- Companion to Cinders
- Sometimes you just can't help wondering what would have happened if it had ended another way...
Yellowfang gritted her teeth and paced back and forth between the pool and the stones surrounding it. Allowing it to draw her in for a moment, then pulling away.
No one else was here. Yellowfang was glad for that- she didn't want to have to throw Spottedleaf or Bluestar out before beginning her moping.
"Grow some claws," she muttered, "You're wallowing in the past and that's just about the stupidest thing you can do. You're not Cinderpelt or Bluestar- you made the choices in your life and you need to deal with them. You deserve it,"
Misery washed over her and she pushed it away, like she pushed away all the other feelings she couldn't deal with. Anger blazed up then and she held onto that- it was something tangible, something she could use.
She sat, letting the anger pull her in, turning it towards herself. "You're being ridiculous," she snarled, "You didn't starve before life began, you didn't cripple yourself, you didn't give up anything for a good cause. You were a stupid she-cat who let stupid feelings get in the way of your stupid life and you let those stupid decisions haunt you for the rest of your life and after."
But the waves of the pool called to her, drawing her in.
"Enough!" she roared, jumping to her paws. The waves curled back as if they could sense the anger pulsing from her. But soon the waves were once again wearing at the shores of the stony path. Yellowfang felt her own resolve being worn away at.
Her heart ached. She did not want to relive these things. It wasn't like this was something she'd never given a thought to- there were a thousand ways to ask the question answered, and if she asked it the wrong way she could be thrown into a life of agony.
Fine Yellowfang, she thought, You want to go back into the past so bad? You think of a way to ask that doesn't result in Brokenstar killing you or Raggedstar going mad or any of the other terrible things you've managed to concoct these seasons.
Yellowfang had truly meant to discourage herself, but she sat on the edge of the pool for the rest of the night, thinking. She only moved when the moon had begun to slip away and she heard a rustling in the bracken.
"Just me," Cinderpelt meowed, revealing herself. Yellowfang relaxed and Cinderpelt sat beside her.
The older medicine cat studied her apprentice for a moment. Since Cinderpelt had gone back to see what her life had been like if she hadn't broken her leg, the she-cat had become more serious, reserved. It broke Yellowfang's heart a little to see her lively apprentice grow up. But she also knew that the pain of coming back to a world where Fireheart had chosen Sandstorm and her leg was shattered was a pain that wouldn't just melt away.
"You want to go back," Cinderpelt meowed without preamble.
Yellowfang considered denying it for a moment, then nodded, not wanting her apprentice to remind her exactly how well she knew her old mentor.
"But you can't think of a way to ask the question?" Cinderpelt asked, a little less sure now. There was any number of reasons Yellowfang might not have wanted to go back and this was just the most obvious. But Yellowfang nodded again.
Cinderpelt sighed and looked upwards, thinking. "You want to see about Brokenstar...you need to know if you could have made it alright. But if you find out you could have it'll torture you forever because you could have saved everyone and didn't. And if you find out you couldn't have it will break your heart because he was your kit and you love him."
"When did you get so smart?" Yellowfang asked wryly, "Last I remember you were worrying about whether or not you were fixing up your herbs right,"
Cinderpelt purred, but her blue eyes remained serious. "I don't think you should see about Brokenstar," she meowed gently.
Yellowfang sighed, "What else is there to ask about?" she meowed weakly, "My entire life led up to that one mistake and my entire life afterwards was just misery because of what I'd done."
"You need something...happy," Cinderpelt decided. She thought and her eyes brightened, "Didn't you say you had three kits?"
"The two she-cats died," Yellowfang meowed bitterly, "All that was left was him,"
"So ask about if they had lived...and if Brokenstar had died in their place," Cinderpelt said cautiously. Yellowfang couldn't blame her- it wasn't the easiest thing to see what would and wouldn't offend her as far as Brokenstar was concerned.
"You're right," Yellowfang meowed. And then she was suddenly gripped by a fear, "Cinderpelt- what if I don't get it right? What if it's all wrong and it still hurts? What if they're just like him?"
"Shhh..." Cinderpelt soothed, her eyes bright. "You don't have to do it. But I think you should."
Yellowfang looked at the pool and looked back to her apprentice, feeling very vulnerable, "You'll wait for me to wake up?"
"I won't move a muscle." Cinderpelt promised.
Yellowfang nodded, and uncertainly made her way to the pool.
What if they had lived and he hadn't?
She held her breath and dived into the pool, tasting starlight and the salt of tears she hadn't realized she was shedding. And then it all vanished and she could smell toadstools and fear and pain and kits.
"Come on..." Yellowfang whispered, her eyes clenched tight together in pain.
How many she-cats had she helped to give birth? How many times had she comforted a screeching queen while thinking, Let's be honest- it can't hurt that bad.
But it did.
She had to keep quiet though, or they would find her. A medicine cat who fell in love was one thing- a medicine cat who bore her mate's kit was another.
The kits slid out, one at a time. The first one born was a she-kit, and Yellowfang nipped the sac and licked the kit to warm it up. The kit had dark fur, black as a shadow.
The next kit was another she-cat. She had golden fur, bright as the sun. Yellowfang purred weakly. Something very un-warrior like and something very un-Yellowfangly was stirring in her, something she usually only felt with Raggedstar.
"One more," she told herself, gritting her teeth.
The final kit hurt and when she nipped the sac, the kit spilled out, a dark tabby tom. His tail was broken in the middle but other then that he was the same as his father. But dead.
Yellowfang felt a dull sense of pain. One of her kits had died and she never even knew him.
No time for that, she told herself briskly, You still have two kits who need seeing to.
She turned to the other two kits, both of them were weak, but they were alive. The dark she-cat had opened her eyes to show gray eyes with a touch of silvery blue and the lighter kit had amber eyes that were already blinking at Yellowfang fiercely.
Yellowfang purred and pulled the kits closer so they could suckle. She was less afraid now- the pain had subsided and the worst and most dangerous part of the birth was over. Her kits would most likely survive...all except the tom.
She stared at him in pain. How many moments had she denied him? Was there a she-kit in the Clan who wouldn't get a mate now? Were there cats out there who would remain unscarred because her son had died before he got a chance to fight them?
Stop being so melodramatic! she chastised herself, He was your kit, yes, but you never knew him. There was no loss.
Yellowfang looked at the two she-cats suckling. They were as different as night and day, as the sun and the moon, as lights and shadows.
She let herself be totally unlike herself for a moment, to imagine what their lives would be like. Raggedstar would be so pleased, two healthy kits.
The small body of her third kit called to her. She looked away- she didn't think that she would be telling Raggedstar about him anytime soon. It would only hurt him.
The kits at her belly let out mewls of distress as she stood. Feeling a twinge of regret- she would only get to keep these kits for a while longer- she grabbed the body of the kit and headed out.
It was raining, naturally. ShadowClan territory was beautiful in its own way, but the marshes became treacherous during the rain. With a small burst of joy Yellowfang thought she would probably have to stay with the kits in the tree- they wouldn't be traveling anytime soon with all this rain. They were too young.
The hole she dug was only just big enough for the kit and she let him fall into it before scraping the dirt over his small body.
"StarClan guide this soul to your territories and protect him in death as you could not protect him in life," The usually bittersweet oath was especially sad now that she was performing it for her own kit.
She returned to the tree where her two mewling kits waited. She reset them at her belly and looked down on them, purring.
They need names! she realized suddenly.
"For the black kit...Shadowkit," she meowed. Usually its didn't get named things like Starkit or Moonkit or Thunderkit or any of those names, but the daughter of a medicine cat was special.
"And for the golden kit...Sunkit," she meowed, purring.
Shadowkit and Sunkit curled close to her, napping and she smiled, eager to show off her new kits to Raggedstar.
"Sunkit and Shadowkit?" Raggedstar asked. He was cramped in the small space of the tree, his broad shoulders barely squeezing in.
"Yes," Yellowfang meowed happily, "Two perfect little she-kits."
There was a flicker of something in Raggedstar's eyes and he hid it by looking down at the two kits. But Yellowfang had already seen it. She narrowed her eyes, "What?"
"What was that little look?" she mimicked it and Raggedstar snorted.
"First of all, I did not look that pathetic. And second of all, I didn't even make a look so-" the young leader's eyes clouded over and Yellowfangs whiskers twitched. Hopefully at least one of their kits had inherited her brain.
"Okay, okay," Raggedstar backpedaled, "There was a look. It's just...I always wanted a son."
Yellowfang felt as if the blood froze inside of her. You had a son. A perfect little tom buried all by himself in he swamp. Sorry. "Well, you're going to have to be the one to tell your daughters you didn't want either of them."
"No!" he still sounded a little troubled, but he brought himself back, "No, it's not that. It's just..." he purred, "I love them. I do."
Yellowfang nodded, but she still felt a little...she pushed it away. Sunkit and Shadowkit were perfect and so was Raggedstar. She was happy.
And yet she kept turning back to that moment when his face fell as he learned he had two daughters.
Yellowfang gritted her teeth. She hadn't wanted to do this, it was too fast, too soon. Her eyes burned from wanting to cry, but she hadn't cried in her life. Not even once. She was too tough. And yet the thought of parting with two slightly stinky balls of fur was suddenly unthinkable.
My little stinky balls of fur. she corrected herself miserably.
The nastier part of her, the part that poked fun at Raggedstar and hid behind jibes and jokes, snorted. If you cared so much, maybe you shouldn't have fallen in love. Or even gotten pregnant in the first place! Stellar idea, wouldn't you say?
"Shut up brain," she muttered.
"What?" Lizardstripe meowed, her lip curling nastily.
"Nothing," Yellowfang meowed coolly. "But you're the only nursing queen and if you don't take these kits they'll die."
"Ugly little things," Lizardstripe commented. She looked to her own kits- a pale brown tom, a dark brown she-cat, and a gray and white tom whose nose seemed to be running since he arrived into the world. "Of course, mine aren't much better." Her gaze turned crafty, "Of course, five kits is a lot to handle..."
Raggedstar's eyes flashed, "You will be raising my kits. That is honor enough."
Lizardstripe backed down, eyes flashing. She wasn't going to take on the leader of ShadowClan. So she turned to Yellowfang instead. "Why do you think the mother gave them up, hrm?"
"Remember you're talking about my mate," Raggedstar growled. He seemed more concerned with the idea of Lizardstripe disrespecting him then the idea that the she-cat could be insulting Yellowfang.
"I know, I know..." Lizardstripe turned her hungry eyes back to Yellowfang, "So, do you know why? Do you know who she is?"
"I'm standing right here!" Raggedstar complained, his eyes narrowing.
Lizardstripe maintained her gaze. Yellowfang shook her head, adept at lying as most ShadowClan cats were, "No. And if I did I wouldn't tell.:"
"She gave birth without a medicine cat?" Lizardstripe echoed disbelievingly. Her voice lowered, "Is it Foxheart?"
Yellowfang sank her claws into the earth. Stupid pretty smart ginger stupid little like to claw her... "You'll have to ask her," she meowed infuriatingly.
Lizardstripe huffed and Yellowfang crouched, giving each of her kits a good bye lick.
Then she walked out of the den, away from her kits, mate, and everything that had made her happy but was forbidden to her because of her duties.
"No fair Runningkit!"
The wail exploded in the camp's early morning silence. Yellowfang jerked awake and then slapped a paw over her ear, trying to block out the noise.
"It is too fair!" a sniff, "I got the moss ball fair and you're just upset cuz you lost!"
"Someone shut those kits up!" This angry yowl came from the elders' den. Yellowfang muttered and stood, stretching. She hated morning, preferring to sleep them away. But it seemed the lovely little dears of the Clans would rather have their pelts ripped off. Or a strong lecture about not waking the entire Clan up with games. Whichever came first.
Yellowfang pushed her way out of the den and padded over to where the kits were still arguing loudly over the moss ball.
Lizardstripe's kits- the gray and white Runningkit, who was sniffling like a cat dying of green cough, the pale brown Deerkit, and the darker brown she-cat Tanglekit were crowded around the moss ball. Yellowfang glanced over them and rested her gaze on the only other two kits in the Clan.
Sunkit looked angry. Yellowfang sensed so much of Raggedstar in the spunky, stubborn young she-cat. She was the only golden cat in the Clan and you could see she thought it made her special with the way she (mostly) groomed it til it shone every day. Her amber eyes were belligerent now, as they often were, and she looked ready to pounce on Runningkit.
Shadowkit on the other hand was more like Yellowfang. Her strange silver-blue eyes were narrowed slightly and the intelligence practically poured out of them. Her dark fur was sleek and she crouched close to Deerkit, her tail weaving back and forth slightly. She looked at her sister and let out a small purr, sticking her tongue out to antagonize Sunkit.
"Don't stick your tongue out at me Shadowkit!" Sunkit growled, And don't you give me that look Runningkit, I'm coming back to get you, cheater."
Tanglekit's whiskers twitched and Shadowkit blinked innocently, "I think Tanglekit is laughing at you Sunkit."
Deerkit purred with Shadowkit as Sunkit threw herself at Tanglekit who shrieked with laughter.
"Now Deerkit's laughing!" Runningkit purred, his sky blue eyes joyful. The moss ball lay forgotten on the ground, this new game taking its place. Sunkit threw herself at Deerkit who shrugged her off easily. She charged hi again.
"Everyone get Deerkit!" Tanglekit shouted joyously. All the kittens piled on the light brown tom and they dissolved in purrs.
"Kits!" Yellowfang growled, a little sad to be disrupting their game. But not as sad as they were going to be if they didn't pipe down and let her go back to sleep.
"Oops," Deerkit meowed. The kits all quieted down, even Sunkit.
"What are you doing out here? It's not even dawn!"
"Well Tanglekit couldn't sleep, so she kept poking Runningkit and then we all decided to play mossball and then Runningkit cheated so we all were yelling at him and then Sunkit went nuts. Again," Deerkit explained quickly.
"The sun is not even up yet," Yellowfang meowed though gritted teeth. "When the sun comes up, you can do whatever you want. But right now you need to go back to sleep."
"Why?" Sunkit asked rebelliously.
"So I can go back to sleep," Yellowfang snapped, half proud for her daughter to be so strong, the other half focused on keeping a steely demeanor. It was always hard around the kits to keep being Yellowfang, the grumpy medicine cat/warrior and now Yellowfang the broken mother.
"That's not fair!" Sunkit protested, her amber eyes fiery, glaring into Yellowfang's.
"What Sunkit means to say," Shadowkit meowed quickly, "Is that we're really, 'really sorry we woke you up. And we'll play quietly, promise."
Clever kit, Yellowfang praised softly in her mind. "No, what you'll do is you'll g back into the nursery this instant before an elder skins you alive."
Sunkit opened her jaws to say something, but, sensing they had lost this battle, Shadowkit and the others pulled her away.
"It's okay," Yellowfang heard Deerkit whispering, "As soon as she goes back to bed we can play more. We'll just have to be quieter."
The kits all agreed and they slipped back into the nursery. Lizardstripe's snores drifted from the den and Yellowfang felt her fur bristle slightly. Stupid she-cat.
Foxheart was coming out of the nursery, her ginger fur sleek and her green eyes carrying their usual sparkle of mischief. "Hey Yellowfang," she meowed as she padded to Raggedstar's den, "I'm going to set up some patrols for later, do you need me to get any herbs?"
Yellowfang shook her head and the ginger she-cat disappeared into Raggedstar's den. Yellowfang's claws sank into the earth and she turned, stalking back to her den.
"You wanted to see me Raggedstar?"
The young leader looked up and blinked, almost as if he'd forgotten he'd asked for her. Then he nodded, "Come in,"
Yellowfang sat on the ground, tail curled over her paws. She waited, feeling very much like she used to in battles where the two sides would size each other up, waiting to strike.
"Yellowfang, I'm here to talk to you about my kits," Raggedstar meowed. Yellowfang winced slightly. No one could hear them and even still he was keeping the secret. Or was he just really that stupid? She forced herself to listen.
"Sunkit and Shadowkit," he clarified, as if she wouldn't remember the two kits she gave birth to, "I need to choose between them,"
"Choose," Yellowfang echoed disbelievingly.
Raggedstar nodded, "This was why I would have preferred a tom, a true heir. But one of the she-cats will have to do."
"Heir," Yellowfang closed her eyes, praying to all the StarClan cats she knew that Raggedstar really wasn't this arrogant.
But he nodded. "One of them will become leader after me,"
"The Clan leader isn't about family," she meowed, knowing it was futile.
He gave her a pointed look, "Isn't it? Keeping the power in our paws. These kits have the blood of the two most important cats in the Clan in them." his eyes lit up, "Now if one of them would be medicine cat and the other could become leader..."
Not even pausing to enjoy the subtle idea that Foxheart was number three in the Clan, Yellowfang shook her head, "No. Not happening. These kits cat do whatever they want but I'm telling you now neither of them will choose StarClan over the path of being a warrior."
Raggedstar looked slightly put out. "Maybe you could ask StarClan which one I should choose?"
Yellowfang snorted. "If you do this, you're going to do it all by yourself. I won't choose one kit over the other."
"Shadowkit's smarter," Raggedstar meowed thoughtfully, "And she's clever. She would be a good leader. But Sunkit is stronger, she's a true warrior. My daughter,"
"They're both your daughters," Yellowfang meowed through gritted teeth. "And you can't toy with them like this."
Raggedstar's nostrils flared and Yellowfang wondered if she'd gone too far. Raggedstar did have a temper and he was the leader. She squared her shoulders and glared at him.
Raggedstar opened his jaws, "Yellowfang," he meowed softly, "You're angry."
"Obviously," she growled icily.
"Are you really that thick-headed?" she snapped, "First you act like I'm not the cat who carried those two around with her for moons then gave birth to them- alone- then you ask me to help you decide which of your daughters you want to immorally 'inherit' the Clan. Why do you think I would be angry Raggedstar?"
He blinked, honestly shocked.
"I knew you were arrogant and a dumb furball," she spat, "But I never thought you were this...this...awful." she turned to stalk out and came face to face with Foxheart.
Oh no. Yellowfang thought. What if she heard?
But the deputy merely blinked innocently and looked past Yellowfang to Raggedstar, "Your kits are missing,"
"What." Raggedstar rose to his paws, eyes dangerous.
"They ran off with Lizardstripe's kits."
"And where is Lizardstripe!?"
"Sleeping, I think. She tried to dump them on Marshpaw, but he had to go on patrol."
Raggedstar let out an enraged yowl, "I'm surrounded by idiots!" he groused, storming out of the den.
"Where did they go?" Yellowfang meowed, trying to remain a normal level of worry.
"They were heading for the pine forest." Foxheart meowed.
Yellowfang felt cold inside. "There was a fox sighted there yesterday."
"Yes," Foxheart confirmed.
Yellowfang pushed past her and ran out of the den.
Yellowfang tore through the forest. Once she found the kits, she would yell at them. Then she would yell at Lizardstripe. Then she would return to yelling at Raggedstar. Having a plan made her feel better.
The pines began to pop up, speckling the landscape. And then there were more of them, until they created the silent forest that ShadowClan cats had hunted in for generations. Spongy ground and the needles pricking paws from the ground made this an unwelcome place. A place for ShadowClan cats only.
Yellowfang listened for the sound of kits laughing. All she heard was the crisp sound of her own paws crunching through dead needles. She scented the air and quickly found Sunkit's scent along with Lizardstripe's kits and the scent of mushrooms. Yellowfang snorted, wondering is Shadowkit had disguised her scent.
She slowed to a trot, scenting the air and changing directions every once in a while.
Suddenly she heard a shriek.
And then she was flying over the ground, her paws thumping at the earth until she saw the kits, wreathed in mist, and the larger shape of a fox. Three shapes darted around it while tow other cowered and Yellowfang hastened her run.
She tackled the fox. Deerkit, Sunkit, and Shadowkit tumbled away from it and Runningkit and Tanglekit stopped screeching for a moment. "Yellowfang!" Runningkit squeaked joyfully.
Yellowfang muttered something about stupid kits and continued to flail at the fox. It was a large male, full of scars from other battles. Yellowfang noted deep cuts still oozing blood and reminded herself to have a talk with the kits about learning battle moves before their time. Although if they hadn't learned those moves they might have been dead now.
Suddenly, a golden streak charged past her. "Sunkit!" Yellowfang shrieked.
The kit threw herself at the fox, tiny paws slashing and hacking. The fox backed away, clearly annoyed and also a little in pain. Finally, wincing, it backed away, hissing.
"I did it!" Sunkit crowed, "I defeated the fox!"
Shadowkit snorted, "You never would have done it if I hadn't told you to aim for the eyes."
"You didn't defeat a fox," Yellowfang growled, "I did. You just almost got yourselves killed. The fox probably just decided that there would be easier prey somewhere or that it would wait for some stupid kits to come back and get themselves killed."
Sunkit met her glare, "I think you just are jealous."
"I think that she just doesn't want you to get any ideas about your strength." Shadowkit smirked.
Yellowfang stared at her kits with an open mouth. They had too much of Raggedstar in them. She would never have gone off to challenge a fox. Well....maybe she would. But still!
Foxheart and Raggedstar caught up with her, panting slightly from the run. "Are they...okay?" Raggedstar meowed.
Yellowfang nodded, "Tanglekit has a scratch, but other then that everyone is fine. I can double check when we get back to camp."
"See that you do," Raggedstar meowed in relief. He crouched before Sunkit and Shadowkit. "You girls scared me. Don't do that again, alright? You'll take on foxes one day, but for now stick to moss balls."
"Alright Raggedstar," Sunkit huffed, although Yellowfang could tell she was a little pleased by her father's attention.
"Alright," Raggedstar looked up at the rest of them. "Let's go home."
Yellowfang sighed as the kits trudged after their leader. The kits of any medicine cat and leader would be bad enough. But that they're Raggedstar and mine? she snorted, Chances are they'll get their pelts clawed off before they become apprentices.
The thought didn't cheer her up as she padded home.
And that was not the worst of Sunkit and Shadowkit's escapades. Yellowfang constantly felt as though the kits were taking center stage in her own life. Her role as medicine cat had been compromised as she chased the five kits from border to border. Raggedstar sat by the entire time, and she could see him tallying in his head. Sunkit fought a fox, Shadowkit found evidence of ThunderClan stealing prey, Sunkit fought a badger, Shadowkit caught a mouse, and so on and so forth.
Yellowfang felt sick.
And today, today had to be the worst.
"All kits have crushes," Raggedstar meowed easily. "This is natural."
"Is it?" Yellowfang snapped, "Is it natural for sisters to challenge each other to duels in the middle of ThunderClan territory?!"
"Well, that is a little over the top," Raggedstar smirked, "They have your flair for dramatics."
"My flair for the dramatics? Who decided to pretend to die after you got a belly wound at the battle with ThunderClan?"
"I passed out!" Raggedstar yelped.
Yellowfang nodded, "Uhuh. Sure you did."
Raggedstar muttered and dodged a pine tree. They probably should have been worried about the kits crossing the Thunder Path, but Sunkit had always had a bizarre fascination with it. Add that to Shadowit's smarts and they were probably already across.
Lizardstripe and Foxheart were after Deerkit, Tanglekit, and Runningkit. Apparently they had been told to await Sunkit and Shadowkit's return.
"Deerkit's not even worth it!" Yellowfang complained.
"Well, the alternative is Runningkit.." Raggedstar meowed, "And I think Deerkit is fine."
"Whatever," Yellowfang hissed, reaching the Thunderpath. Sure enough, Shadowkit and Sunkit's scents led over it. After a look, the two grown cats sprinted across. Yellowfang hoped Raggedstar didn't notice she was shivering.
She didn't really know where they were, relationship wise. But she did wonder if they'd had a tom, like Raggedstar wanted, maybe they wouldn't be as close as they still were. Raggedstar's indecision between his daughters kept him closer to his mate.
Not that she cared, obviously.
They entered the forest, cautiously. Yellowfang felt uneasy with the solid ground and huge trees. She needed shadows.
And then there were shadows, dropping from the trees around them. Yellowfang and Raggedstar spun around, back to back. ThunderClan cats surrounded them and Raggedstar found the deputy, Sunfall. The young ginger tom and slightly older brown tom glared for a moment before Raggedstar spoke.
"Some kits escaped the nursery, came here. We just want to find them and go."
Sunfall shook his head, "We found them already. They were having some kind of duel. A black she-cat and a golden she-cat, correct?"
Sunfall winced, looking upset, "Well, they're back at camp..."
"Thank you," Raggedstar meowed, "They're my daughters and-"
"We know." Sunfall closed his eyes, then opened them, finding the next words difficult. "Goosefeather and Pinestar have decided that you can take one of them home, but one of them must stay here."
"You slimy little-" Yellowfang was halted by Raggedstar's tail covering her mouth. She narrowed her eyes at Sunfall and the ThunderClan deputy had the decency to look worried.
"Those are kits." Raggedstar growled, his eyes fiery. "You can't take them."
"I'm truly sorry," Sunfall meowed, "I didn't-" he stopped, looking at the assembled ThunderClan cats. He straightened his shoulders and looked Raggedstar in the eye, "You have until moon-high to decide."
Enough time for us to rescue both of them, Yellowfang thought, turning away.
"That's alright," Raggedstar's voice stopped her, "Just give us...Shadowkit."
"No!" Yellowfang launched herself back at her leader, her mate.
Raggedstar lowered his voice so the ThunderClan cats couldn't hear, "Trust me. Please."
Tears crowded at the edge of Yellowfang's vision and she could dimly hear Sunfall meowing, "A-Are you sure?"
"Get the kit," was all Raggedstar would reply with.
Pawsteps hurried away and when Yellowfang looked up she was alone with her mate.
"You idiot!" she shrieked. "How could you? I knew you were a selfish good for nothing, but I didn't think you would give one of our kits away!"
"Trust me," Raggedstar said again. She swiped a paw at him and he ducked, "Hey! Listen, I have it all planned out. Sunkit's a fighter, she'll do fine in ThunderClan. Besides, she needs to work on her battle skills, not her stealth skills. ThunderClan warriors are probably second best, next to us. And she'll learn how to fight head on, and not how to use the shadows."
"It's not fair," Yellowfang roared, "Why couldn't they have just stayed in camp!?"
Raggedstar's sad amber eyes met hers, "Because they're our kits," he whispered.
Yellowfang was about to say something, but a small rustling in the woods drew her attention. Sunfall reentered the clearing, Shadowkit trailing after him.
"You've got a pawful," he meowed, "She almost tripped me into a rabbit hole."
"Good girl," Yellowfang muttered.
Shadowkit darted over to her father, "Dad! Yellowfang! You have to tell them that they forgot Sunkit! I told him, but he said she was going to stay with them for a while which I said was stupid-"
"Let's go home Shadowkit," Raggedstar said.
"No! No, Dad-" the kit turned her silver-blue eyes to the medicine cat she didn't know was her mother, "Yellowfang, please."
"You two shouldn't have come here," Yellowfang meowed, desperately trying not to choke on the lump in her throat.
"But what about-" an expression of something very unkitlike crossed over Shadowkit's face, "They're keeping her, aren't they? Forever?"
"Not forever," Sunfall meowed. "I promise, I'll do my best to get her back to you."
Shadowkit looked at him uncertainly, then nodded, once. "And I promise if you don't I'll come here and get her back."
Sunfall's whiskers twitched, but his eyes were sorrowful as he looked back up at Yellowfang and Raggedstar, "She's a fighter too," he meowed before bounding off into the forest.
Shadowkit took a step after him, then sat heavily, letting out a wail.
"We'll talk later," Raggedstar told her, "But now, let's go home, okay?"
Shadowkit nodded miserably and didn't fight as Raggedstar picked her up and began running for the border. Yellowfang looked back to where the ThunderClan camp lay, then back to where her mate and kit were disappearing. With a heavy heart, she followed them.
"No," Yellowfang closed her eyes and sighed with exasperation, "It's comfry, juniper, then yarrow, then goldenrod."
"I'm sorry!" Runningpaw wailed, "I'll get it next time, promise!"
Yellowfang broke into a purr, "It's all right kit."
"I'm not a kit," Runningpaw muttered.
"You'll always be a kit to me," Yellowfang's whiskers twitched.
Runningpaw muttered something under his breath, then perked up. "Can we go see the others?"
Yellowfang hesitated, then nodded. Her apprentice let out an excited little squeak and dashed out of the den. Yellowfang smirked, "Kit."
Deerpaw darted forward, Tanglepaw at his side. Both of them had grown up as Runningpaw had. Deerpaw was gangly, all legs. Tanglepaw was shorter and a little plump, but it suited her. Her eyes were bright and kind, her pelt sleek.
Their eyes were narrowed though, concentrating. Their mentors stood across the clearing, looking amused and slightly afraid. Raggedstar stood with them and winked at Yellowfang. She sighed and padded over, letting Runningpaw scamper over to his siblings.
"What's going on?"
Raggedstar smirked slightly, "Shadowpaw is demonstrating stealth techniques."
Yellowfang's eyes swept the clearing, "So where is she?"
"Hiding," Raggedstar looked about, "Has been for a while."
Tanglepaw and Deerpaw began to look more and more unnerved. "Come on out," Tanglepaw yowled, "You scared?"
There was no answer.
Even Raggedstar seemed uneasy, his eyes flicking a little to the sides.
Slowly, cautiously, Runningpaw, Tanglepaw and Deerpaw padded over to the mentors, "I think she might have gone back to camp or something," Deerpaw meowed, trying to sound casual, "She does that sometime."
Tanglepaw nodded enthusiastically. Neither of the apprentices were looking behind them to see the pretty dark she-cat creeping towards them on long legs, her silver-blue eyes narrowed in concentration.
Yellowfang struggled to keep a straight face.
Raggedstar was smirking again, his amber eyes bright with praise.
Shadowpaw paused , practically standing beside her peers. She stretched her neck, her snout by Deerpaw's ear and delicately, softly, meowed, "Boo."
Deerpaw let out an earsplitting yowl and Tanglepaw shrieked. Shadowpaw smirked, cocky. Yellowfang was purring, but in her head, as she always did, she was seeing a golden she-cat instead of a black one. Wondering.
Yellowfang turned to Runningpaw, "I'm going back to camp. You can stay here if you like, but collect some herbs on your way home. Comfry especially."
Runningpaw meowed consent and Yellowfang hurried away, ignoring Raggedstar's eyes on her back.
The brilliant shades of red frame the marshes, false promises that almost make you believe this is as pretty as the other territories. The moors are bare and both foreboding and emitting a stark beauty while leaves replace lilypads in the river, wafting downstream.
ThunderClan territory looks the best, decked out in orange and gold. The huge dark trees jut out from the ground, pushing away toasty brown ferns and wilting daisies scatter the forest floor. Yellowfang wondered how Sunkit was coping. Sunpaw. She reminded herself.
Her daughter would do well now, hunting wise. Her gold pelt was the exact color of the foliage. Although the idea of Sunkit-paw having the patience to do anything was almost hilarious.
At least I can see her at Gatherings now.
Shadowpaw was being primed by Raggedstar for her first Gathering. Yellowfang had caught the little she-cat practicing her 'look' for when she was announced. It was something between a cool glare and a icy look of arrogance and when Shadowpaw realized she was being watched, she begged Yellowfang not to tell anyone.
It was nice to know that despite the careful groomed image of perfection, Shadowpaw had her faults.
Not that she didn't anyways. She was occasionally mean, almost to the point of viciousness. And she would get dark looks sometimes, looks that haunted Yellowfang in her dreams.
But what troubled her more about her dreams were the ones she had of a toddling brown tabby tom kit. Raggedstar's dead son who would lunge at her, the blood of his sisters on his paws.
She woke from those dreams occasionally screeching. Raggedstar never came.
She did wonder if StarClan was punishing her and these kits for them simply existing. A medicine cat falling in love is bad, a medicine cat mating is worse. But a medicine cat having kits with her Clan leader?!
Fall had come to the territories, whisking away summer's warmth and whispering cool breezes twined in the forest.
The nursery stories said that the cold winds from the mountains blew over the hearts of ShadowClan warriors and made them cold, made then heartless, made them evil.
Maybe they were right.
But right now the only thing the winds made Yellowfang feel was regret.
The night of the Gathering was cold and sharp, the kind of night that turns best friends into nestmates and the kind of night that makes the elders tell stories about heroes of lore.
Yellowfang was just cold.
Four trees did look magnificent though. A perfect blend of the moorland, the marshes, the forest, and the river. Cats mingled, purrs and goodwill rising above the din. ShadowClan pelted down into the bright clearing.
Yellowfang searched desperately. As Pinestar, then Heatherstar, then Shellstar spoke. When Raggedstar spoke. When Shadowpaw stood.
The dark apprentice's eyes were dark with worry, but she held her chin up and her legs didn't shake. There was a grumbling that might possible be described as a cheer by a very unhappy cat. Shadowpaw sat down, her eyes torn. Deerpaw pressed against her.
And Yellowfang missed all this because she was scanning the clearing frantically. She swore Goosefeather and Pinestar were glaring at her.
But Sunpaw wasn't there.
Yellowfang jerked awake, her muscles tense and ready to spring, her claws unsheathed. The camp was empty and she paused, wondering what had woken her. She circled her nest and plopped down, her eyes still searching outside.
Then she heard it again. A snuffling little sound. Probably a mouse or something, but Yellowfang's warrior side wouldn't let her rest until she went out to check. She heaved herself up from her nest and went out to the camp, treading quietly so not as to invoke the wraith of a woken elder. Or really just a woken anybody.
She traced the sound to the edge of camp. The moonlight almost hid her daughter from her, but she could make out Shadowpaw perched on the edge of a rotting log that was hanging over a pond.
The little she-cat looked like she had finished crying and was in the process of erasing the evidence. She groomed, taking deep breaths, then stopped, ears perked. "Yellowfang?" she meowed cautiously, her voice a little rough.
"What are you doing out here at this hour?" Yellowfang asked. She didn't necessarily want to encourage Shadowpaw's arrogance- a definite trait from Raggedstar- but she didn't want to embarrass the apprentice either.
"Nothing," Shadowpaw meowed loftily, straightening. "I thought I'd go hunting, but the pond just looked nice."
And she's a good liar, Yellowfang thought sadly, She gets that from me.
"That log doesn't look completely safe though." Yellowfang meowed, nodding towards the rotted log which began to groan as she spoke. Panicked, Yellowfang took a step forward as the log began to creak in earnest and it fell into the pond. "Shadowpaw?" she meowed, trying to maintain her compsure. Please not both kits, please not all of them...
"Please," the dark she-cat said, somewhere to Yellowfang's left. The she-cat looked up, relieved and Shadowpaw narrowed her eyes, "Give me a little credit." She stalked off, not towards camp, but into the forest.
Yellowfang took a step to follow her, but then stopped. Shadowpaw was exhausted from the Gathering, from whatever she had been crying about and she was probably safer in the woods then around other cats at this point.
"Why do they take after Raggedstar so much?" Yellowfang grimaced and headed back to camp to keep watch.
Shadowpaw returned at dawn. She looked like she hadn't slept a wink and her fur was ruffled in several places.
"Where were you?" Yellowfang heard Deerpaw ask.
"Out and about," Shadowpaw replied, "You miss me?" she added teasingly.
"Please," Deerpaw rolled his eyes, but he looked worried. Yellowfang wondered what Lizardstripe's son could ever worry about when it concerned her daughter. Although, to be fair, the little tom didn't know.
Yellowfang slipped out of camp, racing close to the ground. The wind made her eyes narrow, but it was a nice kind of wind.
She skidded to a halt, made sure her fur was all in place, then stalked out of the bushes.
The Thunderpath sat in front of her, in all it's smelly glory. Yellowfang paused, then she saw a ginger form streak out, running. She smirked and tipped her head as Sunfall.
"Maybe one of these days you can come over to ThunderClan?" he muttered, dusting himself off.
"Maybe when I steal your kits I will."
Sunfall flinched and opened his jaws, "Sunpaw is doing fine. She's mostly upset because Pinestar won't give her a mentor, but I'm pretty sure Bluefur is teaching her some things in secret. Sunpaw and Whitepaw are good friends," he explained in a rush, though the names meant nothing to Yellowfang.
"Will Pinestar give her back?" Yellowfang asked.
Sunfall looked away, like he always did, "I try to convince him, but he's convinced he can use her against Raggedstar."
"Then he doesn't know anything about Raggedstar."
Sunfall purred, then seemed to remember who he was talking to, "Although you might want to keep an eye out for her,"
"Me?" Yelllowfang felt her heart fly, "Why?"
"Well," Sunfall meowed, "The medicine den was ransacked today. Herbs, missing, destroyed, everything. So the prime suspect is WindClan, naturally. We couldn't find a scent- whoever did it was smart enough to cloak themselves with garlic. So Sunpaw will naturally be tearing around the territories trying to find someone to claw."
Sunfall dipped his head to her and bounded back across the Thunderpath, narrowly avoiding a monster. Yellowfang gagged on the acrid stench, but her heart was high.
Sunpaw could be headed straight for her.
Three days. That's how long it was before Sunpaw showed up.
Yellowfang had nearly despaired. There had been no more word from Sunfall and nothing from ThunderClan. Shadowpaw had been strangely withdrawn, Raggedstar as unaware as usual. Yellowfang had patrolled the ThunderClan border so many times her paws had worn a path along the Thunder Path.
The sun was sinking and Yellowfang was growing restless, curled up in the bushes, when she heard the voices.
"Sunpaw, I really think we should go back," this was a tom voice, with an air of broken innocence and nerves.
"Oh, Whitepaw, don't be ridiculous. It took three days for Pinestar to quit watching me like a hawk, I'm not going to let this chance get away. We're going back with a ShadowClan cat or we're not going back at all."
"But Sunfall thought it was a WindClan cat. Y'know, since it was the medicine den..." Whitepaw said.
"Oh WindClan," Sunpaw said with such an air of disdain that Yellowfang wondered how no one suspected she was ShadowClan. "Those rabbit eaters couldn't think enough to catch their own tails, let alone attack our medicine den and disguise themselves."
Whitepaw huffed, "Doesn't mean we have to go trundling off to ShadowClan."
Yellowfang crept out of the bushes. Whitepaw was a fluffy tom with wide blue eyes. And the golden she-cat beside him couldn't possibly be Sunpaw...she was too big, too bright, too grown.
"It does though. Besides, wouldn't you of all cats want to claw some ShadowClan cats?"
Whitepaw flinched and his eyes trembled a little. He froze, staring after Sunpaw. She turned and her amber eyes widened slightly, "Oh, Whitepaw, I'm sorry." She bouded back to him and curled around him comfortingly. "I didn't think."
"You never do," Whitepaw purred, but there was a catch in his meow.
"If you want to go home..." Sunpaw said slowly, her eyes already drifting over to the Thunder Path. Yellowfang remembered how interested the kit had always been in the acrid place. Whitepaw shook his head, looking determined. "I'm good."
"Great!" Sunpaw bounced a little, getting closer to the Thunder Path. It was clear and she thoughtlessly darted over. Whitepaw, looking a little less sure, followed.
Sunpaw looked thrilled, taking what she must have thought was her first step on ShadowClan territory.
"We shouldn't be here," Whitepaw meowed, but he had a thrill of excitement in his meow.
"We really shouldn't," Sunpaw sad gleefully. "Alright, the first ShadowClan cat we see, I'll jump them and then you jump them. We'll see what they know about the raid."
"Why do I always have to be the last one to jump," Whitepaw grumbled.
"Remember the badger? If I have to spend another quarter moon healing from scars, it will never be because you didn't know when to jump!" Sunpaw teased.
Whitepaw rolled his eyes and grumbled. He scented the air, "Well, I think I smell ShadowClan cats. But you know, it could just be because they live here."
"Hardy har har."
"Seriously though, I think I smell something." Whitepaw sniffed and Yellowfang felt a stab of fear. Sunpaw had been taken so early her ShadowClan memories might have faded, but certainly some ShadowClan cats would remember her, should they come across her. Although...Yellowfang remembered what Raggedstar had said. "Let me handle the cover story. I can't tell the Clan ThunderClan took her, they'll want to attack. And ThunderClan will win."'
She had thought he was heartless. But when Raggedstar told the Clan Sunpaw was dead, she hadn't been able to face him for days. If a ShadowClan cat saw Sunpaw now...
Then she realized the cat they were smelling was her. Half out of the bushes, she paused. Did she want to do this? Her paws were already propelling her towards her daughter.
"What are you doing here?" she forced an angry expression. Sunpaw tensed to pounce and she shook her head. "Don't-"
But Sunpaw was already on her, yowling. Remembering the way she fought as a kit, Yellowfang ducked and let Sunpaw's over exuberant pounce take her over her head. She pinned the she-cat, but was bowled over by a yowling Whitepaw. "Let her go!"
Yellowfang swatted the tom away and clambered to her feet, "Just...just stop." she meowed. "What are you doing here?"
"You oughta know you-"
"What Sunpaw means," Whitepaw meowed quickly, "Is that we were looking for the cat who raided the ThunderClan medicine den."
"And you think that's me? Or I'll just tell you who did?"
"They had dark fur," Sunpaw meowed, "Small. A she-cat I think."
Whitepaw looked exasperated, "Sunpaw says that she saw her. But it was really dark...do you know anything?"
Yellowfang snorted. She couldn't help herself, "Look kits, time to go home. ShadowClan didn't do it and even if we had, you're not going to find who did. So it's better to leave. Now please."
"We're not leaving until you tell us-" Sunpaw started, only to be cut off again by Whitepaw.
"Okay, well thanks for your time, if you think of anything let us know," he said quickly, dragging Sunpaw away. Yellowfang fought the urge to purr.
"I could have taken her," she heard her daughter hiss.
"Yeah, probably," Whitepaw meowed sarcastically. "Unless she ate us first."
The pain at letting Sunpaw go was dulled by the fact she had seen her. But something was gnawing at Yellowfang. Something about that raid...
Small, dark, smart enough to hide her scent.
"No way..." she whispered.
Yellowfang was not a cat who enjoyed sitting around idly when she could be doing something. so once she put two and two together, she set out to find Shadowpaw.
The training arena was the most likely place to start, so she went there first. Along the way, memories of her meeting with Sunpaw made her purr. Sunpaw was so big now! And strong and...well, just as headstrong as she was as a kit. And the way Whitepaw looked at her was absolutely...well, if Yellowfang was the kind of she-cat to use the word 'adorable' that's what she would have called it.
The training arena loomed before her and she could hear Raggedstar's encouraging meows. Speeding slightly, she crested the small hill and found that three apprentices were training. Tanglepaw waved her tail from where she sat next to Runningpaw as Yellowfang padded in. Yellowfang realized she had neglected Runningpaw a lot these past few days. She would have to make it up to him.
Shadowpaw and Deerpaw were sparring. Raggedstar looked on with pride and Yellowfang approached him. "Can I borrow Shadowpaw?"
Raggedstar sighed and Shadowpaw rolled her silvery eyes, "It's fine." she gave Deerpaw a teasing nip. "Lucky for you."
Deerpaw made a face and Shadowpaw laughed, following Yellowfang out of the clearing. As soon as they were out of sight of the others, the apprentice grew tense. "Is this about the other night? That was really none of your business-"
"No, it's about you ransacking the ThunderClan medicine den." Yellowfang was slightly pleased to see a look of shock pass over her daughter's face. "Care to explain?"
"I know the medicine den was attacked, but wasn't it WindClan?"
"I talked to Goosefeather. He described a small, dark, she-cat. Smart enough to cover up her scent."
Shadowpaw purred, "I'm flattered you thought of me, but really, why would I do a thing like that? I'm about to become a warrior, and it's not like I despise ThunderClan."
"I don't know why, and I'm guessing you aren't going to tell me."
"There's nothing to tell," Shadowpaw meowed. "Now excuse me." she slipped back to the training.
Yellowfang reflected on exactly how well Raggedstar had been training their daughter.
Raggedstar could not have looked more pleased. Deerpaw, Tanglepaw, and Shadowpaw sat in front of him in a cone. Runningpaw was at Yellowfang's side. She was a little worried for him- this morning she had to give him the talk about how his day would come soon. And then she had to force a couple jokes about how he would be grateful when he got his magic powers. And then Runningpaw gave a short speech about how he loved being a medicine cat, he was just missed his siblings. It was very tiring.
Yellowfang worried this would go too fast. She knew for Shadowpaw and the others it must be dragging along, but for Yellowfang it seemed ages to go before the naming began.
Tanglepaw became Tangleburr, which she seemed a little disenchanted with. Deerpaw became Deerfoot, and he was fine with that.
Shadowpaw was left alone, waiting for her name. Raggedstar beamed down at her.
"My own apprentice, my daughter. Shadowpaw has shown exceeding intelligence and her bravery is unparalleled. I say these words before StarClan...Shadowpaw, do you promise to uphold the Warrior Code and your Clan, at all costs?"
"I do." Shadowpaw had a steely glint in her eyes, but also a greediness that Yellowfang found unsettling.
"Then I name you Shadowbird."
Shadowbird dipped her head and when she came up, her eyes were alight with joy. Yellowfang felt guilty for thinking she had looked greedy. It was just ambition, anxiety.
She padded over to the dark warrior, where she and her two companions were being congratulated.
The she-cat turned and made her way to Yellowfang.
She looks like me, the medicine cat thought with a pang. She wasn't sure what to call their relationship, but Shadowbird seemed compelled to talk to her alone.
"I just wanted to say congratulations." Yellowfang croaked. "You've done great in your apprenticeship Sunpaw."
Shadowbird's eyes flickered, "Excuse me?" she said, her voice dangerously icy.
Yellowfang could have smacked herself. "Did I say Sunpaw? Sorry. Old age. Anyways, nice name."
She scurried away, uncharacteristically upset. Shadowbird stared after her and Yellowfang felt a dull ache in her chest.
And the guilt returned when she realized all she could think of was whether Sunpaw had her naming ceremony today.
The half moon couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Yellowfang needed to be away from Shadowbird and Raggedstar and ShadowClan. She needed to think.
Runningpaw bounded by her, happier then he had been this morning. He had taken painstaking amounts of time to try the new cold remedy he wanted to cure his constant sniffling. Yellowfang didn't blame him- Spottedpaw from ThunderClan might be pretty, but that didn't mean Runningpaw didn't see her whiskers twitch.
The other medicine cats were unusually silent- Featherwhisker and Spottedpaw remained close, whispering. They weren't eager to talk to the others, especially with the medicine raid still unsolved. Hawkheart glared at everyone. Brambleberry was notably absent.
"Where's Brambleberry?" Runningpaw finally asked.
Featherwhisker blinked several times and turned to face him, "I heard that RiverClan was sick. Something in the water."
"Should we be worried?" Yellowfang asked.
Featherwhisker shook his head, "It contaminated the waters nearest to their camp a few days ago...it's worked its way out of the water, but the poison is still in their blood."
"Was it Twolegs?" Hawkheart asked, trying not to betray his interest.
"No one knows. But no one saw any Twolegs." Featherwhisker shook his head sadly.
Hawkheart's eyes were alive with interest in RiverClan's pain. Yellowfang wouldn't put it past him to try and convince Heatherstar to attack.
They didn't talk again until they reached the Moon Stone. Runningpaw and Spottedpaw were bouncing with excitement and Yellowfang could only think about talking with StarClan, Sagewhisker maybe, and getting some advice.
She slid against the stone and pressed her nose against it, not even waiting for Runningpaw to do the same. After a moment, she opened her eyes.
In front of her was StarClan's beauty. A gray she-cat stood in front of her, wide blue eyes blinking at Yellowfang. Her leg hung uselessly beside her. "Yellowfang?"
"Who are you? Oh, nevermind, look, I've got to find Sagewhisker."
Yellowfang tried to brush past the she-cat, but she was blocked. "This is incredible," the she-cat breathed, "It must be because you're a medicine cat...you can't speak with StarClan because you're..."
Because I'm what?
"Yellowfang," the she-cat said seriously, "You have to wake up."
"I need to talk to Sagewhisker." Yellowfang insisted stubbornly. "It's about Sunpaw."
The she-cat looked at her pityingly, "Sunpaw...Yellowfang, do you know who Brokentail is?"
"Brokentail?" Her thoughts drifted to her son, the dead kit with the broken tail. "I don't know any Brokentails."
The she-cat looked like she was going to cry and Yellowfang shoved past her, "Got to find Sagewhisker."
She walked all over StarClan, looking for the she-cat. But the grass whispered without padding paws, the brooke babbled without the call of old lovers reunited, the entire forest was empty of cats.
Yellowfang sat and wondered if she was cursed, cursed because of two kits she had bore and loved when she was supposed to be alone forever.
I would have been cursed either way, she thought. Then she was surprised at herself, because that seemed weepy and she-cat like.
"Yellowfang?" she turned in hope , but somehow she was awake again and it wasn't Sagewhisker's eyes she saw, but Runningpaw's.
"It's time to go," her apprentice said nervously.
Of course it is, she thought bitterly. But why was she upset? She just felt...uneasy without any discernible reason as to why.
"What did you dream about?" Runningpaw asked. He knew he wasn't supposed to ask, but he did usually and Yellowfang usually told him. But try as she might, she just felt tired and a blankness in her mind.
"I don't remember," she meowed bemusedly.
Probably wasn't important... she thought uneasily, heading out of the cave.
The medicine cat looked up from where she was crouched over Runningpaw. He had a thorn stuck in his paw and was attempting not to shriek every time she went near it. Her annoyance melted away though, as she saw Raggedstar looking at her with burning amber eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Foxheart's patrol was attacked by some ThunderClan cats. Some kind of retribution for the medicine den, even though that was WindClan."
Yellowfang seethed, "Wow, sorry you're girlfriend's hurt."
"Shadowbird was on the patrol."
Yellowfang shoved past him and darted into the clearing. Sure enough, four cats were being carried towards her. Foxheart was slumped, her bushy tail dragging in the ground. Yellowfang couldn't tell if she was breathing. But her eyes were on Shadowbird, carried by Tangleburr as Deerfoot padded by them nervously.
Yellowfang flew to them, shouting for Runningpaw to bring out herbs. There wasn't time to go to the medicine den- these cats were badly injured and they'd lost a lot of blood.
Though it pained her to do so, Yellowfang saw to Foxheart first. The pretty she-cat was unconscious, her wounds still bleeding heavily. Yellowfang did her best to clean and patch them, and she kept her misgivings to herself about the cat's likelihood of survival.
The other two warriors, both toms who she didn't really see except for their wounds were awake and complaining, though weakly. One tried to reassure her that the ThunderClan cats were in worse condition, but she just breezed through them until she got to Shadowbird.
Tangleburr and Deerfoot guarded her like she was a leader, loosing a life to StarClan in the midst of a battle. Yellowfang stood in front of them, waiting to be let past. Tangleburr stepped to the side, but Deerfoot looked at her with eyes delirious from fear.
"It'll be okay," she soothed, unusually gentle.
He grudgingly moved to the side and she bent down. Shadowbird's eyes were flickering open and she groaned, not in pain, but shame. "It went badly."
"I'm surprised," Yellowfang tried to keep her voice even, hide her relief.
Shadowsong opened her eyes incredulously as Yellowfang saw to her biggest wound- a nasty scratch on the stomach. "They jumped us! I did my best, but Foxheart kept talking over me and it was just stupid. And the ThunderClan cats were so organized, they'd obviously planned it."
She continued rambling as Yellowfang reached for some cobweb to patch the wound.
"But I'll get them back. I already have a plan....three, actually. Anyways, it should be pretty easy. They were all really useless, especially this white tom, he was so scared. The only really annoying one was this golden she-cat...what was her name, that tom shouted it...Dawnwhisker? No, Sunwhisker! That was it!"
Yellowfang choked on the cobweb she held in her mouth and Shadowbird peered at her, "You okay?"
She nodded and continued to see to her daughter's wounds, but her mind was racing.
Her daughters. Fighting each other.
StarClan, she thought. What if they had died?
Raggedstar padded out of the medicine den, stiff-legged. "Foxheart is dead."
Yellowfang couldn't even muster up and fake sympathy. "I only let you talk to her alone because I assumed you wouldn't murder her in her sleep."
Her former mate glared at her. "You know, you could show a little compassion."
"Like all the compassion you've shown me?"
He ignored that. "I was talking to her, telling her she had to wake up. But then...she just...stopped..." he trailed off, eyes up in the stars. Yellowfang used to admire that he was a dreamer. Now she just wondered when exactly she had fallen out of those lucky visions.
"Well, you better get started on a new deputy," Yellowfang started to head back to her den. Someone would have to clean up the carcass. Especially before Runningpaw woke up and freaked out.
"I wanted to talk to you about that," Raggedstar said, keeping pace with her. He waited outside the den as she dragged Foxheart's body out and peered at it critically. The vigil would have to do without a body, the deputy's was simply too disturbing. Mutilated and ghastly, it was even disconcerting to Yellowfang, who had seen some messed up things in her life.
"Since when have you ever talked to me about anything?" she asked, starting to carry the ginger she-cat towards where ShadowClan buried their dead. At least the she-cat was skinny.
"I know who I want," Raggedstar said. Yellowfang dropped Foxheart by a plot that was a little closer to the dirtplace than not. She looked up and realized Raggedstar was staring at her with intense amber eyes.
Sighing, she caved, "Who?"
Raggedstar puffed out his chest and she realized what she had mistaken for a rare thought to ask advice was an urge to brag. And so, she realized with a sinking heart exactly who Raggedstar had picked before he said it, eyes proud, voice tight with pleasure.
"It's all wrong," Yellowfang whispered, her eyes wild. "It can't be right, this wasn't how it was supposed to go..."
She couldn't completely explain the feeling of dread welling inside of her. Yes, Shadowbird was her daughter, and yes, she should have been proud. But she had an unshakable feeling of dread, as though something truly terrible was going to happen. As though something catastrophic was about to-
"Yellowfang?" she looked up to see Raggedstar looking at her distastefully. "You missed the ceremony."
She's my daughter! Yellowfang longed to yowl. But you molded her into a perfect little killer! Of course I missed it!
Raggedstar didn't see her point, even a little. "The medicine cat should have been there. It was all very improper."
"And you are so very concerned with what's proper, aren't you?"
A spasm of pain flickered across Raggedstar's face. "I didn't mean for it to go this way," he confessed. "I...I loved you. But I need a deputy, I need a successor."
"You chose between our daughters!" Yellowfang nearly forgot to keep her voice lowered in her anger. "You left Sunwhisker to rot in ThunderClan and you made Shadowbird a monster!"
Yellowfang glared at him, "So you have no idea she was the one who had torn apart the ThunderClan medicine den?"
Raggedstar rolled his eyes, "That was...a test. She passed. It doesn't matter-"
"It does matter," Yellowfang said, her anger blowing away like a leaf in the wind as she realized something very important. "And that's what sets us apart," she said sadly. "I will always love our kits, no matter what. And you're going to regret it, try to cover it up until the end of your days."
Raggedstar let out a growl. "I love Shadowbird," he hissed. "And that you would dare-"
"And Sunwhisker?" Yellowfang challenge.
She could see the slightest flicker in his eyes. And she was seriously consider killing him when he said, "She's ThunderClan."
Because you left her! Because you had Shadowbird destroy the ThunderClan medicine den when she could have saved her sister!
"Get out of my den," she spat, claws unsheathed. Raggedstar knew she wouldn't strike him, but he backed away anyways.
Before he left, he turned and looked her in the eye. "If I could do anything to have this turn out a different way, I would do it in a heartbeat."
Does he mean the part where we had kits? Where we fell in love? Where he gave up one of his daughters?
But she couldn't ask those questions because her mate, her leader, padded out of the den. It was the last time she ever saw him alive.
Yellowfang was asleep. Lately, she hadn't been able to remember her dreams so much. If she had them. For a medicine cat, this was more than a little problematic. But she felt like she was dreaming now. Was it a dream? She could smell something rank and she was running through the forest and a dark tabby was laughing darkly, his crooked tail lashing...
She jerked awake and saw Deerfoot standing in front of her. Dirt streaked his pelt and his eyes were wide with terror. "Whuzzit?" she mumbled.
He just opened his mouth and closed it, unable to speak. Muttering, she shoved past him, into the clearing.
A few of the cats were up, senior warriors mostly. Shadowbird crouched in the shadow of Raggedstar's den and Yellowfang wondered what she was doing. The black she-cat's eyes met hers and Yellowfang instinctively looked away.
The cats were gathered around something. Heart sinking, Yellowfang pushed through them and nearly cried out.
Raggedstar had broken her. He had given her dreams and love and a thousand lifetimes of happiness, but then he left her in the dust for the kits she was forced to ostracize. He gave her as much attention as a leader gives an average apprentice.
And yet, seeing him now, splayed on the camp ground, blood painting the marsh beneath him, she had to bite her tongue to keep from crying out. Because he was most certainly, unavoidably, without a question dead and gone.
The last words I said to him were 'Get out of my den'! I never got to say goodbye...
Runningpaw was looking at her with wide eyes, "Are you okay?"
Mutely, Yellowfang shook her head. She struggled to find her voice, her fire, the barbed tongue she needed so badly right now to prove she was a medicine cat and not a heartbroken lover. Finally, she choked out, "Take him to the medicine den and...I'll..."
Runningpaw nodded and gathered a couple warriors to help him. Yellowfang was grateful, and she stumbled away from the other cats, gasping breath. But the air wasn't working right- why did her heart feel like it was being squeezed tighter and tighter? Why was she having to force herself to breathe? Why-
Yellowfang looked up to see Shadowbird. The dark she-cat was looking at her with narrowed silver-blue eyes and Yellowfang struggled to nod.
"He was on patrol, by himself," Shadowbird said. Yellowfang realized how emotionless the she-cat was, and it disturbed her. "Got jumped by some ThunderClan cats. Terrible."
Yellowfang gaped at her wordlessly and Shadowbird gave her a sad, secret sort of smile and disappeared into the forest. Unable to cope with this new oddity, Yellowfang padded slowly out of the camp, then, once she was away from the other cats, she broke into a run.
Once she reached the tree, the tree she had given birth to Sunwhisker and Shadowbird, the tree she had left her normal old life in, she collapsed, sobs heaving out of her chest. She let out a strangled howl, wailing out her pain.
Raggedstar was dead. Gone. She would never see his teasing eyes again, never hear his too loud laugh, never get to secretly sigh over the way his pelt looked when it was a little tussled. She had no one left, no one to convince her she had done the right thing. She had lost a mate, a leader, a friend.
She never got to say goodbye.
Raggedstar's vigil was on a rainy day. StarClan cried for him, and Yellowfang cried too.
Shadowstar, as she was now known, watched from her perch on the tree where her father used to sit. Deerfoot sat beneath her, a faithful deputy and mate, as ever. His fur was matted and his eyes were dull with pain. Tangleburr sat by her brother, leaning on him as she sobbed.
The rest of the Clan had said their goodbyes earlier. Kits were ushered into the nursery as the storm broke, mother's fearful they would be cursed with colds. The elders were unnaturally silent and the warriors muttered plots of revenge.
Yellowfang was the only one who sat by his body the whole night. She knew the rest of the Clan would have too, but it was too dark, too rainy, too sad. Runningpaw had sat beside his mentor until she made him go to the den. He would be getting his name at the next half moon, and she didn't want him to be sick.
Raggedstar's pelt smelled of pine and rain and ShadowClan, but all of Runningpaw's efforts could not hide the stench of death that hovered over the dead leader's body. At first, she'd try to keep herself detached, think about all the other vigils she'd attended. Her mentor's, her tiny kitten son's. Even Sunwhisker had received a night in the pine groves, where Yellowfang mourned the loss of a daughter.
But then she'd started to torture herself. What if I hadn't thrown him out? If I'd even waited a few minutes, he might have missed the ThunderClan patrol entirely. What if we'd talked? Instead of him being dead we might be twining tails, curling together. What if I had chased after him? Maybe I could have saved him. What if I found him sooner, maybe I could have saved him...
Then the tears started to fall. Yellowfang hated herself, for her weakness, for her tears, for her broken heart. If she had never fallen in love, if she was stronger, if, if, if...
The rain chilled her to the bone, until she wondered if she would die, frozen on top of Raggedstar's body. Somehow, she doubted Shadowstar would cry.
Three leaf-bares ago, the nursery had collapsed after a heavy snow. The kits had all squeezed into Yellowfang's den, with their anxious mothers. It was so bitingly cold, and Yellowfang had to make sure they all stayed awake, all night, so they didn't slip away to a warm StarClan in their sleep. Frozen kittens were a heartbreaking part of leaf-bare that almost always reappeared once every year.
She could feel her eyes growing heavy now. The rain washing her in ice, to match her heart. Apart of her protested, thought about Sunwhisker and Shadowstar. Thought about Runningpaw and his naming ceremony. Thought about staying awake and seeing the dawn.
But the other side of her thought about Raggedstar. Thought about his laugh and his eyes and the way she'd loved him, so passionately, but so shortly. Thought about the little kit she had to bury alone in the woods, and the two other kits she could never claim.
I've suffered enough, she thought, her tears melting onto her mate's pelt. I just want to sleep.
Yellowfang expected to wake up in StarClan, greeted by Raggedstar's warm eyes and a lift in her aching heart. She did not expect to be jolted awake a few hours after dawn by yowling.
Her eyelids felt frozen shut, but she pulled them open and stood, muscles aching.
Shadowstar was yowling something from her perch on her tree. Her pelt was slick with rain, though it had stopped, so Yellowfang realized she had stayed up all night as well. Deerfoot was holding back a writhing mass of warriors who were snarling at a small patrol of six cats. Yellowfang recognized her fellow medicine cats, Featherwhisker, Hawkheart, and Brambleberry. They were each accompanied by a warrior. Hawkheart shared an irritated look with his skinny escort while Brambleberry and the she-cat she had come with were giving sympathetic purrs to the angry crowd.
But it was Featherwhisker's escort who caught Yellowfang's eye. This she-cat wasn't looking at her medicine cat or trying to soothe the angry ShadowClan cats. She was looking at her paws in boredom. Her eyes traveled across the clearing once and locked onto Yellowfang. They widened, the amber color dancing in the sun.
Yellowfang broke her gaze away to look up. Shadowstar had stopped yowling and was staring in shock, her silver eyes narrowed, at Yellowfang, then the ThunderClan warrior.
Please, StarClan, not today. I really don't need any of this.
But she could do nothing, say nothing, as her daughters made eye contact, for the first time in moons, over their father's corpse.
Shadowstar looked away first, seemingly bored. But Yellowfang knew, as mother's often do, when her kit wasn't being honest- and Shadowstar had a faint flicker in her eye that hinted that she knew something. The thought froze Yellowfang's blood.
Sunwhisker, on the other hand, looked at Shadowstar, with a mixture of bemusement and hostility. Like a warrior who encounters a squirrel they took a bite out of a few sunrises ago and is unsure whether to kill it or not.
Featherwhisker cleared his throat, ever the peacemaker. "We've come to give our regards for Raggedstar's passing. He was a noble and brave leader, and StarClan will give him all he deserves." He said this to no one in particular, confused as to look to Shadowstar or Yellowfang or the mass of ShadowClan cats who had stopped yowling so much.
Hawkheart just nodded, looking thoroughly bored. But Brambleberry, looking especially distraught, pressed, "It was such a terrible accident, not a death worthy of the great-"
"It was no accident!" some elder was yowling their tail off. "ThunderClan killed him!" There was a general hollering of agreement from the ShadowClan cats. Featherwhisker hunched a little, eyes wide with confusion, while Sunwhisker leapt to her paws.
"We didn't kill your leader, you batty old-" she started to shout, only to be yanked back down by Featherwhisker who hissed a few words at her. Yellowfang was close enough to hear the tail end of it, as she padded over.
"-brought you here because Sunstar said it would be a good experience, even though I told him you'd go crazy and try to kill everyone. So please just prove him right, would you?"
"Thank you for your...sympathies." Yellowfang said as she approached. She was talking to everyone, but her eyes were on Sunwhisker. The fiery she-cat glowered back at her. "But...er...well, if you don't want your pelts lining our nests, you might want to go."
"Thanks!" Brambleberry squeaked. She turned to flee, the WindClan cats snorting as they followed. Featherwhisker nudged Sunwhisker who heaved a great sigh as she too turned away. Yellowfang wanted to call for her, tell her to-
I stayed up way too late, Yellowfang thought. I'm shouting things and not even realizing it's me who's shouting them!
Then, with a bit of embarrassment, she realized it was Shadowstar who had called out and was now hurrying across the clearing. She skidded to a halt before the cats, and Yellowfang held her breath.
"Thank you for your condolences for my father's late passing," Shadowstar said imperiously. "But I want you to know, that I will find whoever was responsible for his passing, and I will make them suffer." Her eyes lingered on the ThunderClan cats. "Understood?"
Brambleberry nodded empathetically while Hawkheart barely reacted. Featherwhisker murmured a thanks and turned to go. "Oh, and one more thing," Shadowstar said sweetly. "Sunwhisker, is it?"
Yellowfang was torn between burying her head in the dirt of tackling her daughter. Either one. Really, she just didn't want to deal with any of this. Ever.
Sunwhisker lifted her chin defiantly, and she seemed to be making an effort not to say anything sarcastic.
"Your loyalty to your Clan is...endearing," Shadowstar said, a curved smirk on her face. "Perhaps you should spend more time reflecting on your bad attitude, though? It's not very ThunderClan to be mean."
Sunwhisker's nostrils flared and she snapped, "How thoughtful, coming from a ShadowClan cat. You might want to spend time reflecting on how some day you might wake up with half your tail gone-"
"Thanks! Okay, bye!" Featherwhisker was literally dragging away a spitting Sunwhisker. Half the ShadowClan cats hooted with laughter while the other half muttered threats of war.
"Goodbye Sunpaw!" Shadowstar shouted after them. The Clan purred, probably thinking it was a derogatory joke, but Yellowfang saw the glint in Shadowstar's eyes.
She's got a plan...StarClan help me.