This is the side story of saving SkyClan, following Rainstar, Scorchwing, Shadefrost, Fireberry, and Fernfur as they go to help Plumstar save her Clan from the invading foxes.
Rainstar rested her head on her paws. At dawn she would be leaving the Clan with Fernfur, Shadefrost, Scorchwing, and Fireberry to go help Plumstar with her Clans' troubles.
She looked around her camp, a burnt out hollow, with all of the cats sleeping under the various bushes, brooding. The elders had been allowed to sleep in her own den, by her order, and Mossheart had helped the six cats move themselves up the wall of the gorge into the alcove.
He was a great deputy, Mossheart. Rainstar knew she could trust him to lead the Clan during the time she was gone with Plumstar, and that together, she, Shadefrost, Fernfur, Scorchwing, and Fireberry would be able to drive out the foxes.
Through the darkness and insomnia, Rainstar made out the strong, lithe shape of her mate padding towards her. "Can't sleep?" he asked, his amber eyes glittering. Rainstar shook her head. "Nerves?"
"I guess. We've attacked foxes before, remember that one when I was an apprentice? We were able to drive that one out, no problem."
"Yup," agreed Shadefrost. "Easy as catching a mouse."
"Maybe not that easy," laughed Rainstar.
"Try getting some sleep," suggested the warrior. "Just try. I'll wake you in a bit."
Rainstar nodded, suddenly drowsy, and closed her eyes.
All she heard before Shadefrost was shaking her awake was the rustle of wings and the loud call of a raven. The leader shook her head to clear her thoughts, and padded towards the makeshift medicine den, where Lilyheart was sorting the remainder of the herbs.
The five cats lapped up the herbs, swallowing the bitter taste with puckered lips. "Disgusting," mewed Fireberry, shivering. The five roused Plumstar and her three warriors and one apprentice, and set off.
"So where are we going?" Fernfur asked. "What direction?"
"We live back through the mountains," replied Plumstar, gesturing with her tail. "There's another group of cats over there, a Tribe or something."
"The Tribe of Rushing Water," piped up Cloudpaw. "They were very nice to us."
"They might not be so kind to all ten tof us," muttered Shadefrost, sighing. Fernfur shrugged.
"You never know."
"I guess not."
Scorchwing remained silent, looking out towards the mountains as they headed towards the vast peaks of stone. No trees dotted the barren landscape of rock, and it looked cold and deserted. Rainstar shared the she-cat's doubts, but allowed herself to remained optimistic.
"Our camp is very, very far," Plumstar added softly. "Past...past a destroyed forest, infested with Twolegs, a huge Twolegplace sprawls with tall structures and busy Thunderpaths, and dogs, and Twolegs everywhere." The SkyClan leader shuddered. "It was terrible going through there. We almost lost Cloudpaw."
Cloudpaw bowed his head at the memory.
"How many days' journey?"
"Many," replied Plumstar vaguely.
"Less than a moon?"
"Oh yes. A quarter-moon, maybe, or less."
Rainstar groaned inwardly. She didn't know if her cats could make it on one dose of traveling herbs, but they had Scorchwing, who had a knowledge of herbs after spending a while in the medicine den, waiting for an injury to heal.
The cats trudged on. Rainstar's eyes threatened to close as the sun went down, and she looked around for a good spot to rest. Spotting a closely knit group of trees, she gestured with her tail towards the bushes and trees.
"We're not on ThunderClan land anymore, are we?" Plumstar asked warily, and Rainstar shook her head.
"Nope. Passed a while ago. I'm going to hunt," she announced. "Anyone with me?"
Half of the cats volunteered, while the other half, ThunderClan and SkyClan alike, stayed to guard the area and make it more comfortable.
While Rainstar tracked a squirrel, she watched Cloudpaw stalking a blackbird on a low branch in a nearby tree. He flicked his tail slowly back and forth, eyeing his prey, before he jumped, with an enormous leap, and snagged the bird with a triumphant yowl.
"Hush," scolded Rainstar, only half-cross, as she lost the scent of her squirrel. She was pleased at the apprentice's leap, but also somewhat angry that they had lost a piece of prey.
In the end, Shadefrost had brought down two rabbits, while Birdfeather and Rockleap had both gotten two voles each. Rainstar had only gotten one small thrush, but they had plenty of prey for the many cats, and, when they arrived back at the makeshift camp, she saw comfortable nests of bracken and moss waiting for them.
"This is just like our own camp," she exclaimed happily. Shadefrost nodded, his mouth full of the rabbits, one of which was hoisted on his back.
"Where'd you get the bracken?" inquired Birdfeather. Plumstar waved her tail in a vague direction, and Birdfeather nodded, evidently content with her leader's cryptic answer. "And the moss?"
"There," answered Mossflash, pointing to a spot where the green plant grew in abundance at the roots of a tree. "You can get more if you like."
Rainstar nodded, and opened her mouth. Simultaneously, she and Shadefrost said, "I'll take first watch."
"I'll do it," insisted Shadefrost.
"I'm leader, I should," retaliated Rainstar, and the SkyClan cats laughed.
"You both can," Plumstar suggested. "And wake two others when you're drowsy. Five shfits, two cats each."
"Agreed," Scorchwing mewed. "I'll take next shift, I can;t sleep anyway. I might as well use this time looking for herbs and such."
She padded off. "Come back soon!" Fernfur called after her, and she yowled a reply, but it was lost on the gentle breeze.
While the rest of the cats got comfortable, Rainstar sat alert, gazing around, just waiting for some predator to jump out of the bushes and attack their group. Nothing moved.
For a while the two cats sat, side by side, staring towards the unrelenting hills of rock lying before them, and dreaded having to climb them in a day or two's journey.
The moon had risen by the time Scorchwing came back, leaves stuffed in her mouth and cobwebs clinging to her fur.
"Wake the others," she whispered. "I'll stay awake, just wake up Fernfur or someone." She began to sort the herbs, carefully inspecting each leaf, and then putting it in a pile.
Rainstar padded over to the snoozing gray tom, and gently shook him awake. He blinked open, starting, and then peered around. "My turn for watch?" he asked quietly, and Rainstar nodded, gesturing to Scorchwing. The warrior padded over to his sister, touched noses, and sat down beside her.
Rainstar settled down in one of the empty nests, Shadefrost curling up in the next nest over. Watching his tortoiseshell flank rise and fall, she was calmed, as an owl hooted far off in the distance.
Nostalgia washed over Rainstar as she remembered the night in the cave she spent with Shadefrost, him carrying her back into camp through the pouring rain, slogging through mud and the wet leaves and mushy forest floor...
Sleep blanketed Rainstar as she slowly breathed, in and out, her ties with the waking world numbing as her senses dimmed.
SkyClan would be saved.
Rainstar woke up with a bellyache. She grumbled, scrambling to her feet as the cats began to stir around her. Trying to be quiet, she staggered over to Scorchwing.
"Rainstar?" The red she-cat was alert within moments. "What's wrong?"
"Bellyache," whispered Rainstar, her voice numb with the intensity.
"Bellyache...bellyache....bellyache..." murmured Scorchwing under her breath. "Let me see...oh! Yes, juniper berries, or watermint...let's see....I think that's--no, no, that's probably foxglove or something...hmm...one or the other should be growing around here, they thrive in opposite climates..."
Rainstar collapsed. Shadefrost hurried to her side. "What's wrong with her?" he demanded of Scorchwing.
"Bellyache. I can't remember where juniper berries grow, or watermint, only that they grow in opposing climates. I can't remember if it's hot and cold, wet or dry, high or low..."
"Find it," begged Shadefrost, staring in despair at his cringing mate. "Please."
"I'll do my best!"
"We can't go until she's better," Birdfeather mewed quietly. Rainstar squeezed her eyes shut.
"I'm fine," she gasped out. "I--I--I'm okay."
Scorchwing stared concernedly at her. "I don't--"
"I'm fine," insisted Rainstar, heaving herself up. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not!" Scorchwing pushed her leader back down. "We will not move from this spot until you're better!"
"You might not," grumbled Rainstar. "But I will."
Shadefrost and Scorchwing were blocking her way. "You won't!" Fireberry and Fernfur were watching, stony-faced, as their leader struggled, trying to push past her warriors.
Plumstar hurried over. "What's going on?"
"She's...sick," grunted Shadefrost, shoving back Rainstar. "And you can't attack your own warriors. It's against the warrior code. I think," he added under his breath.
"We're not going," Plumstar decided, finality in her voice. Rainstar collapsed, panting.
"I want to go on," she mumbled, her eyes closing. "I want...I want to go on..." Her voice trailed off into silence as her eyes closed.
"She's not dying, is she?"
Fernfur shook his head. "She'd stop breathing if she were," he pointed out. Scorchwing laughed slightly, then grew sober as Rainstar coughed.
"What's wrong with her?" she whispered. "I don't know...I don't think...there's something..."
"Find the herbs for her bellyache. It can pass into something worse," warned Birdfeather. "If she's coughing..."
"You're not a medicine cat," retorted Mossflash. "Let her do her work, she knows what she's doing. She's had more experience than you, at any rate."
Birdfeather bowed her head, and Rainstar groaned.
"It's all right," Scorchwing said softly. "I don't mind, really."
"You should mind," grunted Mossflash. "I'm taking a nap. You chatted too loudly for me to sleep last night." Mumbling darkly, he curled up in one of the nests of moss and bracken, and went to sleep.
Listening to the whole conversation, Rainstar sighed. Scorchwing was at her side immediately, but Rainstar was already slipping into unconsciousness.
"Am I losing a life? What's happening?"
"No, dear, you're all right. Just a bad bit of thrush, that's all." The pale gray she-cat's soothing words calmed Rainstar, and she began to breathe easier.
"Why do you want to talk to me?"
"Oh, Rainstar, always to the point. You were like that as a kit you know. 'Who are you? Why are you here?'" quoted Dovewing, laughing. Her golden eyes glinted in the pale starlight.
Rainstar smiled. "Will I die?" she asked, more quietly.
Dovewing shrugged. "It's...your choice, in a way."
"Oh yes, Rainstar. Yes, it is your choice."
Rainstar stared out over StarClan's hunting grounds, seeing a tortoiseshell talking to a familiar pelt.
"Spottedleaf," whispered Dovewing confidentially.
Dovewing laughed. "I forget! You've never met her, have you? Well, now's not the time, she's giving some important information to...someone. Maybe another time. For now...you'd best get back to sleep."
"I--I'm not asleep?"
Dovewing looked appraisingly at her. "It matters not, Rainstar."
"So is this real...or in my head?"
"Well of course it is in your head...but why in StarClan should that mean it's not real?"
"Eat this, Rainstar."
Rainstar awoke to Scorchwing's red pelt bent over her, urging her to eat a few purple-blue berries. "They're juniper berries," whispered the warrior. "They should ease your bellyache."
Rainstar had just become conscious of the pain in her belly, and she realized, in her dream, that it had been Scorchwing she had seen talking to Spottedleaf, getting information...herbs.
"Did Spottedleaf give them to you?" Rainstar asked groggily. Scorchwing looked surprised.
"How'd you know?"
"I was with another StarClan cat," Rainstar replied, chewing the berries and standing up, stretching. "I'm going to hunt."
"Someone's better," remarked Shadefrost, dropping a vole at her paws. "I got this for you."
"Thanks," meowed Rainstar, slightly surprised.
"Yup. Figured you'd probably not want to eat any more thrush." He grinned. Rainstar rolled her eyes at Scorchwing, mouthing, Toms.
As Rainstar devoured the vole, Plumstar padded towards her. "Rainstar! We want to try and clear half the distance to the mountains today."
Rainstar nodded, unable to speak through the fur and vole in her mouth.
"We were thinking that we could make it to the mountains next sunrise, and then spend a sunrise with the Tribe that lives up there. They might not take too kindly to all of us staying, but..." Plumstar continued, trailing off.
"I'm ready when you are," Rainstar said, springing up.
"You're better," Mossflash grunted, padding past. Plumstar shot a look at him. He shrugged.
"Okay. We can leave as soon as my warriors have eaten."
"We all have," Birdfeather informed her leader. "Rockleap and Cloudpaw are sharing a rabbit, and Mossflash and I had a mouse."
"Great," mewed Plumstar. "We can go then."
The ten cats trekked towards their destination, after rolling up and kicking away their moss to disperse it. Scorchwing had rolled up the herbs and was walking with them tucked in her mouth. Rainstar could see her jaws watering at the taste of some of the herbs, and wondered if she had managed to salvage any catmint. The herb was rare, but useful, essential to treating greencough, but had a taste so tantalizing that a warrior could pretend to be sick to eat it.
"So what will we be expecting when we arrive at your camp?" Rainsong inquired.
Plumstar shrugged. "We're just like yours, except maybe a bit smaller. We have many warriors, a medicine cat, a medicine cat apprentice, a deputy, elders, apprentices, queens...just like any other Clan."
"What about this...Tribe, you've been talking about?"
"Well," Plumstar mewed deliberately. "They're...different. They don't have warriors or medicine cats, or even a deputy--"
"How can they survive without a deputy?"
"I dunno. Just believe me, they're odd. They don't have queens, they're called kit-mothers, their apprentices are called 'to-bes', they don't have warriors. There are cave-guards, cats who 'guard the cave', and prey-hunters, cats to hunt prey."
"Interesting," mewed Rainstar. "Know why?"
"Nope. Too cryptic when I asked. And their kits have the names they have throughout their lives when they're born, no 'kit, 'paw, or warrior name."
"Yeah. Odd, right?"
The two traveled in silence as the sun rose and sank, their warriors trekking on despite their rumbling bellies and aching paws.
"Are we almost there?" gasped Fireberry, flopping down with exhaustion when Rainstar ordered them all to stop.
"A day or so more travel and we'll reach the mountains," Plumstar guessed, gesturing with her tail towards the huge, crested slabs of stone rising into the air and puncturing the clouds.
"Then how far?" Scorchwing questioned, setting the herbs carefully on the ground.
"Definitely a few days journey," Plumstar meowed. "We have to go through this massive Twolegplace, and then...towards the gorge."
Fernfur nodded quietly, and tucked his paws beneath him. "I wonder how the Clan is?" he asked quietly.
"Thriving, hopefully," Rainstar replied. "Mossheart and Lilyheart should be taking good care of them."
"You really trust him don't you?" Fernfur asked shrewdly as the rest of the cats whent off in search of prey. Rainstar nodded.
"More than anyone."
Rainstar was quiet for a moment, before replying.
"Same with me and Moonshadow. We grew closer after the death of Pinewillow, and we still have Scorchwing, but she seems so distant when she's with Weaselnose. And Firepelt was as close as a littermate, but when she died...we both felt like we had no one. Scorchwing had her mate...but we just had each other," Fernfur said. Rainstar nodded.
"I know how it feels."
"Do you think...do you think Featherheart likes me?" Fernfur said after a long silence. Rainstar gave a short laugh, then stopped at the look on Fernfur's face. She became serious.
"Of course, Fernfur! Who wouldn't?"
They were silent until the cats with the prey came back, the SkyClan cats mostly carrying birds and squirrels while the ThunderClan cats carried voles, mice, and shrews.
"Hmm," murmured Shadefrost contentedly, finishing of his third vole. "It's nice not to have to feed the Clan."
Rainstar sat up, shocked. "Shadefrost! Did you really just say that?"
"What? Did I really say that? I wasn't thinking," he muttered. Rainstar laughed, and Scorchwing giggled.
"I think you need some herbs," she joked.
"No!" cried Shadefrost, rolling over onto his back. "Anything but that!"
Soon all of the cats were laughing hysterically, and Rainstar finally dragged herself off the grown, choking on her own chortling, only to collapse into fits of giggles.
"You'll scare all the prey away," she gasped. "Stop it!"
The other cats dwindled into silence, occasionally hacking on their own laughter, but soon fell asleep, leaving Rainstar the last awake and the first on guard duty, again. Scorchwing sat beside her, sorting and re-sorting her herbs, carefully separating them with one careful claw, and then stacking them, then unstacking them and sorting them again, her voice low as she muttered the names of the leaves under her breath.
The sun was just rising to its peak in the starry sky when Rainstar felt Scorchwing's tail on her shoulder, and sleep and fatigue overwhelmed her.
"We should be able to reach the mountains today," Plumstar mewed, rousing Rainstar. The tabby leader blinked open her eyes, and stood up and stretched in the pale sunlight.
"Great! Shadefrost, you lump, move!" Fireberry prodded Shadefrost, who was snoozing. He had just gotten to sleep after the second to last patrol, and he was snoring loud as a badger, his paws in the air. Fireberry laughed.
When all the cats had awaken and risen, they began the trek to the foot of the mountains.
Time dragged on, slowly...Fernfur looked ready to collapse by sunhigh, and Scorchwing's fur was wet with sweat. Shadefrost's eyelids were drooping, and Rainstar herself felt exhaused. Only Fireberry was pushing threw, making herself pad closer and closer to the base of the huge, jagged hills of stone waiting for them.
"We're here," announced Plumstar. It was sunset, and the cats flopped down as soon as the SkyClan leader opened her mouth to speak.
"I can't...even....hunt," gasped Shadefrost. Rainstar didn't have the strength to nod her heads, and the SkyClan cats were looking puzzled.
"They need ragweed."
The SkyClan cats jumped, while the ThunderClan cats barely stirred at the unfamiliar voice.
"W-Who are you?" croaked Rainstar, opening her eyes a crack. Plumstar was staring at the young cat with recognition.
"I am Teller of the Pointed Stones."
"There, there, up you get."
"Who are they, Momma? What are they doing here?"
"Quiet, Pink. They could be injured."
"They're all right, Swallow," mewed another cat's voice. "They must just be--"
"We want to see, we want to see!"
Rainstar blinked open her eyes, surrounded by strange names an accents. She was tucked into a small hole in the wall of a giant cave, with Shadefrost by her side, still asleep.
"They won't hurt my kits, will they?" Another voice asked apprehensively, and Rainstar turned to see a dark brown she-cat sweeping her tail around three kits.
"Of course not, Moss," soothed the third voice, Swallow.
"These are Clan cats," mewed a speckled gray she-cat, padding amongst her own cats. Rainstar vaguely identified her as the one who called herself 'Teller of the Pointed Stones'.
"I am Teller of the Pointed Stones," the she-cat repeated. "Or Stoneteller."
"Are you the Healer?" asked Rainstar.
Stoneteller nodded her gray head. "Indeed. Our kit-mothers can take care of you for the time being. This is Swallow's Song at Dusk, Swallow, and Moss That Grows on River Bank, or Moss," introduced Stoneteller. The brown tabby she-cat, Swallow, rested her tail on Moss's shoulder, who was looking apprehensive.
"Anything you need, just ask--"
She was interrupted by a loud screech, and four cats hurried in, supporting a fifth, a reddish she-cat with mud smeared across her pelt. Blood welled through the dark brown muck, and a gray she-cat and a golden-brown tom set her down carefully.
"Leaf!" cried Swallow. "What happened?"
The gray she-cat bowed her head. "We tried to get an eagle, we were trying to protect her, but it grabbed her, and we weren't able to help. Night and Leap were able to send it off, but...it got her."
"Let me see her."
Swallow hurried over, and sniffed Leaf's pelt. "Ooh...she needs herbs. I'll get Stoneteller."
"She needs cobwebs," piped up Scorchwing. "To stem the bleeding."
"Cobwebs?" Swallow said blankly.
"I'll get some," Scorchwing said.
"I'll get it," Scorchwing said firmly, turning away.
Swallow nodded to the gray she-cat and the golden-brown tom, who flanked Scorchwing as she went out.
"Is she going to be all right?" Rainstar asked quietly. Swallow stared mournfully at Leaf.
"I don't know," she said quietly. She turned away, and Rainstar began to pad away. Swallow called after her. "Wait! I'm sorry, really. I can introduce you to the cats if you want."
"I'd like that," replied Rainstar, and followed the queen, or kit-mother, towards a small group of about seven or eight cats, who were huddled together, laughing and talking.
As they neared the group, it became apparent that about four toms were gathered around a pretty, silver tabby she-cat, who was smiling dazzlingly, and purring. Three she-cats sat off to the side, muttering darkly and casting somewhat annoyed looks towards the she-cat.
"Rock!" Swallow called, shocked. The gray tom turned, and, startled, got up quickly and trotted towards Swallow.
"Sorry, Swallow." Swallow shied away from the tom, Rock, and glared at him.
"I-I'm going to go to sleep," Rock mumbled hurriedly, and rushed off towards the small scoops in the cave walls. He darted up a small path to a higher series of scoops, and settled into one of them, curling up with his tail over his nose and his eyes squeezed shut.
"Rock," Swallow said, rolling her eyes. "Of course he's over there with the rest of them, mooning over Shimmer. Shimmer of Shining Water," added the kit-mother, gesutirng to the silver tabby. "Unusual markings for a Tribe cat, but...everyone's kind of...obsessed with her. She never hunts, mind you. Oh! That was my mate, Rock on Bank of River, that I just scolded."
"And the black she-cat with the white belly fur--Star That Shines at Night, or Star. She's one of our best prey-hunters, and next to her is Storm clouds Gathered at Horizon--Storm--, and Cry of Flying Owl--Cry. They are the only other she-cats that aren't kit-mothers, at least besides Leaf and Flash. The gray tom is Fern Growing on Bank, the black tom Night of No Moon, and the brown tom Leap of Startled Bird. Night's Moss's mate, but of course she knows nothing about him and Shimmer. Even Rumble's somewhat taken with her, and he's a to-be!"
"Like...they're not full cave-guards--"
"Cats who guard the cave," explained Swallow. "To-be's aren't full prey-hunters or cave-guards, they're...to-be's."
"To-be's," Rainstar amended. "They're pretty much the same thing. Cloudpaw's a to-be, or an apprentice."
"Ooh. Which of you are prey-hunters?"
"We're all prey-hunters..."
"What about cave-guards?"
"We don't have a cave to guard. Every cat hunts and fights," Rainstar said.
"That makes sense, I suppose." But Swallow didn't sound convinced. "I'll show you--"
The cats whirled around at the startled voice. "Rainstar!"
"That sounds like..."
"Raventail! What are you doing here?"
"You've come so far," Plumstar added.
Rainstar gave the SkyClan leader an odd look. "You know Raventail?" Plumstar turned to Rainstar.
"You know Raventail?"
"She was in my Clan when I was an apprentice," replied Rainstar. "Raventail..."
"We're journeying, Raventail, so come back with us to the SkyClan camp. We'll be moving off in a few days," Plumstar offered.
"Good," whispered one of the to-be's. "We'll be rid of them soon enough."
Plumstar gave the to-be a withering look. "We're having to drive off foxes! We're not going for a friendly meeting. I bet all of you combined couldn't drive off a fox," she spat.
The to-be, a dark gray tom who Rainstar recognized as Rumble of Thunder in Coming Storm, stood his ground, while a few cats joined his side and glared at Plumstar. The leader's gaze was unwavering.
"Are you underestimating us?" hissed Rock.
"You've never faced a fox, have you?" retaliated Plumstar.
"Momma? Momma, what's a fox?"
Plumstar smirked. "Evidently not."
"That doesn't mean we wouldn't be able to," Leap retorted. "Can you bring down an eagle with two cats?"
"Just because we don't have the eagles doesn't mean we wouldn't--"
"Stop it, both of you!" Rainstar was still standing, shocked, a few tail-lenths from the arguing cats, and the fur around her neck was fluffed up. "You're not doing anything to help each other or yourselves! You're just severing the ties that might be essential to our survival. Plumstar, I'm astonished. You're the leader of SkyClan, you should have more sense!"
Plumstar looked at her paws, and shifted around. "I've never had to...negotiate with any other Clans before, it was always only a small group of cats we had to fight or...argue with. Never a whole Clan."
"Or a whole Tribe. It's okay, Plumstar, but we were just offended. You see, we don't have to fight off any cats except for...well....none. We just fight off possible prey. We don't have any negotiating skills either," Star added kindly.
Plumstar still shuffled her paws, before looking up in shame, and then turning to trudge toward her small scoop of a den. Rainstar dipped her head to the Tribe cats, and turned to Raventail.
"Would you like to share a piece of prey?" she asked. Raventail nodded, and quietly followed the tabby leader towards the center of the cave.
"May we eat?" inquired Rainstar to Star.
"Sure. Take whatever you like."
Rainstar and Raventail both took small birds. The rest of the Tribe settled down on the edges of the cave to eat, mostly in pairs.
Star was sitting with Leap. Star took one bite of her prey, as did Leap, and then they swapped, so Star now had the small rodent, while Leap had an odd-looking bird.
"Should we...?" Raventail asked. Rainstar shrugged, took a bite of her bird, and then pushed it towards Raventail.
"They're the same animal, so..." she replied with her mouth full.
Raventail dipped her head, and finished her fresh-kill.
When the two were done, they stood up, stretching.
Shadefrost, Fireberry, and Fernfur were each chewing a huge bird, while Scorchwing and Star were talking over a bird of equal size.
Raventail joined Fernfur, the only one in the party she knew besides Rainstar, while the leader went and joined Star and Scorchwing.
"You use cobwebs, correct?" Scorchwing asked.
"Indeed. I just didn't think of it when Leaf was recovering because...well, I was frightened...and scared. Swallow and I take care of the herb stuff around here."
"What other herbs do you use? Poppy seeds?"
"We don't have...poppy seeds...around here," Star replied, fumbling over the simple words. "But we do have ragweed. And tormentil."
Rainstar padded away, moving towards the rest of her cats. Shadefrost was looking curiously at Raventail, along with Fireberry.
"And--oh, Plumstar, I have to--Plumstar!"
The dark gray she-cat shot up, almost banging her head on the stone of her den. "Raventail?"
The black she-cat looked ready to burst, torn. "I--Plumstar, I have news, I just remembered, that's why I came--"
"What is it?"
"Honeywillow and Fernshine...are dead."
"We have to get back. Now," Plumstar ordered. "We'll have to race across the Twolegplace, go faster than lightning. SkyClan will be destroyed unless we do something." Her voice lowered to a whimper.
"Then come on," Rainstar said quietly.
"Now?" Raventail asked weakly.
"Now!" insisted Plumstar. Fernfur, Shadefrost, Scorchwing, and Fireberry were at Rainstar's side instantly, and Cloudpaw was trying to drag an annoyed Mossflash away from his nest.
"Come on, Rockleap!" Birdfeather cried. The Tribe cats around them looked bewildered. The ten cats hurried out of the cave, through the water, and headed around the caves, continuing on their journey.
"Where are you going?" asked Star. Swallow emerged after her.
"Stop! Rainstar, Plumstar, stop!"
"SkyClan," wailed Plumstar desperately. "SkyClan!"
"You won't make it," yowled Star, racing after them. "Stop!"
"Stop!" Rainstar slowed, but her warriors kept pounding on after the SkyClan leader. "I can't do anything," whispered Rainstar.
"You can," insisted Star.
"ThunderClan! Stop!" screeched Swallow. The four warriors wheeled around, almost specks in the distance, until Fireberry began to make the trudge back.
"Thanks, Swallow," Rainstar said quietly, and turned to her warriors. "I told you to stop."
All four of them looked at their paws, and Fernfur was the first to lift his head. "I'm sorry, Rainstar."
The other cats slowly apologized, until Shadefrost licked Rainstar's ear, and curled up on the hard rock of the mountain.
"What are you doing, going asleep?" asked Swallow. Shadefrost turned to her, closed his eyes, and was snoring within moments.
"SkyClan's gone," Fireberry whimpered.
"They're not gone. They're running," Rainstar replied. "And we can catch up. Tomorrow."
"Sleep," Star implored. Fernfur nudged Shadefrost, and then padded behind the Tribe cats to the cave.
"I knew you would come back."
"Stoneteller never comes out of the cave," whispered Rumble. "Why would she come out for them?"
"Hush," mewed Night. He dipped his head to the Healer.
"It is time for me to take an apprentice," mewed Stoneteller. "Splash When Stone Lands in Water. You will be the next Healer."
A red-brown she-cat stepped forward, trembling, as Stoneteller put her head on the small cat's. Splash squeaked, but followed the Healer into the Shining Cave, and disappeared.
A dark brown she-cat and a brown tabby tom harrumphed. "How come she gets to be chosen?" whined the brown tabby.
"Feather, don't be envious," warned Moss. Feather turned to the she-cat, and huffed.
"Come on, Screech. Let's go be cave-guards."
Screech hopped off after him.
"Come on, Rainstar," Shadefrost murmured. "It's time."
"Sleep," the warrior mewed drowsily, and collapsed comically at her paws.
Within the next quarter moon, Rainstar and her cats had caught up to Plumstar, and had arrived at the gorge where SkyClan lived, to find the cats carrying on with their business as though they already had a leader.
"Plumstar! You're back!"
"I-I'm sorry, Plumstar, but I had to do something, and--I...um...kind of...took charge," muttered a tortoiseshell she-cat as Plumstar entered her camp.
"That's great, Leafflight. However, I must appoint a new deputy...um..." Plumstar looked slightly frazzled, though quite relieved nonetheless.
"Oh!" Shadefrost's voice bloomed in Rainstar's ear, and she stepped away from him, glaring.
"Sorry," he muttered hastily. "But Rainstar--your mother--"
"She's still alive?" gasped Rainstar.
"Of course," Plumstar replied. "Cherryfeather!"
A tortoiseshell and white she-cat padded over, her green eyes glittering with concern. "Yes? What is it?"
Three kits bounded out around her. "Mother! Mother! We smelled new cats!"
"Hush, Lionkit," Cherryfeather mewed to a golden-brown tom. "You too, Leopardkit and Tigerkit." The three kits sat down obediently while their mother finished her walk to Plumstar.
"Yes?" she repeated.
"There's someone I'd like you to meet," Plumstar said warmly. Cherryfeather turned slowly to face the cats, her eyes roaming over the unfamilar pelts and taking in the scents, until her green eyes came to a rest on Rainstar, and widened.
"S-Spiderfur," called Cherryfeather. "Spiderfur, come here!" A black tom with long legs hurried over to Cherryfeather, and gave her a lick on the ear.
"What is it?" He turned to Rainstar, and his jaw dropped.
"I'm Rainstar," Rainstar introduced. "And I think you're my parents."
Cherryfeather and Spiderfur rushed towards her, and Rainstar buried her face in her mother's fur like a kit. Fireberry smiled, while Shadefrost surveyed the scene with appraising eyes. Fernfur just slowly grinned, but Scorchwing flopped down, exhausted.
"This is all very touching," Mossflash interrupted. "But, I don't know if you've noticed, there are foxes stalking our territory."
Plumstar nodded. "It is also time for me to appoint a new deputy. SkyClan!"
The Clan formed a tight knot beneath Plumstar, while the ThunderClan cats stayed off to the side, Cherryfeather and Spiderfur standing with them.
"It is time for me to appoint a new deputy," announced the leader. "Leafflight! You will be the new deputy of SkyClan."
The tortoiseshell who had apologized for leading the Clan stepped forward, her eyes widening in shock. "I--thank you. Thank you very much."
"Also, it is time for an apprentice to be made a warrior. Cloudpaw, come forward."
The gray and white tom looked ready to burst with pride, and a smile crept onto Mossflash's face. "Good job," he whispered.
"From this moment on, you will be known as Cloudheart. StarClan honors your wisdom and courage, and we welcome you as a full warrior of SkyClan."
"Cloudheart! Cloudheart! Cloudheart!"
"It is also time for many kits to become warriors!" Plumstar added. "Silverkit, Graykit, Sunkit, Nettlekit, and Fennelkit, come forward."
The five kits padded forward nervously.
"You five have reached the age of six moons, and it is time for you to become apprentices. From this day on, until you receive your warrior names, you will be known as Silverpaw, Graypaw, Sunpaw, Nettlepaw, and Fennelpaw. Your mentors will be, respectively, Rockleap, Rubblefern, Flameheart, Oaktail, and Cloudheart."
The apprentices touched their noses to their mentor's shoulders, and Cloudheart was smiling at the small gray and white tabby tom who had been named his apprentice.
"And now," Plumstar mewed. "We plot how to thwart these foxes!"
"The following cats please bring yourselves and your apprentices! Rainstar, Shadefrost, Fernfur, Flameheart, Mossflash, Buzzardflight, Rubblefern, Cherryfeather, and Cloudheart! Leafflight--divide up the remaining warriors for hunting patrols and some to guard the camp. Let Rainstar's warriors hunt," Plumstar ordered.
Scorchwing and Fireberry nodded, hearing Plumstar's directions, and joined Oaktail and Nettlepaw as they padded away to hunt.
Rainstar followed Shadefrost and Fernfur into Plumstar's den. Cloudheart led his apprentice after him. Fennelpaw looked petrified to be summoned to the leader's den on the first day of his apprenticeship, his blue eyes wide with fear. Cloudheart patted him on the shoulder with his tail, and Fennelpaw slowly began to relax, so that by the time they reached the den, he was laughing at Cloudheart's jokes.
Graypaw waved his tail to his sister, who was departing the camp to hunt. Silverpaw looked pleased, despite the fact that she wasn't going with her brother to confer with their leader. Her green eyes gleamed, and Rainstar could tell that she was more anxious to please her mentor on her first day than her leader.
The sky was darkening as Plumstar talked, dragging her claws through a pile of dust in her den, drawing two parallel lines.
"This is the gorge," she mewed. She drew a sort of circle, and then a horizontal line. "This is the foxes' den, as you know, and the fallen tree. The foxes attack from this way," she drew a line in the dust, "Graypaw, what do you think we should do?"
"Build a blockade," Graypaw said immediately. He glanced at his mentor, Rubblefern, who nodded. "Build a sort of defense line, maybe mixed with a wall or barrier to guard the camp. Our warriors can stand in front of it, and claw the foxes that try and get in."
"Good idea," Plumstar replied. "I like the part with the barrier, but instead of in front of it, what about behind?"
Fennelpaw's eyes lit up. "And then we could reinforce it with rocks, and when they try and get in, leap over the barrier and attack them. Warriors could be waiting in trees around them too, and we could give them a really good fight!"
"Exactly what I was thinking, Fennelpaw! Any more ideas?"
"They're not just going to come from there," Fernfur said quietly. "We've had experiences with foxes, and they are cunning. They don't attack from one place, especially if there's a whole lot of them. I don't know if you've--"
"Oh, we've gotten that much," snarled Mossflash. "Willowbird."
Plumstar's eyes dropped, clouding with grief. "And Sandywing. And Rabbitleap...and Creekfeather."
"Back to the plan," Shadefrost intervened. "Where's the other place they normally attack?"
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Plumstar marked the place with a claw, and continued to explain.
"Harryheart! Stormbird! F-Fireflare!" Flameheart let out a soft wail. Leafflight's amber eyes were brimming with tears.
The three siblings' bodies lie in the middle of the camp. "They went out to get some moss," Sunpaw said in a choked voice. "And when we were hunting...we found them."
"The foxes?" whispered Plumstar. Flameheart nodded. Birdfeather, the only remaining elder, padded over.
The black she-cat had demanded to be made an elder as soon as they got back to the SkyClan camp, and Plumstar had fulfuilled her wishes.
"I'm so old," Birdfeather had complained. "I don't know why you made me go on that journey!"
"Because you're valuable," Plumstar had insisted. "We needed you!"
But Birdfeather had earned her many moons of rest, and seemed nearly ready to collapse on her paws after seeing her dead denmates.
Birdfeather settled down and gently set her nose in Harryheart's gray fur.
"Fox!" yowled a frightened voice. A small brown tom, Nettlepaw, skidded into camp, his claws screeching on the stone. "Foxes! The foxes, they're coming!"
"Barrier patrol, get behind it," Plumstar ordered loudly, and Flameheart jumped up, taking his nose out of Stormbird's fur. He hurried over to the barrier and crouched behind it, next to Oaktail, Nettlepaw, Sunpaw, and Buzzardflight.
"Tree patrol, get in your positions!" Rubblefern, Cherryfeather, Mossflash, and Swallowsong raced out of the camp, swerving around the barrier as they disappeared.
"Back-up, you get to your positions with me. Leafflight, head up the tree patrol!" Plumstar hared away with Spottedflower, Rockleap, Silverpaw and Fennelpaw on her heels. Cloudheart and the ThunderClan warriors stayed put, while Spiderfur raced towards Birdfeather and nudged her to her paws.
Cloudheart and the ThunderClan warriors stood in a back-to-back positions. Snarls erupted from the fallen tree, followed by a screech.
The small tortoiseshell tom sped out of his den, herbs in his mouth, and came back a moment later with Sunpaw. The golden apprentice was bleeding heavily from one flank, and could barely stagger after the medicine cat. Fernfur rushed over to help, while Rainstar let out a fearsome snarl at the first site of russet fur.
Two foxes burst past Plumstar's patrol. Spottedflower screamed and dug her claws into one of the fox's tails.
"Graypaw!" the queen wailed. "Graypaw, where are you?"
"Where's Graypaw?" echoed Rainstar, shouting above the yowls and barking.
A loud screech interrupted her, and a mass of gray fur dropped from the Rockpile onto a fox's back.
The fox buckled under Graypaw's flailing and biting body, and let out a defeated whimper as the rest of the barrier patrol leaped on it. Flameheart spent the last fox at the barrier spinning away with a bloodied muzzle and flank.
"We did it!" shouted Buzzardflight triumphantly.
And they had.