Smokeheart's Struggle is a story by IcewrathXFeatherswirlXCraneheart for Melodybird's contest.
Smokeheart laid by the the warriors' den with a snake next to his mother, Nightwing, breathing in deeply and drinking in the sights and sounds of the ShadowClan camp.
"Smokeheart," Nightwing meowed, taking a bite of the snake, "You have been a warrior for a few moons now. I think it's time you took a mate."
Smokeheart was astonished, "Why, Nightwing? None of the she-cats like me!" Especially not Honeyshower! He added silently.
"That might be true to you, son," Nightwing purred, "But I know a cat who loves you, very much."
Smokeheart snorted, "Who could that be?"
Nightwing looked over at the fern patch, where two new warriors, Poppydrop and her brother, Clawnose, were enjoying a vole.
Smokeheart groaned, "No, not Poppydrop!"
"What's wrong with Poppydrop?" Nightwing asked, the snake long forgotten.
"She has been mooning over me since she became an apprentice. She's so annoying."
Nightwing frowned, "Now, Smokeheart. I know you don't mean that." She turned her head and called, "Poppydrop! Hey, Poppydrop, over here!"
Smokeheart groaned again. But I like Honeyshower! he wailed in his head.
Poppydrop bounded over. "Hi, Nightwing," she mewed cheerfully. She turned to Smokeheart, "Hello, Smokeheart."
Nightwing shot her son a smug look and Smokeheart rolled his eyes. His mother could be quite... pushy, to say the least.
Smokeheart acknowledged her with a nod.
A scathing she-cat voice rang out, "Well, now. It's Stormcloud and his mate Poppyjump!"
Smokeheart bristled and turned to see Honeyshower. He forced his fur to lay flat, even though he hated it when cats called him Stormcloud just because he didn't really have any interest in any of the she-cats.
That is, except Honeyshower, he thought, But no cat knows I like her.
Poppydrop bristled with rage and leaped over to to Honeyshower. "We are not mates!" she spat. "Well, not yet," she added.
What does she mean not yet? Smokeheart bristled with disgust.
Honeyshower glared at Smokeheart, Poppydrop, and Nightwing, then stalked off into the forest.
Smokeheart glanced sadly after her. We would be perfect for each other, he thought, With her sharp tongue and her battle skills and my hunting skills and confidence, we would be unstoppable.
Smokeheart bounded into camp with a mouse and two frogs with his hunting patrol, Clawnose, Nightwing, and Dustypaw.
"Pssst! Smokeheart!" an urgent whisper hissed from the bushes.
Smokeheart turned and padded into the bushes where he saw Poppydrop.
Smokeheart scowled. What did she want?
Poppydrop scuffled her black paws, "I- I have been meaning to ask you this for moons, but I was too scared to ask." Her amber eyes glistened, "Will you be my mate, Smokeheart?"
Smokeheart had seen this coming, but it still knocked him over like a wave. How could she think he would accept with all the body language he had been showing? But, whatever was going on in that bright head of hers, he didn't want to ruin it.
"I'm sorry, Poppydrop, but no thanks. I'm not ready for a mate yet."
Poppydrop nodded in understanding, "Ok, but when you're ready, just tell me. In the meantime, I will show you that I am the best she-cat for you and prove myself worthy."
Smokeheart gave an inward sigh, She's still going at it.
Smokeheart padded out of the bushes and sat near where Honeyshower was grooming herself.
"What's new, Honeyshower?" Smokeheart asked, shifting uncomfortably under her fiery gaze.
"Not much," she snorted, "but what's it to you?"
"Well, I'm your Clanmate and Clanmates care about what one another has going on in their lives," Smokeheart said.
Honeyshower shot to her paws and snarled, "Well, I don't feel like a Clanmate!" and raced away.
Hope echoed through Smokeheart's head, If I find out why she doesn't feel like a Clanmate, maybe I could fix it.
"Is that why?" a voice asked beside his ear.
Smokeheart turned to see Poppydrop again. Her eyes were wide and she was close to tears, her amber eyes glinting with hurt and sadness.
"Poppydrop..." he started to explain.
She broke him off, "No, Smokeheart. You love her, but I love you." A tear rolled down her black face fur.
"Poppydrop, look. I'm sorry. I truly am sorry that I don't love you like you love me. Yes, truth is, I love Honeyshower and I have always thought of you as annoying, but that's only because I like Honeyshower."
"That's it?" her voice was low and she turned away. "You-you think I am annoying. Okay," she mewed calmly, though Smokeheart could detect a bit of jealousy, "I will change that. Whatever it takes to make you see that I love you more than Honeyshower will ever love you."
A wave of realization swept through Smokeheart as Poppydrop padded away, She's right. Honeyshower will never love me, so I guess I should stop loving her.
"Poppydrop, wait!" he called.
Smokeheart padded up to her an touched his nose to hers. "Ok," he whispered, "I will be your mate."
"Poppydrop, they're beautiful," Smokeheart whispered.
Five little kits were squirming in the curve of Poppydrop' belly. Smokeheart licked her ear and looked at the entrance to the nursery, where some of the Clan had gathered to see the kits. His eyes rested on Clawnose, who was giving him a ferocious glare filled with hate and anger.
Smokeheart cocked his head, What's his problem?
He turned to his mate, "What should we name them?"
Poppydrop gazed at him and purred, "I will let you name them."
"No, you should name one!" Smokeheart exclaimed, "They're your kits!"
"They're yours, too."
"Oh, all right," he said, "I'll name four. The gray she-kit will be Dovekit, the black she-kit will be Darkkit. The gray tom will be Graykit and the black tom will be Sootkit."
Poppydrop purred, "I'm satisfied. I'll name this gray tom Stormkit."
"Now, I am satisfied. You rest Poppydrop."
Smokeheart padded out of the den and he felt the fiery glare of Clawnose.
Clawnose stalked over to him. "What are you playing at?" he growled.
Smokeheart bristled, "What do you mean?"
"I mean, all of a sudden, you become mates with my sister!"
Smokeheart growled, "I can choose anyone I want as a mate! The same goes for Poppydrop!"
"I will not forget this, Smokeheart. You will pay!" he stalked off.
Smokeheart woke up to a queen screaming in agony.
"Poppydrop!" he shouted. He tore out of the warriors den where other cats were only beginning to wake up.
He hoped it was just some other queen, but no. Poppydrop was laying on the floor of the den, dead, their kits mewling in fear. The Clan gathered around as Smokeheart crumpled to the ground beside his mate.
Then a voice yowled, "Poppydrop! No!" It was Clawnose.
"How could you kill my sister?" Clawnose demanded as heart-broken as he could, but Smokeheart could see the sinister gleam in his eyes.
The Clan broke into a chorus of angry yowls. Smokeheart's eyes widened. They had believed Clawnose!
"No, I didn't!" he protested.
The Clan moved in. "No!" he shouted.
Smokeheart turned tail and ran out of a hole in the back of the nursery. He ran all the way to the lake where he saw Firebite washing his bloody paws.
Rage filled Smokeheart to the tips of his claws. "You did this! You killed Poppydrop!" he shouted.
Firebite chuckled, "What an amazing deduction, but I'm afraid that it will only be kept between you and I."
"Why?" Smokeheart shouted.
"I loved Poppydrop since she became an apprentice. I couldn't watch her have your kits while you pad around like an emotionless rogue! I was jealous that you had what I wanted. I loved her, Smokeheart. Clawnose did, too. We had to do something about it."
"You loved her enough to kill her!" Smokeheart's voice echoed across the lake like jagged stones.
Firebite rose to his paws, "We best be getting back. The Clan must decide what to do with you."
Smokeheart stormed off into the bushes with Firebite on his heels. They entered the camp. The Clan's glares made his pelt burn, but he ignored it and walked up to the branch where Snakestar sat.
"Smokeheart, at dusk, tomorrow, you leave the Clan," Snakestar's voice boomed across the camp. Smokeheart held his breath as the leader continued, "Unless you prove somone else murdered Poppydrop."
Smokeheart sat on the little piece of moss in the prisoner den and scowled.
How will I prove Firebite and Clawnose killed Poppydrop. I must get all the witnesses, but nobody will talk to me. I need help.
It was if StarClan had granted him his wish because Honeyshower padded over to him and stared at him with her agressive amber gaze.
"What do you want, Honeyshower?" Smokeheart mumbled, "Nobody else wants to talk to me. Why should you?"
Less icily than usual, she replied, "Because I know you didn't kill Poppydrop."
"Oh," Smokeheart rolled his eyes, "And I suppose there's something in it for you."
Honeyshower's eyes lost all signs of agression. "Yes," she murmured, "I want your friendliness back."
Smokeheart's love for her was reawakened that instant, and it flooded him like a tidal wave. His eyes widened, "What made you want that?"
Honeyshower laid down next to him and meowed, "I am different from all of the cats in the ShadowClan. You all have dark fur: grays, blacks, the occasional browns while I have bright ginger fur. I have screwed up multiple hunts and battles because of it and I was treated like a burden. The best thing in my life was you, Smokeheart, because you cared for no she-cat but me and your mother.When you took Poppydrop as a mate, I was heartbroken because you started paying her more attention than you even gave to Nightwing."
"Then how come you were mean to me?" Smokeheart asked, cocking his head.
"I didn't want anycat to think I was dependent on somecat when really, I was living off of your friendly manner," Honeyshower admitted.
Do you love me? Smokheart asked in his head. He desperately wanted to ask her that, but he knew he couldn't. Not now.
"I had no idea you felt that way," Smokeheart meowed, "And I forgive you, Honeyshower."
Honeyshower acknowledged it with a nod, then meowed, "Let's get down to business so I don't have to lose everything I have forever."
"Ok," Smokeheart nodded.
For hours they made plans on what to look for, who to ask for clues, and who to suspect. Nightwing padded into the den and sat next to Honeyshower and made plans, too."
"So, it's all agreed. I will go check Poppydrop's body for fur of the killer," Honeyshower started.
"I will ask the queens where they were when she died," Nightwing meowed.
"And I will stay and remember the information since nocat wants to talk to me," Smokeheart said sheepishly.
The two she-cats nodded at him, then padded out of the den to do their jobs.
"Softpollen said she was at the dirtplace with her kit when this happened," Nightwing reported, "And I have another witness."
Stonekit padded into the den and squeaked, "My father, Clawnose, told me what he and Firebite were going to do."
"Why would he do that?" Smokeheart asked.
"He wants me to be like him," Stonekit admitted.
Nightwing and Softpollen exchanged a glance.
"I'm glad you told me this, Stonekit," Smokeheart said. He glanced up at Softpollen, "Thank you, Softpollen."
Softpollen nodded and herded her kit out of the den.
Honeyshower gazed at Smokeheart, "I found Firebite's brown fur between her claws."
"This is enough evidence," Smokeheart decided. "Thank you, Honeyfrost. Thank you, Nightwing," he gave the two she-cats a lick.
Softpollen peered into the den and meowed, "I believe your kits have something to say."
Stormkit padded into the den followed by Sootkit, Darkkit, Dovekit, and Graykit.
"Father, when Mother died... we...we scented somecat. He was strange and it wasn't you," Stormkit mewled, "He bit me. He had a bite like fire."
Softpollen, Smokeheart, Honeyshower, and Nightwing exchanged a glance.
Smokeheart got to his paws. "That does it," he growled, "It's time to see Snakestar about this."
"Snakestar," Smokeheart meowed padding into Snakestar's den with Nightwing, Softpollen, Stonekit, his kits, and Honeyshower at his side, "I think we have enough to prove that, it was not I who killed Poppydrop, but Firebite and Clawnose."
Snakestar's gaze darkened, "You expect me to believe that Poppydrop's brother and the cat who had a crush on her would plot to kill her?"
"We have proof, Snakestar," Nightwing purred softly.
It was known throughout the whole Clan that Snakestar had a huge soft spot for Nightwing.
Snakestar relaxed, "Well, let's hear it."
"Tell your story, Softpollen," Smokeheart gave the attention to the silver queen.
Softpollen stepped forward and shifted under Snakestar's green gaze. "Well, basically, Just around moonhigh, I needed to go to the dirtplace and I woke up. I saw Stonekit sitting beside me, awake. He announced he needed to go really bad. So, we both went to the dirtplace and I explained he was old enough to go on his own because today he is six moons. Then, I heard Poppydrop yowling in agony and I rushed back to find her dead with a hole in the back of the nursery. I was plagued with sadness, but also relief that I had not told Stonekit he could go to the dirtplace on his own, because who knows what could have happened to him if I left him. But, that was before Stonekit told me the whole story."
Softpollen prodded Stonekit forward and the bold kit padded up to the leader staring fearlessly. "My father, Clawnose, he came to me and told me that he and Firebite were going to kill Poppydrop for a good cause. He told me that in order to be a great warrior and become like him to keep it a secret."
Snakestar stepped up, "That's not true, Stonekit. A great warrior doesn't come from killing."
Stonekit nodded and went on, "He told me if I did tell I wouldn't become an apprentice." His eyes went round with fear. "Will I still be an apprentice?" he asked.
Snakestar nodded, "Of course. Now Nightwing tell me your story."
"Snakestar, I only did a bit of digging and found the witnesses, but there are a few more witnesses that would love to talk."
Stormkit padded out of the mass of his huddled littermates, his tail held high.
Though only a day old, Poppydrop named him correctly.
"Snakestar, I, Stormkit of ShadowClan, come with evidence to prove it was not my father that killed my mother."
"This cat came into the nursery just after I had opened my eyes for the first time. He snuck into the nursery and I could see the color of his fur: brown and his amber eyes glowed at me. Then he bit me and his bite was like fire and I went unconscious. Then I woke later to see mother dead."
Snakestar turned to Honeyshower, his eyes oozing with irritation at her. "Yes, Honeyshower?" his voice grew darker, not the sweer tone he had used at Nightwing or the kits.
Honeyshower returned his gaze icily and meowed calmly, "I come with the dark brown fur from Firebite which I found between Poppydrop's claws. She set the ragged scraps of fur at Snakstar's paws.
Snakestar scowled, "I can't believe Firebite would do this! My trusted deputy!"
Snakstar beckoned the group with his tail and leapt on top of the ClanBranch and yowled, "Let all those cats old enough to catch their own prey join beneath the ClanBranch for a Clan meeting!"
All the cats assembled quickly and anxiously. Smokeheart noticed a smug grin blooming across the faces of Firebite and Clawnose, but they faded when Snakestar began to speak.
"I called this meeting bringing up the identities of Poppydrop's true killers. Firebite and Clawnose, we have evidence held against you including the word of Softpollen, Poppydrop's kits, and Stonekit and your fur Firebite."
Firebite grimaced as Clawnose turned to glare at his former mate and kit.
Clawnose's eyes blazed with fury. "Now you will never be an apprentice!" Clawnose roared at Stonekit.
"Actually, that's not true," Snakestar growled, "Stonekit, come forward."
Stonekit threw a smug glance at his father and sat at the ClanBranch's foot.
"Stonekit has reached his sixth moon and is ready to become an apprentice, but there was one other thing that showed me he was ready. Stonekit came to Smokeheart and later to me today, telling us the truth of Poppydrop's murder even though it would mean the fury and exile of his father. Stonekit, from this day forward until you have earned your warrior name, you will now be known as Stonepaw. Your mentor will be Smokeheart."
Stonepaw padded up to Smokeheart and touched noses with him. Smokeheart beamed. Softpollen was puffed up with pride and Nightwing nodded approvingly.
Snakestar went on, "And before we escort the two ex-Clanmates to the border, I will appoint the new deputy. Smokeheart will be the new deputy. He has mentored Dustytail and he now is mentoring Stonepaw, now he will mentor the Clan!"
Honeyshower's and Nightwing's amber eyes looked ready to burst with excitement. Clawnose and Firebite were writhing in fury and hatred as Dustytail and Ashspots escorted them out of camp.
The Clan started the familiar chant, "Stonepaw! Smokeheart! Stonepaw! Smokeheart!"
Honeyshower whisked her tail away from Smokeheart's eyes and the two cats stood staring up at the largest tree in the ShadowClan forest.
"Well, come on up," Honeyshower mewed, scrambling up the tree trunk and disappearing.
Smokeheart climbed up clumsily an stood in the huge hollow in the tree. He gaped with awe at what he saw. A carpet of moss layered the hollow over its thick bark, brambles were weaved together to create protective walls around it, covered with leaves (but leaving a small open space for the entrance), thick leaves filtered the light so the sun was never too bright and the hollow was never too dark. Fresh-kill and herbs lay in small damp herbs in the corner and other pieces of it were warming in the sunlight. It was Honeyshower's way of preserving the prey. A much larger hole had been clawed elsewhere and was filled with rainwater from the recent rain.
Honeyshower noted the look on Smokeheart's face and bent over the pool, "I have been working on this ever since I became an apprentice, when my mentor told me to never climb this tree. He said it was because all of ShadowClan had tried to climb it, but had failed. But, I did it, and I have been turning it into my solitary camp." She nodded toward the fresh-kill and herbs, "And of course a storage place for bad times."
"Wow!" Smokeheart breathed, still shocked.
"But, you managed to get up here," she pointed out. Honeyshower sighed and stared up at the leaves, "You know all those times you saw me storm into the woods? Well, this is where I go. I spend hours here, dwelling and thinking alone. But now you're here."
"And I'm glad to be here," Smokeheart purred. Something Honeyshower had said moons ago came back up and he decided to ask about it, "Why don't you feel like a Canmate, Honeyshower?"
Honeyshower stared deeply into Smokeheart's blue eyes, "Well, my fur, for one, like I told you. You have a dark thick pelt and my pelt is bright and thin. I have been scolded for it."
"And the fact that my tastes are more suited to furry creatures while you like to eat scaly creatures."
"And the fact that I can climb better than any cat in the Clan."
As Smokeheart listened, his sympathy grew. He had spent his whole apprenticeship mooning over this she-cat and his whole time, so far, as a warrior, as well. Every day since Poppydrop died, he and Honeyshower would hang out and talk and share prey. Poppydrop's and Smokeheart's kits were actually becoming warriors that evening. He couldn't believe how long it had been. And he had loved this beautiful, fiery she-cat all the while.
"Your not different to me," Smokeheart whispered, "I love you, Honeyshower."
"I love you, too, Smokeheart."
Smokeheart was relieved that Honeyshower felt the same way. "Honeyshower, I promise I will find out who your family is, no matter how far it takes me," he vowed.
"And I will be beside you the whole time, my dear mate," Honeyshower purred.
Mates. That's what we are now! We are one! Smokeheart thought.
Smokeheart and Honeyshower shared a vole, one of Honeyshower's favorite pieces of fresh-kill. They spent the whole afternoon there, changing moss, moving prey, and gathering herbs, moving as one. Then it was getting dark and time for the ceremony.
Honeyshower and Smokeheart raced back to camp. They were greeted by Stonespirit, "Hi, Smokeheart, I was looking for you." He eyed Honeyshower, a teasing glimmer in his eyes. Smokeheart and Honeyshower dropped their prey and Smokeheart's former apprentice purred with a good-humored gleam in his eyes, picked up their prey and hurried to the fresh-kill pile.
Snakestar climbed onto the ClanBranch and yowled for order. Nightwing padded out of the nursery with hers and Snakestar's kits, Lizardkit, Nightkit, Shadekit, and Blackkit; all black toms and all with amber eyes, except for Nightkit, who had blue eyes. Smokeheart's father had died when he was just an apprentice.
"I have called this meeting to make five new warriors. Stormpaw, Darkpaw, Dovepaw, Sootpaw, and Graypaw, come forward."
Smokeheart's five kits stepped toward the leader while Smokeheart puffed his chest out in pride. Honeyshower's eyes shone as if they were her own.
"Stormpaw, Darkpaw, Dovepaw, Sootpaw, and Graypaw, do you five promise to uphold the warrior code and protect ShadowClan at the cost of your life, if necessary?"
"I do!" all the kits cried in unision, but Stormpaw said it the loudest.
"Then by the powers of StarClan, Stormpaw, you are now Stormspirit. StarClan honors your bravery and bold manner. Darkpaw, you are now Darkbird. StarClan honors your swiftness and hunting skills. Dovepaw, you are now Dovesong. StarClan honors your skill and bravery. Sootpaw, you are now Sootfeather. StarClan honors your courage and hunting skills. And Graypaw, you are now Grayfall. StarClan honors your skill and cunning and we welcome you all as full warriors of ShadowClan!" Snakestar yowled.
Smokeheart was the first to lead the chant, "Stormspirit! Darkbird! Dovesong! Sootfeather! Grayfall!"
As he chanted the new warrior names of his and Poppydrop's kits he felt a familiar glare burning his pelt. Two, actually.
He looked back toward the dark, shadowy forest and saw two pairs of amber eyes glaring at him.
He sucked in his breath sharply. Then the eyes disappeared into the gloom.
Smokeheart leapt onto the ClanBranch and nudged Snakestar urgently.
"What is it, Smokeheart? You look apprehensive," the leader meowed.
"Snakestar," Smokeheart hissed, "Clawnose and Firebite are back. I just saw them watching the ceremony. ShadowClan is in danger!"
Snakestar scowled. "Organize patrols, as nonchalant as you possibly can!" he ordered.
Smokeheart yowled to gather the Clan again.
"Ok, we need a few extra patrols for borders! Word is ThunderClan and RiverClan have allied and are moving in on our borders. I'm going to send six large patrols. Snakestar, you lead Dustytail, Mudface, Barkpelt, Shredear, and Littletail along ThunderClan's borders. Stormspirit, you take Darkbird, Dovesong, Sootfeather, Grayfall, and Blackcloud along the RiverClan border. Stonespirit, you take Dustclaw, Nightnose, Oakpelt, Amberdapple, Pineprickle, Owltalon, Fallentree, and Longfur to the border with the twoleg nest. You never know what could be lurking there. Onebranch, you take Beechpaw, Scorchpaw, Tawnypaw, Specklepaw, Volepaw, and Softpollen. Ashspots, you take Cloudysky, Mintface, Brindlenose, Thornpad, Shallowpool, Forestshade, and Scarpelt. And Honeyshower, you take Nightwing, Lizardkit, Nightkit, Shadekit, Blackkit, Poppypool, Oneclaw, and Marshpaw, but stay here I have special orders for you."
The whole Clan was shocked that Smokeheart had put a queen, kits, the medicine cat, the medicine cat apprentice, and the elder on a patrol, but they seemed to know Smokeheart knew what he was doing so they didn't object and crashed out of camp hurriedly.
"Yessss!" Shadekit hissed, his amber eyes shining, "We get to go on a patrol and we're not even apprentices yet!"
Blackkit snorted, "We were supposed to be apprenticed a quarter-moon ago."
"Now, kits," Nightwing scolded, "This is the reason why I asked Snakestar not to apprentice you yet. To much bickering!"
"Ok," Smokeheart began, "I have sent everybody out of camp because Firebite and Clawnose are back and we need to get to refuge. I fear they came with reinforcements."
Honeyshower's jaw dropped.
"Honeyshower, mind if we use your little camp?"
Honeyshower shook her head, "No, not at all. In fact I made something and concealed it to lift the cats who couldn't climb up and there is loads of prey and herbs."
The other cat agreed.
Honeyshower and Smokeheart led the way to the tree moved a few brambles and branches to reveal a small bramble wall laying on the ground attatched to long ivy tendrils wich were skillfully looped around two thick branches and held under some rocks in the hollow.
Executing the plan made on the way, Nightwing and Honeyshower scrambled up the tree and grabbed the ivy tendrils in their mouths.
"Send the kits up first!" Honeyshower called through her clenched teeth.
Poppypool, Marshpaw, and Smokeheart loaded the four kits onto the brambles and Honeyshower and Nightwing pulled them up with ease. Next went Oneclaw, then Marshpaw and Poppypool.
"You stay up there. I'm going to check on the patrols!" Smokeheart called.
His paws thrummed the ground as he headed back to camp. As he padded toward the entrance, he saw Onebranch's patrol peering into camp.
Smokeheart peered in, too. He saw the camp had been mangled. There was moss, herbs, and pieces of prey scattered everywhere and all the dens were torn apart to some degree.
He got a whiff of several other cats with Firebite and Clawnose. "It's just as I feared," he murmured, "Onebranch, go find the other patrols and follow my scent trail. Smokeheart darted back into the forest and he sat by the tree his tail tip twitching impatiently. The he heard yowls and thunderous crashing and he shot to his paws. Snakestar came into the clearing with his ear bleeding.
"Snakestar, there's no time to expain what this is, but as you go up the tree tell me what happened," Smokeheart meowed.
Snakestar obeyed and was pulled up. "We were attacked by Clawnose, Firebite, and the rogues that were with them!" he called.
"Line up, one-by-one, and get onto the bramble!" he shouted orders to his bleeding Clan as he raced into the woods where the Clan was coming from.
A little way away, poor Specklepaw was limping heavily and her breath was ragged. Smokeheart's eyes widened as he heard the yowls of the rogues close behind in the marshes.
"Silvie, keep up!" somecat snarled.
"Shut up , Firebite. This is a strategy to kill those flea-bitten ShadowClan cats once and for all," a she-cat hissed back
"Move! Move! Move!" he shouted to his Clan. The Clan heard his panicked cries and Honeyshower and Nightwing started pulling up three cats at once. Most of the Clan was up in the tree, except for Softpollen, Dustytail, Stonespirit, Stormspirit, and Sootfeather.
"Come on!" Honeyshower yowled, her amber eyes glistening with worry.
Smokeheart walked as fast as he could with supporting Specklepaw. The Clan was yowling with worry. Finally, they reached the bramble and he shoved Specklepaw on and whirled around, baring his teeth at the bushes
Stonespirit, Softpollen, Stormspirit, Sootfeather and Dustytail whirled around, too, as Firebite and Clawnose charged through the bushes.
Clawnose jumped on Smokeheart, pinned him to he ground, and hissed, "Say good-bye, Smokeheart!"
Clawnose lunged toward his throat.
Smokeheart's life flashed before his eyes and he thought of Honeyshower. We didn't even have the chance to have kits yet! he thought mournfully. He saw rogues clumsily swarmming up the tree. Then, a large weight fell on Clawnose's back and snapped his neck.
Smokeheart stared into the weight's eyes. It was Honeyshower!
"Thanks," he breathed.
Firebite had tackled Stormspirit and was snapping at his neck.
"You are the kit of my one true love! And you will pay for that!" he roared.
Meanwhile a rogue had pinned Stonespirit and was growling, "You are the kit of Clawnose, who you betrayed!"
Smokeheart nodded at Softpollen, the two ShadowClan cats standing stiff-legged with fury. Smokeheart threw himself at Firebite while Softpollen lunged at Stonespirit's attacker.
The rogue went squealing into the bushes and Firebite turned, his eyes blazing, "You!"
All the rogues had gone, for the Clan had scared them back down the tree. This included Nightwing's kits, who had shredded a cat's ears together.
The Clan, not intimidated by one cat, started dropping from the tree and climbing down as Firebite hurled himself at Smokeheart. Smokeheart dodged and sent him spinning toward the ground. The Clan moved in more.
Smokeheart was jumped on and his neck was bit into with a fire-like bite and blood swelled out of his scruff and stained the ground. Smokeheart writhed and twisted, clawed and yowled then he collapsed. Firebite mrrowed triumphantly. Then, Smokeheart threw his body upward, twisted and attached himself to Firebite's neck. Firebite gurgled and twisted, but Smokeheart used what little strength he had to hold on. Firebite's eyes went dull and he fell. Smokeheart stood up panting, "Well... who has the white pelt in greenleaf now!"
That phrase fell upon the cats and they broke into cheers, "Smokeheart! Smokeheart! Smokeheart!"
Honeyshower ran up to him and nuzzled him. "You did amazing, Smokeheart!" she whispered.
Stonespirit padded up to Smokeheart and meowed, "You were the honorable father I never had. Thank you."
Most of the Clan started coming up to Smokeheart to give him their thanks and he accepted it graciously.
Then Snakestar stood and meowed, "Smokeheart saved our Clan from the rogues and he will be rewarded generously, but first we must repair the camp. The injured, the medicine cats, the elder, and the queen, and kits will stay up there for the time being. It may not be safe yet, for them to walk. Dustytail and Ashspots, you will stay with them."
Nightwing padded forward, "Excuse me, Snakestar, but there is no queen and there are no kits."
Nightwing's kits held their breath and Smokeheart beamed as Nightwing went on, "They are ready to be apprenticed."
Snakestar nodded and sat by the bush where the bramble wall was hidden again and yowled, "Shadekit, Blackkit, Nightkit, and Lizardkit, come forward!"
His four kits obeyed, as serious as can be.
"From this day forward until he has earned his warrior name, Lizardkit will be known as Lizardpaw. Stonespirit, Smokeheart was your mentor and I hope you pass on the skills you learned to Lizardpaw."
Lizardpaw beamed and touched noses with Stonespirit.
"Blackkit, from this day forward unti you be known as Blackpaw. Ashspots will mentor you. Ashspots, I expect you to pass your strength and cunning on to Blackpaw."
Blackpaw, who had developed a crush on the gray spotted warrior, touched his nose to Ashspots's.
"Nightkit, from this day forward until you have earned your warrior name, you will now be known as Nightpaw. Honeyshower will be his mentor. Honeyshower, I expect you to pass your aggression and skills to his young cat."
Nightpaw was a rather shy cat and he touched her nose awkwardly, then shrank back.
"And, last, but not least, Shadekit. From this day forward until he has earned his warrior name, this kit will be known as Shadepaw. Smokeheart, you will mentor him. I expect you to pass your great hunting skills and honor to this apprentice."
Shadepaw who was about the exact opposite as his brother, rushed up and smashed his nose into his mentor's and gave him a sheepish smile.
"Lizardpaw! Blackpaw! Nightpaw! Shadepaw!"
"What are we going to do today, Smokeheart?" Shadepaw bounced up and down on his toes and stared at him expectantly.
Smokeheart purred at his half-brother and meowed, "We have to fix the camp today, the battle had lasted all of the night remember. But first, we must get some rest, and if you do a good job at collecting some new moss for the dens, I will teach you to stalk a frog."
Shadepaw's eyes lit up, "Yes, Smokeheart!" and he bounded away into the trees with Smokeheart on his heels.
"Very good Shadepaw! Well done!" Smokeheart purred at his apprentice. Shadepaw was four moons into his training and he was a great hunter and an excellent fighter.
Of course, he added, Nightwing's blood runs through his veins. He will undoubtedly be as noble as me, Stormspirit, Stonespirit, and my father, Rockspots.
Shadepaw beamed, holding a huge snake in his mouth.
"Nightwing will be proud," Smokeheart told him.
"Hey, Smokeheart," A voice meowed behind him.
Smokeheart turned to see his mate standing above red, orange, and yellow, crispy leaves. It was late leaf-fall now.
She's so beautiful! he thought. "Hi, Honeyshower," he purred.
"Hey, Shadepaw, are you up for a bit of rivalry?" Honeyshower called to the apprentice. Shadepaw's eyes glowed and he nodded. Nightpaw shrugged.
"Well, you two will have a hunting competition!" Honeyshower declared, "Be back by sun-down."
Shadepaw raced off while Nightpaw padded away in the opposite direction.
Smokeheart purred, "Looks like you tought your apprentice well. Shadepaw just ran off while Nightpaw chose one of the best places to hunt. Very nice."
Honeyshower nuzzled him gratefully. Then, she stared up at Smokeheart and mewed, "I'm expecting your kits."
Smokeheart's eyes widened like an owl's and he let out a rumbling purr, "They will be the most beautiful queens and the most handsome warriors in the Clans!"
Honeyshower smiled, "I'm going to be a mother!"
"I'm going to be a father!" Smokeheart yowled.
"You already were a father!" Honeyshower laughed.
"Very true! Stormspirit and his siblings were more than I could ask for out of a cat like Poppydrop. She was an amazing cat."
Honeyshower nodded sympathetically, "Yes, she was a character. Secretly, I admired her for being the center of your attention."
"Honeyshower, you are just wrapped in secrets!" Smokeheart flicked her with his tail.
"Oh, did you hear? Darkbird got a mate today." Honeyshower meowed.
"She did? Who is he?"
"No other than Dustytail!"
"My old apprentice!" Smokeheart exclaimed. "Pretty soon, I suppose I'll be a grandfather! At 40 moons, too!"
"Yes, but in ShadowClan, mates are taken early." a voice said.
"Oh, hi Nightwing," Smokeheart meowed.
"How are my kits doing?" Nightwing purred.
"Oh, I'm just fine..." Smokeheart started.
"Not you, mousebrain!" Honeyshower teased. Se turned to Nightwing, "Nightpaw is making excellent progress. He should be made a warrior in no time. He's quiet and soft-spoken, but he has intelligence."
"Shadepaw is excellent! His hunting and fighting skills are improving nicely."
Nightwing purred and meowed, "So far, since you left at dawn, Smokeheart, Dovesong had moved to the nursery, Nightnose and Amberdapple have kitted, and Stormspirit's mate, Cloudsky has moved to the nursery."
"Busy day!" Smokeheart commented, then he broke the news, "And Honeyshower is moving to the nursery."
Nightwing's eyes widened and she squealed, "Oh, your expecting kits! Congratulations, both of you!"
Honeyshower beamed and Smokeheart pressed against her pelt.
Shadepaw raced back into the clearing. "It's sun-down already," he grumbled through the many pieces of prey in his mouth.
Nightpaw padded back into the clearing dragging a bramble tendril loaded with enough prey to feed the Clan for days.
Shadepaw bounded over to Nightpaw and meowed, "Congratulations, brother! You won!"
Smokeheart's chest swelled with pride at his half-brother. He definitely will be leader someday.
Nightwing spoke up, "You know, if you guys have a fighting competition, I could persuade Snakestar to make you warriors."
Smokeheart and Honeyshower nodded. "That's a great idea!" Smokeheart exclaimed, "Why don't you get Snakestar to see for himself?"
Honeyshower meowed, "Yeah, after all, I have run out of things to teach Nightpaw."
The two apprentices's eyes lit up as Nightwing raced away and appeared minutes later with Snakestar.
"Ready! Claws sheathed! Go!" Smokeheart yowled.
Shadepaw hurled himself at his brother with his paws outstretched and Nightpaw ducked, rolled, and pounced. Shadepaw let out a battle cry and threw himself upward, sending Nightpaw across the clearing. Nightpaw narrowed his eyes, flared his nostrils, and slowly crept up to Shadepaw, circling him patiently. Then, he struck as quick as a snake. Shadepaw whirled around and lunged at him, bowling him over and pinning his smaller brother down.
"Very good, Shadepaw! Nicely fought, Nightpaw! You are indeed ready to be warriors," Snakestar purred.
The six cats padded back to camp with all the prey they had caught and Snakestar leapt onto the ClanBranch and yowled. One by one, cats appeared. First came Stormspirit and Cloudysky from the nursery, Stonespirit, his mate Amberdapple, and his kits. Dovesong and her mate, Onebranch, padded out from the medicine cat's den. Sootfeather and his mate, Specklestream, Grayfall and his mate, Longfur, and Darkbird and her mate, Dustytail all padded out from the marsh near the camp. Beechpelt, Scorchface, Tawnyfur, three new warriors, and the remaining apprentics, Volepaw, assembled near the apprentices's den.
"Cats of ShadowClan, I call you together to perform the warrior ceremony of my kits and to share good news with all of you! Shadepaw, Blackpaw, Lizardpaw, and Nightpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and protect the Clan with your life, if necessary?" Snakestar meowed.
"I do!" Shadepaw yowled.
"I do!" Blackpaw and Lizardpaw meowed.
"I do," Nightpaw whispered.
"Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior names. Shadepaw, you are now Shadefire, in honor of your spirit and great battle skills! Lizardpaw, you are now Lizardheart, in honor of your patience and swiftness! Blackpaw, you are now Blackmoon, in honor of your ability to hide in the best places for attack. And, Nightpaw, you will now be called Nightspirit, in honor of your quiet, patient, skillful spirit! StarClan honors your skills and we welcome you as full warriors of ShadowClan!"
"Shadefire! Lizardheart! Blackmoon! Nightspirit!" the Clan yowled.
As the cats started to disband, Smokeheart padded over to his kits, warriors now and with mates. It was time to do something he hadn't done in moons. He had to face the fact that Poppydrop was gone and Honeyshower was his life now, but they carried Poppydrop's spirit, just the same, and they deserved the attention of their father.
He sat down next to Stormspirit and meowed, "I'm sorry."
Smokeheart padded across the snow over to Grayfall. It was Grayfall's turn for his attention. The kits switched off every day.
He sat next to Grayfall, who was sharing tongues with Longfur.
"Hi, Grayfall. Hi, Longfur," Smokeheart meowed.
"Hi, Smokeheart," Grayfall beamed with pleasure and purred, "Longfur's expecting my kits!"
"That's wonderful, Grayfall. How are you feeling, Longfur?"
"Fine, thanks," Longfur smiled.
"How's Honeyshower?" Grayfall asked.
"She's doing fine. Poppypool says she has at least four healthy kits!" Smokeheart purred.
Stonespirit padded over to join them and gave a mrrow of pleasure, "My kits are almost ready to be apprenticed!"
Grayfall, Smokeheart, and Longfur broke out into a series of congratulations and approval.
"They'll be just like you," Smokeheart meowed.
They talked for a while more until they saw Poppypool rush across the clearing and shout, "Smokeheart! Honeyshower is kitting!"
Stonespirit, Grayfall, and Longfur cheered as Smokeheart shot to his paws and raced to the nursery wher Marshfeather was tending to her.
"Here comes the first one!" Marshfeather announced. A kit slid onto the moss and she nipped open the covering, "It's a tough ginger tom!"
Honeyshower yowled and the stick in her mouth splintered. Smokeheart rapidly licked the ginger tom as another kit came out: a gray she-cat.
Stonespirit's kits, Nettlekit and Barkkit, watched with their eyes wide. Stormspirit, Cloudysky, Grayfall, Dovesong, Darkbird, Longfur, and Sootfeather watched from the nursery entrance.
Then, a dark gray tom was born. Then, a ginger she-cat. Honeyshower relaxed and feebly licked her kits. Marshfeather purred then snapped to the warriors, "Honeyshower needs her rest! Don't bother her!" Marshfeather and Poppypool started herding everycat out of the nursery.
"I'll name the gray kits," Honeyshower meowed, "You name the ginger ones."
Smokeheart purred and pointed to the tiny ginger she-cat, "Her name will be Sunkit. The tom's will be Lightningkit."
Honeyshower nodded and she pointed to the gray she-cat, "She will be Rainkit. The tom will be Smokekit, after you."
Smokeheart cocked his head, "Why after me?"
Honeyshower licked her kits. "Because you gave me so much, Smokeheart," she whispered, "You gave me friendliness. You gave me sweetness. You gave me love. You gave me yourelf. And you gave me four beautiful kits."
Smokeheart's eyes swelled with tears. He had never imagined any she-cat would ever say that to him.
"Thanks you, Honeyshower. Now you need your rest. I'll visit you tomorrow, first thing in the morning," Smokeheart meowed backing out of the nursery, making sure his mate and kits were tucked safely into the warm folds of their moss, away from the icy claws of leaf-bare.
"Father! Father!" Lightningkit mewled, "Where are you going?" Lightningkit cocked his head, his blue eyes shining with curiosity.
Smokeheart purred at his son, then looked to Honeyshower who was watching with amusement as Rainkit pounced on Smokeheart's tail.
"I'm going to eat with Snakestar," he meowed.
"Cool!" Smokekit exclaimed, "Having the deputy as our father is awesome!"
Smokeheart purred again, bid his mate and kits good-bye, and padded over to Snakestar's den.
"Come in, Smokeheart," Snakestar meowed, "Give me a staus report on the whole Clan."
Smokeheart nodded and sat down next to the old leader.
"Let's start from the top. How are the elders?"
"Nightwing is settling in well, Snakestar. She really enjoys it with old Oneclaw. Oneclaw seems happier with some company now. Poppypool likes it there, too, even though she is younger than most."
Snakestar nodded, "Very good. How about the queens?"
"Honeyshower is doing wonderful. Smokekit, Rainkit, Lightningkit, and Sunkit are growing fast. Cloudysky's and Stormspirit's kits are very strong. Silverkit and Rockkit are full of boundless energy. Longfur's kits, Littlekit, Slatekit, and Flintkit have just opened their eyes. Dovesong's and Onebranch's kits Treekit and Moonkit, are very, very quiet. Darkbird's and Dustytail's kits, Ravenkit, Crowkit, and Berrykit have now settled in with their mother. Brindlenose and Mintface are close to kitting. Shredear and Mudpelt are very apprehensive. And Ashspots has settled well into the nursery. Blackmoon will be a great father."
Snakestar nodded again, "The apprentices?"
"Nettlepaw's learning a lot from Marshfeather. He'll be a medicine cat in no time. Barkpaw is a very great fighter. Dustclaw's and Nightnose's kits, Sandpaw, Mudpaw, and Stickpaw are turning into very fine hunters," Smokeheart reported.
Snakestar nodded, "And I presume the warriors are working smoothly?"
"Yes, Snakestar," Smokeheart nodded.
"Good! Very good!" Snakestar rasped, "Smokeheart, I have a mission for you. It's about your vow."
Smokeheart cocked his head.
"Smokeheart, you must find Honeyshower's parents. You promised. It may take you moons. Take the most honest and noble warriors with you and come back when you have found them. When your kits are apprenticed, take Honeyshower to meet them. It's the right thing to do. She was not born in ShadowClan, for I remember when she was found at the border. This is all we know about Honeyshower's past."
"Yes, Snakestar," Smokeheart nodded and padded back to the nursery.
"Honeyshower, I was sent on a mission to find your parents. I may not see you for a while. Take care of the kits, my dear."
Honeyshower stretched her nose up to touch Smokeheart's nose, "May StarClan light your path, my love."
"Good-bye, kits. I will see you in due time," Smokeheart meowed, sadness tinging his voice as his kits licked his cheek.
Smokeheart padded out with a heavy heart and chose his companions carefully.
I'll take Shadefire, Stonespirit, Stormspirit, Nightspirit, and Sootfeather, he decided promptly.
He padded over to where the five toms were laughing, sharing prey, and talking about their kits's progress.
"All of you, we have a mission. Say your good-byes, for we may be gone for moons. I'll fill you in on the way out of the territory." Smokeheart meowed grimly.
Pain entered the five cats's eyes because they must leave so much behind, but they nodded solemnly and agreed, "Yes, Smokeheart."
Smokeheart rolled in the mud, trying to get rid of the ShadowClan stench that clung to his pelt. His companions did the same. Then they licked themselves clean.
"Perfect," Sootfeather declared.
They padded deep into ThunderClan territory until they found a patrol.
"Intruders!" a cream apprentice called.
A ThunderClan tom stormed over to the ShadowClan cats and growled, "Who are you?"
Smokeheart stepped forward and meowed, "My name is Smoke. These are my kits: Soot, Stone, Storm, Night, and Shade. We are hiding from their evil mother and would like to join your Clan."
"Who's their mother?"
A sly smile crept across his face as he purred, "Her name is Silvie."
The ThunderClan cats nodded. The circled the cats and escorted them into camp. The ThunderClan cats stared at them and the leader, Flamestar, a ginger tom, and, as Smokeheart knew, his mate, Brightsun, a light, ginger she-cat, stood tall on the Highledge.
Flamestar cocked his head and meowed, "Loner cats, is it your wish to uphold our warrior code and pprotect the Clan at the cost of your life?"
Smokeheart pretended to be dumbfounded, "Y-yes?"
The other cats nodded, catching on to Smokeheart's ploy.
Flamestar sighed and meowed, "You all look experienced beyond your moons and the loner life must require much fighting and hunting. If this is so, by the powers of StarClan, Smoke, you are now Smokecloud. Soot, you are now Sootstream. Stone, you are now Stoneheart. Storm, you are now Stormlightning, Night, you are now Nightwhisper. And Shade, you are now Shadeclaw."
ThunderClan half-heartedly chanted at the newcomers, "Smokecloud! Sootstream! Stoneheart! Stormlightning! Nightwhisper! Shadeclaw!"
Smokecloud! Sootstream! Stoneheart! Stormlightning! Nightwhisper! Shadeclaw! Smokecloud chanted his new name and his companions's names in his head to remember that as long as they were undercover, they would go by those names.
He puffed out his chest with an excited gleam in his eyes and put on an act of a new Clan cat, "Smokecloud! I am Smokecloud of ThunderClan!"
"The newcomers will sit vigil tonight, silently, for it is the tradition of a new warrior. Please welcome them to our Clan."
Sootstream, Stoneheart, Stormlightning, Nightwhisper, Shadeclaw, and Smokecloud padded over to a desolate side of the camp.
Stoneheart groaned, "Oh, my beautiful ShadowClan name! I don't have a heart of stone, I have a stone spirit!"
Smokecloud cut off the moans from his group. "Guys!" he hissed, "We're ThunderClan warriors now, and we have new names. We have to quit crying like kits and accept it!"
Sootstream nodded, "Smokecloud's right, we have to accept our names for what they are and pretend that we aren't ShadowClan warriors undercover."
Stormlightning nodded, "Nicely put, brother."
Nightwhisper nodded his agreement and Shadeclaw purred, "Stoneheart always had some spunk! I'm not surprised he would be complaining."
Stoneheart rolled his eyes and groaned. The sun started to sink and they took up their places in the camp entrance and were quiet.
Dawn came quickly and they chose moss in the warriors's den, falling asleep after the long day before.
Smokecloud was woken by some rustling next to him and he woke to be staring into familiar amber eyes surrounded by beautiful ginger fur.
It was a dream! he thought, relieved, until he realized this cat was much too small to be Honeyshower.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Smokecloud. I was shifting moss as quietly as I could," the she-cat dipped her head apologetically.
"All is forgiven, young one," he purred. Then he added, "Say, you look familiar."
The she-cat shuffled her paws and meowed, "Oh, that's probably because I'm Flamestar's and Brightsun's daughter."
"Did you have a sister?"
"Yes, she died before I was born. Word is a fox carried her off. And I had a few littermates, but they are dead." the apprentice meowed.
A spark of hope flared inside of Smokecloud. Could this be Honeyshower's sister.
"Lightpaw!" a sharp tom's voice snapped outside the den, "Don't you have anything better to do than to bother the warriors?"
"Sorry, Smokecloud. It was nice talking to you," she turned and bounded out.
"Likewise!" he called after her.
His companions stirred. "What was that, Smokecloud?" Shadeclaw asked.
"I think we have found a link to Honeyshower's family! And it lies deep within Flamestar!"
The cats murmured with excitement and hope that they could soon go home.
I must gain Flamestar's trust. It will take a few moons, but think of what you will find at the end!
Smokecloud bounded into camp with a squirrel and a thrush in his jaws. Moons had passed and he and his undercover companions were being fully accepted into the Clan.
Smokecloud sighed. He hoped he wouldn't stay for much longer. He had a terrible yearning for Honeyshower. He could see the pain in his companions, too.
The mission was very dangerous, though. If they were caught, they would need to pay for their lives. Nobody had recognized them as ShadowClan warriors yet, thank StarClan, but to be safe they stayed home from Gathering's. This was terribly hard on them, for they longed for the look of a friendly face. Smokecloud watched as the ThunderClan cats that had just come back from the Gathering sat gossiping.
"Smokeheart is still very sick..." he heard one cat saying.
"Do you think Smokecloud has connections to him?" another meowed.
Smokecloud sucked in his breath.
"Don't be silly! There are plenty of gray toms in the world someone would name Smoke."
A she-cat voice by his ear meowed, "You are Smokeheart. I know it. My parents know it, too."
Smokecloud turned to see Lightpaw. "Please, do not tell!" Smokecloud begged.
"Don't worry, Smokeheart. We smelled the lingering scent of my sister when you entered."
Smokeheart opened his mouth and shcok overwhelmed him.
"Ok," he meowed, "Take me to Flamestar. I want to know Honeyshower's story."
"Honeyshower!" Lightpaw purred, "That's a beautiful name."
"She is beautiful, too. We have a litter of kits. They have probably been apprenticed by now," Smokeheart broke off nervously and growled at himself. He had been to information free with this gentle, young cat.
Lightpaw nodded and led him to Flamestar's den where Flamestar and Brightsun were laying on his moss.
"You found me out..." he stammered, "I am Smokeheart. Sootstream is Sootfeather. Stoneheart is Stonespirit. Stormlightning is Stormspirit. Nightwhisper is Nightspirit. And Shadeclaw is Shadefire. And only Stormspirit and Sootfeather are my kits. And Silvie is not their mother, she is a cat I wanted vengeance on."
"Your move was very smart and bold, Smokeheart, and you had me fooled until the first Gathering after you arrived," Flamestar meowed, "And Lightpaw reported you had a strange scent on you. We now know it was our long lost daughter. Tell us the story."
"Well," Smokeheart shuffled his paws, "She's my mate, and we have a litter of kits. At first she was mean to the Clan because she was so different from all other ShadowClan cats, but when I confessed I had loved her all along, she softened."
Flamestar's eyes sparkled with interest at the mention of Honeyshower's kits.
"Now you tell me her story," Smokeheart ordered.
"Honeykit was the only kit in the litter and one night, we couldn't find her. We searched and searched and presumed she was dead. That's all there is to tell," Brightsun rushed on.
Flamestar meowed, "Smokeheart, you and your Clanmates, go! Your work here is done!"
Smokeheart nodded good-bye to Lightpaw, who looked crushed that he would not stay, and he called to his Clanmates.
"What we're leaving?" Sootfeather asked.
"We were found out and we have all the information we need. Our mates and kits are waitning," Smokeheart meowed.
"Very true," Stormspirit meowed.
"And I can be rid of my ghastly name!" Stonespirit sighed with relief.
"Also true," Nightspirit nodded.
"Come on. We must make haste. We have been gone for almost 7 moons."
The six cats trudged out of camp and back to the ShadowClan.
As the six cats re-entered their old camp, they breathed in the welcoming scent of their old Clan.
"Intruders!" an apprentice yowled.
Snakestar stumbled out of his den and croaked as loud as he could, "No! It's not intruders! Smokeheart has returned!"
A shocked silence fell over the camp, then cheering.
Honeyshower rushed up to Smokeheart and nuzzled him.
"I missed you so much!" she exclaimed.
"And I, you," he purred.
"What did you find out about my past?" her voice grew low as the mates and kits of the traveling cats pushed past them.
"Your father is Flamestar of ThunderClan. Your mother is Brightsun and you have a sister named Lightpaw. You were taken as a kit to the ShadowClan border and you were presumed dead," Smokeheart meowed.
Honeyshower's eyes dulled and she whispered, "Smokeheart, if they come for me, I will never leave you."
"Father! Father!" excited, but deep mews sounded.
"Lightningpaw! Rainpaw! Smokepaw! Sunpaw!" Smokeheart shouted. He touched his nose to all four of his kits happily and he purred.
"Since you have been gone, Nettlepaw became a full medicine cat. His name is Nettlepad. His brother became Barkclaw. And Sandpaw, Mudpaw and Sickpaw are now Sandstreak, Mudsplash, and Stickclaw. The apprentice's den is so overstuffed. There's us, Silverpaw, Rockpaw, Flintpaw, Littlepaw, Slatepaw, Ravenpaw, Treepaw and Moonpaw, Crowpaw, and Berrypaw. Then there's Brindlenose's kits Mistpaw, Mousepaw, Hazelpaw, Runningpaw, and Cinderpaw. And after that there's Mintface's kits, Nutpaw, Birdpaw, Softpaw, and Flutterpaw. They are all she cats. And Ashspots's kits will become apprentices today. Then Littletail had kits. They're names are Applekit, Spiderkit, and Birchkit."
"Wow! That's a lot!" Smokeheart mrrowed at his growing kits. Then his kits bounded away. Rainpaw played moss-ball with Birchkit near the nursery. Sunpaw scooted toward Mudsplash, who greeted her with a warm smile. Lightningpaw bounded over to Mistpaw and shared a vole with her. Smokepaw was sitting next to Flutterpaw.
"They have grown so fast. They were only three moons when I left, but now, they are almost warriors. And they have each found a cat, I can see now," Smokeheart rasped, tears swelling in his eyes.
"It's been so long," Honeyshower agreed rasping her tongue over his ear comfortingly.
Smokeheart sighed, "I know."
"Blackpaw! Graypaw!" the Clan shouted.
Ashspots and Blackmoon were swelling with pride as their kits were deemed apprentices. All the cats started sharng prey and news.
Suddenly, Shredear came into camp yowling, "ThunderClan is coming! We are under attack!" his ear was bleeding.
He saw Flamestar dart into camp with Brightsun and several ThunderClan warriors including Lightpaw.
Lightpaw gazed at Smokeheart with alarm in her eyes and she looked at him as if to say, "I do not want to fight you."
Snakestar spat angrily, "Flamestar! What is the meaning of this?"
"I have come to get what's rightfully mine!" Flamestar snarled, "Honeyshower and her kits!"
Honeyshower's jaw dropped with shock and their kits's eyes were wide.
"Never!" Snakestar growled.
The whole clearing burst into a bloodbath. Smokeheart threw himself at Flamestar who was grappling at Snakestar's throat.
"Leave my Clan alone!" he screeched, "You lost claim to Honeyshower long ago!"
Flamestar growled, "Well if it isn't Stormcloud! My daughter's mate, yes?"
"I am ashamed to be called your daughter!" Honeyshower snarled, squaring up beside Smokeheart. Their kits stood beside them indignantly.
"I am ashamed to be your grandkit!" Lightningpaw snarled.
"You gave up on Honeyshower so many moons ago!" Rainpaw hissed.
"You have no right to us!" Sunpaw shrieked.
"You will leave, now!" Smokepaw yowled.
Flamestar gave them an amused glare, "Lightpaw, my loyal daughter, attack!"
Lightpaw stiffened and growled, "No, father! No! I will not after you gave up on Honeyshower! I will not after you slaughtered my littermates because it was I who was your only perfect replacement for her! I am ashamed to call you father! ShadowClan attack!" Lightpaw, Lightningpaw, Sunpaw, Rainpaw, and Smokepaw hurled themselves at the ginger leader.
All the ThunderClan cats had fled but Brightsun. She stood watching in horror as her daughter and grandkits clawed and bit him ferociously.
The cats stepped back, Flamestar's pelt was ragged and bloody and his eyes betrayed fear. His breathing got shallower and shallower until the ThunderClan leader died.
"No!" Brightsun wailed.
"Brightsun!" Snakestar wheezed as ShadowClan watched the last ThunderClan cat, "Take your mate's body and leave!"
Lightpaw meowed, "I am a part of ShadowClan now!"
Brightsun did as she was told and Snakestar scrambled feebly to the top of the ClanBranch and rasped to the quiet Clan, "Cats of ShadowClan, my days are gone! I have served ShadowClan as leader long before Smokeheart was born and it is time to let my ninth life go. It was an honor serving you all and watching you noble cats grow. And Nightwing, my kits, do not mourn. I will be waiting for you. You all will be safe in Smokeheart's paws." And with that he passed.
"Snakestar! Snakestar! Snakestar!" the Clan cheered, for the leader died a noble death.
Smokestar padded into camp with Marshfeather by his side and yowled, "Do not speak my name, yet, ShadowClan, for I wish to perform a few ceremonies!"
Nightwing touched noses to the new leader and gasped, "I... I am so proud of you." Smokestar licked his mother's ear in thanks and he leaped on top of the ClanBranch and yowled to the cats already gathered below, anxious for his arrival.
Stormspirit, his deputy, stood by the trunk.
"I, Smokestar of ShadowClan, call upon my warrior ancestors to look down on Lightpaw, Lightningpaw, Sunpaw, Rainpaw, and Smokepaw, knnowing they have learned the skills of a warrior. They fought valiantly and accidentaly killed ShadowClan's greatest enemy, Flamestar, their kin, for good. Though you do not have to kill to be victorious, Flamestar would have picked us off one by one. I commend them to you as warriors in their turn!"
The five apprentices stepped forward, eyes shining.
"Lightningpaw, from this day forward, you will now be known as Lightningclaw! StarClan honors your courage and bravery and we welcome you as a full warrior of ShadowClan."
"Sunpaw, from this day forward, you will now be known as Sunstream! StarClan honors your skill and cunning and we welcome you as a full warrior of ShadowClan."
"Rainpaw, from this day forward, you will now be known as Raindrop! StarClan honors your hunting and battling skills and we welcome you as a full warrior of ShadowClan."
"Smokepaw, from this day forward, you will now be known as Smokecloud! StarClan honors your skill and wit and we welcome you as a full warrior of ShadowClan."
"And Lightpaw, you are now Lightspirit! StarClan honors your courage and loyalty and we welcome you as a full warrior of ThunderClan."
"Lightningclaw! Sunstream! Raindrop! Smokecloud! Lightspirit!" the Clan chanted. It echoed across the forest rattling the water in the lake.
This is my Clan now! I am Smokestar! May StarClan light your path, Snakestar.
He drank in the gaze of, his mate, his kits, his mother, his grandkits, all of them.
"I am Smokestar!" he yowled, "And I am ShadowClan leader!"
"Smokestar! Smokestar! Smokestar!"