I forced one foot in front of another, kept my head high. I couldn't show fear, or anger or emotion when I faced Council. I had to be strong and brave and fearsome.
Only I wasn't.
I felt broken all over. With every paw I put before another the image of Pebblepaw flashed before my mind. I had loved him, we had fit and were accepted and there was nothing wrong or not understandable about the two of us being together. But yet, somehow, we had been torn apart anyways.
You will not cry in front of these murderers. You can't give them the pleasure of seeing what they've done to you.
Another step. And another. We were getting closer and closer to Council. The plan was to discuss a peace treaty of sorts, at least until Blood Council was out of the way.
Had it been anything other than Blood Council, the ruthless group of cats once known as Blood Division who had captured Graystripe, separating her from Smokeheaze right after their confessions, making her new mate live through what she had feared the most, I would not have agreed.
But if we could come to some sort of agreement with Council, even if it was only temporary until the risk of Blood Council was removed, we could save lives and more of the pain that I had been put through.
"InkClan, FireClan," A tom waiting before a bramble entrance nodded as we approached him. Riverstar and Hazelstar dipped their heads in return. Both held eyes of anger, hurt, fear. Council had taken from them too. Inkstar and Firestar had both been murdered by Council. Inkstar and Riverstar had been mates while Firestar had been a cat whom the whole of the Clan had loved.
Being reminded of his death made me want to turn around and run. Return to the shelter of InkClan or FireClan, both of which had served as my homes, escape these murdurers.
Smokehaze, who had been paddling alongside me, pressed his dark pelt against me own. His eyes held sympathy and understanding, surely he would be able to compare this to the storm into Blood Council to save Graystripe. One that had, fortunately, turned out successful.
"This could bring the end of this war," He whispered into my ear. His cold breath brought the little hairs hanging out of my ears on end. This really mattered.
I made my back straighter, my expression flatter and pulled my stomach in. The tom on guard, poked his head inside, before returning to us and smiling.
"Come on in," He invited. Council was so different from us, it was impossible not to be jealous of them. They lived their whole lives in power; controlling, ruling, knowing everything.
What kind of a life would that be?
We pushed our way inside, where there were twenty cats gathered around in a circle. I remembered some of the faces, they had come after Inkstar's death to torture Riverstar, to push her to a point where she had caused a rebellion, turned the forest around, brought in the threat of Blood Council...
Everything had changed the night I met these cats.
"Do you believe in your system?" Hazelstar didn't waste a single moment asking her question. She didn't even sit, stood firmly as she faced the cats who had taken her beloved leader.
"Yes. We believe in peace and solidarity. Ripping each other apart over territory that can easily be maintained by a small group like us is pointless. We have brought a new way of life into the Clans and you should be grateful for it."
"Well we believe in our system too. We believe in freedom. But Blood Council doesn't have a system. They just want to kill, and they want power and revenge. Their rule will be the bloodiest, most oppressed of them all. You don't know what it feels like to lose, to have someone you love stolen from you because they wanted basic rights," Her voice was on the verge of cracking now, it had a power, a control to it, however, which seemed to have captured the full attention of all the cats of Council.
"It stings. And Blood Council will sting more. They will sting you-it's a feeling you have never experienced and should pray to never have to. But if we don't join sides..."
The cats of Council turned to each other and began whispering furiously. Hazelstar looked tired, hurt, shocked at how she had spoken, what she had managed to let out.
I was impressed too.
But Council was going to need more. More than what Hazelstar had provided if they were going to side with their enemies. And, after a moment of hesitation, I was sure I knew what.
"I saved your two apprentices."
Everyone turned around to look at me, surprised. The sound of my heart beating was the loudest thing in the small den and I sucked in a deep breath.
"The day InkClan broke off we took two apprentices prisoner. The way they were being treated was bothering me so I fed them, gave them herbs and freed them. Even though I knew they would turn to you. Just because we want freedom that doesn't make us ruthless monsters. We may have different systems but neither of us are monsters; we can still care for others..."
"For now, at least."
"Cats of InkClan!" A formal gathering was not required by Riverstar. Every cat in the Clan, all of whom knew about the meeting that had taken place the previous night, were beneath the HighBranch within moments.
Graystripe by my side, I began to paddle towards where the rest of the Clan had gathered in a huge rush. As we walked, we continued our slow conversation.
"I wonder where Council gets all these cats to fight with from. I mean, they aren't even that big. There had to be somewhere..."
"Rogues," I replied, "They made a deal with a group of rogues. I'm not sure what they will be getting in return, probably some territory, but you know how they can fight when given the motivation.
"Rogues are gross."
"Agreed," I offered a half-smile as we paddled up. Riverstar was quite mad at me as of the moment; letting go of the prisoners was not a choice she approved of, and she even went all over me about Pebblepaw's death, but Smokehaze, the blessed tom, stepped in to keep her off my back.
The issue was that is wasn't such a simple matter. I wasn't sure I would have made the same choice had I known it would cost Pebblepaw's life. What was being done was wrong but was it worse to betray your Clan?
Did I want to know the answer?
"Don't worry," Graystripe must have been reading my thoughts because she gave me a warm lick on the cheek, "You made the good choice and Riverstar will have to see that sooner or later. If you hadn't freed those apprentices we might not have made a treaty with Council and Blood Council could have destroyed the forest."
"Pebblepaw would have still been here," I murmured, looking at the light blue sky, "I can't help but wondering what his warrior name might have been. Pebblestone? Pebbleskip? Pebbleheart?"
"I like Pebbleskip the most," Graystripe smiled, nudging me in the shoulder. Unable to help it, I smiled back. The gray tabby had a way of keeping me cheery, even in the most dire situations.
"Cats of InkClan!" Riverstar began before everyone could even get seated. The excitement shone right through her eyes as she spoke, "Council have agreed to side with us until the threat of Blood Council has passed!"
There was a round of cheers from the majority of the Clan. Some seemed confused and there were a few protesting chants of "Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!
The sound of the chanting made me nauseous and the nausea it brought back could not be explained. The days when Inkstar was alive, when we were all waiting for a rebellion, not living one, when Pebblepaw was still around...
"We will attack Blood Council tomorrow as sundown," Riverstar continued, ignoring the majority of the protests, "The whole of InkClan shall join the battle. StoneClan is sending some cats here to guard the kits and elders, keeping some in their camp and sending the other half to the battle. Council should also be providing us with a good deal of..." Riverstar hesitated for a moment, "Rogues, who can aid us in battle."
"Blood Council will fall."
The silence was lethal, almost. It lasted a split second, it was doubt and misgivings. There had always been four divisions, or Clans, or groups in the forest.
What will happen if we become three?
Suddenly, I was doubtful. About everything I had been fighting for, everything I would be fighting for and if there even was a possibility of a bright future ahead for the Clans and Council.
Are we doomed for eternity?
Meanwhile, I was not very popular in InkClan. The news of my releasing spread rather quickly, and I was soon the topic of many rumors and gossip.
"I knew she couldn't be trusted. First she ditches us for FireClan and then she comes back a few moons later, after they rebel too. Riverstar should kick her out..."
"She thought it was okay because they were apprentices!"
"Well, if it did get Council to side with us, maybe the Clan shouldn't be too harsh on her. I mean, her betrayal might end up saving us from destruction."
"Don't mind them," Herbscent whispered, trying to lead me away towards the warriors den. I could feel all eyes trained on me, murmurs and thoughts traveling faster than the wind.
At that moment, I knew I shouldn't, I knew that there was no reason it should matter after everything else that happened, but I felt bad, and was a point near regretting my choice to speak.
Society still had an undeniable force, rebellion or not.
I tried to ignore them, tried to block out the murmurs that followed me wherever I went. The Clan didn't approve of my choice, they thought I was a traitor, not trustable... they thought I was everything from secretly Blood Council to secretly pregnant.
"Don't listen to them," Herbscent repeated as we entered the warriors den. She was a young warrior too; we had recently met one night when neither of us had been able to fall asleep. I for the usual reasons and her because she claimed she had a nightmare where her mother, an elder, had died brutally at the hands of a Blood Council cat.
"They'll forgive you," Herscent promised me, "When we deal with Blood Division they will realize the good in your decision."
"That's not a when, it's an if."
Smokehaze barred his teeth as we dashed closer and closer towards our border with Blood Council. His claws were already unsheathed and there was a dangerous look in his eyes...
Of course, it was natural. Blood Council had put Graystripe through so much torture. The memories still haunted her every night, the experience had shaken them both, and made their relationship more vulnerable than they had wanted it to be.
"Smokehaze," I glanced at him, "Don't get carried away. What would Graystripe think if you became a monster just to avenge her. Make sure to... control yourself."
"I will," He promised, "Don't worry about me."
There was a moment of understanding that passed between us; no matter what had happened to the cats we loved, no matter how much we had been hurt and cheated, we would keep ourselves together. We would meet as the same Smokehaze and Redfur back in InkClan's camp.
I ducked underneath a heavy tom, avoiding a lethal pair of claws. We were winning the fight quite comfortably, thanks to the well-trained cats brought in by Council.
If things continued this way Blood Council would be over.
I hadn't seen Smokehaze at all during the fight but I assumed he was okay. I imagined he was probably looking out for Graystripe; her last time here hadn't been pleasant at all.
"Redfur, watch out!"
I ducked, not sure who the call had come from, but grateful anyways, as a pair of claws flew right to where my head had been. I tackled the tom who had made the strike, catching him by surprise.
We rolled around for a while, scratching at each other furiously. I ignored the stinging feeling that shook my nerves every time his claws met my pelt.
"Get out of our territory, InkClan trash!"
"Get out of our forest!"
I slashed his muzzle, thinking about Smokehaze and Graystripe, thinking about everything that might unfold if Blood Council was able to take over the forest...
Before I could help myself I was standing over a dead body, doing exactly what I had promised myself, promised Smokehaze, silently promised Pebblepaw I wouldn't do.
I took a hesitant step back. I hadn't meant to kill, I didn't want to kill.
After a second of hesitation, I whirled around, tears choking me. I really was a traitor and a monster and I deserved to be executed and kicked out of the Clan...
But then I glanced around for a moment and realized something.
Cats were killing everywhere; this wasn't a skirmish or one of those patrol problems that the Clans had back in the days before Council.
This was war and rebellion and blood and death.
You didn't do anything other cats here aren't doing. You were protecting the forest, it's better one guilty cat dies than several innocent ones...
It was odd, though, how the rumors and gossip about me could still take over my mind even after I had killed a cat. I wasn't trying to let it, but somehow they worked their way in anyways...
"Redfur!" My head snapped up to see Graystripe rushing towards me. Her eyes were horrified, tears running down them and she buried her face into my pelt.
"What's wrong?" I questioned, "Did something happen, Graystripe?"
"Take me back to InkClan," She begged, "This place keeps scaring me. I was imagining it back there, I saw them torturing Smokehaze and then killing him, and then I Pebblepaw, the way I imagined him, dragging you back up to StarClan and I now right where my cage is..."
I swallowed, not deciding to question how horrible her treatment here must have been.
"Come on, Graystripe," I whispered, sliding one of her front paws over my shoulders, "This place is too harsh on you right now. Let's go home."
Falconwings shrugged, "She doesn't seem to be sick at all, Redfur. She's probably just scarred, and who wouldn't be, after staying there for so long."
"Okay," I inhaled my relief, "So can I go back to the battle?"
"No point, it should be done by the time you get there. As a matter of fact..." He craned his head for a moment and I turned around to see a giant patrol returning to camp, Riverstar leading them.
"They are back already," I whispered.
Not waiting for a response I dashed up to the patrol, and quickly next to Riverstar as the cats immediately scattered, some heading towards Falconwing's den, some heading to their nests and others to the clearing to meet up with other cats.
"How did it go?" I questioned.
"Well we won, I think, and we certainly weakened Blood Division but they aren't gone yet. They'll probably pull through this within a moon or so, and until then our treaty with Council has been put to an end. Again, we are surrounded by enemies. I just hope Stone Division can chose a side quickly.
"Why don't we try siding with Council for a longer period of time," I frowned, "Blood Council is already weak which would mean not much fighting with either side which would mean peace..."
"I know how appealing that sounds," Riverstar sighed, "I'd love that myself. I still am not over the death of my mate and yet I have to lead a huge Clan in a giant rebellion with so many sides that keep popping up from all corners, and secrets and traitors..."
"It's alright, Redfur, I can almost understand why you did. This rebellion has been hard on a lot of us, I think it was a rash decision... Everything would be so much better off now if I had controlled the Clan, told them Inkstar had done something terrible he deserved to get punished for. But there's no turning back after this point, whether we like it or not."
"I suppose not."
There was a pause and then I craned my neck for a moment, before glancing at Riverstar curiously, "Do you know where Smokehaze is? Graystripe needs some comfort at the moment, seeing that camp didn't do her psychology well, at all, and he's the only one who can really calm her.
"About that, Redfur, there was something I wanted to show you right outside of camp."
She blinked quickly and then flicked her tail, indicating for me to follow her as she led us outside of camp. I could feel my heart about to jump out of my throat.
Did Smokehaze get carried away? We weren't going to get carried away though, it was a mutual promise. If he got himself exiled...
I was expecting to see an ashamed, an embarrassed, a guilty or an angry Smokehaze when I turned around the corner but what I wasn't at all expecting was a stiff, not moving Smokehaze bloodied up, clearly dragged up to the entrance to camp.
"He pushed himself too hard," Riverstar whispered, "His need for revenge drove him crazy, he lost himself in the fight and they ganged up on him, tortured him and took him down together.
But I wasn't listening, I wasn't paying attention anymore. All that I could see was the limp body of Smokehaze, the memories flashing before my eyes how much he had hurt when he thought he could never see Graystripe again.
He had never considered the possibility that she may not ever get the chance to see him after the fight, it seemed.
And in that moment of acceptance, as I realized, understood and acknowledged that he was dead, I could feel this part of me floating away, running away, breaking off from me.
It hurt but it also felt good in a way.
One less thing to lose.
Graystripe sat silently in the medicine cat's den, grooming her paw. I swallowed, not wanting to speak to her now, but also aware that the sooner the better.
"Hey, Graystripe," I kept my expression neutral as I approached her, taking a few careful footsteps towards her. When she noticed me her eyes brightened.
"Hey, Redfur!" She smiled, "Do you know where Smokehaze is?"
My heart dropped.
"About that, Graystripe," I glanced down at my paws for a moment, before lifting my head again, "Smokehaze... Graystripe, Smokehaze..."
"Did he leave me?" Her eyes widened in a combination of fear and pain. It was a blow to my stomach. How could I tell her this, when it was clear how much she needed him.
But I didn't have a choice.
"He's gone, Graystripe. Smokehaze is gone. He got carried away trying to avenge you. What you saw... him being tortured by Blood Council warriors right before they killed him..."
"It was real."
I expected her to scream in protest, to sob loudly, to attack me and tell me to stop lying, stop playing games and take her to Smokehaze.
But Graystripe was different. She was more open to loss, more quick to accept it. Her eyes just widened, and a fat tear rolled down from one and then the other.
"I loved him."
"I loved him, as a friend, too," I whispered, "But he died for you, Graystripe. He died loving you, he died with his cause, his momentum being you. He loved you."
"Oh, Redfur, I don't want to believe it," She whispered. I bit my lower lip, running out of things to say. I wasn't good at dealing with loss, there was no way I could help someone else with it.
"Don't then," I whispered back, knowing it was the only thing I could say, "Don't believe it, Graystripe. If you don't believe in it than you won't have to feel the aftermath."
I turned around and headed out of the den, feeling my insides being crushed by the weight of what I had just said and what I had just suggested.
I began to bid farewell to the Graystripe I knew and loved and prepared myself to welcome a different one, who might be just as lovable but would remind me with every motion of what emotions caused in a time like this.
I watched from the corner of my eyes as Graystripe picket up a mouse from the fresh-kill pile. Her motions were stiff and her expression was soft but it wouldn't have been possible to guess her mate had just died if one just glanced at her.
Once the mouse was secured in her jaws, she glanced about until she noticed me, her eyes shifting a little as she took in my red pelt and orange eyes.
StarClan is you exist, I pray don't let her walk to me. Please don't let her walk to me, please don't let her walk to me, please don't let her walk to me.
StarClan didn't exist however, I remembered, as Graystripe made a beeline for me, her eyes shifting unpredictably with every step she took.
"It's not working," Was the first thing she said, as soon as she was right by me, "I try to tell myself it didn't happen but you wouldn't lie, and it looked real, it looked so real. Why deny reality when it's reality?"
"Because pain is a reality too," I replied.
"I want to console with you," She ignored me, "Please, Redfur. I think if we just... talk to each other about our losses maybe we can help each other getting over it. It's a long shot, maybe, but anything feels worth a try, the way my heart burning through my body right now."
"It hurts to talk about it, Graystripe."
"It hurts more not to."
Since when was she so wise? I wondered, but the answer was already there. Loss made people open their eyes, it made them smarter and more experienced.
And Graystripe had a point, if there was even a chance it might work, that I could get over Pebblepaw's death and the fact that I played such an important role in it, it could, just maybe, be worth the try.
"It hurts," She whimpered, "But it almost feels good, too. Because he's free now, he can watch over me from StarClan where there is no war, just peace and happiness."
"I don't believe in StarClan," I replied rather gruffly.
"Oh, I think you do," She whispered, "I think we all really do believe in StarClan. Only during the worst moments do we give into the truth, but it's back there, Redfur, just look for it."
But I didn't want to look for it. I didn't want to believe in something, because when you believed you had the risk of being lied to and fooled. When you believed something it only hurt more when it was torn away from you.
"I don't believe in StarClan," I repeated.
"You're stubborn," Graystripe smiled, "That's what makes you so strong, I guess. You get scared like the rest of us, but you don't have the ability to back down because you just... can't.
"I'm not strong," I whispered, "When Counters first came to speak to Riverstar, the night of Inkstar's death, I decided to stay alongside her, but when they came..."
"You ran," Graystripe sucked in a heavy breath, "But that had nothing to do with strength it was habit. Council had drilled it into our heads that they were boss and godlike."
"I'm not strong," I repeated, "Every loss tears me down from the inside. I try to look like I'm unaffected, like it isn't touching me at all, but on the inside it burns and it's eating away at me. I can't fight it-I'm too weak."
"None of us can fight it. The strong ones among us are those who can put on a brave face, and continue like nothing has happened. Who can pretend nothing happened, as you suggested. I'm not that strong though, Redfur. I can't pretend as though..."
That long moment almost tore through me.
"Let's make each other a promise," I offered. Her head shot up and she tipped her head curiously, looking like the old Graypaw for one, sweet moment.
"No matter what happens, we will keep it together. If we ever need someone to talk to… we turn to each other before doing something dangerous."
"You are trying to save me from the fate of Smokehaze, aren't you?" Graystripe questioned narrowing her eyes. I couldn't help remembering when she would have been too naive to guess that.
I didn't deny anything.
There was a heartbeat as she glanced at me wearily.
I was surprised by the fourth one. Three heartbeats was usually the amount of time it took to make a choice and give the response.
She looked up from the floor she had been starring at, a new fire returned to her eyes.
"Alright, Redfur," She whispered, her voice fragile, "I promise."
The whole of the Clan was crowding around Riverstar's patrol as soon as they returned from their meeting with Stone Division who still had not chosen between us, Counters and Blood Council.
Riverstar was easing all cats away, her gaze remaining neutral as she worked her way to the HighBranch and began to leap up it, not even pausing for a moment to take her breath, as I realized, for the first time, how truly committed she was to this.
She isn't just doing this for Inkstar, she's doing this for the Clan. She actually does love this place, she's not running it because she has to.
I was proud of my leader during the moment. For holding together, for going through so much even after losing the cat they loved so much. There were so many people out there we never thought to appreciate, we never thought to consider how much they had really put aside.
"Thank you," I whispered under by breath, knowing the only thing to hear me would be the wind.
"Oh StarClan, please let Stone Division have come to a decision already," Graystripe prayed. The mention of StarClan made me somewhat uncomfortable but I didn't say anything. I could not afford to get into a fight with Graystripe at the moment.
With every passing day the need to call the Clan together was getting smaller and smaller. As soon as Riverstar was upon that branch everyone was below her and listening.
Today she didn't even bother to make the ritual call, she just began to speak, something which felt odd and almost wrong even. The Clan was always addressed in a formal situation, before, during and what could be after Counters.
"Stone Division has not yet come to decision," Riverstar replied, "However they have promised upon everything that they will have their choice made by sun-high tomorrow."
The war could be determined by sun-high.
The thought brought a skip, a jump, a leap to my heart. If this could be over soon, I couldn't imagine how relieving it would be.
Riverstar flicked her tail in dismissal and moments later the Clan had scattered, leaving a blooming hope in my chest about endings that might be happy.
The next morning was complete chaos. When I first woke to noise I thought it was an excited buzz, which involved a lot of screaming, involving Stone Division's choice.
When I pushed myself up to my paws, and blinked my eyes open, however, I realized it was a battle. We had been ambushed, and all it took was a quick whiff to tell whom.
"To Blood Council!" There was a blood curling yowl that made my blood run cold, all the hope drain out of me, and the color leave the world.
Suddenly there wasn't beautiful shades of red, yellow, blue, green and purple anymore. There was just white and black and gray, everything was dark and helpless.
I prepared myself to jump into battle as my instincts had taught me but caught myself at the very last moment. I was tired of fighting and fighting with no end in sight.
It wasn't something I would have ever expected, no matter how drastic the situation. It wasn't something I ever thought I would have the nerve or energy to do.
I escaped camp, and the battle. I ditched InkClan during their battle against Stone Division who had now sided with Blood Council. But I didn't feel like a coward, oddly.
In fact, I felt braver than I ever had in my whole life.
It was odd, wandering around InkClan territory, past the pines, through the woods, by the river, while the sounds of fighting were coming just from camp.
There was a wicked urge within me to return to camp. It was my responsibility to help my Clanmates, but by now I knew there was nothing I could do.
This was would kill us all sooner or later, and why drag out the torture?
Maybe I did Pebblepaw a favor. Maybe I shouldn't be killing myself but should be proud of myself for going through so much pain to free him.
The thought almost made more warm, but not quite. I wasn't sure what I would do once I returned to camp. Leaving the Clans seemed like the best option at the moment.
Would Graystripe go with it?
I was entirely unsure. Graystripe was loyal, even if she hadn't lived the majority of her life in InkClan and she wouldn't leap at the prospect but she would surely understand my logic too...
"Pebblepaw," I whispered into the bright skies. If you could ignore the loud cries of battle it was actually quite peaceful when the territory was completely unoccupied.
Would I go leave if Graystripe didn't?
I wouldn't, I realized. She was the cat I loved most who was still breathing and I couldn't leave her for dead in such a fatal rebellion. I would stick to her, and she would feel comfort in knowing that.
Besides, even if I had the heart to ditch my Clanmates, absolutely no one could abandon Graystripe when she needed help. She had matured, but underneath everything she was still the same, lovable she-cat.
I sucked in the deep air, and suddenly a memory was floating through my mind. I snatched it, one of my childhood, and relished it as it played out before my mind.
Come on, Redkit, you slug!" Pebblekit yelped as I chased after him, running through the woods. Our mothers were further behind us, attempting to catch up. They would likely be furious once they reached us, but I couldn't stop and be eased as slow for the rest of my life.
Forcing myself forward with even more speed , I began to gain up on Pebblekit. He glanced back and his eyes widened in surprise as he noticed how close I was getting.
As I continued to gain up on him, and he continued to watch me, checking how far behind he was, his eyes missed a tree stump on the ground and he tripped, hitting the ground with a hard thud.
I laughed as I raced past him and through the bushes which had been the finish line, doing a little victory dance before breathing in the warm fresh scent of the air which tasted like victory.
The moment, and the taste of the air, only lasted for a split moment before I found myself being hoisted up by my scruff, in the jaws of a very mad momma.
The memory was sweet and innocent. I had actually been cute, likable, and almost like the apprentice version of Graystripe when I was kitten.
I missed those days so much, but I could hardly remember them.
Maybe that's why, I decided, We always assume those hidden moments are the best ones and we long for them, we want them back.
Sighing, I continued to paddle along through the territory. The fight was still continuing; I knew from my many experiences int he past moon that it shouldn't hardly be halfway through by now.
It was unlikely that Stone Division, or Stone Council, or Blood Counil, or whatever they referred to themselves as now would win. The patrol hadn't been too large from what I understood.
This was just a warning, a declaration.
Why would Stone Division side with Blood Council? They are currently at their weakest, and without their help there was no way Blood Council could have pulled it back together. They may as well have sided with someone who was already winning.
But maybe they didn't just want to win. Maybe they wanted power once this was over; something Blood Council was sure to have promised them.
Everyone's greed, hunger and ambition was tearing the forest in half.
"Who can save us now?"
"Can I answer that question for you?"
I whirled around to face an all too familiar face, one that haunted my dreams at night, one that somehow still managed to push me forward everyday.
I closed my eyes expecting the figure to be gone when I opened them again. But he was still there, floating, smiling that familiar smile at me. The smile I loved so much.
This isn't real.
This is all a bad, or good, dream. I'm going to blink heavier this time and I'm going to wake up in my nice den, excited to find out who Stone Division has sided with.
But I did blink and he wasn't going. He was still there, lingering, waiting, and I sucked in a breath, the truth hitting my sharply in the chest.
"The answer, love, is us. StarClan."
"Pebblepaw," I could almost breathe in his scent. I knew it wasn't there, I was only imagining it, but the sight of his stirred so many things within me.
"I've missed you," He whispered, taking several soft steps towards me. He was nearly transparent, he looked almost like a ghost.
"You never visited me," I murmured, looking down at my paws in disbelief, "I was left to think you weren't there anymore, that I would never see your face again..."
"I was watching you the whole time."
"You could have helped me!" I shrieked, taking a step away from his, disgusted with myself for being relieved at the sight of him, "I needed guidance and you-"
I choked on sobs and pain seemed to burn through his eyes.
"I wanted to speak to you, Redfur, believe me. StarClan wouldn't let me, though. They wouldn't let me near you because they said it wasn't our place to interfere."
"And it suddenly is now?"
"As you must have noticed, the war doesn't ever seem like it's going to end unless something it done and it's done fast. StarClan has been left with no choice but to interfere."
"I never knew you existed. Graystripe said I was hiding myself from your being, but I always thought she was desperate and needy so she believed in you..."
He ignored me, and continued speaking.
"However, StarClan hasn't made a choice yet. They don't know if they want Counters to continue their rule or the Clans to return to what they once were. And until we come up with a choice they can't intervene."
"Great StarClan," Something felt odd about saying it. Maybe, it was the belief spreading through me. These cats really did exist and they really could help us.
The war might really end. There really might be a happily ever after and freedom for all these cats. Pebblepaw can visit me, I'll never be alone.
He seemed to be reading my thoughts because he spoke with a dull thick zone, "I can't constantly be with you, Redfur. I'm dead, and you... you are not. You have to live and lose and learn from that."
"But you will unlearn everything if you gain back what you have lost. I can only be a figure, a spirit to you, Redfur. Until the day you join StarClan I am no longer a part of your life."
"Then I will join StarClan today."
"I would never speak to you again," He vowed, "You wouldn't get to see my face if you even considered the possibility, Redfur. The forest needs you right now, anyways. More than I do."
"What difference can I make?"
"Every living cat makes a difference. You have Graystripe, and a story a little more unique than others. And it's really the story that counts. You can win people over by telling them of your experience... You can help me winning StarClan over. I can tell them of your strength and how you still hold high, how you hold a friend high while you can barely keep yourself on your feet..."
"StarClan wasn't supposed to exist," I whispered, "You were only supposed to be parts of myths, just something to hold onto when you have nothing else to grasp."
"That's what I thought too, Redfur. Keep fighting, keep holding on and one day, one day, you will get to join me in this peaceful paradise."
"I will," I promised, "For you."
There was a second of silence before I spoke again. "I'm sorry," I whispered, "About giving the cobwebs to the apprentices. I shouldn't have done that."
"It saved the forest. If Blood Council was at its previous state when Stone Division joined them, the future of the forest would be beyond lost."
"Thanks for dying an honorable death and saving the forest," I whispered, taking a step towards the only tom I ever loved. Our noses were nearly touching as he inhaled slowly.
"Thank you for letting me."
"Anytime, Redfur. You know that, no matter what happen, I always have and I always will love you. Ever since that day when I first saw you as a kit..."
I smiled, a real smile, the biggest smile since he had left me, "I love you too, Pebblepaw."
Hello, I'm Redfur, the she-cat who has guided you through the story of the rebellion in Clan and their attempt to break off from Counters. From the first declaration to the day when the final group has taken their side, I have shown you the story.
And I've learned a lot from it.
I was once an innocent apprentice. I can still remember the day when Pebblepaw and I curled up together after Riverstar declared independence. I was worried about what to come. I never expected this.
I've felt the need to be the one to share this story with you, because I feel as though I have a story worth hearing. I'm not the superhero who sweeps in and saves the day, I have the average approach, but I've lived through a lot too. A lot of things I can't bear to keep to myself.
But there is a time when we all have to say goodbye, and for me that is now. The story's not over; you haven't seen the worst and the best of it yet, but this is where I bid farewell.
From here on out, I will be allowing someone else; someone you may be familiar with, to narrate the rest of the story. Someone else who can take it better from here.
But I enjoyed telling you my story. Not enjoyed, rather, but appreciated the chance to. Graystripe was right when she said it makes it easier to talk about everything.
I can't thank you enough for listening to this, and I hope that maybe you've learned a thing or to by hearing-I know I've learned a lot by saying it.
Farewell, traveler of stories. You'll hear about me a good deal later, but you won't be hearing about it from me. I hope you enjoy the remainder of this tale and the rest of your lives as well.
Thank you, again.
My debt can never be repaid.