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Systems prize by sun beem-db63usr

many thanks to dogfood for the art <3

Singularity, a (relatively) short story by Blazey.

Written for and first place in Dogfood's contest.

Won Best Villain and Best Cliche-Kicker in 2017 WFWA

Blurb

When leaders cannot handle their nine lives, they burn within. Born with the terrible gift of extreme intelligence, Dawnkit grows frustrated with the world that refuses to accept her. Her brother Sagekit witnesses her journey to find her place in this world... but grows horrified by how she does it.

Allegiances

ThunderClan

Leader: Brackenstar- massive, golden-brown tabby tom with amber eyes.

Deputy: Birdheart- ginger-and-white tom with almond-shaped, green eyes.

Medicine cat: Silvershine- delicate, silver she-cat with white-tipped paws, long fur, and amber eyes.

Warriors:

Foxsong- ginger tabby she-cat with brown eyes.

Tigerfang- brown tom with brown eyes, old for a warrior.

Sorrelleaf- tortoiseshell she-cat with green eyes. Apprentice, Blackpaw.

Whitefur- white tom with brown eyes.

Talonflight- silver-and-white she-cat with a scarred pelt and blue eyes. Apprentice, Spottedpaw.

Suncloud- yellow-ish she-cat with brown eyes.

Mothshade- golden brown ticked she-cat with brown eyes.

Grasswind- brown tom with green eyes.

Stonefall- gray tom with hazel-green eyes.

Apprentices:

Blackpaw- black-and-white tom with brown eyes.

Spottedpaw- tortoiseshell she-cat with green eyes.

Queens:

Robincall- ginger-and-white she-cat with green eyes. Mother to Dawnkit and Sagekit.

Oakleaf- silver tabby she-cat with brown eyes. Mother to Brackenstar's kits, Gullkit, Hawkkit, and Ravenkit.

Kits:

Dawnkit- black she-cat with blue eyes.

Sagekit- black tom with blue eyes.

Gullkit- pale brown tabby tom with amber eyes.

Hawkkit- brown-and-white tom with amber eyes.

Ravenkit- dark brown she-cat with amber eyes.

RiverClan

Leader: Stormstar- silver-and-white she-cat with dark eyes.

Deputy: Salmonclaw- ginger tom with green eyes.

Medicine: Fernbreeze- tortoiseshell she-cat with brown eyes.

Prologue

The earth rolls on its axis, twisting and whirling at speeds too fast to be felt. With a single flap of its wings, the eagle has moved thousands of miles. Unfathomable distances pass beneath the rabbit's feet in the interlude between his jumps and his landings.

The cat, though he sits motionless, is moving, too. He is moving in sync with the ground underneath his feet, moving together with ghostly breaths of the earth. He synchronizes with the stars as they both turn and turn.

His fur is black and glossy, an upright shadow against the hill of dead grass he sits on. The cat does not lack in grace. As his head tips back to view the sky, he is the very picture of stillness in motion. 

Yet when his eyelids flutter open, the eyes beneath are glassy and lifeless. He has seen too much and felt too much. There may be no blood on his paws, but his heart is split open. He is nothing, he merely shoves breath into his mouth and chokes it out. He is pointless, he only waits for the end he craves. 

The stars are spirits, he knows, and watches them twinkle and dance across the sky. But what are they- do they simply float in the sky? Or are they forever made to burn, just for the pleasure of the cats living below?

He knows this will not be her. Her soul is different, too dark for any flame to ignite.

Instead, he looks at the space between the stars- the darkest sky- and knows she is there. Her soul is the space between the bright ones. She turns and twists in on herself, sucking herself into a vacuum. Fighting to breathe even though she is the asphyxiator. She is the churning darkness that folds in on itself until no part will feel the light of day.

He forces himself to keep looking, to let the stars burn into his eyes. He did this to her, made her the self-destroying soul she is. Because he failed to save her from the gifts she was given, and the gifts others tried to take from her.

He destroyed her, because he did not save her from herself.

He closes his eyes and waits for the singularity to take him.

Chapter One

His name was Sagekit, but he didn't matter. It was his sister they cared about.

At first, both were born equals- to an ordinary mother and an ordinary father. Their mother's pregnancy was overshadowed by that of the leader's mate, and while the Clan rejoiced at the Brackenstar's new arrivals, no one gave a second thought to the two black kits born the same day.

His mother- sweet, gentle Robincall- named the son Sagekit. Her daughter, who was black as night, she named Dawnkit.

Brackenstar's children were loud, rambunctious, and playful. By their third moon, they were already the fond nuisances of the Clan. All the warriors breathed sighs of relief when Robincall's litter was of age to play with them. Sagekit and Dawnkit, curious little kits, were soon fast friends with Gullkit, Hawkkit, and Ravenkit.

Dawnkit did play, at first. But there was always something off about her.

" Grr!" Gullkit cried, jumping onto his sister Ravenkit's back. " I'm a badger! I'm gonna eat you up!"

Ravenkit squealed and bucked. " Don't, don't!" while Hawkkit and Sagekit jumped up and down excitedly, telling her to shake him off, beat him, let's have badger blood for dinner!

Only Dawnkit remained silent. She watched with her blue eyes impassive and grim, tail tucked neatly around her paws. Sagekit saw her and, ever concerned for his sister, called out. " Dawnkit, wanna play? Don't be so lonely!"

She looked almost bashful, staring at him shyly, a deer peering through the tangles of a hedge. " I'd like to play, if you'd let me."

The kits cried out in delight, Gullkit leaping off his sister to pretend to stalk Dawnkit. She giggled, tail-tip waving, as he sniffed and crouched in an exaggerated manner. " What's this yummy meal I smell?" he growled.

" Blood!" Dawnkit cried, practically jumping up and down. " You smell blood!"

Gullkit growled in triumph. " Fresh meat! Arghhhh!" he cried, charging her. They fell in a mess of tails and flailing paws, Dawnkit shrieking in laughter.

The rest of the kits cheered, gathering round the wrestling cats. They could her squeals, giggles, and mock growls- all signs of kits at play. But then another sound joined the mix- a snarl. It was dry and fragile, but the menace made the kits uneasy. This sound, they realized, was coming from Dawnkit.

Before they knew what was happening, the black she-cat had pinned Gullkit down, pressing his face into the earth. He was whimpering, crying out that she'd won, but she wouldn't relent.

" Dawnkit," Sagekit called, wary. " The game's over. You won!"

Reluctantly, Dawnkit stepped away. Gullkit sprang to his feet, eyes wild and ears flattened. He stared at his former tormentor, and she held his gaze... but her lip was curled in contempt. " You are soft," she told him. " You cannot understand that sometimes, the prey kills the hunter."

Sagekit blinked. " It's just a game."

" It's a reflection," Dawnkit snapped, turning around to face him. " And you all are too stupid to realize it."

" Dawnkit!" Sagekit cried, but his sister merely snarled once before stalking away.

~

Dawnkit played no more. She spent her time staring in space, brooding.

Robincall asked Sagekit why she spent her time alone. " I don't know," he replied. " She doesn't like playing with us."

Once, as Dawnkit sat alone by the nursery, a patrol rushed in. Their eyes were wild and panicked, and their tails waved wildly until Brackenstar appeared to calm them down. " What happened?" he called, and they told of a mother fox who had attacked them. Robincall made her kits go back inside as the gory details played out- the patrol had been forced to kill her children, as they couldn't let them grow up into bigger threats.

A young yet sharp voice pierced through the discussion. " At what point," Dawnkit said, head tilted to the side. " Do the actions outweigh the consequence?"

" What-" Robincall cried, but Dawnkit cut her off smoothly.

"- At what point does ambition justify itself?"

Robincall, horrified, shoved her daughter back in the nursery.

Sagekit looked up as his sister came stumbling in. Her eyes were glowing with a deep anger, an expression unsettling on a face that should be innocent. She stormed to her nest, flinging herself down amongst the moss.

" What happened?" he asked her, prodding her with his claw. She remained silent for several moments. Sagekit shifted, wondering if he had said something wrong.

Then Dawnkit lifted her head, fixing him with her unblinking stare. " Why do we have bodies, Sagekit?" She frowned. " They do nothing but restrict the mind."

~

The next few days, she silenced even further, sitting by herself and closing her eyes. While Sagekit and the others grew in size, Dawnkit only seemed to get sicklier and thinner.

When Brackenstar's kits were occupied, Sagekit searched for his sister. The leader's litter had heard about her speech, and were scared. They told him all the warriors were talking. Gullkit spoke of a conversation he had overheard.

" Your mom was talking to Brackenstar," he informed Sagekit, scratching his claw at the dirt. " She's worried about Dawnkit. She didn't want her to be an apprentice."

Sagekit was shocked. " Why? Dawnkit is..." He trailed off. Smarter. Better.

" Because she's so sick, and so odd. My father said the whole Clan was 'watching' her, whatever that means."

" Watching?" Sagekit said in alarm.

" Yeah."

So he went too look for his sister, seeking an answer- going to plead her to make herself healthier. He found her in the dark corner behind the nursery, shaking and trembling. As he was about to call out, her eyes flew open and her jaw stretched in what only could have been a scream.

No sound came from her throat.

" Dawnki-"

His sister gave another one of her silent screams, then turned and sank her fangs into her own shoulder.

As he was about to shriek, her eyes fixed on his. " Get me out," she cried. " Get me out of here!"

" I can't-"

" Get me out!" she screamed, shaking, contorting, breaking-

" Stop!" he yowled, rushing at her and pinning her down. She fought him savagely, snarling and growling murder in her baby voice while he pressed his claws against her throat. Anything, anything to make her stop.

" I don't know what I'd rather do," she said suddenly, brokenly. " Die, or have my mind forever trapped in this body."

Her words chilled him. " Don't say that," he begged her. " Don't, you don't mean it-"

" I do," she replied softly. " It's just that you cannot understand."

Sagekit shook his head. " If they hear you talking this way, they'll keep you in camp forever. It'll stop you from being bored, won't it, going outside?"

Dawnkit blinked. " I will try."

And thus, Dawnkit surrendered herself, and as Dawnpaw she was born anew.

Chapter Two

Sagepaw was assigned to a lively she-cat, a ginger tabby bursting with energy. Her name was Foxsong, and by the time he'd made it to the camp exit, he could swear she'd already run twenty laps around him. 

" You are going to be fantastic," she chirped, eyes wide. " I just know it!"

Maybe so, he thought. But the whole Clan only cared about one apprentice. A scrawny black she-cat with electrifying eyes. Throughout the ceremony, he'd been watching. He and the leader's kits sat with their chests puffed out, and Dawnpaw seemed to be swallowed by their mere shadows. But he'd sensed it- the eyes of the cats below drawn to her, and the slight falter in the leader's voice when he named her apprentice.

They were all wondering about the kit who asked questions she shouldn't have. The kit who knew more than she should.

Sagepaw watched her now, walking alongside her mentor. He didn't understand why Brackenstar had chosen Tigerfang- one of the oldest cats in the Clan- to mentor her. But he was pleased to see her eyes shining- and for once, she didn't seem to be boiling over with anger and frustration. 

He sensed it, of course- the unconscious step backwards Gullpaw, Hawkpaw, and Ravenpaw took. She must have known too- there she stood, tiny against Tigerfang's massive brown side, but her stare came up to meet every single of theirs. Sagepaw could have sworn Foxsong flinched. 

" So," Tigerfang rumbled, voice like crackling leaves. " Are you ready to see the territory for the first time?"

Sagepaw's heart sped up. " Yes!" he cried, joined by the other three apprentices as well. He looked down at Dawnpaw and was surprised- and a bit unsettled- to see her eyes closed. 

" Let's get a move on, then!" Foxsong cried, jumping onto all fours, her tail raised in excitement. " Follow me, come on, we're going fast!"

Fast, Sagepaw reflected, was an understatement. Foxsong rocketed out of camp, and within moments his legs were burning. Dawnpaw had been by his side, skinny legs moving fast to keep up, but she'd dropped back. Sagepaw wanted to worry about his sister, but something about running was awakening. He followed his Clanmates until Foxsong slowed down to an abrupt stop. 

" How was that, eh?" she said, panting lightly. " This'll be easy in no time. We'll take it slow for now, but make sure you keep running whenever you get the chance. Now- you see this tree? If you get lost, come back here and I'll find you."

Sagepaw and the apprentices nodded. Foxsong began to walk, but Sagepaw stayed back. " Wait!" he called. " My sister-"

"-she'll catch up," Foxsong replied, though by her tone it was clear she hoped Dawnpaw wouldn't. " Now come on, we won't wait for you."

~

The world was beautiful, and its sheer complexity turned Sagepaw's mind. Gullpaw, Ravenpaw, and Hawkpaw looked a bit overwhelmed as well when they stopped for a rest.

Foxsong stepped forwards, tail waving behind her. " You guys are looking great- ready for the next part?" She barely paused for breath before continuing. " We're going to do a pretest, sort of, in your hunting skills. You're going to be partnered up and we will assess you- just to gain a base for where we should start teaching. Now-"

She paused. The grass to her left flattened, and out stepped Dawnpaw and Tigerfang.

Sagepaw felt a rush of relief- she was such a thin, sickly thing. He had feared something bad had happened to her. His joy was overshadowed by unease as Foxsong's fur rose uncertainly. Next to him, Gullkit took a step away from Dawnpaw.

And his little sister simply stared at them all- blue eyes wide and all-knowing, all-encompassing. She knows, Sagepaw realized. She knows they fear her. And she doesn't mind it at all.

" Well!" Foxsong chirped out, unnecessarily bright. " We have five now, so someone has to go alone. Who is that brave soul?"

Ravenpaw stepped forwards, her amber eyes glinting. " Me!"

" Great!" Foxsong said. " And you four- partner up, quickly now."

It wasn't really a question- Gullpaw and Hawkpaw plastered themselves to each other, and Sagepaw had already turned to his sister. Tigerfang nudged her in his direction- since when did she allow others to touch her?- and she came. Sagepaw purred absently as she approached, aware of Gullpaw and Hawkpaw disappearing into the forest.

"So..." he coughed. Dawnpaw was staring at the sky, eerily still. " Let's head down by Sunningrocks. Across from RiverClan."

In response, she switched her gaze from the sky to him. It was unsettling, and Sagepaw decided to take it as an affirmation. " Right, then. Let's go."

They padded along in silence. Sagepaw didn't mind, as he was concentrated on remembering the way to Sunningrocks. He'd never been one for much concentration anyway... and silence with his sibling was natural. 

" This is good," Dawnpaw announced, and he jumped. She affected not to notice. " Thank you, Sagepaw. This is interesting, and I am bored no longer. My mind has been stimulated."

He frowned, looking up from his tracking. His sister's eyes were sparkling with... happiness? " What?"

" Stimulated. Alive."

" So you're not bored...?"

Dawnpaw nodded. " It's complicated out here- so many systems, so much happening. Lots of layers, not like our stale, stifling camp- there is the bird layer, the mouse layer, the plant layer... all of these threads, woven together. I cannot unravel-"

"- weaving? Unravel?" Sagepaw questioned, thoroughly confused. 

"- I cannot unravel them!" She burst out into a shriek, and he flinched. " If I- no, oh no- my mind must stop. Stop. Stop stop stop stop stop..."

" What's going on?" Sagepaw cried, his mind flashing back to her self-harm last moon. 

Dawnpaw's eyes were wide and anguished. " I am beginning to understand," she whispered hoarsely. She looked upwards. Sagepaw's eyes followed and moments later, a bird took off into the air. " See?"

Sagepaw's stomach was churning. He was starting to understand what she meant. " Don't worry," he lied. " There is more to the outside than the bird system."

Dawnpaw was quivering, and the hopelessness in her eyes made his heart wrench. " There has to be. For if I unravel all the threads, there is nothing but shapeless string before me." Dawnpaw sighed, looking back up at him. " So- we are supposed to be hunting?"

Sagepaw nodded, glad they were back on a normal subject. " Yeah. I want to hunt on Sunningrocks, you know, near the river. I think it'll be cool." He lowered his head, finally finding the scent from earlier in the day. " This way."

His sister followed, observing him curiously. " I want to see RiverClan," she said.

" Why?" Sagepaw frowned, before his expression cleared again. " Look- look at that!"

Spread before them were gleaming brown stones, glinting in the golden light of the sun. The river stretched past them like the languid tail of a cat. It glittered and shone, the surface caught between gray and blue. 

" Beauty," Dawnpaw said softly, and Sagepaw nodded in his agreement. Both apprentices scurried down to the rocks, tails streaming out behind them. The young black cats darted around excitedly, exploring the new world set before them. Sagepaw ran off to see what he could find to hunt, while Dawnpaw stayed facing RiverClan's island. She didn't move, only became a silent, black shadow. She watched, she saw, and around her moved all the threads she had talked about, all the systems she wanted to (not) figure out.

And then, through the perfect silence of the world, broke out a bloodcurdling scream.

Sagepaw whirled around, and the shrew he'd been stalking bolted away. His heart froze- the scream had been from his sister. He ran as fast as his legs could possible carry him, a thousand unspeakable thoughts running through his head. 

" Dawnpaw!" he shrieked. " Dawnpaw, are you-"

He skidded to a halt. She was standing upright, staring out at RiverClan's islands, appearing fine. But when he looked closer, he could see her shaking like a leaf. Her jaw was stretched wide, another silent scream, and her eyes were popping. 

" I can see..." she croaked, and her words sent chills down his spine. " I know. Sagepaw, they are all going to-!"

Her eyes rolled back in her head and she crumpled to the ground.

It was Sagepaw's turn to scream.

~

There was confusion in camp when they arrived. Robincall had to be restrained from rushing to her daughter's side. Sagepaw sat by his unconscious sister's head, flattening his ears to block out the noise around him. Silvershine, the medicine cat, had to shove her way through.

" Help my sister," he begged her. 

But Silvershine was already at work, white-tipped paws working at a prodigious rate. Sagepaw backed up to give her room, and felt a large body bump into his. 

" You said she spoke?" the body- Brackenstar- demanded. Sagepaw tore his gaze from his sister and looked up. Brackenstar's amber eyes were serious. " And she was facing RiverClan? What did she say?"

Sagepaw forced himself to clear the numb fog around his mind. " S-she- I don't know. All I heard was a scream, and when I came running I found her staring out at RiverClan. She said something about 'understanding', and that we were 'all going to' something."

" All going to what?"

" She didn't finish."

Brackenstar opened his mouth to reply, but a hacking cough distracted him. Dawnpaw was sitting up, thin sides heaving. " Dawnpaw!" Sagepaw cried joyfully. His sister did not return the emotion, however, and her blue eyes were deadly serious. The noise around them dimmed. Brackenstar and Sagepaw leaned in to hear her speak.

" I understand, Sagepaw," she cried, and there was a tremor in her voice. " You all- you all be warned! Something terrible is about to happen. Something unspeakable." 

Sagepaw's breath caught in his throat. " What?"

Suddenly, she broke into a shriek. " They're coming! RiverClan is coming, Brackenstar! They are going to take Sunningrocks. You need to do something, now!"

Alarmed, Brackenstar leaned closer. " When? How do you know?"

Dawnpaw closed her eyes. " I saw. Their position on the shore. Tomorrow at dawn they will come, take Sunningrocks. And then you all will die, drop dead like flies. Turn the ground red, red with blood, red, red, red..."

Brackenstar looked up at Silvershine, horror apparent in his gaze. " Is this prophecy?"

" No," the medicine cat said tightly. " StarClan would tell no one this- they do not favour among Clans."

Distressed wailing broke out behind them. ThunderClan cats cried out in confusion, clamoring for Brackenstar to do something... 

" What do I do?" Brackenstar asked.

" Save yourself," Dawnpaw begged. " Save them. Live."

Sagepaw cleared his throat. " She knows this, Brackenstar," he said quietly. " This is not imagination or speculation. She knows."

" Better to be falsehood than murder at dawn," he said finally, calling out to the Clan. " I need five cats to come with me to Sunningrocks. Birdheart, my deputy, watch the Clan. I will return at dawn."

He left. Robincall attempted to calm her agitated daughter, but Dawnpaw would only respond to Sagepaw. They retired for the night, but no one could sleep. ThunderClan was wide, wide awake.

~

At dawn, there were no battle cries. There was no bloodshed. 

Instead, Brackenstar and five cats came in. Their eyes were wide, hearts numb, and minds confused beyond belief.

" She was right," the leader croaked. " The apprentice was right."

~

" I was right," the apprentice breathed. " I was right." 

Sagepaw stared at his sister, unsure of what to think, of what to feel. Who was this creature beside him? 

Dawnpaw turned to him, and her face was lit with a crazy light. He saw in her expression pure joy and awe, emotions he'd never seen her express. " It is done, brother," she laughed. " I have unraveled the cat system."

Chapter Three

It changed her, being right. The transformation was almost instantaneous, and Sagepaw barely recognized his own sister.

She woke that morning, after they'd been allowed to sleep her. Her frantic prodding opened his eyes, and he saw her bright blue ones sparkling with excitement. " Wake up, brother," she hissed. " Your sleep cycle is complete."

Sagepaw felt a flash of annoyance as he was jolted from warm, soft sleep. " What?"

" The day has begun, and I am the hero," Dawnpaw's eyes sparkled. " You see, now? My mind has proved itself worthy- finally, I am no addle-brained kit. They will respect me."

" What- Dawnpaw, stop," he growled. " Some of them might not... like this. Don't be too taken back if they treat you oddly."

Dawnpaw's eyes narrowed. " You mean that they won't appreciate someone younger than them knowing more."

" I'm saying that it's not- normal," Sagepaw sighed. " For you to know all this."

" No, it is not," she hissed back. " Do you realize what I have done? I have outsmarted an entire Clan- I merely looked across the river and I knew. I outsmarted cats who have lived for moons more than me; seasons, even. ThunderClan will respect me. They have to."

A cold chill spread up his spine at her words. Who was this cat- where was his sweet, curious sister? " Just be careful. Have a thick skin, don't be offended if they don't start worshipping the ground at your feet," Sagepaw growled, standing up to leave. He paused before exiting the den, nervous of what he might find outside.

Taking a deep breath, he ducked out of the den exit and found camp to be completely and utterly-

Normal. 

Sagepaw gaped openly. Did they forget about what had happened? Or were they already so accepting of Dawnpaw's intellect?

" Sagepaw!" a sharp voice cut through the gentle murmur of camp. He looked up- Foxsong was approaching. " There you are! I know you probably stayed up late last night, but are you ready to train now?"

He eyed her cautiously. " I'm ready. But I'm still kinda shocked, from, you know..." he said, trying to test her.

Foxsong looked momentarily confused before her eyes brightened. " Oh, you mean your sister's prediction! Don't worry about it. It can be pretty hard to get used to, having an unusual sibling, but she'll be respected. After all, she's being given one of the highest positions in the Clan."

" W-what?" Sagepaw stammered.

Foxsong looked bemused. " You really are tired, aren't you? She has the power of prophecy. She'll be training as the medicine cat's apprentice!"

Oh. Oh my StarClan- " T-that's not-" he began.

"- come on, Sagepaw, let's train," Foxsong was already darting away. He stared at her retreating back and closed his eyes briefly. Sagepaw turned to look back at the den, and let out a heavy sigh.

Suddenly, he was overcome with annoyance. Why did he always have to clean up Dawnpaw's messes? Let her figure this one out on her own, he thought viciously to himself. Filled (guiltily) with spite, the apprentice darted after his mentor.

~  

A new chill laced the air, Sagepaw noted, as he raced alongside Foxsong. His mentor's long, graceful steps caused her to easily outpace him. Sagepaw's smaller legs churned desperately at the earth, the now-familiar burn spreading through his chest.

At last, Foxsong slowed. Sagepaw skidded to a halt, breathing heavily. He felt another cat stop beside him and looked up to find himself staring into Ravenpaw's warm amber eyes.

" You sound like a sheep," she informed him, then shoved him with her shoulder as she breezed by. He stumbled a bit but found himself staring stupidly after her, a strange heat on his flank where she had touched him. I must look like a total idiot. I wonder what Dawnpaw would say if she- 

At once his stomach plummeted. Where was his sister? How would she react to her Clan's new belief about her?

"- we'll be working on battle moves today," Foxsong's voice snapped him back to reality. " The basic stuff! You guys are going to be so good- I'm so excited!" she bounced on her paws a bit. " So go on, partner up! Two per..." she trailed off. 

Dawnpaw and Tigerfang stepped out into the clearing. The young apprentice held her black head high. Her electric stare met Sagepaw's, and he felt a stab of irritation. So she can just waltz in here when she wants? Is she too good for us, now? " Hello," Dawnpaw said softly.

Tigerfang moved to rest his tail on Dawnpaw's shoulders- but she moved imperceptibly so his tail only brushed her flank. " We've come to train," he rumbled. " Aren't you doing battle moves today?"

Sagepaw's eyes narrowed. No one else seemed to have noticed his sister's avoidance of her mentor. Last time she'd seemed so happy to have found someone of her intellect- now she didn't even want Tigerfang near her?

We are," Foxsong flattened her ears. " She isn't- how many times do I have to explain this? You're her mentor, surely you've been informed."

" Informed about what?" Tigerfang growled. But Dawnpaw wasn't confused. She let out a sharp sound that was half-growl, half-sigh. Foxsong and the other apprentice visibly flinched. 

" Are you all so dense?" she cried out. " What is in your skull- frog intestines? I do not have the power of prophecy!"

Sagepaw could see her shivering and stepped towards her, pressing against her flank. She showed no sign of acknowledging his presence. 

" Yes, you do!" Foxsong growled. " See, you knew what I was going to say before I spoke. You belong in the medicine den, not out here. Stay away from us, stop interrupting my training session- you and your freakish powers!"

Tigerfang opened his mouth to speak, but Dawnpaw cut him off. " You think that." Her voice was steely calm, but Sagepaw could still feel her muscles tremble against him. " Convince yourself, but fool none- fool others, convince yourself! Dizzying, dizzy me, from trees to heaven to sky within or below or above- the groundhog's burrow!"

Shocked silence in the clearing. " Dawnpaw-" Sagepaw began.

She tore herself away from him. " You all cannot comprehend- cannot fathom me!" Her fiery gaze swept across the cats. Foxsong curled her lip and determinedly turned her back.

" Pairs, now!" she said, voice only quavering slightly. Galvanized into action, the three apprentices sprung to their feet. Ravenpaw moved towards Sagepaw and nudged his cheek with her nose. 

" You're with me, woolface," she taunted lightly. Sagepaw purred weakly back. 

As the apprentices left the clearing, he risked a glance back at his sister. Her form was taut, eyes narrowed and staring with a bone-chilling coldness at the other cats. Suddenly, her gaze met his, and Sagepaw knew the true meaning of fear.

~

His dark mood soon evaporated as he engrossed himself in training. Sagepaw had never considered himself very tough or strong- he was skinny and slight, just like Dawnpaw. But now he found himself at an advantage. His speed and agility allowed him to outmaneuver Ravenpaw, and soon the dark brown she-cat was pinned under his paws. 

" Looks like I win," he taunted. She growled and shoved him off, sending him stumbling a few paces backwards. He began to worry that he'd offended her, but she turned around with a mischievious twinkle in her eyes.

" Race you back!" she called over her shoulder.

" Hey!" Sagepaw laughed, sprinting after her. 

Together, they wove through the trees, paws springing off the dappled grass. A few paces ahead of him, Ravenpaw tripped over a fallen log and went tumbling down in the dirt. Sagepaw let out a triumphant yowl as he sailed past her, but the she-cat tackled him down and went racing ahead of him. They kept running until Ravenpaw skidded through the camp entrance, letting out a victorious whoop. 

" I win!" she crowed. Sagepaw stopped beside her, breathing heavily but with a strange lightness in his chest. He hadn't felt this way for so long, he hadn't been-

Happy. 

His eyes widened. Had he really not felt joy since his kithood?

" Sagepaw." He recognized Gullpaw's voice from behind him. The others must have caught up. " Sagepaw, isn't that your sister?"

" Isn't who my sister- what is..." he looked up, and trailed off. There was a commotion in the camp, right outside the leader's den. Now he could hear angry shouting voices, and one he identified as his sister's. The little black she-cat stood facing Brackenstar. Silvershine and Robincall stood beside both of them, the two she-cats wearing identical looks of confusion on their faces. 

" What's going on?" Foxsong growled, shoving her way forwards. " Oh, her." 

Her. Sagepaw felt his hackles rise at the annoyance in his mentor's tone. He raced away, hearing the others call out to him- but whatever happened to his sister was his business as well. 

All four cats looked up as he reached them. Brackenstar and Silvershine looked faintly annoyed, while Robincall moved closer to him. Dawnpaw gave no indication that she acknowledged his presence. " What's going on?" he panted.

" Your sister is refusing to accept her new destiny," Brackenstar growled. " Dawnpaw, you cannot train with the others any more. You have a different path- your powers of prophecy are unlike any I have ever seen-"

"- that is because they are not prophecy!" Dawnpaw growled. " I have told you this countless times, why can you not understand? I know. My brain processes information. I have a two-step thinking process, while you only have one- can you not comprehend this?" The look she gave him was of the way a mother looks at a quarrelsome child. 

" It's true, Brackenstar," Sagepaw said, internally quivering under his leader's stare. " Dawnpaw can figure things out you and I can't. She's very intelligent, more than probably anyone in this forest." 

" Is that so?" Brackenstar growled. " You expect me to believe a six moon old kit knows more than me? More than 'anyone?'"

Dawnpaw growled. " Yes, I do! Open your eyes, you oaf!" 

A guttural snarl tore from Brackenstar's throat " You know nothing! StarClan has given you powers- you belong in the medicine den, not stumbling around like a rabid badger. Keep your filthy paws out of the apprentice's den, and your disgusting hide away from us, you freak!"

Sagepaw's stomach was frozen with horror. An ugly, twisted silence settled over the fives cats. By now, others had gathered around them and low, anxious murmurs broke out through the crowd. 

The first cat to move was Dawnpaw. She did not shake, and the look in her eyes was of pure, raw contempt. The little back cat rose to her paws and cast her shadow across the entire Clan. 

" How dare you." Dawnpaw growled. Her sharp voice echoed through the trees, through the clearing, and up to the sky. " How dare you put StarClan above me- with my mind I could chart their movements for decades and centuries long after you die! Long after everyone in this clearing is nothing but rotten, maggot-infested bones!" 

No one moved- she had stolen their voices from them with a single freezing look. 

" If it was merely prophecy, Brackenstar, I could tell you that in ten years a tornado will come through and destroy our home. If I just had prophecy, I could tell you one of your children will develop a life-threatening disease before they reach their sixteenth- no, seventeenth- moon. I could tell you that you will lose two of your lives to the same cat, and you will never know who it is. All this I could tell you with prophecy." 

" But I don't have prophecy, I don't have some half-baked story some supposed star-cats give me. I know it all! Every crystal clear detail... I need no riddle to teach me! Look- look up!" she cried, and Sagepaw did. A large bird suddenly swooped across the the tree tops. " Could I know that?" 

" Or this! A snake will slither from the boulders at the edge of camp- and a branch will fall, crushing it. Two pigeons will fly to escape it, and then one of the Twolegs' metal birds will cross our upward field of vision. And then- and then you will hear battle cries, and a ShadowClan cat will race through this entrance to tell you RiverClan has declared war. Count to five, now. Five, four, three, two one-"

A sharp scream broke out from behind them. Hawkpaw was frozen in terror, staring at a writhing coil of brown, hissing skin-

- a crack and then a thud as a tree branch came hurling down-

- the sick sound of bones snapping-

-the squawk of frightened birds-

- a loud whirring, and as Sagepaw looked up he saw a grey, metal bird-

- and then a faint caterwauling-

- a pause-

-  is she wrong?-

 a thunder of pawsteps as a marsh cat came rushing through the entrance, panting wildly-

" We've been attacked, we need your help! RiverClan has declared war!" 

Dead, shocked silence in camp. 

" So you see, Brackenstar," Dawnpaw said, eyes lit with a maniacal glow. " I do not have the power of prophecy. I have so much more."

Then her eyes rolled back into her head and she fell to the floor.

~

If Dawnpaw had not forewarned him, Brackenstar said, he would have wasted precious time asking questions to the ShadowClan warrior. 

Had he wasted that time and not sent aid when he did, countless lives would have been lost. 

She was a hero- not only to Brackenstar, but to an entire Clan as well.

So he named her when she woke on her seventh moon- Wisethought. 

Some cheered, others muttered darkly under their breaths, but Sagepaw was the only one that sat in silence. When his mother asked him why, he recalled the words she had spoken not too long ago.

How dare you put StarClan above me. 

Chapter Four

The moons began to whirl by, each season flowing into the next. As Sagepaw trained, throwing blow after blow to his practice post, ThunderClan began to prepare for war. They weren't directly involved, per se, but it wasn't long before RiverClan discovered ThunderClan was backing their enemy.

And as Sagepaw trained, he saw less and less of his sister who was reveling in her new warrior's status. She'd come to him the moments after, bright-eyed and so happy his heart warmed to her despite his misgivings. 

" It's happened, Sagepaw," the small cat who came barely to his shoulder said. " I'm where my mind belongs."

And he wanted that for her- happiness. Sometimes they'd pass each other, him with his fellow apprentices, she on patrol predicting the possible movements of their enemies. 

For a while she was content, and so was the Clan- gradually, they adjusted to Wisethought and some even grew proud of her. But this peace was not meant to last long.

~

" Well done, Sagepaw," a voice cut into his frenzied thoughts. Sagepaw looked up from where Ravenpaw was pinned under his claws. It'd been difficult, but he'd finally beaten his main rival. Foxsong's eyes were glowing with approval. " You've gotten so strong. I'm so proud of you."  

A warm feeling ballooned in Sagepaw's chest. He was about to thank her when Ravenpaw wrenched herself free and sent him sprawling into the dirt. 

" That was one time, little squirt," she taunted. " Savour this moment because it'll never come again."

Sagepaw flicked a pawful of dirt into her face. " Whatever." 

As Ravenpaw spluttered, Sagepaw turned his attention to a rustling in the bushes behind them. His heart leapt in joy as two black ears emerged, followed by a pair of sparkling blue eyes.

" Dawn- Wisethought!" he cried, bolting to her side. She purred, stepping aside for the other cats in her patrol to step out of the bushes. Silver-furred Oakleaf, Brackenstar's mate, along with Mothshade and Suncloud. Sagepaw felt a burst of pride that Dawnpaw was leading such renowned, senior warriors. 

" Hey!" Foxsong greeted Mothshade, her sister. " You guys patrolling the RiverClan border?" 

" We're about to, yeah," Mothshade said in her deep, gravelly voice. The ticked she-cat gestured to the other apprentices with her head. " You done training 'em?" 

" Almost. Why?"

" I think it'd be nice for them to come along on a real patrol. Experience it, you know. They're due for their ceremonies in less than a moon now."

Ravenpaw, Gulllpaw, and Hawkpaw bounced on their feet, standing next to their mother Oakleaf. " Please," Ravenpaw begged. " It'll be fun!"

" Yeah!" Sagepaw chimed in, earning himself a warm look and purr from Ravenpaw. He felt Dawnpaw stiffen next to him and frowned. " C'mon, Foxsong."

The ginger tabby sighed. " Fine," she said, but her voice was drowned out by their delighted squeals. With Sagepaw and Dawnpaw at the head, the patrol took off through the forest. 

Sagepaw looked over at his sister in surprise as they ran. He was hit by a sudden blow of realization. Her skinny frame had filled out with muscle, and now her heart was strong. She could keep up with him effortlessly. He felt another burst of pride and a bit of sadness that he'd been so distant from her he'd missed seeing this change. 

" So..." Sagepaw began, struggling to find something casual to speak to her about. Dawnpaw- she wasn't even Dawnpaw any more, she was a warrior!- looked over, blue eyes as intense and striking as they'd always been. " How's... stuff?" 

His sister skirted around a root that was barely visible under a thick tangle of grass. " Enjoyable. Finally, I am where I belong."

" You mean with warriors?"

" I mean with those that rightfully respect me," Dawnpaw said, and Sagepaw detected a hint of smugness in her voice. " So far, I have predicted twenty-three attacks, of which eighteen actually happened. In this eighteen, fifteen were prevented and three could have been but my advice was not taken quickly enough." 

Sagepaw narrowed his eyes. " Oh. That's nice."

His sister did not reply. They reached Sunningrocks in silence, and Dawnpaw nimbly leapt down the tan rocks to stand at the shoreline. Sagepaw and the apprentices hung back as the rest of her patrol followed. 

The three senior warriors lined up behind Dawnpaw and he could hear them, faintly. 

" What do you see?" Oakleaf rumbled. Dawnpaw held up her tail for silence and Oakleaf obeyed. The young black cat peered into the distance, and Sagepaw pictured her blue eyes darkening as she focused. 

" The patrol is thin today," she said. " Few cats- but very alert. See the small brown one? She is still an apprentice and is on patrol. I remember her from the Gathering, so their main warriors must be at camp..."

There was silence. Then, a loud screech from Dawnpaw. " They're coming! And this time, they're bringing WindClan with them!" 

Sagepaw's heart leapt into his chest. He turned around to see Ravenpaw's amber eyes widen in shock. The warriors on Sunningrocks let out hisses of disbelief. 

" What?!" Oakleaf growled. " How can you make that leap in logic?"

Dawnpaw curled her lip right back. " Do you need me to explain it to you? It's so simple- the warriors must be back at camp, and you can pick up the slightest scent-"

" Listen. We've put up with some ridiculous ones before, but this tops it. Mintstar is an ally, there's no way she'd betray us like that. She promised to stay out of the war."

Listen to me!" Dawnpaw spat. " I know this. I know more than you, any of you! Why can't you admit-"

"- admit what?" Oakleaf snarled right back. " Yes, you're 'smarter'. Yes, Brackenstar trusts you to lead us. But in no way does that make you entitled to special treatment. We question you the same way we'd question any warrior, so grow up, little Wisethought, and deal with it." 

Her words were carefully aimed rocks thrown at Dawnpaw's sensitive spots. Sagepaw could see his sister's now-strong body tense up. Her head rose and her blue eyes crackled with furious lightning. Sagepaw could not help but feel fear in his belly, he was in awe of how Oakleaf stood her ground. The senior warrior did speak the truth, Sagepaw realized. But Dawnpaw wasn't going to accept that. 

He began to pick his way down the rocks. Mothshade looked up and frowned slightly, as he knew he wasn't welcomed here. But he was the only one Dawnpaw would listen to (and mostly speak to) these days. 

" There are flaws in your argument. You know why Brackenstar trusts me? Because I smarter, better, than all of you! So perhaps you should focus on warning him and saving your Clanmates lives, instead of trying to preserve your fragile ego!" Dawnpaw was trembling with rage. Sagepaw nearly laughed at the ridiculous irony in her words. Save lives? She wanted this for the glory. Ego? That was what fed her. He found himself suddenly filled with contempt for this creature beside him. Where was his sweet, inquisitive sister? Where was Dawnpaw- what had Wisethought done to her?

A tense silence followed. Sagepaw hurriedly cut in despite knowing it was not his place. He could not bear to hear any more. " Why don't you see Brackenstar, Wisethought? If you convince the highest command, we can prevent the attack faster." 

The warriors around her began to nod. Oakleaf merely gave a tense nod, abruptly swinging around and racing back the way they'd come. Dawnpaw, without a second glance at her brother, took off. Suncloud followed and so did the training group. Mothshade, however, hung back with Sagepaw. 

" You gave her a command and she listened," the massive golden warrior commented dryly. " That automatically makes you supreme ruler of the universe." 

That's what she thinks she is, Sagepaw growled to himself, but instead simply remarked " She's my sister."

" Sometimes I forget she's mortal enough to have any kin," Mothshade said, making her way up the rocks. " You'd better come with us- I have a feeling she's going to get 'emotional,' and you're the only one who can keep her in check."

~

As expected, Dawnpaw drew a lot of attention to herself when she came storming into camp. 

Sagepaw ran in behind, fast enough to see cats scatter before her. Their eyes were mixtures of fear and awe. 

" Is that her?" Robincall's new litter cried. Sagepaw turned to look at his half-siblings. His mother hadn't disclosed the name of the father, but his happiness for her outweighed any jealousy he may have felt. 

" I need to see Brackenstar!" Dawnpaw called out. " Now." Her voice cut through camp and sliced into the leaders den. Within moments, Brackenstar emerged and his ginger-and-white deputy Birdheart followed. Dawnpaw. Sagepaw, and the warrirors of Dawnpaw's patrol came to meet them and ducked back inside the den, shielded from the anxious crowd around them. 

" What happened?" Brackenstar said, eyes fixed worriedly on Dawnpaw. Before she could speak, Birdheart cut in. 

" Oakleaf," he said coldly. " What happened?" 

An uncomfortably silence settled on the room. Sagepaw swore his sister's eyes turned to ice as she met Birdheart's green gaze, seething. They've clashed before. Oakleaf paid her no notice and began to speak. 

" Our patrol reached Sunningrocks, which is where Wisethought usually makes her observations. Today, she concluded that an attack was coming- a perfectly reasonable thing to say- but then went on to add that WindClan is assisting them. Our allies."

Brackenstar looked at his mate in confusion. " And what was your problem with this? She has rarely been wrong."

" Not rarely- never." Dawnpaw cut in. 

" Silence. Let the warriors talk," Birdheart hissed. Sagepaw flattened his ears, cringing inwardly at the insult. 

Oakleaf's eyes widened in disbelief. " What's wrong? WindClan are our allies- to suggest they have turned on us is horrible. And if we make the wrong move, we could ruin that alliance anyway."

" That's right. ShadowClan has backed out- they can't afford to risk lives over this war, they're neutral territory. But as we all know, RiverClan is using them as an ally anyway. If we lost WindClan too, we would be at a serious disadvantage. We would lose." Birdheart's voice was dark as he spoke. 

Instead of agreeing with his deputy, Brackenstar looked torn. Sagepaw watched in astonished as, with a helpless look on his face, Brackenstar turned to Dawnpaw. " What do you think?"

In response, Dawnpaw let out an outraged, strangled noise. " This is war, you fools! The mind is not so one-dimensional; friendships change and loyalties shift as new benefits are offered and new rewards reaped. What have you promised WindClan? How do you know RiverClan has not given more?"

" Are you saying RiverClan bought them over?" Birdheart sneered. Oakleaf let out a disbelieving snort. Sagepaw, despite his anger at Dawnpaw, was getting ready to defend her. 

Dawnpaw took a deep breath. When she spoke, her voice was quivering with the effort of restraining her temper. " Yes. Allegiances can change. At the Gathering, Mintstar looked weak and thin- did you not notice the bones sticking from her pelt? When Tigerfang and I tried to speak to her, she was so distant and exhausted she couldn't respond coherently. WindClan is likely starving. If RiverClan promised them food, what would you expect them to do?"

Sagepaw nodded. He heard Suncloud murmur something approving in the background, and Brackenstar himself was nodding along. Birdheart observed Brackenstar's approving expression in shock. 

" You're buying this?" he demanded. " Listening to a- a kit instead of your deputy? Instead of Oakleaf, your senior warrior- your mate?" 

Dawnpaw hissed. " I am not a kit."

Brackenstar dropped his head, then raised it again. The fur on his neck rose. " Remember your place! I choose whom I believe to be right- and that is Wisethought. Her intellect has never failed us. Wisethought, what do you propose we do?"

Sagepaw gaped. He's asking her for advice? A dark look crossed Birdheart's face. 

" Well... first, send two patrols. One to WindClan, one to RiverClan, and inquire about each Clan to the other. If you notice discomfort or evasive replies, I am probably correct. If WindClan and RiverClan are planning an attack together, they will likely strike from the east. Position heavy patrols there- the sight is likely to discourage them from attacking," she said, eyes sparkling. 

Brackenstar nodded. " Very well. Birdheart, you lead one, and Oakleaf, you take the other. Mothshade, lead the third patrol. Meeting dismissed."

~

Dawnpaw and Birdheart exchanged dirty looks as they left. Sagepaw hurried to his sister's side. 

" What's happened between you and Birdheart?" he demanded. " And Oakleaf? They're so... aggressive towards you."

Dawnpaw abruptly sat down, causing Sagepaw to nearly trip over her. " I am better and more favoured by Brackenstar. They are jealous and find me to be a threat to their position."

Sagepaw frowned. " Do all senior warriors feel that way towards you?"

" Most." Dawnpaw let out a frustrated sigh. " This is the irony of it all. I am finally able to use my intellect, but I must fight and argue over it constantly. This incident you saw? This happens every day. I constantly. Have. To prove myself. And I- ugh!" She made a grotesque sound with her throat and stabbed her claws into the dirt. 

As she drew in shaky, angry breaths, Sagepaw rested a tail on her shoulder. He looked into her eyes and felt his hardened heart soften a bit. She was still so vulnerable and afraid. " At least you aren't so bored anymore."

Wrong thing to say. Dawnpaw lashed her tail furiously. " I am bored, Sagepaw! So bored. Remember the systems I was telling you about? I have unraveled it- unraveled the cat system. So now there is nothing left to do except spend my time proving myself to lesser beings."

" Lesser beings!"

Dawnpaw narrowed her eyes. " Yes, 'lesser beings'. Incompetent, stupid, lesser beings like Birdheart and Oakleaf. So unintelligent they should be... removed."

Her words settled over Sagepaw like cold water. Before he could speak, however, Ravenpaw's voice interrupted him. 

" Everything okay?" the brown she-cat said, amber eyes flicking worriedly from him to his sister. Dawnpaw turned her cold stare on Ravenpaw but did not reply. Instead, a half-smirk grew on her face. 

" Oh, yeah," Sagepaw assured her. He grinned. " How are you faring after I- how to say this- destroyed you?"

Ravenpaw rolled her eyes. " Destroyed? Did you just add that word to your itty-bitty vocabulary?"

" No, but I just added 'defeat' to yours."

Dawnpaw was watching the exchange in a cold, calculating stare. Sagepaw turned to look at her was startled by her curious expression. She looked as though she were watching something that was highly entertaining, but below her.

" I'm going to get something to eat," Ravenpaw announced. " Come join me, Sagepaw?"

" For sure."

Ravenpaw purred. " Bye, Dawnpaw!" she called, but received no response and left anyway. 

Sagepaw narrowed his eyes in disapproval at his sister. " Why didn't you say something back?"

" I don't speak to lesser beings," she sniffed, before turning her stare on him. " You are attached to her, Sagepaw."

He stared at Ravenpaw's distant figure and felt a warm feeling blossom in his chest. It was this she-cat who truly allowed him to be happy. " Yes," he replied. " I am."

" I imagine you'd be devastated if you lost her," Dawnpaw said quietly. 

" I would be," Sagepaw replied, standing up and beginning to walk. " Which is I why I never intend to."

" We care about those we love, don't we? We'd do anything for a loved one, if they were hurt. Drastic things, yes?" Dawnpaw called after him. 

Something about her tone unnerved him. Sagepaw pretended not to hear- he know she'd see through the lie, but he didn't care- and went to join Ravenpaw.

~

At night, cold, bone-white words floated into his vision. 

Incompetent. Removed. Lesser beings.

You'd be devastated if they were hurt, drastic things for a loved one if you lost her. 

Chapter Five

The next few days were a whirlwind. Preparations for his assessment, dealing with the war, and fighting. He'd fought his first battle against a small RiverClan patrol, and it was the most terrifying but thrilling moment of his life. 

Sagepaw had been so busy he hadn't been able to see his mother. He took the time to see her new litter, and was shocked to see Dawnpaw in the den as well. 

" Sagepaw!" Robincall purred, licking him on the cheek. He purred back, pressing himself against her. 

" Hello, Mother," he purred back, bending down to look closely at his new siblings. They were both ginger and had beautiful amber eyes, a bit like Ravenpaw's. His heart swelled with love. They were two females, one named Poppykit and the other named Skykit. 

" Beautiful children." Dawnpaw said softly. Robincall nudged her daughter affectionately. Dawnpaw's eyes flashed and she seemed to be restraining herself from flinching. 

Oh, so Robincall is a lesser being to you, now? Our own mother? Sagepaw curled his lip, then hastily corrected his expression so his mother wouldn't notice. 

" So you're busy," Robincall said. Sagepaw looked up, ready to answer, but realized the question had been directed at his sister. 

" Yes, I am very occupied with my duties. Your leader sees me as his advisor- I tell him what I think is best, and he usually goes along with it. Mother, who is the father?" Dawnpaw said abruptly. Sagepaw flattened his ears and saw Robincall's fur begin to rise defensively. 

" I don't have to reveal if I don't wish,' she said, calmly. " It's my choice, although rest assured I haven't broken any code. He and I have agreed that it would be best if I didn't tell- he's not really interested in, well, them." Her eyes clouded over. Sagepaw's heart squeezed in sympathy, but Dawnpaw's stare remained stone cold. 

" Surely it's important to?"

" Only for those in high positions. It's an unwritten code for them," Robincall replied. " The rest of us- who cares?"

An awkward silence settled over them. Poppykit and Skykit continued to play and Robincall turned her head to watch them fondly. She has normal children now. 

" Well, I'd better go. I've got training, my assessment's coming up." Sagepaw dipped his head to his mother, then turned and quickly left the den. He sensed pawsteps at his back and saw Dawnpaw trot out behind him. She retreated to the dark corner behind the den, and signaled for him to follow. 

In the darkness, her blue eyes shone with spectacular clarity. " Robincall has great love for her children."

" All queens do," Sagepaw growled.

" Does she still love me?" Dawnpaw whispered. Sagepaw's eyes widened.

" Of course!"

" What would she do for me- what would she do if I-" Dawnpaw suddenly dug her back leg into the ground and twisted it. With a sickening pop, her leg gave out and Dawnpaw collapsed to the floor with a scream. 

Sagepaw cried out in alarm. He tried to still her frenzied thrashing. " What are you doing- what have you done?"

Another frantic screech sounded and Robincall came running, eyes wild. " Oh, my baby, she's hurt! Sagepaw, get the medicine cat. Go!"

Startled by her tone, he began to run- but not before looking back at his sister's expression. Instead of pain, her face was twisted into a cruel mixture of triumph, interest, and some sort of sadistic joy. 

~

Later, Silvershine revealed her injury was a mild sprain. Sagepaw stayed with her, watching her look at everything and see all with her wide blue eyes. 

" Why would you do this to our mother?" he said finally, voice hoarse. Why hurt her? Why cause her worry and pain?

Dawnpaw fixed him with her gaze. " I wanted to see what would happen."

" What?"

She gave him no response. Instead, her eyes roamed the shelves of leaves, berries, and cobweb, and her face twisted into a smirk. " Medicine. So many combinations- some bad, some good, but mostly bad. But you don't know that until you've eaten it, would you? Poison. So harmless until it's within you."

Something inside Sagepaw snapped. " You know what your poison is, Wisethought? Your StarClan-forsaken mind." 

He marched out, leaving a speechless Dawnpaw behind him. 

~

" Gullwing! Hawkeye! Ravensong! Sageheart!" the Clan cheered. 

Sageheart puffed out his chest. He locked eyes with Ravensong and they both purred. Finally, months of training at end- he was a warrior! 

He looked down at the crowd. He saw his mentors waiting by the edge of camp, cheering proudly. Normally, Birdheart would be with them, but the deputy had been taken ill.

There was Robincall, cheering loudly, eyes alight with pride and happiness. Next to her sat Dawnpaw. She didn't cheer, and instead simply looked at him. Uncomfortable, he turned away. 

" Ready for vigil?" Ravensong playfully shoved him as they raced down Highrock. He purred back in response, too happy for words. As the four apprentices made their way through the crowd, something stepped on Sageheart's foot. 

He turned around and found himself entrapped in his sister's icy stare. " What do you want? I need to sit vigil now- not that you'd know, you never did it."

She ignored him and instead leaned her muzzle right next to his ear. " Enjoy these moments, Sagepaw. The real fun is just about to start, and you're not going to like it."

Sageheart stared in astonishment, but like a shadow, she melted away.

~

The morning after the vigil, he and the new warriors decided to go hunt. Sageheart relished the feeling of morning dew under his paws and the delightful sensation of being free. Ravensong raced alongside him, brown fur blending in with the trees around them. 

Gullwing and Hawkeye soon went off on their own trail, leaving Sageheart and Ravensong alone. The two of them had managed to catch three squirrels between them and were walking back home. Sageheart kept glancing at her. Words danced on the tip of his tongue, but seemed too daunting to let free. He swallowed them and decided he'd muster his courage to tell her at another time. 

As they stepped into camp, Ravensong allowed her pelt to brush against his. For once, there was nothing teasing or playful about the gesture. When she looked back, he saw genuine affection in her eyes. 

His happiness soon faded as they entered camp. There was an atmosphere of darkness and grimness surrounding the cats, who were all gathered around the medicine den. A sick feeling settled in Sageheart's stomach. Something was very, very wrong.

Heart in his throat, Sageheart raced to the crowd. He shouldered his way through until he reached his former mentor, Foxsong.

" What's happening? What's going on?"

The ginger tabby met his gaze. Her eyes were wide and panicked. " Birdheart is dying."

A stone settled in Sageheart's stomach. Dying? What- 

" I'm telling you!" Silvershine screeched, startling Sageheart out of his thoughts. " I don't know what to do!"

" You're the medicine cat!" Suncloud yelled back. " You've got to know what to do, come on! What is it, what's he sick with?"

" I don't know, I've never seen this before!" Silvershine said helplessly. Angry shouts and growls came from the cats around her, and Sageheart began to fear they would actually attack her. 

" Get Wisethought!" Talonflight, the scarred, silver-and-white warrior growled. " She's saved us before- she'll know what to do."

Approving shouts rose from around her. Discomfort grew in Sageheart's stomach. Something was odd, something about this whole situation was wrong. " Bring Wisethought! She can fix this!" 

" I am here." Dawnpaw's voice was soft but strong. " What is wrong?"

" Birdheart's sick," Talonflight informed her. " Silvershine doesn't know how to treat it- she says it's like the worst parts of greencough mixed with a raging fever. Can you help?"

Dawnpaw tilted her head to one side. " Let me see." 

The cats parted and allowed her to pass into the den. Sagepaw watched anxiously- could she really invent a cure for an unknown disease? They waited several painful, anxious moments. The clearing was so silent it was filled with the sound of cats breathing, waiting, hoping-

" I've got it!" Dawnpaw yowled. " I think I know what to do- quick, let me pass through, Silvershine says he will soon be dead!" 

Sageheart exchanged an incredulous look with Ravensong. He tried to meet Dawnpaw's gaze, but the wiry black she-cat did not look at him. She broke into a run, dashing through the camp entrance and leaving a string of confused cats behind her. 

" She'll do it," Sageheart said, voice hollow. 

Ravensong nodded and rested her head on his shoulder. " Well, what we can we do except wait? He's not going to get better through us worrying."

" No."

" I'm going to see my father- he must be worried. Will you watch for my siblings when I return and tell them what's happened?"

" Of course," Sageheart said, watching her dash away. He let out a heavy sigh, closing his eyes briefly. Two words swam in his vision, words he hadn't been able to forget since they'd been spoken to him. 

Incompetent. Remove. Incompetent. Remove. 

Sageheart's eyes snapped open.

What was his sister planning?

~

When the sun had reached its zenith, Dawnpaw came charging into camp. Sure enough, a bundle of herbs and berries lay in her mouth as she made a beeline towards the medicine den. Silvershine stepped out not too long after and announced that Birdheart's fever was going down- he would be healthy within a moon's time.

Sageheart frowned. What game was his sister playing at? A crowd of cats clustered around her and he snorted. Not too sensitive about talking to others, is she, now? Is she doing this all for the glory? 

His stomach turned and he felt physically ill. What had his sister become? A power-hungry predator? It was so wrong- hurting others to achieve what she wanted, causing pain to fulfill herself. 

When the crowd had thinned, Sageheart approached her. Dawnpaw had evidently not forgotten his words to her in the medicine den, for she turned a freezing stare on him that was full of contempt. He flattened his ears, but sat so close to her their pelts were nearly touching. Sageheart, mimicking her actions at his warrior ceremony, moved his muzzle close to her ear.

" I know what you're doing."

Dawnpaw glanced at the sky, then at the camp entrance. She sighed. " Hurry up, we don't have much time. What is it I'm doing?" 

" Making Birdheart sick so you could cure him? So you could gain favor in the Clan? I see through you, you're not as brilliant as you think."

Sageheart's paws felt numb as his sister let out a barking laugh. " That's what you think I'm doing? My dearest, beloved brother- your mind cannot compete with mine. So do not even pretend to know my movements because you are the minnow trying to comprehend the river- it is far too large for you to understand!"

Sageheart closed his eyes. " I don't- stop this, Dawnpaw. Please. This isn't you, you were never so vile, never so power hungry!" he begged.

Power hungry? That's what you think I am? I am simply making sure I am where I belong, where I need to be. My mind is growing hungry, and I must feed it." 

He opened his mouth to speak but she quickly cut him off. " Our time is up. Do not attempt to interfere, Sageheart, or I will burn you to the ground and leave your ashes for the crows."

Sageheart stared at her in disgust. " Your mind is eating you," he growled, spitting at her feet and marching away. He reached Ravensong, who looked up anxiously. 

" What happened?"

" My sister," Sageheart growled, stabbing his claws into the ground. " I don't know what's wrong with her. She's smart, so smart- you know that- but I think she's... too smart."

Ravensong frowned. " Too smart, you don't think she belongs here?"

Sageheart stared into the distance, trying to think of a way to articulate his thoughts. But before he could speak, a loud yowl interrupted him and made him jump in shock.

" Has anyone seen Hawkeye?" Gullwing had burst into camp, eyes wild and panicked. Ravensong shot to her feet. 

" No, why?"

" He's missing, I can't find him. We got separated, but his scent trail led nowhere. I thought he might've made his way back here, but..." Gullwing trailed off helplessly. 

Oakleaf raced forwards. " He could've been taken by RiverClan!"

Shocked yowls rose throughout the Clan. Brackenstar thundered from his den, eyes wild. " Quickly!" he growled. " I need patrols- scour the territory. I hope RiverClan hasn't got him- who knows the horrors they could do."

" I'll lead one!" Ravensong called. Sageheart and five others stepped to join her. " Gullwing, lead the others to where you saw Hawkeye last."

With lightning-quick efficiency, the Clan divided and the patrols raced out of camp. Sageheart's heart was pounding and he felt blood roaring in his ears. A dark feeling stirred in his stomach- two disasters on the same day could not be a coincidence, not when Dawnpaw was around.

~

They searched fruitlessly for hours. The sun began to set, and a grey light came down through the trees. Still no sign of Hawkeye. The patrol was exhausted, and even Ravensong, who had been running around like crazy, was now hanging her head in defeat. As Sageheart approached her, she let out a furious growl. 

" We need to find him!" she hissed. " He could be in pain, or- or even..." She couldn't say the terrible word. Sageheart draped his tail over her shoulders.

" Maybe we should head back to camp. Perhaps the other patrol has found him." Sageheart said. The other cats nodded in agreement. Ravensong sighed and dropped her head, utter defeat in her eyes. 

" Very well. Come on, let's go," she croaked, flicking her tail for them to follow. The patrol trudged along somberly, defeat hanging over them like a heavy cloud. 

When they reached camp, they found Gullwing's patrol already there. Sageheart felt cruelly hopeful, and saw Ravensong's eyes brighten. Gullwing's expression looked equally optimistic as both siblings raced towards each other, stopped, and both said:

" Did you find him?"

Horrified groans and yowls rose up around him. Sageheart shook his head, pain pricking his heart. Hawkeye, where have you gone? he cried into the sky, though he knew it was beyond foolish to expect an answer. Oakleaf let out a horrible keening sound. " He's dead, my son is dead!" 

More distressed wailing broke out. Someone needs to calm them down. Brackenstar- where was Brackenstar, his own son was missing! And where was-

A hard feeling settled in his stomach. Dawnpaw was nowhere to be found either. She should have been in the thick of the action, but she was gone, and so was their leader. What had she said- that she'd wanted to be where she belonged? That she hated answering to lesser beings?

She's going to hurt him. She has something to do with this- she might kill him! 

He hated himself for thinking so awfully of her, but he turned and sprinted towards the leader's den. Sageheart could hear voices and forced his legs to go faster, who knew what she could be doing-

He burst in and found them talking. 

No- not talking. Dawnpaw was talking, and Brackenstar was... cowering? 

" Sageheart!" Brackenstar's voice came in a ragged sob, causing Sageheart to widen his eyes in disbelief. What has she made him into? " Oh, please, Sageheart-"

" Shut up," Dawnpaw growled. " I knew he was going to be here, nothing can stop this. Remember the fun I told you about, Sagepaw? It's just beginning."

Sageheart growled. " What do you think you're doing? Stop it now!"

" You don't tell me what to do!" Dawnpaw shrieked. " This is it, this is justice, I am ridding the Clan of incompetents. Now, Sagepaw, you listen. Listen closely-"

"- no," Sageheart growled. " I'm getting the Clan. They'll stop what madness you're doing!"

It was Brackenstar's turn to yell. " Do not! Do not get anyone, or she- or she'll..." His voice trailed off into senseless babbles. Sageheart turned around, fixing a glare on Dawnpaw. 

" Or what? Or she'll what?" He nearly shook his leader. Brackenstar simply stared at the ground, ears flattened, looking too terrified to reply. 

Dawnpaw's expression turned from frenzied to cold and satisfied in a matter of seconds. " Or I'll make sure Hawkeye suffers an unpleasant, untimely death." 

His heart became ice. " If I bring the whole Clan in here, you won't get to him. We'll stop you."

" Will you? If you do, I'll just kill Brackenstar instead- I know which blows to strike that'll take all three lives at once. If you try and stop me, I'll run. Remember what I told you? A minnow in the stream." 

" Just stop it!" Sageheart begged. " Why are you- what have you become, you monster-"

" Enough!" Dawnpaw growled. " Now listen to me. I will describe to you events I have set in motion, and you will then comply with the events I want to follow."

What is happening? StarClan, help me! He looked at his sister and raw terror coursed through his veins. He could not stop her, he was as helpless as a newborn kit.

" First, Birdheart ate something I had altered. He really only developed greencough, but my concoction disguised it with the added symptoms of a terrible fever. Birdheart was starting to make a recovery- that was the reduced fever Silvershine noticed- and I did not want him to. So the medicine I brought back was poison to ensure his demise."

" You poisoned the deputy," Sageheart croaked. " Who do you think you are?"

" Someone who never got what they deserved," Dawnpaw snapped right back. " While I was out, I separated Gullwing from Hawkeye, and led the latter to a place no one has dreamed anything could be hidden. He is my bargaining chip. I know how to get there faster than anyone and put an end to his life- if you prevent me from reaching him, he will likely die anyway. I don't think the roof is very stable."

" No," Brackenstar whimpered. " Please, spare my son! He did nothing to you!"

" But you did!" Dawnpaw spat back. " I have studied relationships between loved ones so that I could accurately chart the events. Now, Brackenstar, what I need. Birdheart will be dead by the time we finish this conversation. When he dies, I want you... I want you to make me deputy."

Her eyes were dark but full of life as she savored the sound of the word. Sageheart felt like throwing up.

" If you disobey me, you know what'll happen, Brackenstar? Little Hawkeye is going to choke on his own blood. That's going to make you very unhappy, isn't it?" she said sweetly. Brackenstar's expression was of ultimate defeat. He closed his eyes, shoulders trembling, then looked up to stare at the beast he once thought he controlled.

" Anything," the once-proud leader begged. " As long as you return my son to me." 

Dawnpaw crowed in triumph. " Excellent, it is done! Oh, and Sagepaw?" His heart began to pound faster as she looked at him. " If you breathe a word of this to anyone- and I will know- everyone you love is going to turn to dust. Ravensong, Robincall, Foxsong. All dust if your tongue moves too freely."

Her words stole the voice from his throat. " You are a monster," he croaked. Dawnpaw tilted her head to one side and her eyes glittered. 

" I like that term. Come on, dear brother, it is a new age for me."

They left, leaving a broken leader behind them.

~

" Wisethought," Brackenstar said, knowing the dreadful mistake he was about to make. " You are the new deputy of ThunderClan."

Sageheart did not cheer, for he felt the stars fall out of alignment.

~

" She's going to be an amazing leader! I can't believe all that she's done- she found a cure for Birdheart. Found a cure, within seconds, for an unknown disease! Too bad he was so far along even her cure couldn't save him." Ravensong said, eyes sparkling, after the ceremony. She then frowned. "I thought you'd be happier for her." Sageheart looked into her eyes and closed his own, leaning in to rest his head on hers.

" So did I."

" You look so frightened," she told him. " Hawkeye was a shock, but Wisethought found him! You don't need to be afraid. You look as though you've seen a ghost!" 

Sageheart shook his head. " It's not that, it's..." He trailed off, so tempted to spill the great burden from his shoulders. But Dawnpaw's horrible promises came to him and he flinched. The thought of this beautiful, intelligent, lively she-cat who had brought him much joy dying was too painful to entertain. The more I love her, the more her loss will hurt. The more leverage Dawnpaw has on me. "... I guess I'm just tired."

Of living. Of dealing with her every day. Of thinking I'll lose you. " I'm sorry, I just need a moment," he said, rising to his paws and walking. His paws led him to the nursery, and he decided to visit his mother. However, he was startled by the ginger-and-white shape hurtling out of it.

" Robincall!" he exclaimed. His mother's eyes were wild and panicked. She shot him a fleeting glance before racing away. Sageheart stared after her, shocked.

Suddenly, loud yowls sounded from the camp entrance. What now? Sageheart growled to himself, but as he turned he nearly fainted. Brackenstar's bloodied body draped over Dawnpaw's now-strong shoulders. 

She's done it, his throat turned dry. She's the leader now. 

" Something attacked us in the woods," Mothshade said as Dawnpaw carried Brackenstar to the medicine den. Her eyes were wide in terror. " Wisethought and Brackenstar chased it, but it drew so much blood from him he lost a life. He- he died a second time on the way back," she stammered.

You will lose two lives to the same cat and never know who it was. Her words from (what seemed like) lifetimes ago came back to him. He has one life left now. 

I have to stop this. But I can't- she'll kill them. Oh StarClan, what has she done to me? I'm not captured but I am her prisoner. He laughed bitterly to himself. Sageheart saw Brackenstar's three children huddled together with Oakleaf. I should go to Ravensong. But he didn't, in fear that Wisethought would see. 

~

Brackenstar had recovered in the space of four days. As soon as he was able to, the leader summoned a Clan meeting. Wisethought stayed at the base, and Sageheart noticed she was tense and excited. He was too emotionally strained to feel much, but he knew the next part of her plan was about to happen. 

" I've called you all here for a quick warning. There is a dangerous beast within our borders. In areas you believe are familiar, danger is actually lurking- do not trust strange smells or strange tracks. This beast might be hard for you to recognize; it looks a bit like a fox, but darker. It is colored like the grey sky in the early morning- at dawn," he said.

Sageheart inhaled sharply. He dares to do this? To tell the whole Clan? He looked at Dawnpaw. Her expression was frozen, but he could see true astonishment in her eyes. Fury quickly settled over them and she looked up, a dark scowl on her face. She didn't predict this. Ha! 

" So in short, it's a wolf," Brackenstar finished, prompting a few laughs below him. " Poetic, I know. So, meeting dismissed, unless there are other announcements....?"

Cats shook their heads. Brackenstar opened his mouth to dismiss them when Sageheart heard his mother's voice. " I-I have a quick one," Robincall stammered. 

" Of course," Brackenstar said. Robincall dipped her head and stood up. Sageheart could see that her two daughters were with her.

She cleared her throat. " Well, as you know, I've recently given birth to Poppykit and Skykit. I just feel that... it's best to clear the air. Someone- someone has wronged me." Robincall sounded as though the words were being forcefully pulled from her throat. Sageheart stood up.

" What happened?" he called. Cats joined in, but Brackenstar raised his tail for silence. 

Robincall continued. " The father... he forced me to remain silent about his identity. He said he'd find me and hurt me if I told, but I can't do this. I can't keep living under the threat that one day I will wake up and one of my children will be dead."

Sageheart gasped, as did the cats around him. Robincall kept speaking. " This cat- I want you all to help bring him to justice. The name of the father- the cat who hurt my kits, is- is..." She trailed off. Sageheart looked at Dawnpaw- there was that expression of sadistic joy again. His heart plummeted. She's done it. " The father is Brackenstar."

Outraged yowls broke out. Sageheart sat still, numb, unable to think or feel. " What?" he heard Oakleaf yowl. " You lie!"

" I have no reason to lie!" she screeched back. " He threatened to hurt me. What would you want me to do?!"

Oakleaf looked up at her mate. " Is this true?" she said, voice almost a sob. " Did you trick us all? Did you lie to us, threaten to kill kits and hurt her?"

" Yeah!" Suncloud yowled, and so did the cats around him. He's going to deny it, Sageheart thought. Brackenstar tilted his head upwards, then down. His eyes were closed, and when he opened them, they were lit with a sudden clarity.

" Yes," the leader lied. " Yes, I did. I am sorry."

More screams broke out. " Why would you do this?" Ravensong cried. " Hurt us all so badly? For what?"

" I wanted to protect my reputation, so badly that I thought the lives of kits were insignificant. My actions are unforgivable." 

" Get down from there!" Mothshade howled. " You are a filthy excuse for a leader- get your paws off that rock!" 

But Brackenstar was already halfway down. The crowd looked ready to attack him, but he held his tail up as a signal for them to stop. " Let me go in peace, with the last shred of dignity I have left. I was no longer worthy of this Clan anyways."

He knows it's over, that's why he didn't bother to resist. He did not want to fall at her paws, he did not want her to have the satisfaction of being responsible for his death. 

" Wisethought, this Clan is rightfully yours. Lead it well and kindly, with strength and selflessness." The once-noble, once-revered leader was nearly at the camp exit. Before he left, he turned around. " Oakleaf, Robincall... I am sorry."

He left, and took ThunderClan's hope, love, and compassion with him. A new age was coming, a dark one.

~

" I am Wisethought no longer," Dawnpaw announced to the Clan in her first act as leader. " I am your new sunrise, your new horizon, your new dawn. My name is Dawnfire, and when I see you next, I will be Dawnstar."

This is the beginning of the end. Sageheart almost laughed. And I knew it was coming. I should have known from the moment I was born! 

Because she did. She was born hungry for more.

Chapter Six

Sageheart closed his eyes. Around him, his Clanmates took up a deep, thrumming chant. 

" Dawnstar! Dawnstar! Dawnstar!" they called, worshipping her new name although she wasn't leader yet. Each syllable grated painfully at his ears. The words were coated with sugar, with hero-worship from cats twice, even thrice her age. He opened his eyes and immediately regretted it. The expressions of reverence and admiration on their faces made him sick. 

Why can they not see what she is? Sageheart ground his teeth in frustration. She had cultivated a reputation as their savior. Dawnpaw had grown into Wisethought, their guardian angel who would cure their sickness, protect them, render them immune to the dangers of the outside world. His mind flashed back to Brackenstar's veiled warning. There is a dangerous beast within our borders. 

She will not protect you! He mentally screamed at his Clanmates. She will rip this Clan apart. She is arrogant and power-hungry, she has abused her gifts to bring her to her 'rightful place'. Dawnpaw only did this to bring some sort of twisted justice to herself. 

" Will you name a deputy?" Foxsong called out. Dawnpaw stared at her in an expression full of contempt. Warning sign one. Sageheart unsheathed his claws. Oh, but you're too starstruck to see it. 

" No, not yet. I will receive my nine lives first," the black she-cat announced. She began to leap down the Highrock, making her way to where Sageheart was waiting. He curled his lip at her, prompting a triumphant smirk in response. Have you fed your mind, that monster inside you?

Another set of pawsteps came from beside him. Silvershine approached him. Unlike the cheering cats around him, Silvershine did not seem excited to welcome the Clan's hero as their leader. " Come, Wi- Dawnfire. Eat your travelling herbs- we need to leave soon to the Moonstone."

The black she-cat switched her brilliant blue gaze to the medicine cat. " I have a request," she said, in a tone that indicated her 'request' was a command.

" Oh?" the silver medicine cat said, amber eyes narrowed. 

" Sageheart comes with us." Dawnpaw said firmly, glaring back. Sageheart blinked in shock. Why would she want him with her? " We have... much to discuss." Ah. She likely wanted to remind him of who she'd kill if he revealed what he'd heard in Brackenstar's den. " And you follow later. Give us time alone."

Silvershine narrowed her eyes. " No. That's not how it's done."

Dawnpaw straightened her head. " Well, it's how I want it to be done. If you know what's good for you, you'll let us go." There was no mistaking the dark edge to her voice or the storm gathering in her eyes. Silvershine must have sensed it, for she reluctantly lowered her head.

" As you wish," she said tersely. " I will follow soon."

Dawnpaw didn't acknowledge the medicine cat. She swept ahead, jerking her head to signify Sageheart should follow. Sageheart exchanged a somber glance with Silvershine before hurrying after his sister. 

Once outside, Dawnpaw startled him by letting out a loud whoop. She tilted her head to the sky and purred, prancing in a circle around him as he walked. Sageheart halted, surprised at her childish behavior. She skipped onto the path in front of her, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

" I did it, Sagepaw!" she laughed, cuffing him playfully on the ears. He flinched and growled at her in warning. She paid no heed to his hostile actions, shoving him with her shoulder and crying out in triumph again. " This is where-"

"- I belong. Yes, I know," Sageheart spat. Dawnpaw's stare began to cool.

" Oh, but you're so angry. Why, brother? Why are you angry at me getting what I deserve?" 

" Why?" Sageheart said incredulously. " Because you killed cats. You humiliated Brackenstar and forced our mother to lie- how did you even do that?"

" I merely paid the price. Two lives are insignificant in the turning of time- but my life is greater than theirs, so they are the sacrifice. As for Robincall, I studied her reaction to my injury. I threatened to hurt myself very badly should she refuse. And since she is a spineless coward, she agreed."

Sageheart felt sick. " That is revolting."

" You know what else is revolting? My mind being forced to work under theirs- and to be scorned! Do you know what it's like, being shoved aside when you are more competent than everyone?" Dawnpaw snapped. 

" No, but I suppose you do, you poor little thing."

" And I have been in pain. So much..." she shuddered. " Pain." 

" What pain?" Sageheart snorted. 

" Boredom!" she shrieked. " Eating away at me. It's a dark sleep always at the edge of my conscience- if I do not do something it will destroy me. Every day is agony, trying to find some way to feel alive! But you don't care about that, do you?" 

He merely narrowed his eyes in response. " Listen. I don't care how intelligent you are, but your 'great mind' is about to be your downfall. It has made you arrogant, selfish, hubristic, and cruel. You do not deserve to lead this Clan, as you have not one shred of virtue inside of you. So be careful, Dawnstar. Because I will be watching you every step of the way, and I will not let you destroy my Clan."

Dawnpaw had turned frighteningly still. She looked at him so intensely he felt her blue eyes burn into his soul, see every thought in his mind and know every move he had and would make. Dawnpaw relaxed and scoffed. " How old is your beloved Ravensong?" was all she said in response.

" Thirteen moons," Sageheart frowned. " Same as me."

He felt a cold chill run up his spine as she started laughing. " That's good. Very good," she purred, glancing back down the path. Silvershine's form could be seen glinting between the trees. " Come on, Sagepaw! The fun part is coming." She purred once more and raced off towards WindClan's moors.

~

The Moonstone was the most beautiful thing Sageheart had ever seen. 

It was enormous, a large oval piece of stone aglow in silver starlight. Even Silvershine, who had been here countless times, was a bit breathless. 

As expected, Dawnpaw showed no reverence for the stone. She gave it a quick glance and marched over, flattening her ears impatiently. " Let us begin," she said sharply, eyeing the Moonstone. " What do I do?"

Sageheart felt a sudden explosion of anger inside of him. You don't deserve to be here! You don't deserve to touch that beautiful stone! But he said nothing and took his place beside Silvershine. His stomach was churning with fear and dread. This was all so wrong, Dawnpaw should not receive her nine lives and should not be leader. But what could he do? Attack her- he could... he could kill her. Then his stomach turned cold.

She hadn't appointed a deputy. If she died, even more chaos would break out in ThunderClan- there would be a power vacuum.  She is truly brilliant, Sageheart thought grudgingly. Too brilliant. 

" Before you begin, I have a warning for you," Silvershine growled. Dawnpaw looked up, gaze full of cold interest. " I acknowledge that your intellect is... beyond remarkable. Your mind has been starved of stimulation- in essence, it has been starving."

Her wording sent eerie chills down his spine. Those were the words his sister used so often to refer to herself by. 

" So you understand," Dawnpaw said. " Then what is the warning?" 

" You must know what happens when you give someone dying of thirst a lot of water."

" Yes," Dawnpaw nodded. " Their blood is diluted and their brain can swell. Are you suggesting that receiving these nine lives will be as dangerous?"

Silvershine shrugged. " I don't know. But this is my best guess. I don't believe you can handle all nine lives, Dawnfire. I think it will rip apart your mind and destroy you- the mind you will kill by feeding."

Silence. Sageheart could hear the sounds of his sister breathing- harsh, ragged breaths that seemed close to sobs. Her blue eyes were pools of panic. " I can't- not now! I didn't think of this, I didn't anticipate this... perhaps I am wrong? No! I can take it. I am stronger than you think!" Her tone became desperate. 

Sageheart looked over and was surprised to find sympathy in Silvershine's eyes. " We can turn back, Dawnfire, you don't have to do this. The Clan loves you. They'll respect whatever choice you make."

Dawnpaw closed her eyes. " I can't. I've wanted this for so long."

" Is your want worth your life?" Sageheart said. He knew the answer.

The deputy looked up, steel-hard determination in her eyes. " Yes," she growled. " I am strong, I am powerful. I will receive my nine lives- and you cannot stop me."

Sageheart's stomach sank. Silvershine sighed. " Very well. Touch your nose to the stone and close your eyes. Sageheart and I will follow shortly."

Dawnpaw nodded. She nestled against the stone and, in a gesture so frantic it was graceful, touched her nose to the stone. At once her tense shoulders relaxed as she fell into deep sleep. 

Like a child, Sageheart noticed.

" Us next," Silvershine instructed. Sageheart copied her and was only aware of a deep cold in his nose before falling asleep.

~

He awoke to the purest, most beautiful sunlight he'd ever seen. It was so bright he had to blink several times to adjust to it. Once he had, Sageheart found himself in a meadow. The grass beneath his paws was soft and lush, spreading into rolling hills dotted with wildflowers. Proud, tall oak trees towered over the grounds. A shimmering silver lake lay in the dip between two hills. 

" Beautiful, isn't it?" Silvershine said softly, and Sageheart nodded in awe. 

Dawnpaw was standing ahead of him, staring out at the meadow before her. She turned her head around and her eyes were wild with panic. " Where are they?" she demanded. " It's my ceremony, they are aware of this, correct? Where are my life-givers?"

" We are here," a loud voice boomed. Sageheart jumped in alarm. Out of nowhere, nine shadow figures began to materialize in front of Dawnpaw. She did not flinch, and instead lifted her head even higher. " Welcome, Dawnfire."

At least she had the grace to bow her head. " I have come for my nine lives."

" And you shall have them," the voice said- but it was a mix of nine voices blending into an ear-shattering dissonance. Sageheart winced. He couldn't make out who any of the cats were as they were all shrouded in shadow. 

The first cat began to step forwards. Don't don't don't, Sageheart begged, but the figure kept walking until the shadow melted away. He gasped. The cat looked... exactly like him, but larger. His fur was sleek black and his eyes were bright blue- he looked like Dawnpaw too. 

" My name is Ashfall," the tom rumbled. Every hair on Sageheart's pelt was tingling with energy- he knew who this cat was. " My mate was a she-cat named Robincall, and although I died before I could see my children, I was able to see them from StarClan. I have watched you grow, Dawnfire, and you, Sageheart," the tom said, switching his blue gaze- exactly like Dawnpaw's!- to Sageheart. " I give you this life to help you understand death. Even with a mind as great as yours, some things are hard to fathom."

Ashfall touched his nose to his daughter's. 

Dawnpaw's legs buckled beneath her. Before Sageheart could cry out, she stood up again on shaky legs. Her eyes were full of a wild energy and she let out a laugh. " Oh!" she laugh-gasped. " This is power."  Ashfall, eyes somber, dipped his head and stepped back. 

Sageheart looked at Silvershine. The medicine cat's eyes were narrowed in worry. " What kind of a life was that?" she said incredulously. 

The next cat to approach Dawnpaw was an old tortoiseshell she-cat. Silvershine inhaled sharply.

" My name is Frostwind, former medicine cat of ThunderClan," the she-cat said, touching her nose to Dawnpaw's. " This life I give you is for understanding pain. Feel it, know it, accept it and make it you."

Dawnpaw's legs buckled again but she managed to stay upright. Sageheart watched as his sister tilted her head back, a shudder racing through her body. The deputy arched her back and screeched in pain. She began to slap her forepaws against the ground, groaning in agony. " I- I'm so..." she stuttered, struggling to regain control of her thrashing limbs. " Alive." 

Sageheart glanced at Silvershine. The medicine cat's eyes were slits and her claws were unsheathed. " This is all wrong," she hissed. 

The black she-cat barely had time to recover before the next cat stepped forward. He was a dark brown tabby Sageheart had never seen before. " I am Lionclaw," he rumbled. " I give you this life so you can fathom timelessness. Immortality? That is true boredom."

Unlike other lives, Dawnpaw did not seem in any hurry to receive it. Instead she backed away, legs still shaking. " No, please," she whimpered. " Just give me a moment-"

Lionclaw slammed his nose into hers. 

Sageheart nearly screamed as his sister cried out, raw pain in her voice. Dawnpaw crumpled to the ground thrashing her limbs, eyes rolling back into her head. " No!" he yowled, trying to race forwards, but his legs had turned to stone and he couldn't move. 

" This shouldn't be happening!" Silvershine screeched at the StarClan cats. She was able to run forwards. " Stop! Stop it! Let her go!" 

The medicine cat skidded to a halt. She yanked furiously at her legs but they wouldn't move- just like Sageheart, she had been rendered helpless. Silvershine let out an enraged howl. " Have mercy on her, please!" Sageheart begged. 

The StarClan cats came forwards in a terrible, looming cloud of darkness. One-by-one they stepped over her prone form and gave her their terrible gifts.

" This is life for loss!"

" For heartbreak!"

" Suffering!"

" Disease!"

The horrible lives blended into the deep, booming dissonance once more. " This is your punishment, Dawnstar! For your arrogance and hubris, thousands will pay the price. Your beloved mind is gone- it destroys itself now, sucking in those around it. You are no gift, you are the singularity!"

Shadows cleared enough for Sageheart to see his sister's body twitching and jerking listlessly. As the last echo of the voice faded, the meadow shattered and Sageheart was falling down a hole of endless, unforgiving darkness.

~

Sageheart was rudely jolted back to consciousness. He was momentarily disoriented before the events of his sister's ceremony came rushing back to him. Just a nightmare- just a- no. It was real. Her mind had been destroyed. What had they called her, the singularity?

He stumbled to his feet, staggering over to his sister's sleeping body. " Dawnpaw," he croaked, nudging her. " Wake up. Come on, get up! You're okay, you're okay, please..." his voice broke into a sob. 

She began to stir. Sageheart stepped back and nearly sobbed in relief as she lifted her head. But when she opened her eyes, his heart chilled all over again. Where her blue stare had previously been filled with calm and wisdom, now her eyes were stretched unusually wide. A crazy, too-bright light shone in them. Her face, too, had contorted into a hideous smirk. 

" Sageheart?" she said with a heavy lisp. It was as if her mouth had forgotten how to form words. 

" I'm here. Dawnpaw, are you-"

A whirl of black fur swallowed his vision. Sageheart was slammed into the wall. He momentarily saw stars as his head was shoved into it again. When he was able to open his eyes, he found himself staring into his sister's frenzied eyes. 

"- not Dawnpaw. Not Dawnpaw," she hissed. " I am Dawnstar. Dawnstar. Dawnstar. Dawnstar. Ha!" she abruptly let him go and tilted her head back in wheezy laughter. 

" What happened?" Silvershine's voice broke through Dawnstar's triumphant cries. " What did they do to you?!" 

The new leader suddenly slouched her shoulders. Her smirk fell away and a sudden horror was present on her face. Sageheart stepped forwards to comfort her but she curled her lip and he backed away. " You were right. My mind could not handle so much power," Dawnpaw whispered. " I have exploded."

" Exploded?" Sageheart frowned. But the momentary clarity had gone from his sister's eyes. She tensed up once more and gestured frantically with her tail to the path ahead. 

" Let us go," she said in her odd, lispy speech. " So much to do- so little time. Do you know how the stars align? In the sky, which is water, which is land. And I must fix it, to fix the stars!" 

She rambled as she had when she was a little kit coming to turn with her intellectual power. With a final glance backwards, the now-ruined she-cat bounded ahead. Sageheart turned to Silvershine. 

" What are we going to do?" he said hoarsely. 

Silvershine dropped her head. " Nothing," she said bitterly. " This is StarClan's curse- she is our leader now and until she dies. We have sealed our fate."

I could have stopped her. Why did I goad her on- did I want this to happen? I knew this was bad for her, I did not save her from her mind, and I did not make her listen. 

Heart so heavy he could barely stand, Sageheart followed his Clanmates out of the den. 

~

The sound of cheering was already in camp before Sageheart entered. 

Dawnpaw was surrounded in a throng of cats, all calling her name. " Dawnstar!" they cheered as the black she-cat headed to the Highrock. The chant didn't stop until she raised her tail for silence. Sageheart wondered if the Clan noticed the oddness of her stare or the tiny, jerking motions of her head. 

" My first act. As leader is. To appoint a deputy," she said in a stilting speech, lisp heavy. A murmur rose in the crowd, for her voice or announcement Sageheart couldn't tell. " I have given this much thought. So. If he accepts, I would like Tigerfang to serve as my deputy."

A shocked gasp ran through the crowd. It was no secret that Tigerfang had been looking to retire. 

" Well?" Dawnpaw demanded, the hard edge coming back to her voice. " Do you accept or not?" Accept or die, Sageheart thought angrily. 

Tigerfang must have sensed the subtle threat too, for her stood up and bowed his head to his former apprentice. " I accept," he rasped. 

" Excellent!" Dawnpaw cried. The cats began chanting Tigerfang's name as the old tom sat down once more. " Now, one more thing to address today. Foxsong, will you come up here, please?"

Sageheart narrowed his eyes. What did Foxsong have anything to do with Dawnpaw? They barely ever talked. Mystified, Sageheart's former mentor climbed up the Highrock and dipped her head at her leader's side. The sight was almost comical. Although Dawnpaw had put on muscle, her head barely reached Foxsong's shoulder. The leader had to look up to meet the ginger she-cat's stare. 

" Foxsong. I remember you used to... doubt me. You were the one who pushed for me to stay in the medicine den, you did not believe me. You told me I did not belong, you called me a freak!" Dawnpaw drew in a deep, shuddering breath. Foxsong began to back away. The cats below were silent. " So now I ask you- do you beg forgiveness for those words? Do you swear loyalty to me?" 

Her voice was trembling with emotion, but there was a dangerous, ruthless undercurrent to her words. Everyone could sense it- especially Foxsong. " I do. I am sorry I ever wronged you- I am loyal to you without a doubt."

Silence. Then, Dawnpaw's lip curled and her face contorted. " Liar," she snarled, and in one lightning fast motion-

-snapped Foxsong's neck-

- and kicked the body onto the ground.

A horrible wail tore from Sageheart's throat as his mentor's body fell. He raced through the crowd, hearing screams behind him. The sight of her broken body- Sageheart closed his eyes as he felt ready to vomit. 

" You can't do this!" came a furious cry. Mothshade, Foxsong's sister, stood out in the crowd. " What happened to you?"

" That is what happens when you try and cross me!" Dawnstar screeched back. " If any of you so much as move, I will know. If you think one malicious thought against me, I will know. If you do anything, I will know- because I sense all!"

Sageheart looked up. She glared down at him and he knew this hadn't been a way to take vengeance on Foxsong so much as it had been a way to remind him of her power.

On my mentor's life, I will never let you do this again. I will stop you, sister. I don't care how, but I will stop you. 

If she knew about his vow, she gave no indication and merely continued screaming about her power to the night.

~

The next few days, the Clan tred quietly around Dawnstar. The leader spent her days holed up in her den, occasionally talking to her deputy. She hadn't approached Sageheart and he was happy that way. 

One day he'd returned from paying his respects to Foxsong's grave when a once-familiar voice called to him. " Hey, Sageheart," Ravensong said, marching up to him. Her voice brought him physical pain. He knew he'd been avoiding her, but what was he going to do if seeing her reminded him of his sister's threats? 

" Yes?" he said, turning around. Ravensong's brown eyes were disinterested and cold, a sight that was as painful as any blow. The she-cat came close to whisper in his ear. 

" What happened at the Moonstone?" she said quietly. " Why is she so different? Did something happen?" 

Sageheart weighed his words carefully. " I can't say what, but something definitely went wrong. She-"

He paused as Ravensong let out a hacking cough. The sound grated in his eardrums. " How long have you been coughing?" 

" Since last week, which you'd know if you bothered to talk to me," she snapped. He opened his mouth to retort but she silenced him. " Look, I'm not asking for your undivided attention. I get that you're going through a lot and you have to be there for your sister. But you don't have to push me away."

" I'm not trying to push you away," Sageheart said softly. " I'm trying to keep you safe." 

Ravensong snorted. " From who? I can take care of myself."

Sageheart gestured to where Dawnstar was exiting her den. " Not that- from her." The black she-cat nimbly picked her way up Highrock, tail-tip jerking side to side at odd moments. She perched atop the rock and peered down, seeming to relish her elevated position. 

" All cats old enough to catch their own prey- gather here for a Clan meeting!" she yowled. Frightened murmurs came from the Clan as they assembled before their leader. Sageheart watched from his place beside Ravensong. " I am tired of our passive stance in the war. Tigerfang and I have been discussing- we believe it important. To establish ThunderClan's position. In order to do this, I will be leading a patrol out at dawn tomorrow- a direct attack through the river on RiverClan's camp."

Enraged howls came from the cats below. Sageheart was about to call out how ridiculous her plan was, but then he remembered what she'd do to the she-cat beside him and remained silence. " Why would we do that?" Suncloud growled. " Brackenstar was working towards peace- besides, we can't even swim!"

" I am not Brackenstar!" Dawnstar spat. " We are establishing our might as a Clan-"

"- it'll be a bloodbath! So many will die," Mothshade hissed. 

" So be it! Your lives are worthless, you are merely threads in my tapestry."

" Our lives are worthless?" Ravensong snarled before Sageheart could stop her. " You used to save us! What went wrong with you?"  

Wrong with me? Nothing! Don't you fools understand?! We need to assert ourselves. We need to show them we are strong, we are unstoppable. Has any one of my plans ever failed you, ever?" she demanded. There was silence. 

That's when clarity hit Sageheart. It's not her intelligence that's shattered, he realized. She's as brilliant as ever. It's... who she is. She's lost control. Her rage and anger have taken control. 

" See?" Dawnstar screeched. " I didn't fail you then and I won't fail you now! We'll take over RiverClan and make them sorry they ever dare think they were above me. They will rue the day they decided to mess with ThunderClan!" 

Her powerful words stirred most, but then there were some. Mothshade raised her proud head- so like her sister- and yowled right back. " None of us can swim. This plan is madness." 

" It doesn't matter. Trivial detail." 

" We won't go through with it!" 

Dawnstar surveyed her for a long moment. " Ask your sister what happens when you defy me. Oh, you can't! Because she's rotting in a shallow grave. Think about that before you consider defying me." The black she-cat began to make her way down the Highrock. " Any questions?"

Silence in the clearing. Horrified, shell-shocked silence.

" Good. Rest up, because we leave before dawn."

Sageheart and his patrol thundered through the forest. In the watery light of the morning, he could barely discern Dawnstar's patrol racing through the trees across from him. Occasionally, her dark pelt flashed in his peripheral vision. 

Behind him ran Ravensong, Suncloud, Mothshade, Stonefall, and Spottedfur. He wasn't surprised Dawnstar had appointed him to lead the patrol- he knew the consequences if he strayed from his instructions. His heart was beating unusually fast due to the pressure on his shoulders. If he failed, his actions could cost lives. Spottedfur, the young warrior only two moons older than him, could die. Ravensong might die. Because of him. 

Stop it. You'll be fine- don't let Dawnstar know she has sown doubt in you, Sageheart berated himself, taking a sharp turn around a cluster of oak trees. He held up his tail and the patrol stopped behind him. 

" Sunningrocks is just ahead," he said, struggling to keep his voice level. " We're the distraction. We have to make as much commotion as possible and draw RiverClan's attention to ourselves. One they are locked in combat with us, Dawnstar's patrol will strike from the east. Then... she'll do her thing, I guess."

His words were met with uncomfortable silence. Sageheart felt heat rush through his fur as the senior warriors turned their stares on him angrily. " And what's the point of all this?" Mothshade spat. " What does your darling sister say?"

Fury rushed through Sageheart's veins. Spiteful, barbed words danced at the tip of his tongue- he nearly held them back but hotheaded rage took control of him. " I am not in favour of her actions. Just because we are kin doesn't mean I will swallow her lies."  

" Doesn't it?" Mothshade growled back. You don't know! You don't know what it's like, seeing your sister transform into a monster! he mentally screamed at her. But he took deep breaths, calming himself. She's mourning Foxsong. She has every right to be angry. 

" No, it doesn't. I've seen my sister ruin herself and- and do terrible things I could never be in favour of. I will lead this patrol because if I don't, she'll destroy those I love. She'll probably find some way to torture you, too- we can't outsmart her. For now, at least."

" For now?" Ravensong said. " What do you-"

"- later. Now, we run out onto Sunningrocks and yell our heads off. We swim- I hope you all have some idea how to do that-" Grim looks. Okay then. " And get as close to the island as we can before the meet us. Ready?"

Dark faces and reluctant stares. Sageheart glanced at them, exasperated, and they tried their best to look involved. He crouched down, narrowing his eyes, and leapt forwards. " Go!" 

Letting out enraged howls, his patrol exploded from the bushes. They raced onto Sunningrocks, and Sageheart could see blurry shapes emerge at the edge of RiverClan's island. He charged forwards. The water lapped hungrily at his paws, and before he could stop himself, Sageheart threw himself in. 

At once, his senses went haywire. He lost all sense of balance. Water filled his ears, his eyes, and he was blinded. He inhaled sharply and took in a mouthful of water. Choking, thrashing his limbs, Sageheart felt the waves lap at his cheeks, ready to suck him under. Not like this, he begged. Not like this! 

As the water began to close over him, Sageheart was prepared to feel cold currents carry him down to the floor to die. Instead, he hit something hard. Something warm- something that yanked him up and shook him, hard enough that he opened his eyes and blinked the water away. 

" Get up, Sageheart," his savior- Ravensong- barked. " Swim- come on, swim! They're coming." 

Dark shapes began slicing through the water. Sageheart saw Spottedsun's tortoiseshell head surface before a black shape beneath the water dragged her down. He screamed and thrashed his legs, pure terror taking over. Get out. Get out. I need to get out!

" I can't hold you anymore!" Ravensong screeched. " I'm letting you go-"

"- no," Sagehert whimpered. Then he saw why.

The water rippled and a massive brown shape burst free, a RiverClan warrior in the form of a hurricane of teeth and claws. Ravensong shrieked in defiance and brought her paws down on the water. Taken by surprise, the other warrior bellowed and sank below the surface. Ravensong turned to him, eyes wild and terrified before a brown paw smacked her head and pushed her down. The image of her wide eyes being swallowed by water would haunt him forever. 

Sageheart could feel the water churn below him as the two warriors battled. He kept sobbing in terror, fighting to stay afloat. Around him he heard roaring RiverClan warriors and pitiful screams of his Clanmates. 

Suddenly, Ravensong and the other warrior surfaced again. The black she-cat was screeching, clawing at the other warrior wildly. Her limbs thrashed as she struggled to stay afloat and fight him at the same time. Sageheart was helpless again, unable to do anything or help her. 

He heard a disgustingly wet crunching sound. One of Ravensong's thrashing limbs had shoved the warrior's head against a rock and now... the warrior sank below the surface, never to rise again. The water turned red with his blood. 

Ravensong immediately grabbed him again. " Get onto the rocks," she said, voice quivering in fear. " Swim, Sageheart! Get out of the water!" 

She dragged him to the slippery gray stepping-stone. Sageheart, with his last bits of strength, hauled himself out. His legs shook and he was whimpering and sobbing uncontrollably. I'm not drowning. I'm not drowning. I'm safe. 

The sounds of water splashing and cats shrieking jolted him back to life. His opened his eyes and felt sick with horror. It was a bloodbath- the scarlet water was a merciless beast, bearing down on his Clanmates and suffocating them. 

" Help!" Mothshade screamed. The golden warrior was clinging to another stepping stone, helpless as a shadow under the water raced towards her. 

Sageheart plunged his paw down, feeling it connect with something warm and hard. The shape twisted violently, fading away and nearly hurling Sageheart over into the water. When he pulled his paw out, it was a deep red. 

" Thank you," Mothshade sobbed. He turned to offer her a quick 'no problem' when he realized she hadn't been talking to him- she'd been talking to Ravensong. The dark brown she-cat was supporting the older warrior, pulling her away from the rocks. 

" Just like that. Scoop your paws in and out- yes, you're doing it!" Ravensong said with a gentleness so out of place in the brutal battlefield. Sageheart suddenly felt ill. Here he was, cowering on a rock, out of the water while his Clanmates were sacrificing their lives. Self-disgust flooded through him. What am I doing? This is my patrol- what is wrong with me? I'm supposed to lead. I'm supposed to save them! 

But he knew who the real hero of the hour was. Ravensong was locked in combat with another warrior, allowing Suncloud to safely swim away. If it hadn't been for her, he would be dead. They would all be dead. 

" Sageheart!" Mothshade bellowed- still, they turned to him? " Where's the other patrol?" 

The other patrol. He looked around again. It was just his small group of six in the water- six minnows in a school of sharks. There was no sign of Dawnstar or any of his other Clanmates. " I don't know!" he cried, but she was staring past him. He turned and a hard stone settled in his stomach. 

At least twenty RiverClan warriors were racing to the shoreline. Like deadly darts, they threw themselves in the water, stroking at an alarmingly fast rate to where the ThunderClan cats were struggling. And at the head-

" That's the deputy!" Mothshade howled. " Foxdung- the deputy! What are they doing? We will all die!" 

" What do we do, Sageheart?" Stonefall yowled, managing to push away a RiverClan warrior. 

" Run." Sageheart snarled. " Run! Get onto shore, go!"

" We can't turn and run- that's cowardice!" Mothshade spat. " We're leading them onto our territory-"

"- onto land so we can properly fight. Come on, move!" Sageheart said. 

" But I-"

" Move your miserable skin!" Ravensong screeched, shoving the warrior away. " Move!" 

Closing his eyes, Sageheart leapt into the water. He churned his legs frantically until they burned. He couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't breathe- behind him could be anyone, claws reaching for his throat, reaching to drag him into that cold, unforgiving darkness-

The ground turned solid underneath his feet. He coughed, barely having time to stand before someone threw him down. A RiverClan warrior reared over him. Her teeth glinted in the sun before she brought her paws down, raking them across his face. Sageheart surged upwards, slamming her body onto the rocks. She howled and tore viciously into his skin with her claws. Sageheart hissed in pain and shook her head violently, jerking her neck side to side before letting her go. She stopped moving.

He raced away from the warrior and looked around frantically. ThunderClan was regaining their footing. He saw Mothshade deal a staggering blow to another warrior, and saw Stonefall send another face-first into the ground. But there were only four of them left; Spottedfur and Suncloud were no where to be seen. And there were at least ten warriors surrounding them.

" What do we do?" Ravensong hissed as she backed away. The RiverClan warriors began to close in around them. Sageheart's eyes flitted frantically around him, trying to find any sign of the other patrol. She tricked us, he thought angrily. My own sister! 

Sister- Dawnstar... what would she do? A plan. A way to trick herself out. Hating himself for drawing on her for inspiration, Sageheart began to survey his surroundings again. Potentially they could turn and race up Sunningrocks, maybe climb trees... but that would draw RiverClan onto their territory. Besides, there was a huge, dangling rock they probably couldn't get around-

Dangling rock. We can push it over, or at least scare them into thinking we can. 

" When I say go," he whispered to his Clanmates. " Run for that hanging rock and dig at it like you're about to set it loose. We might scare them away."

It was a terrible plan, but what else could they do? The ThunderClan warriors gave him firm nods, unsheathing their claws and spitting at the approaching RiverClan cats. " Go!" Sageheart yelled for the second time that day. The ThunderClan cats turned tail and ran, darting up the rocks. 

Sageheart felt something snag his tail and kicked out with panic, sending a RiverClan warrior hurtling down into his Clanmates. We have the high ground! he thought triumphantly to himself. The other warriors realized this, too. As they ran to the large rock they were able to push the other warriors away. But it wouldn't last long, four cats couldn't hold off an entire patrol. 

They dug at the rock, claws ripping and paws cracking as sharp stones dug into the exposed skin. But the rock wouldn't move. They had fooled some RiverClan cats into running away, but eventually they realized nothing was happening. Sageheart's plan had bought them few seconds at most. RiverClan began to surge towards them again. 

Abruptly, they stopped.

" Look!" one RiverClan cat yowled, turning to face the river. " Who are they?"

There was the other patrol. They'd slipped by unnoticed and were now three quarters of the way to the island. Sageheart's shoulders visibly sagged. 

" You tricked us!" another warrior snarled. " Get to the water- get them before they reach the island. Go, go!" 

RiverClan turned and raced to the water, swimming at an alarming speed towards the other warriors. But the ThunderClan cats had hauled themselves out before the RiverClan cats reached halfway. Sageheart saw their blurry shapes disappear into the reeds. 

" She tricked us," Mothshade croaked. " We would've died." 

" And for what?" Stonefall wheezed, blooding dripping down the left side of his face. 

" I don't know." Sageheart hung his head. " I don't know."

~

Dawnstar explained it all afterwards. 

" I knew you'd turn back to Sunningrocks," she told them after her patrol came back. " And you'd draw out most of their forces. Seeing victory they followed you- and we passed by unseen. We were able to get to their camp walls before they drove us out- gave them an enormous scare, they won't be as careless again. They fear me now!" 

" So you counted on our cowardice?" Sageheart spat.

Dawnstar blinked at him. " Not theirs, Sageheart. Yours." 

The blood roared in his ears.

" That's why I put you in charge of the patrol. I knew you wouldn't be able to swim. I knew you didn't have the strength and courage in you to learn. Thank you Sageheart, for being so reliably afraid." 

Unable to take any more, he stormed away.

~

Even as she waged war after war, her words continued to haunt him. 

Two moons passed. Two moons of senseless bloodshed and battle, all to satisfy Dawnstar's power hunger. They drove back WindClan and ShadowClan. They attacked RiverClan again. Even when WindClan begged for peace, Dawnstar didn't listen and killed their emissary instead. 

Sageheart saw his friends fall. He saw his Clanmates' bodies, night after night, stretched out beneath the stars. And still he was a coward. Still, he said nothing against her. 

Until the day his mother died.

Perhaps he was selfish to only be moved by his own mother's death. But it wasn't merely the sight of Robincall's body that made him stand up. It was the sight of his two half-sisters wailing throughout the night. Barely old enough to understand death, the two young kits sat by their mother's cold body throughout the night.

No child should have to go through that. No kit should let out such heartbreaking cries- especially when he could have stopped the pointless battles that took Robincall ages ago. 

No longer would Sageheart remain silent. Dawnstar had already made massive mistakes. Her 'bargaining chips' were dying- Foxsong and Robincall were gone. And he could not bring himself to be afraid of her anymore; he was only filled with such anger and hatred he could have incinerated the entire forest.

No longer would Sageheart be a coward.

No longer was he going to let Dawnstar destroy this Clan.

~

Sageheart surveyed the cats amassed below him. As discreetly as possible, he'd told them he was planning a rebellion and needed them to fight alongside him. Nearly the entire Clan was there, but so silent he could have heard a leaf drop.

" Oakfall and her patrol are with Dawnstar," Mothshade growled. " To make sure she can't hear us."

" That doesn't matter. She'll find out anyway," Sageheart said grimly. Shocked hisses sounded throughout the clearing.

" Then what's the point of this?" Gullwing demanded. The tom had been wasting away ever since the death of Hawkeye. His eyes were dark with grief and rage. " Why are you doing this?"

" Because I know her and she knows me. She thinks a simple threat to kill everyone I love will stop me, but I am not so afraid anymore. I know those I care about can stand up for themselves. And I know that if we all stand together, she has little chance of dividing us," Sageheart said. " She will destroy this Clan if she stays in power."

" So what's the plan? And how do we know you'll lead us rightly?" Mothshade demanded.

" I'll lead you rightly because I understand her. Her madness has made her predictable. I know her pattern of thought. Like I said earlier, she'll find out and likely threaten me to kill my loved ones, but she's too prideful to imagine we'd actually go through with it," Sageheart replied.

" And as for my plan. We can't outsmart her. To think we can is foolishness. I find that the simple plans are best- so here's what we'll do. When she and her patrol go to raid WindClan tomorrow, we'll set ourselves up in camp. The moment she enters, we'll block the exit and surround her."

That's your brilliant plan?" Stonefall sniffed. 

Sageheart narrowed his eyes. " The less intellect involved, the less chance she has of thwarting us."

" It's too easy!" Gullwing shouted out. " No plan like that is going to capture her. And she's not going to just leave. She'll probably find some way to still be leader!"

Sageheart raised his tail for silence as agreeing shouts rose up in the crowd. " Listen," he growled. " I can lead us best because I know her. Don't you trust me in this?"

" After you ran from the river? Not likely," Mothshade growled. Snorts and low laughs rose up from around her.

Red-hot anger surged through Sageheart. His claws tightened on the bark and he snapped. Finally, finally, he'd had enough. 

" You call me a coward?" he said, voice trembling with fury. " Yes, I ran from the water. Yes, I was afraid- don't you think I get it? For StarClan's sake, I know I was afraid- and I own up to that! I've learnt not to cower any longer- you don't know..." he paused for breath. " You don't know what I've gone through. None of you!" 

" I saw my sister go from a sweet kit who wanted nothing more than acceptance to becoming a heartless, murdering, lying monster. Because you wouldn't welcome her, and because I didn't see her mind fracturing. I failed her! I failed my own sister." His voice began to crack into a sob. " I stood on the side and watched her fall when I could have helped her. She has threatened me, made me live in fear- of my own life and for those I love."

" I've gone through life doing nothing. I've sat passively and watched the cat I love so dearly destroy countless lives. I didn't do anything as she destroyed herself. I did nothing as she threatened to kill our family. I am finished with doing nothing! I am ready to face her and bring her to justice because I've had enough of hiding. So yes, mock me. Scorn me for my fear. But know that I have grown and I am ready to stand up. Are you?" Sageheart raised his voice. " Are you?" 

Once more, silence reigned in the clearing. Then slowly, one by one, heads raised. " I am," Ravensong said, although her voice was a throaty croak from her coughing.

" I am," Gullwing said, pressing against his sister.

" I am," Mothshade growled, but he caught a glimmer of respect in her eyes.

" I am."

" I am."

Their voices merged into a powerful rumble and Sageheart tilted his head back into the sky. I am sorry, Dawnstar, he said, heart squeezing painfully. For everything. 

~

Dawnstar knew.

Cats came to Sageheart seeking comfort from death threats to themselves and their families. He told them not to worry, but he found his own advice hard to follow when she fixed him in her mad gaze.

" You play a dangerous game, brother," she whispered to him as she passed. " I think I might drop you off the Highrock too. Just like your mentor. You fall so delightfully, so fast and pretty!" 

Disgusted, Sageheart hurried away. 

Soon, it was time. Her patrol raced out of the entrance and the rest of the cats emerged from their dens. He led them back to the clearing for a quick talk. 

" Some of you hide right behind the entrance, ready to block it as soon as she enters," he instructed. They nodded. " The rest of you in the dens and in corners behind them. Don't go into hers. If she smells our scents there she'll know something's wrong. Two or three cats on Highrock or at the base. Clear?"

More nods. Sageheart began to climb back down the tree. " Make sure you all take different routes," Ravensong chimed in. " She might gets suspicious if she smells us all coming back together." 

Her eyes were round with worry and he was sure his were, too. This is it, he thought, pausing before he entered camp. The next time I see this entrance, she'll be gone. 

Or I won't see it all because I'll be dead, Sageheart thought. He chased away the traitorous thought as quickly as it had come. He took a deep breath and stepped through the entrance-

Only for his heart to drop to his feet.

There, on Highrock, stood Dawnstar- blue eyes shining with their maniacal glow. Mothshade and Gullwing's bodies lay at the base of the rock. The blood began to roar in Sageheart's ears. He looked back up at his sister, so full of hate he wanted to rip her throat out on the spot. 

" Commendable effort," Dawnstar purred. More cats came filtering in and shrieking with horror as they came in. " He failed you, didn't he... again?"

" I have not failed until our mission is unaccomplished," Sageheart spat, unsheathing his claws. Dawnstar tilted her head to one side.

" And what mission is that?"

" You know."

" Ah yes! You wish to see my blood fertilize the soil. You want to rip my throat out and see me die, over and over again, for all the pain I have caused you," she bared her teeth. " You flatter me."

Sageheart curled his lip. " The odds are against you, Dawnstar. It's you against an entire Clan. Stand down, leave in peace, and no harm will come to you."

She snorted in contempt. " This is like ants trying to conquer the Twolegplace. Your numbers do not faze me."

" Then we take you by force. You can only run so far," Sageheart growled. He crouched down, tensing up and raising his tail, about to give the signal. " Goodbye, siste-"

"- oh, but wait!" Dawnstar yowled. She stepped aside, revealing two trembling bundles of ginger fur beside her. " I think you might want to say goodbye to Poppykit and Skykit first."

Sageheart's voice died in his throat. " No," he croaked. " Oh my StarClan, stop this madness! Leave them out of it!"

" No." Dawnstar dragged Poppykit forwards and place her claws on the kit's throat. " Take one step closer, Sageheart, and she falls."

If we run fast enough, we could get to her before she reaches Skykit, Sageheart thought frantically. But Poppykit will still die. What can we do, what can do... 

" Then you make your greatest mistake," he called to her. She looked at him disbelievingly.

" I do not make mistakes."

" You once told me you had 'bargaining chips'. Our mother, Foxsong, and these two. You've already killed two. If you kill the other kits, you have no control over me." Stalling, stalling, and she knows it. Dawnstar sniffed.

" No matter. I'll use someone else. And you forgot someone- your darling Ravensong! If you chase me out, Sageheart, you'll never know how to cure her sickness."

Her sickness?

What she'd said to Brackenstar, so long ago.

I could tell you one of your children will develop a life-threatening disease before they reach their sixteenth- no, seventeenth- moon.

His stomach churned. No, no, no no no. Why her? Why her?!

" She's messing with you, Sageheart," Ravensong hissed. " Get your mind together. Don't let her mess with it!"

He turned around. " You," he said thickly. " You'll die."

" And so will countless others if you don't stop her," she snapped, but he could see the pain in her eyes. His heart twisted. Something about her pure selflessness- the fact that her own life was nothing in the face of others touched him deeply. I love you. 

He looked back up at his sister, her claws on Poppykit's throat. That's your half-sister, you monster, he growled. She had to be stopped. He was not letting her go. This is it. This is the last time you make anyone live in fear. The last time you make anyone suffer! 

And you, Poppykit. You will be the last sacrifice. 

Sageheart raised his tail. He barely had time to register the shock in Dawnstar's eyes before he brought his tail down. " Charge!" he yowled. With an ear-splitting roar, his Clanmates surged towards her in an unstoppable tide. 

ThunderClan surrounded her and swarmed over her. She spat and thrashed her limbs but they wrestled her down. Sageheart, an ecstatic, triumphant feeling in his chest, loomed over her. He placed his claws on her throat and leaned in so they were eye to eye. 

" Get out, Dawnstar," he spat in her face. " Get out of our territory, out of the forest, and away from the Clans. If we see you here again, we will kill you. will kill you." 

All too calmly, his sister stood up and shoved him off. They faced each other before she glanced away. " So this is how queens fall," she whispered. 

" No, it's how tyrants die," he spat. " Leave, or we will kill you."

She turned around to him, eyes full of hatred and spite. " Remember, " she said as she made her way down Highrock. " I leave because I choose to- not because you make me. This is not goodbye, brother. I will watch you from the shadows."

But her threat did not stop the explosive cheer that erupted as she left, or the feeling of peace in Sageheart's chest as her black tail vanished through the entrance. 

The Clan celebrated, but Sageheart mourned the ginger body at the base of the Highrock, a fallen leaf snatched away by a northern wind.

~

On the last night of their seventeenth moon, Sageheart spent the night in the medicine den at Ravensong's side.

Silver light floated down through the brambles and rested itself on her dark brown pelt. He took in the sight of her- the messy waves of her fur, the gentle curve of her muzzle, the oval shape of her ears. He committed her to memory and locked her in his heart. I will not forget you, he swore. As long as the stars hang in the sky, I will keep you with me. Forever. 

He was there when her last breath left her, a soft sigh that floated away on the breeze. He was there as warmth left her body, as she faded into dust and ash, as she sank into the earth and became one with the night sky. 

It was only then that he mourned. Mourned the mentor, the friends, the mother, the she-cat he never told of his love, and the sister who was wrecked from within. 

Epilogue

Dawnstar was as good as her word. She lived in the shadows, hunting the Clans with her army of rogues. She became a bedtime story, a reminder for kits to never stay out alone. She will find you! queens warned. Wisethought will come. 

The Clans were still held captive in fear of her. Neither ThunderClan nor RiverClan had forgotten the horrors of the battle by the river. The events still haunted Sagestar's dreams at night. 

Finally, the leaders had had enough. 

" I've received intelligence from one of my spies," Breezestar of WindClan had told the others in secret. " I've found out where she lives. Let's meet at Fourtrees tomorrow night and head out. We have to kill her."

Sagestar had long since learnt to distance Dawnstar from Dawnpaw. Dawnstar was a monster who should be killed, while Dawnpaw was the she-cat he still loved with all his soul. So he agreed to go through with it. Hopefully they would set Dawnpaw free. 

He slipped out of camp unnoticed. Even after two years he had no mate, no kits, and only young Skyflower to miss him. His closest friends had all died. But he still had his Clan to love... his Clanmates and Skyflower were his only reason to live. 

The night was silent and cold, so like the days he'd spent beside Ravensong's grave. He'd seen her in StarClan when he received his lives and still spoke to her, firmly believing she could hear. 

Another set of pawsteps soon drew his attention. Troutstar of RiverClan dipped her head to him, fur wet from her swim in the river. He nodded respectfully back. " How does your Clan fare?"

" Well," she replied. A slighly uncomfortable gleam came into her eyes. " How- how are you? I mean I know she's your sister, you don't have to do this."

Sagestar let out a heavy sigh. " Dawnstar is not my sister. And yes, I do."

They continued the rest of the way in silence. Breezestar and Froststar soon joined them. All four cats had nothing to say, for they were all grimly aware of the dark task ahead of them. 

The tips of the Great Oaks were visible, looking like claws outstretched towards the moon. Sagestar snorted. He had become poetic and melodramatic in his old age. The four leaders stepped into the clearing, and ahead of them was a large, black shadow-

Dawnstar. 

Sagestar froze.

He hadn't seen his sister in anything but nightmares for two years. She looked... horrible. Her ribs were showing, her eyes were popping and her face was sunken. She looked like she had risen from a grave. What happened to you? 

" You." Breezestar snarled. " How dare you show your face here?"

" Dare I? Dare I do I dare I?" She even sounded dead. Suddenly, her crazy eyes alighted on his face. " Oh," she said softly. " Oh, my brother. Oh Sageheart. You're leader now? I'm so proud. So so proud..." 

He looked away, unable to face what she'd become.

" You've come to attack us, I suppose?" Troutstar hissed. " We've brought reinforcements, so don't even try."

She sees through your lies. Sagestar was unable to tear his eyes from his paws. She always saw everything. 

" Attack?" Dawnstar croaked, her voice wheezy and faint. " No no. You- you attack me." Her words were painful as though she had trouble getting them out. 

" What? What are you trying to say?" Froststar demanded. But Dawnstar didn't look at her. Instead, she turned to Sagestar.

" Sagestar, Sageheart, Sagepaw, look at me," Dawnstar was begging. " Please. I want to see your eyes. Your pretty pretty eyes." 

He wouldn't. " Do not speak to me," he growled. " Not after everything you've done." 

" Everything I- oh. Sageheart." Suddenly, her voice dropped its heavy lisp and became clear again. " It's my mind, Sageheart, I have lost control of it. I'm in so much pain every day, pain you could never fathom. So come I to ask those I owe most to... help end this suffering."

" You want us to help you, after you wrecked disaster and disaster upon us?" Sagestar demanded. He raised his head and found himself looking into her panicked expression, the few seconds while she still had her sanity. 

" Yes." Dawnstar said simply. " Kill me. I have four lives left. Four leaders. You each take one." 

" No," Sagestar whispered, mind flashing back to all those moons ago when he'd found her biting herself behind the nursery. 

" Please, Sagestar. When have I done something I haven't wanted to do?" Dawnstar growled. She crouched down- actuallly bowed her head- at Breezestar's feet. " You first. A quick slash across the throat should do it. I regenerate quickly."

Breezestar didn't hesitate. " This is for my children," she spat, and brought her claws slashing down. Sagestar looked away. Dawnstar grunted, but that was all.

The four leaders waited once more in silence for Dawnstar to come back to life. She did so with a spluttering gasp. The wound on her neck had almost completely healed itself, though the dark fur around it was still soaked with blood. " You next," she rasped, beckoning Froststar. " And I know what it's for."

Froststar growled and brought her claws down on Dawnstar's neck. Sagestar winced as his sister died again.

She moved to Troutstar. Sagestar knew what memory passed before the RiverClan leader's eyes- the day of that horrible river battle- as she killed Dawnstar.

The clearing turned silent. Sagestar stepped forwards. My turn. My turn to avenge all that was taken from me. 

He stepped forwards over Dawnstar's body. He rested his claws on her rapidly healing neck and let out a heavy sigh. 

" Sagestar..." Dawnstar croaked, stirring back to life. " I took so much from you."

" I know." Do it. You've wanted to do this for so long. 

" Do you have a family, Sagestar? Anyone?"

" I have Skyflower. Do you remember her?" A sudden anger stirred in his chest. Dawnstar's blue eyes were distant.

" Oh yes, the pretty ginger kittens. Robincall's children. My mother's children," she shifted slightly in the dirt. " Will you tell her-"

"- nothing from the cat that killed her sister," Sagestar growled.

Dawnstar nodded. " Fair enough. So often you wanted to kill me, why hesitate now?"

" I wish to kill Dawnstar," Sagestar told her, gripping her tighter with his claws. " Not my sister."

At this, Dawnstar let out a wheezing laugh. " So innocent. Sagestar, do you remember my ceremony? When StarClan named me the singularity? I know what that means."

Sagestar frowned. " What does it mean?"

" A singularity is like... a skyhole. Something that turns in on itself, creating a force around that pulls in objects around it. That is me, Sageheart! Do you see?"

" I see."

" So end this torture, end my madness. For your sister, for me. Please," she begged, widening her eyes. He looked into them- truly looked into them- and saw his sister. Not the cold-blooded psychopath but the young apprentice who only wanted to be respected. The young apprentice with too much pride and intelligence, the apprentice not of this world.

For the first time in countless moons, he saw Dawnpaw. 

So he nodded and positioned his claws above her throat. Dawnstar closed her eyes. " I will not see you again."

" No." He might have sobbed but he had no heart left to break.

" I will not be in StarClan, I know this already," eyes still closed, she laughed. " I will go to... the Place Between the Stars. The darkest part of the sky." 

" StarClan might be merciful." 

She laughed again. " Not to me, they won't. Come on, Sagepaw- do it."

Sagepaw lifted his claws. " You did not belong in this world," he whispered. But Dawnpaw gave no indication she heard him. He could sense she was already somewhere far, far away. 

So with loving tenderness he brought his claws down and swept them across her neck. Silently, her body jerked once and she was still.

So, so still.

Sagestar smoothed out her ragged pelt and stared at her body. She was beautiful in death and probably had been in life too, but he'd never looked close enough to notice.

He stepped away from her body and peered up at the sky- a dark coat of fur flecked with starlight.

The Place Between the Stars. 

Sagestar bowed his head, an insignificant black dot in never-ending sky.

Author's Note

(this was finished a day after Harry Potter's 20th anniversary... so grateful for JKR's wonderful books that inspired me to write).

I chose to write from Sageheart's perspective because I wanted to leave the way Dawnpaw saw the world up to the imagination. Writing it from her perspective would diminish the mystery and intruige around her and Sageheart was a way to demonstrate the inhumanity of her actions. At first he didn't mean much to me- I was more focused on Dawnpaw, but I grew to care for them both. And in the end he did have his own heroic journey... he rose into heroism as she fell into villainy. 

I've always been interested in how Clan cats adjust to having their name change, and I think each change marks a different era in their life. Sageheart refers to Dawnstar/Wisethought as Dawnpaw because he refuses to see her as anything but his eager-to-please sister. After Dawnstar kills Foxsong, however, he switches to Dawnstar... marking the end in his denial and beginning of his 'hero's journey.' Dawnpaw refers to him using his different names interchangeably- at first because she wishes to mock him, and later on because her madness has scrambled her thought process.

Lastly, the theme I tried to address. I've always been interested in the debate of how people are evil... does society make us into villains? Are we born that way? In this story I tried to leave it up for interpretation. Dawnpaw was born with hyper-intelligence but did that guarantee she'd be 'evil'? She was always confident and proud, but was it herself or the people around her that formed her ego and made her feel wronged? Was it her fault, in the end? The symbolism of the singularity ties into this as well.

Huge thanks to everyone who commented and took the time to read this. I rarely ever finish stories it was largely thanks to your support that I did <3

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