"Welcome home, Smokehaze," I smiled at the dark pelted tom, as he glanced about the lush forest. Normally, the tom might have had someone closer to him to welcome him to his new home, but StarClan was currently in the middle of a large meeting that I had hardly been able to convince myself to leave.
But even if there was someone else to welcome him, I was quite sure I would have been there too. Smokehaze helped and guided Redfur more than I ever could have hoped a tom would be willing to.
"Where?" He glanced about, "Whoever you are, you have to send me back down to the forest. I'm avenging Graypaw, getting rid of the monsters that captured her!"
"You died three sunrises ago, Smokehaze," I whispered to him, "StarClan wasn't letting you come yet because of some issues involving timing or something."
"So this is..." He glanced back and forth, around the starry forest which must have been so new, so foreign to him, "StarClan?"
"You'll grow used to it," I promised, "It only took me a few days. And maybe you'll miss your life for a while, but you can still watch over Graystripe from here, if you want to."
"I'd like to see her now," He demanded.
"Well not quite yet," I smiled at him. He really did care about Graystripe; something which had already been quite clear seeing as he died for her.
"Who are you, though?" Smokehaze questioned, "And will my mom, and Firestar be here? Is Pebblepaw here? Maybe I can say hello to him and tell him that Redfur was really sorry and she misses him a lot."
"I am Pebblepaw," I offered with a smile, "And yes, you can find your mom and Firestar and every good cat who ever died here. However, StarClan is currently in the middle of a very important meeting."
"Pebblepaw?" His eyes widened, and he smiled, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Pebblepaw. I've heard a lot about you, but I never thought I'd get to see you."
"Well I never thought I'd find myself here while I was alive," I murmured, "It's so sad that Counters felt the need to hide our existence from the divisions."
"Did they even know?"
"Yeah, they did," I replied, "StarClan visited them so many times in their dreams before telling them we were real and telling them to make that clear but I guess that feared it might start a rebellion..."
"A rebellion started anyways," Smokehaze replied and I couldn't help but smiling. I really liked the tom, it was easy to see what Graystripe saw in him, and I was sure we would get along very well. I didn't have many friends and it would be quite a relief to finally have someone I could hang around.
We were silent for a few moments, and then Smokehaze glanced at me curiously, his eyes shifting back and forth, "I would have thought my mom could at least welcome me, even with a meeting."
"It's the most important meeting ever," I whispered, "I only left because I'm only an apprentice and I knew I couldn't make much of a difference."
"What's it about?"
I swallowed, "StarClan is about to chose between Clan and Counters."
"I can't go, Redfur," Graystripe was whispering to my mate, "I understand every reason why you think in could be an idea to go rogues but... It's not InkClan or FireClan it's this forest. I belong here, I can't imagine any other life."
Redfur seemed hesitant, and I could tell she was debating if she should try harder to convince Graystripe to leave but she decided against it because she sighed.
"You know I couldn't go without you, Graystripe. But if you ever change your mind please tell me; I don't want to hang around here any more than I have to."
She nodded silently, "I won't though."
They were hiding behind a few bushes, speaking in hushed voices far outside of camp. They had taken a quick break from rebuilding InkClan's camp after the recent attack from the newly sided Stone Division.
"Stone Division are such weasels," Smokehaze hissed as we watched the two she-cats beneath us, chatting silently, "They had to ruin everything!"
"Yeah," I sighed, "And StarClan could have fixed it, but they can't decide between Council and Clans. I would have thought the answer should be obvious; Counters are convinced on keeping the Clans from believing in us."
"True," Smokehaze sighed, "But maybe they fear that freedom can bring chaos. I mean, just look at what happened when they tasted a little bit of freedom. The forest is in chaos."
"That's what happens when Counters tried to keep a cap on us, though," I sighed, before turning to face his desperately, "We have to find a way to convince StarClan to side with InkClan and FireClan."
"And then what?"
"We can't find out until one side wins this war," I hissed, "And we can both agree it's much better InkClan and FireClan than Blood Council."
"I like that idea," Smokehaze sighed, "But there are so many good dead cats. We're just two random cats; how are we supposed to convince StarClan on which side to take?"
"By finding someone to support us," I offered, "Someone who is powerful enough to have the power to win many sides over to the side of the Clans."
There was a ticking moment and then at the same time: "Firestar."
"I really am honored that you two would come to me," Firestar smiled at us, as he pushed himself to his paws, before tipping his head at Smokehaze, "You've grown up so much, Smokehaze," He whispered, "I'm sorry I had to put you through so much in such a short period of time. It must have hurt..."
"It's fine," Smokehaze whispered, smiling back up at his leader. The love between them was undeniable-I had heard that Firestar was a fantastic leader that adored his whole Clan and had a Clan that adored him.
"Anyways," I coughed awkwardly, "We would really appreciate it if..."
"Again, I'm grateful," Firestar flicked his tail quickly, an awkward urgency in his eyes as he glanced back and forth.
Oh StarClan no, he's going to decline for whatever reason or another. He's not going to help us because he's scared or reluctant to do something.
"And believe me, I would," He claimed, "But here's the thing, Smokehaze and Pebblepaw," He glanced down shakily, "I don't want StarClan to side with the Clans."
I felt as though a heavy boulder had been torn at and ripped straight through my gut. It felt as though all my insides had been crushed with one, massive blow. I was nearly gasping for breath and Smokehaze was shaking his head back and forth, tears dotting the corner of his eyes.
"Well, there's something more I think you should know," Firestar claimed with an inward breath, "I've been with Council this whole time. From the very start..."
"They killed you!" Smokehaze protested.
"That was planned," Firestar replied, "Counters asked me and I agreed to let them kill me and make it look like I had done something to anger them. The sparks of rebellion in Fire Division were reaching a dangerous point and their plan was to get a show out of Fire Division, because of the rage over my death, which they could stomp over in order to scare Fire Division to a point where they would never imagine rebelling. Their plan failed, however, and it only further ignited the rebellion. It was stupid of me to think it would work... I put my division in danger."
Time ticked slowly, and Smokehaze was glaring Firestar down, eyes so full with rage I was surprised Firestar didn't drop dead, despite the fact that he wasn't even alive anymore.
"I've been with Council this whole time."
"StarClan must have been really, really desperate," Smokehaze hissed, "If they were really going to let a swine like you into their land."
"I know, Smokehaze."
"I had loved you," Smokehaze snapped, choking on tears, before whirling around and marching away from his leader. I gave Firestar a deathly stare before following after Smokehaze.
"We have reason to believe there will be a huge battle in a few sunrises between the Clans, divisions, Councils and Counters," Riverstar claimed from atop the HighBranch.
Murmurs were whirling about camp at the announcement.
"This battle could very likely be the last of your life," Riverstar claimed, "I hate to say this, but it's the truth. It's more than likely half the forest will be wiped out if all sides really do clash in this battle. It likely won't end until there is a victor to this war."
The Clan quieted, glancing back and forth in fear, "I understand this might make some of you want to leave, and I will respect that choice, but I'd like you to consider your lives after that. How long could you really go without a Clan? Anyways, I told you this so you could bid farewell to anyone you cared about within the next few days; the sooner the better. And this is me bidding you all farewell. The chances that I'll make it out are terribly low. I want you to know that I was proud to lead this Clan. I am proud you all stuck with my this far, I'm proud to be able to look down upon and call you my home. My family."
And then, all at once, every single cat erupted into a familiar chant that used to scare me, but warmed my heart at the moment.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
The energy was vibrant, it was their approval of Riverstar, of InkClan of the rebellion. It was their vow to stick with the Clan no matter what happened, it was their vow to their home.
"Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion! Re-be-lion!"
The smile on Riverstar's face could not be replaced. And unable to help it, I found myself chanting too, all the way up from StarClan where I knew they couldn't hear me.
I missed my old home everyday. I missed it more than my daily schedule, more than I missed the excitement at my approaching warrior ceremony, more than I missed Redfur even.
The chanting continued and continued, relentless. Even Redfur, who had been thinking of leaving the Clan, was chanting her eyes proud and energetic.
"I love her," A voice whispered and I turned to see Inkstar staring longingly at the scene unfolding before him, "I know it makes me a terrible leader, but she always came before anything else."
"You should be proud of her," I claimed, ignoring the part about loving her more than the Clan, something I had already known.
"I am," he replied and I knew that he really, really was.
"She doesn't have to die and meet you here in a few days," I offered to him, "Firestar... he refused to help us, he sided with Council, but you are one of the most recent leaders and the most powerful person I could think of..."
"But I was never really a good leader," Inkstar sighed, "I only ever took the job to impress Riverstar and get her attention. Yes, it worked, but..."
"Then do this for her."
"I... I..." he hesitated, "Okay; alright. I'll do it. For Riverstar."
"This is the way things have always been," Inkstar urged, "There were always four Clans and a StarClan above them. Even in the time where we were Thunder, River, Wind and Shadow; there were four and there was borders and skirmishes but that was okay. Because that was how things worked."
"Things change," Firestar claimed, swallowing gently. The two leaders were arguing with each other before the most of the old Clan, and though they were both trying to keep it friendly no one knew how long it would last.
"Imagine what the ancient Firestar would think."
"Firestar is long gone, faded from StarClan and the many lands beyond, even!" The new Firestar protested, his voice sharp, "It's not about them anymore, it's about us."
Some cats from the ranks of StarClan nodded in agreement and I bristled. Firestar was a good talker, and a good liar too. Of course he could fool the Clan into thinking he wanted the best for everyone.
"It's never just about us, though," Inkstar whispered, "It's about those around us. The cats we love, those we want the best for, those we would die trying to protect... It's not about us."
"Our time is running out," Firestar whispered, "StarClan has to come to a decision before the battle takes place. It can only be a few sunrises left..."
"Let's side with the Clans."
"The Clans will destroy the forest!"
"Counters already have!"
I shut my ears, not wanting to listen to anymore. Smokehaze sat in the corner of the large crowd, his eyes pained. Firestar's revelation had been a huge blow to him, it was obvious.
It probably would have been for me too. He had trusted and loved the leader, Firestar was someone he was willing to put his life on the line for, someone he knew would put their life on the line for him...
And then it turned out he was with the enemies the whole time.
I could still clearly remember my words to Redfur as I died. I encouraged her to avoid the rebellion, I had thought it was a terrible idea at the time, it had brought my death, but not I wasn't sure how I couldn't support it. Counters had been suppressing us...
It was bound to happen sooner or later, and if it didn't work now cats would try later. Eventually, sooner or later, the power had to be overthrown.
No one appreciated being ruled.
"Stop arguing!" The loud boom was not mistakable, and every single StarClan cat whirled around to find out whom it had come from. Every single StarClan cat was left with their jaws hanging over.
Standing right before us, looking old but steady was the Firestar who joined the forest as a kittypet all those moons ago. The one who was the center of all the kit tales, the one who saved the forest countless times.
There weren't even murmurs as Firestar walked through the crowd. He was obviously searching for someone and his eyes stopped when they reached Smokehaze.
My heart skipped a beat.
What does he want from Smokehaze?
"Smokehaze!" Firestar boomed, taking a step towards the tom, "My many times great grandson. You are the one who must save the Clans from this war!"
There was a moment of silence.
"Yes you," Smokehaze seemed numb from surprise as Firestar dipped his head shortly at him, "I've been waiting so long to wait, to greet you. And now, you get to make the choice."
"You get to pick the fate of the forest."
Moments ticked. I already knew Smokehaze's choice. He glanced about the crowd of cats uncertainly, all eyes on him. I gave him a reassuring smile which he failed to return. As his eyes circled about, I saw them get caught on the younger Firestar. He gave his leader a glare before sucking in a deep breath and turning back to face the whole of the crowd. He sounded certain but uncertain as he spoke.
"I chose Counters!"
"I'm sorry, Pebblepaw," Smokehaze murmured, looking down at his paws, "It's just; Firestar always wanted what was good for the Clan. And he did this too because it was good for the Clan, I know it..."
"Maybe," I sighed, "But he's not always right."
"He's my leader."
A few moments ticked by and, not sure of what else I could say, I pushed myself up to my paws and gave him a hard glare, "Graystripe."
I wasn't sure where the word came from but it seemed like the right thing to say. Some part of his expression shifted as I whirled around and marched away, hoping that Smokehaze could change his mind on time.
Hoping that there was still hope.
Every cat living in the forest was lined up, prepared for battle right in the heart of Council's camp. It was the battle every cat had been anticipating. I was able to make out Redfur, her pelt quivering as she held her posture, and Graystripe right beside her.
Any moment now the battle would-
All cats turned their heads up where the noise was coming from to find Firestar, the one who led FireClan, paddling down from the clouds where he resided.
Instantly there were murmurs.
"I speak from and for StarClan!" he announced, "And yes, we do exist. Something Counters have known all this time; something we never wanted to be a secret."
The murmurs were massive.
"And StarClan wants you to know," He coughed, "All of the dead cats you loved and knew and admired would like you to know that we don't approve of this battle. There is already a side we would support and we would like to win the war."
"Speak," All five leaders demanded at once, their tones desperate, all praying for it to be them StarClan wanted, all praying for it to be-
"StarClan has sided with C-c-c-"
I sucked in a breath, awaiting the blow.
I blinked quickly. Smokehaze had changed his mind. Smokehaze changed his mind and spoke to someone about it and StarClan picked the Clans!
The cheering was undeniable-some was even coming from Blood Council and their cats-but with each passing moment, each call that reached my ears, I felt a sickening feeling growing inside of me.
I was suddenly doubtful.
My doubt, however, was distracted by the sight of Redfur smiling up at the skies. Though she couldn't see me I knew it was for me. And there was no way I could resist.
I blinked my eyes and suddenly the forests of StarClan was gone and I was standing before Redfur. She was smiling and grinning as she licked my happily. Next to me I could feel as all these other StarClan cats began working their way down as well.
The Clans were cheering, Counters looked unsure and those from Blood Council were either delighted, they must have secretly not wanted to win the war, or furious.
I glanced at Redfur and suddenly there were too many words to say, too many things to express, just so much we couldn't get out.
Which was why less was more. Which was why I only had to murmur two words to capture everything of the past moons, every one of the events that had happened since the night Inkstar had been murdered.