|Rush||Succeded by: |
Air of Treason
Berry has joined WindClan, and Littleclaw is scared for her life. One cat has made a horrible mistake, and another rushes to do their job, before it's too late.
- A cat's eyes gleamed in the darkness. "You're here for a reason," she mewed.
- The cat replied, "But I wouldn't know that reason."
- The first cat, a gray she-cat, mewed, "I was once in the same position that you were."
- "What position?" the cat snarled.
- "You will die," the she-cat mewed. "Very, very soon."
- The cat gasped as everything faded away.
- "Who should we murder next?" a cat asked.
- The other cat, their long black fur blowing in the cold wind, replied, "The one he idols the most."
- "That's cruel!" the first cat replied. "I like it, though."
- As the name was spoken, the first cat gasped. "But- is he ready?"
- The black-furred cat nodded. And gasped, "He's coming!"
- The ShadowClan warrior appeared in front of them, looking around at the dark forest.
- "Hello, Pebbleheart, Shadowstar," he mewed, dipping his head respectfully. "What now?"
- "Two more things stand in your way to healing," the first cat mewed. "And the first one is..."
- The ShadowClan warrior's eyes widened in surprise. "But- is he ready?"
- The she-cat nodded.
- "Then I'll do it."
- "But- how could Eaglestar allow it?" Hailfoot asked, his fur bristling.
- "I have no idea," Yewfoot replied. "He must-"
- "He knew," Gingerpaw snarled. "He knew who Berry was."
- "Berryclaw," Dawnpaw corrected quietly.
- "He doesn't deserve to be called a warrior," Gingerpaw snarled.
- Hailfoot and Grayfoot nodded, their fur bristling.
- A cat appeared out of nowhere, a pop in the darkness.
- Dawnpaw gasped. "Bluepaw? What are you doing here?"
- "Dead," Bluepaw spat. "I'm dead."
- "Who killed you?" Gingerpaw demanded.
- Bluepaw's eyes widened.
- "Tell me," Yewfoot whispered. "Please."
- Bluepaw sighed. "Marshtail."
- Littleclaw slipped through the cats and went to her kits. "What did you do?"
- Stonepaw looked worried. "We- we went to WindClan territory. You and Marshtail thought you overpowered Berryclaw and killed him-"
- "Me and Rockstar," Littleclaw corrected. "Marshtail only guided me there. Then he collapsed at the ThunderClan camp."
- Stonepaw's eyes widened. "Marshtail- oh. His back. Anyway, we thought that if two cats could cripple him, then three could kill him."
- "We weren't brand-new apprentices!" Littleclaw spat.
- "We didn't even see Berryclaw," Mudpaw mewed. His voice was deeper than Stonepaw's, Littleclaw noticed.
- Nightpaw nodded. "Airfur and a patrol caught us, though."
- Littleclaw hadn't noticed Boulderfoot beside her until he mewed, "You're lucky Smokestar thought it was for the good of the Clan. However, it was dumb."
- "We know it was dumb!" Stonepaw spat.
- "We just wanted to be like you, Littleclaw," Nightpaw whispered.
- "Don't be a mouse-brain," Mudpaw muttered. "You just don't want to get in trouble."
- Smokestar stared at Littleclaw's kits, feeling sadness come over him. Why would they do something so stupid?
- He caught Marshtail's eye and saw nothing but fear.
- What was Marshtail so scared about?
- What was coming to ShadowClan next?
- Berryclaw hissed as Airfur told him about the three apprentices.
- "They looked very familiar," Airfur added. "Like-"
- "I don't care," Berryclaw spat.
- "How- how is your face covered in scars?" Airfur asked quietly.
- Of course. Eaglestar and WindClan didn't know he was that rogue- the one who had killed so many cats- but every other Clan did.
- "Fight," Berryclaw mewed bluntly.
- "It looks like you lost," Airfur commented.
- "I did." Berryclaw turned and walked away.
- Mudpaw slashed out with a paw. Nightpaw rolled to one side, and Mudpaw missed.
- Nightpaw tried to leap onto Mudpaw, but he was ready. He rolled over and kicked. Nightpaw was sent away...
- "Good one!" Mudpaw's mentor, Toadtooth, walked forward. "You've mastered that one, Stonepaw."
- "And Nightpaw, you've mastered the roll," Smokeheart added. His long black fur blew in the wind.
- Stonepaw's mentor, Heavyfur, mewed, "I bet they can't beat Mudpaw."
- "I bet I can!" Mudpaw shot back, his fur fluffing up. The air was cold. There were frost-covered leaves on the ground. Leaf-bare had come, and now it was almost over.
- He was almost a warrior, and nothing had happened worth remembering.
- Stonepaw stared his brother in the eye. "I'd like to watch you."
- "You can't, you'll be losing to me," Mudpaw shot back. The challenge was making him anxious, and Mudpaw realized that he was looking forward to beating his brother.
- What was happening to him?
- Smokestar sat in his den and reflected on ShadowClan's past, his memories coming to a halt on a day at the beginning of leaf-fall.
- A rogue with dark gray fur had come to ShadowClan, pregnant and pleading for help. Smokestar had just realized that she was about to give birth- or in the first stages- when Deadpelt guided her to the nursery.
- "What's your name?" Smokestar had asked. Then, he was a brand-new leader.
- "Pebble," the rogue had groaned.
- "Push," Deadpelt pleaded.
- In the end, the she-cat gave birth to one kit.
- Smokestar remembered her begging him to keep the kit, whom she called Boulderkit, and her refusal to tell who the father was. And her pleading to stay to nurse Boulderfoot, just long enough.
- And now, Smokestar knew who the father was. Berry was. And Littleclaw's kits were his kin.
- Didn't she realize that?
- He remembered another time, when Littleclaw and Marshtail were born- then known as Littlekit and Marshkit.
- The mother had died soon after, leaving Smokestar alone with the kits. By then, Boulderfoot was two moons old.
- Smokestar brought the kits to Pebble, who was still nursing Boulderfoot, but not for long.
- Pebble had taken them and life went on normally, except for the three new additions to ShadowClan.
- Dawnpaw had been born four moons later, just after Boulderfoot had become an apprentice. Spottedtail was proud.
- And six moons later Dawnpaw died, along with Grayfoot, her mentor, and Yewfoot. Thanks to Berryclaw.
- Life was definitely looking up- for the rest of ShadowClan. As long as Berryclaw didn't strike again, life would be fine.
- For the rest of ShadowClan, that was.
- Stonepaw watched as Mudpaw leaped, catching the frog and rolling onto his back.
- "Show-off," Nightpaw muttered.
- "You bet," Stonepaw agreed in a low voice.
- "Wasn't that great?" Mudpaw asked, standing up. "I mean, you can practice fighting while hunting!"
- Stonepaw sighed. "You only fight when you have to, Mudpaw."
- For a while now, Mudpaw had been going on about fighting in a real battle, or getting into a fight with a border patrol.
- Stonepaw was getting worried, though. Was Mudpaw getting too full of himself?
- Nightpaw seemed to share his thoughts. Nightpaw's eyes were wide as he looked at his brother, and his tail was puff up slightly.
- "Hey! You three!" a voice yowled. Stonepaw saw his mother's black pelt through the trees, and he turned to face her way.
- "What?" Nightpaw called.
- Littleclaw appeared through a bush, her green eyes filled with excitement. "Come on back to camp. Smokestar needs you for something."
- Stonepaw skidded into camp in front of his littermates, and saw the Clan all gathered below Smokestar, who was standing on the top of his den, where he made announcements and performed ceremonies. ShadowClan called it the Highden.
- "What does he want us for?" Stonepaw asked Littleclaw quietly.
- "I can't tell you," Littleclaw mewed. "All I know is that it's about you."
- Nightpaw's eyes lit up.
- "Are you ready?" Smokestar asked the apprentices.
- "For what?" Mudpaw asked dubiously.
- For a great fighter, he's not very smart! Stonepaw thought.
- "Your warrior ceremony," Smokestar purred. "Smokeheart, Toadtooth, and Heavyfur think you're ready, and I couldn't agree more."
- Mudpaw's eyes widened in the ultimate surprise. Stonepaw and Nightpaw purred, and Stonepaw mewed, "Mouse-brain."
- Mudpaw didn't get angry like he usually did, but he was staring intently at Smokestar, no doubt trying to get the ceremony to start.
- When the ceremony was over, Stoneheart turned to Mudpelt and Nightfur. "We'll be great warriors," he purred.
- Marshtail growled. The time was now.
- Berryclaw sat down on a large rock in the middle of the moor, one that no cat would find him anytime soon. He began to think about the two apprentices that had attempted to kill him so many moons ago...
- That night, Marshtail would do what Pebbleheart and Shadowstar had told him to do. It was only fair, they would heal him, and he could be a warrior again.
- He could kill Berry for good.
- Marshtail heard himself purr, and jolted to a stop. What am I turning into? I'm not Berryclaw.
- But then another thought came to him. I must heal. This is for the good of the Clan.
- He nodded and purred. He was going to be okay.
- Every cat would be.
- Berryclaw remembered telling his son the truth. Now he wondered how Boulderfoot was doing. He was easier to see now, at the Gathering, but, then again, he had never followed any sort of code but his own.
- Boulderfoot, get ready for a surprise.
- Marshtail slipped through the lichen that hid the inside of Smokestar's den from the rest of the camp. He gritted his teeth as it brushed together loudly.
- Smokestar, who had been sleeping, lifted his head. "Yes?"
- "Smokestar, I have an important question," Marshtail murmured.
- "Marshtail?" Smokestar asked, turning his head in surprise. "What?"
- "Do you value your life?" Marshtail asked quietly. "Or- lives?" he amended.
- "I only have one left," Smokestar whispered. "I value it a lot."
- "You haven't been acting like it," Marshtail murmured, wincing as he moved his back.
- Smokestar looked alarmed. "I- I have!"
- "I'm not going to hurt you," Marshtail mewed. Yet. "But I was wondering- if you could show it."
- Now he could see Pebbleheart and Shadowstar behind Smokestar, but Marshtail pretended not to notice.
- "How- how could I show it?" Smokestar asked quietly.
- "First, you do what I say," Marshtail murmured. "It isn't hard, just some tips on how to look happier."
- "I don't look happy?" Smokestar gasped.
- Obviously, looking happy was important to Smokestar, and Marshtail had to hold back a snort. "You do- kind of."
- "Kind of?"
- "You looked really happy when I first saw you," Marshtail mewed to Shadowstar. "Like you could conquer the world."
- "Because I had you and Littleclaw," Smokestar whispered.
- "Do what I say," Marshtail prompted, sensing his soft spot. "I'll make you happy, I promise."
- Smokestar nodded slowly.
- "Lay down on your nest, facing towards the wall," Marshtail mewed. "When you don't face towards the camp, it makes you less- less stressed," he thought quickly.
- Smokestar nodded and obeyed, sighing. "I feel better already."
- "Okay, now close your eyes and think- think of when we were born. How did you feel when you first saw us?"
- "I never knew there would be so much blood," Smokestar replied.
- Marshtail gasped and quickly retraced his thoughts, then tried again. "When- when we became apprentices. When Littleclaw had kits," Marshtail continued. "When we became warriors. How did you feel then?"
- "Happy," Smokestar whispered.
- "Good," Marshtail murmured. "Now, close your eyes and let the memories- um, flow over you. Block out the world."
- Smokestar nodded. He closed his eyes.
- Marshtail pounced.
- "No!" Pebbleheart screeched.
- But it was too late. Marshtail had sunk his claws into Smokestar, leaving a limp and lifeless body behind. Forever.
- "Marshtail! You've been tricked!" Pebbleheart gasped. "Those- those cats that promised to heal you were tricking you."
- Shadowstar nodded. "We- don't you know?- we would never hurt any cat, especially one in ShadowClan."
- Shadowstar looked different, Marshtail noticed. Her muzzle was a bit flatter, her ears more pointed.
- Pebbleheart was thinner, his eyes brighter. His fur was much darker, more pure in color.
- And both of them had stars all over them.
- Smokestar's eyes jolted open. "What- why am I here?"
- "You're dead," Sharpstar, the previous leader of ShadowClan, mewed simply.
- "You. Are. Dead. Toadtooth is the leader now," he added.
- "T- Toadtooth? Oh, no, I thought I could make Smokeheart deputy soon..."
- "You're dead. It's too late. And personally, I think my son will make a great leader of ShadowClan," Sharpstar mewed.
- Marshtail felt his mouth open wide, then close. His tongue felt dry, and he knew his eyes were wide.
- "We'll show you the two cats that were pretending to be us," Shadowstar muttered. "Come out, you two."
- Two cats appeared next to the real Shadowstar and Pebbleheart, but they shimmered and faded as they sat, almost invisible to Marshtail.
- "I am Hollyleaf," the bushy-haired black she-cat mewed. "I killed the cat that threatened to kill me. Then I revealed who my real parents were, after being unknowingly part of a huge lie."
- "I am Darkstripe," the dark gray tabby tom snarled. "I tried to give a kit deathberries."
- Marshtail's eyes opened wide. "How could you?"
- "That's not all," Darkstripe mewed quickly. "I joined Tigerstar, one of-"
- "I know who Tigerstar is," Marshtail growled.
- "I also helped Tigerstar launch an attack on ThunderClan," Darkstripe added.
- Marshtail narrowed his eyes. "You're horrible. And Hollyleaf, there's nothing wrong with what you did. Did- did you do anything else?"
- But Hollyleaf did not say anything else.
- Pebbleheart mewed, "Don't you see? You should never trust any cat in the Dark Forest."
- Marshtail nodded, and suddenly felt no pain.
- "We healed you," Shadowstar mewed, her voice cold. "Now, you must tell every cat that you killed Bluepaw and Smokestar, and that Toadtooth is the leader now. Goodbye."
- "Every cat?" Marshtail croaked.
- "Every. Cat," Shadowstar repeated, then she vanished.
- Pebbleheart looked sympathetic. "You must be desperate to serve your Clan, even if it means causing destruction."
- Marshtail nodded, looking at his paws.
- "You only have to tell ShadowClan cats," Pebbleheart went on gently.
- Darkstripe hissed, but Hollyleaf didn't. "I'm sorry for tricking you. I just- I just wanted to keep my place here."
- Darkstripe looked at her in alarm, but Pebbleheart flicked his tail. "Goodbye, you two."
- The Dark Forest cats vanished, and Marshtail was left alone with Pebbleheart and Smokestar's corpse.
- "Thank you," Marshtail whispered. He turned without another word, leaving his father's body behind.
- Berryclaw crept through the forest, hearing the bush rustle behind him.
- "Wait!" a voice called. "Berryclaw, you can't cross the border!"
- Berryclaw sighed softly and turned to see Airfur running towards him. The trees surrounding the WindClan moor made it easier then ever for Berryclaw to hunt- rabbits were no longer a problem.
- "Where were you going?" Airfur asked.
- "I- I didn't know we weren't allowed to cross," Berryclaw stammered.
- "Of course you didn't." Airfur stepped closer. "You just wanted to get my attention."
- "Your- your what?" Berryclaw felt too stunned to speak.
- Airfur stepped closer, her voice mesmerizing as she mewed, "I know you like me, Berryclaw. I'll be your mate, you just have to ask."
- Berryclaw hadn't joined WindClan for a mate. He had joined it for protection from the cats that wanted to kill him.
- "Come on, Berryclaw," Airfur whispered.
- Berryclaw couldn't say no to her. "W- will you be my mate, Airfur?"
- "Yes," Airfur purred. She pressed her muzzle against his.
- Berryclaw sighed. "I'm glad I have you." Let's get this over with soon!
- Be sure to look for the next book, Air of Treason.
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