumbled.

"Viola should've realized how much Ruinpaw meant to you and Ruinpaw shouldn't have reacted so strongly," Flareburst meowed. "You shouldn't hold so much against her. She really cares for you, and you hold a special place in her heart."

"Think about that, Pecan. There's more to a cat than their actions."

Reconciliation and DEATH YAY DEATH

Ruinpaw woke up as bouncy as a bunny.

It wasn't that she was happy. Rather, she was incredibly nervous. She had to talk to Pecan, and she had no idea how he'd take her apology.

She was really surprised to find that he was already awake, washing his fur.

"I'm sorry," Ruinpaw blurted.

Pecan stopped. "I'm sorry too."

"What are you sorry for?" Ruinpaw asked, stunned. "You didn't do anything wrong-"

"I did," Pecan interjected. "I judged you because you indirectly killed Viola."

Ruinpaw flinched. It was the truth, but it still hurt. "I forgive you for that. You can still hate me if you want to. It wasn't right for me to kick her out."

"And I forgive you too," Pecan meowed. "If I put myself in the situation you were in, I probably would've done the same thing." He held out his tail. "Friends?" More than that, I hope.

"More than that," Ruinpaw mewed, repeating the words in his head. She entwined her tail with his. She leaned against him, enjoying the familiar warmth of his pelt.

Suddenly, she jumped up. "Ha! I finally said something more sappy than you!"

Pecan stood in shock. Then he turned his nose up in fake disapproval. "It's subjective, not solid fact."

"I hate it when you're right!" Ruinpaw huffed, sitting down again.

Pecan smiled warmly and wrapped his tail around her. "Fine. If it makes you happy, I'll say that you win."

"It does!" Ruinpaw quipped.

"Then you win," Pecan mewed. "There."

Ruinpaw beamed at him. They sat together for a while before hearing the sound of someone clapping.

How do cats clap? I don't know, actually. Just use your imagination.

"I have to admit," Bubbleslash meowed, "while annoyingly romantic, you guys made up pretty well. Now that you've reconciled, can we go back to killing Leafpelt?"

"Sure," Pecan agreed. "Let's just hunt first. I'm really hungry."

"Hey, don't go there!"

Ruinpaw stopped. A black and white tom was blocking their way.

"Why can't we?" she asked.

The tom flicked his tail towards a Twoleg den in the distance. "The human there has an aviary. It isn't big, but he loves the birds in it. They're really colorful and like to say the same things as the human. Once, a cat named Greg caught one of the birds. The human found him munching on the bird and shot him. Ever since, he's scared off any cat who comes nearby, either by killing them or nearly killing them. You'd be better off staying away from there."

Bubbleslash growled in frustration. "But Leafpelt's scent leads right over there! We're so, so close!"

"He's pretty much dead now," the tom meowed. "Turn around and go back where you came from."

"Not before I can see my paws red with his blood!" Bubbleslash roared. She looked at the stranger's frightened expression. "He killed my brother, so I'll kill him."

He shifted uncomfortably, but meowed, "Um...okay then. Would you be satisfied knowing that he'll be killed by the human?"

"No," Bubbleslash hissed. "I'm pretty sure I already established that."

The tom shrugged. "Suit yourself. But as you bleed to death, don't say I didn't warn you." He turned and padded away.

Then Bubbleslash leapt up in excitement.

"I found him, I found him!" she yelped, sounding like a kit experiencing her first snow. "Look over there! See? That's Leafpelt!"

The bloodthirsty she-cat tore along the grass, making a beeline for her victim.

"Wait up!" Ruinpaw yelled, trying to keep up with her.

When they were only foxlengths away, Leafpelt turned.

"Great StarClan, you were following me?" he cried.

Bubbleslash let out a wordless yowl of fury and slammed her claws down on his flank. Leafpelt twisted around, snapping at her tail. Bubbleslash hissed and launched herself at him again.

Ruinpaw and Pecan stood back. The fighting was quick and vicious. If they tried to join in, they'd only make things worse.

A creaking noise told Ruinpaw that things were going to get worse anyways.

The Twoleg stepped out of his den, holding a gray object and shouting.

Pecan's face bore an expression of terror. "RUINPAW, GET AWAY THAT'S A GUN!"

"What do you mean?" A sharp cracking sound broke her train of thought. She heard Leafpelt scream in agony and Bubbleslash shout in surprise. Ruinpaw decided not to question Pecan and fled for her life.

The Twoleg kept yelling and making his 'gun' go CRACK! and BOOM! Ruinpaw looked back for just a moment to see Leafpelt curled up on the ground, bleeding. Bubbleslash was running around in a panic, trying to avoid the Twoleg.

Suddenly, Ruinpaw was tackled by a familiar black and ginger pelt. Her eyes widened. "Pecan what are you doing?"

"The man was aiming for you!" Pecan yowled. "Now come on, we need to hide!"

The two sprinted towards a thick bush filled with bright red berries.

"That's a deathberry bush!" she cried. "What if we get the juice all over us or in our mo-"

"I know, I know!" Pecan cut her off. "But this is the best hiding spot, so hush!"

They dove under the thick leaves, catching their breath.

"What if he finds us?" Ruinpaw whispered.

Pecan grimaced. "I hope he doesn't."

The Twoleg's calls finally stopped, and Ruinpaw dared to peek out of the bush.

Leafpelt lay still, bleeding from a wound in his flank.

"Bubbleslash?" Ruinpaw called. "Where are you?"

"Here," came the soft reply. Ruinpaw gasped in horror as she saw that the Twoleg had fired at her again, leaving injuries that would probably make her lame.

"Bubbleslash, how are we going to get you back home?" Pecan asked.

Bubbleslash gazed at her legs and moaned, either out of pain, misery, or both. "I'm dead. There's no medicine cat to fix me up and I'll die of infection. Besides, even if I did survive, I wouldn't be able to use at least two of my legs, and the Clans are too far for me to get to."

"Maybe I can help." It was the stranger from earlier. He sighed heavily. "I told you guys not to come here."

"Yeah, I know," Ruinpaw muttered. "We were stupid not to listen."

"I do know a bit about herbs," the stranger continued, "but I don't think she'll be able to travel even when she's healed. You kids will be going home alone."

"That's better than me dying," Bubbleslash grumbled. "What's your name?"

"Benny," he replied. "Now tell your kits to say goodbye and leave."

"They're not my kits," Bubbleslash growled. "Anyways, Ruinpaw, Pecan, bye. Now go back to the lake and enjoy your lives. Show me your kits, okay?"

Flustered, Ruinpaw spluttered, "Wha- no, we aren't- I'm only eight moons old!"

Bubbleslash smiled wistfully. "Ah, the joys of teasing you I will be missing out on. Good luck, have fat, happy kits, and try not to die, okay?"

"Yes, ma'am," Pecan meowed, saluting her.

"Bye, Bubbleslash," Ruinpaw mewed.

After saying their farewells, Ruinpaw and Pecan headed back to the Clans.

Did this chapter feel rushed? Please tell me if it is so I can redo it. If it is, I apologize because I AM SO EXCITED TO WRITE THE SEQUEL I CAN BARELY STAND HAVING TO FINISH RUINED!!!!!

A Tale Closed

"Ruinpaw! Where have you been?" Sparrowpelt demanded, but her eyes were sparkling with relief. "If you don't have a good explanation for this, you'll be slaving away for the elders for the next two moons!"

Ruinpaw took a deep breath, and meowed, "WellBubbleslashwantedto-"

"Pause," Sparrowpelt interrupted. "You saw Bubbleslash? Where is she?"

"In the story Ruinpaw is telling," Pecan answered. "Now let her finish blabbering."

"Thank you," Ruinpaw meowed. HAHA READERS, TRY TO READ THIS! "BubbleslashwantedtogokillLeafpeltbecausehekilledGreenmoonandwecaughtherandfollowedherbecauseifshedidn'tletusthenwe'dsnitchonher,sothenwewentonareallylongjourneytofindLeafpeltandthenwefoundPecan'ssisterViola," Ruinpaw paused to take a breath, then continued, "ThenwegotintoanargumentthenViolaleftthenViolawaskilledbyroguesthenwefoundtheroguesandfoughtthembutitturnedoutthattheywereonlyangrybecauseViolagaveawayCory'skitsandtheylivefarfarawaynowandinthefighttheroguenamedLiradiedandwelefttheroguesthenwewerewarnedbyacatnamedBennynottogototheTwolegnestbecausetheTwoleglikestokilleverycatthatpassesby," Ruinpaw gasped for breath again, "becausehehasspecialbirdsandhedoesn'twantanyoneeatingthembutwedidn'tlistenbecausewereallyneededtokillLeafpeltandhewassocloseandthentheTwolegcameoutandkilledLeafpeltforusandthenhelamedBubbleslashsowehadtoleaveherwithBennybecauseheknewaboutherbsandonthewaybackwefoundadeaddeeranditsmelledreallybadand-"

"I think that's enough," Sparrowpelt meowed. "I gave up trying to follow you at the first mention of Viola, and tuned back in just to hear about Bubbleslash. I'll ask Nimblestar to take the news to ThunderClan, okay?"

Ruinpaw nodded.

"Since you have a slightly decent reason for running off without telling anyone, you'll serve the elders for only one moon," Sparrowpelt decided. "And what are we going to do with him?" She pointed to Pecan.

"I was wondering if I could join your Clan," Pecan meowed. Sparrowpelt just snorted.

"Ask Nimblestar, not me. Now come on! Slavery awaits!"

Ruinpaw really hated having to serve the elders. They were nice and had great stories to tell, but great StarClan, they were bent on delivering her punishment.

"There's a tick on my left flank that you missed," Whiskerberry meowed.

Ruinpaw groaned. "But I checked that spot five times already!"

"Don't talk back to your elders, missy," Gleamfoot scolded. "As punishment, I'll need you to change my bedding after you get that tick out."

Ruinpaw dabbed mouse bile all over the spot where the tick supposedly was, but Whiskerberry kept insisting that it was still there.

"There is no tick!" Ruinpaw finally exclaimed, exasperated. Whiskerberry's bouts of laughter made Ruinpaw really wish she'd said that earlier. Then her laughs turned into coughs, and Ruinpaw had to go fetch herbs from Stormfall, who'd agreed to stay in WindClan as the medicine cat and switched off with Fernleaf every quarter moon.

Pecan entered the den. "Ruinpaw, Nimblestar said I could join the Clan!"

"That's great!" Ruinpaw burst.

Gleamfoot did nothing more than roll his eyes. "Bedding, Ruinpaw."

Ruinpaw sighed. "Got it. Wanna come, Pecan?"

"Sure," he replied. "Two jaws hold more than one, right?"

As they left the camp to find bedding, Ruinpaw smelled something unfamiliar and oddly familiar.

"ROGUES! INTRUDERS!" she yowled. Then she froze. "Cory?"

The dark gray she-cat was accompanied by Stone and three adorable, hyper furballs.

"We found them," Cory mewed. "I thought they were too far away, but Kendall lied to me. They were in the same city I grew up in."

"Mommy?" one of the kits meowed, her blue eyes wide open. "Is that the can of pee you said helped find us?" Her gaze was fixed on Pecan, who was laughing so hard Ruinpaw worried he'd end up like Whiskerberry.

"No, he's Pee-can, not a can of pee," Cory corrected her. "Actually, no, his name is Puh-con."

"But if he's Pee Can, then why is he Puh Con?" a brown tomkit wondered.

"Because there's two ways to pronounce Pecan, kits," Stone explained. "Pee-can is one way and Puh-con is the other."

"So why can't we call him Pee Can?" the third kit asked.

"Because it's rude, Chive," Cory answered.

"How does Puh Con pronounce it, Uncle Stone?" the tom inquired.

"Pecan says Puh-con," Stone mewed.

"Then why did you tell us he's Pee Can?"

"Because we grew up saying Pee-can."

"But if Puh Con says Puh-con, then why did you keep saying Pee Can?"

"Habit."

"What's habit?"

"It's when a human is bitten by a bug and gets muh-lerya," one of the kits mewed. "Then it needs to go to the vet and get poked by brambles with herbs in them."

"Why do they do that?"

"Humans are weird creatures," Stone replied. "They just do. And no, Coriander, habit is not when a human gets malaria."

"Then what is?"

Pecan looked like he was having trouble breathing as he listened to the conversation.

"All because of my name," he meowed finally, licking his paw and wiping his face, which was streaked with tears of laughter. "I feel very special."

"How'd you find us?" Ruinpaw asked Cory.

"Well, we heard some cats talking about Ruinpaw," Cory responded. "So we decided to find you and say thanks to Pecan for telling us to look for my kits- assuming he was with you, of course."

"You're welcome," Pecan meowed. "Now, um, have your kits ever seen an actual can of pee?"

"No," Cory meowed, but one of the kits piped, "Yes! You!"

Ruinpaw had no idea what a can was, but even she found it funny because of that one word: pee.

After a lot of laughing, more laughing, and even more laughing, Ruinpaw suddenly remembered that she needed to find moss.

"Oh! I need to go, or else Gleamfoot will yell at me," she announced.

"It's been nice to see you," Stone mewed. "I can't say we'll see you again, so, good luck with your lives. Make sure you don't do what we did, like kill Viola."

"I think we already did that, but yeah, I'll apply that to my future," Pecan meowed. "Have a nice life! Try not to die too early!"

"You too," Cory returned. Then she rounded up her kits and left.

Ruinpaw watched them for a moment before heading off to get Gleamfoot's bedding.

"What in StarClan took you so long?" Gleamfoot demanded.

"It was hard to find moss," Ruinpaw lied. She caught Pecan's surprised look and tried to convey the message Just go with it.

"I feel like firing you as a slave," Gleamfoot grumbled. "But then your punishment won't be carried out."

"Will a story help?" Pecan asked. "We know a good one."

Oooo, I smell a challenge, Gleamfoot thought. "I don't think a young cat like you would know any decent stories, so no."

"Aw, Gleamfoot," Whiskerberry meowed, "let the apprentices try. We could even have a story battle to see who not just knows a better story, but also over who can tell it better. Elders versus apprentices."

"Alright then," Gleamfoot agreed. "You youngsters go first."

Pecan glanced at Ruinpaw and they smiled, both knowing exactly which story would blow the elders' one out of the water.

"This one's about a cat named Rue and a cat named Leaf who was hell-bent on killing her..."

THE END

Wait, why are you looking down here? It says THE END up there, not here

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