This is going to be part of my series called Temptations.
|Preceded by: |
|The Beckoning||Succeded by: |
Deadstar-scarred dark gray tom with clear green eyes |deputy = Dawnstream-cream colored she-cat with light brown tabby markings |medcat = Sageclaw-pale tabby tom with amber eyes |warriors = Cedarfoot- tortoiseshell and white she-cat
Sablefur-dark red tom with a white underbelly Apprentice, Hiddenpaw
Dapplebelly- black and white she-cat
Cloudpath- white tom with light silver patches and paws
Yellowfern- golden tabby tom with ice blue eyes Apprentice, Darkpaw
Ripplewing- light brown tom
Birdcry- large dappled gray tom with light gray eyes Apprentice, Silverpaw
Shadowstorm- pure black tom with a white dash on chest and one eye
Leafcloud- pale brown she-cat with blue eyes
Icethorn- very pale gray, almost white tom with darker gray stripes
Streamheart- sleek dark brown tabby tom with clear green eyes
Sharpstream- brown tom with green eyes
Hollowspirit- dark ginger tom
Rowantail- gray and brown tabby with white spots on his ears and blue eyes Apprentice, Thrushpaw
Birchleaf- swift white tom with dark gray and light brown spots and leafy green eyes |apprentices = Hiddenpaw- long furred tortoiseshell she-cat
Silverpaw- dark silver tabby she-cat
Thrushpaw- sand colored tom |queens = Willowflame- scrawny tabby and white she-cat (mother to Solarkit-soft mottled dark brown tom with smokey blue eyes, and Snakekit- ginger tom)
Ferngaze- skinny dusty cream she-cat with a brown muzzle and iridescent blue eyes (expecting Hollowspirit's kits)
|elders = Specklerain- speckled brown she-cat }}
Leader: Hazelstar- red and white she-cat
Deputy: Brokenhaze (forbidden mate of Birchleaf)- fluffy ginger she-cat with darker stripes and violet eyes
Medicine cat: Goldenflame- golden tabby tom
Mistyclaw- dark gray and white tom with foggy blue eyes
Windflower- light brown tabby she-cat
Shrewfang- skinny gray and brown tom
Duskfire- black and white tom
Grayheart- solid gray she-cat (Hollowspirit's forbidden mate)
Crowshine- gray-black tom with smokey blue eyes (Willowflame's forbidden mate)
Silentpaw- silver she-cat with glowing green eyes
Riverpaw- golden tom with bright blue eyes
Larkwish- long furred black she-cat with hazel eyes (Mother of Shrewfang's Kits: Crookedkit, Cloverkit, and Finchkit)
Rainsong- beautiful gray she-cat with black, brown, and ginger blecks (Expecting Crowshine's Kits)
Rogues, Loners, and Kittypets:
Jazira- cream colored she-cat with clear green eyes
Winter- Small ginger tom with ice-blue eyes
Puma- tortoiseshell tom
Lava- reddish tabby tom
Bella- swift she-cat (Mother of two kits- Feather and Frisk)
Mint- tabby kittypet
Lottie- gray and black kittypet with yellow eyes
Rabbit- light brown and white tom
Stars twinkled clearly in the indigo blue sky, lighting it like a million little flames. Not far away, two cats moved as one, their tails entertwined and faces pulled into frowns. One was the deceased Ashstar and the other his mate- Pineflower. Both were occupied in thought as they saw a young warrior appear to them beside a rocky ledge, shaking.
"Where am I?" The dark gray tom exclaimed, whirling around every which way. This wasn't a place that he'd been to before, which made him shiver. Clear green eyes gleaming with untold fright, the tom stopped when he saw two cats coming closer. They had stars in their thick coats, and were vaguely familiar.
Ashstar sighed as he caught sight of his son. Identical green eyes narrowing with contempt, the old cat led out a hmmph of annoyance. White tail flicking back and forth, he padded forward until he was nose to nose with the youngster. Ashstar had died in battle three sunrises before his sons were born to Pineflower, a dusty cream she-cat with dark blue eyes. She herself had more sympathy in her soft gaze as she took in her kit.
"Don't be afraid, Deadbranch." Pineflower mewed in a soothing manner.
Deadbranch's bristling pelt fell flat once more, and he recognized his mother at last. She had returned to him, but the tom was unknown. He remembered when the rogues had attacked their camp when he was a kit, and slaughtered all the queens (and most of the kits) in the nursery. In that hour, only he and his brother, plus his mate, Lilyfrost had survived the attack on the nursery.
Ashstar grunted, and caught Deadbranch's attention. Glad to have the young cat looking on him with something other than suspicion at last, Ashstar butted Pineflower out of the way to speak. She had told him all about Deadbranch and Sharpstream, but now was not the time to have a reunion. Buisness first. Family later.
"We have something important to tell you, your mother and I," he growled in a testy voice.
This was often the way with Ashstar, good as he was, the tom was still short tempered and impatient with young cats- especially suspicious warriors that had never really believed in StarClan or paid attention to old legends.
"What is it?!!" Deadbranch piped up excitedly like a little kit.
Rolling his eyes, Ashstar let out a long, shaky sigh. Hyper cats were beyond him, even his own son.
"Two shall thrive inside one, and when push comes to shove, one will win over the other," Pineflower and Ashstar chanted, going into a trance like state, their eyes becoming blank and limbs stiffening.
Watching with wonder in his clear green eyes, Deadbranch shivered slightly, and took a step back unconciously. Wrong move. Suddenly, he was falling into an ever blackening abyss of silence....
Cold frost glittered on the branches of the silent DuskClan camp. Golden leaves were outlined with brilliant sunlight, and frigid air swept through the still sleeping camp. Few cats were awake, save for a guard and then those up for the Dawn Patrol. Standing stiffly at the camp entrance, Birchleaf tried not to sleep on duty, but it was hard. He had come back from a visit with his DawnClan mate- Brokenhaze, who was the deputy of DawnClan. White and dark gray and ginger coat fluffed up against the chill, he shivered slightly, eyelids drooping. Trying to shake himself out of it in vain, he was only kept awake as a rather loud voice sounded into his ear. Her scent was familiar to him, and with it was the same, arrogant air she held herself with. Ferngaze, mate to Hollowspirit, and expecting her first litter of kits. She was also his sister, and like Birchleaf, a kit of Deadstar's. Their father was old and tired, and rarely left the camp nowadays, save for an occasional patrol or gathering or ceremonies.
"You went out again, didn't you?" She demanded in his ear, sending Birchleaf into a shower of brambles, making her purr in amusement briefly.
"H-how did you know?" The tom asked, dodging the question and fixing his sister with a glare. Not at all swayed by it, Ferngaze shook her head in disgust and strode over, tail held high in the air.
"No one except for you would be so foolish as to keep going to see Brokenhaze, the DawnClan deputy, even after you were nearly caught by a patrol last time. She had to push you into a river so that they wouldn't spot you. You know how paranoid Hazelstar is! And Deadstar doesn't need another reason to worry about the affairs of his warriors," she snarled, ears flat against her head.
Struck dumb by her unusually long speech, Birchleaf opened his mouth to snap out a retort, but found that he couldn't. Ferngaze looked down upon her brother with a sneering contempt that bordered on hatred before she whisked away to the nursery, grumbling to herself all the while. Bowing his head, Birchleaf fought an internal struggle with himself. She was partially right, it was mouse-brained to keep seeing Brokenhaze, but at the same time, both were in love. Couldn't she understand that? At least with Hollowspirit? Because Birchleaf knew a secret about that tom. Hollowspirit had a mate in DawnClan, just like he did. Her name was Grayheart, and he'd met her at a gathering once. Not the nicest of she-cats, well, then again, neither was his sister. She cares about your safety, an internal voice reprimanded him sharply, and he sighed. She doesn't have to worry about me, Birchleaf argued back, but all the fire was out of the argument. Once, Birchleaf would've fought without thought for Brokenhaze, but that was when they were still both warriors, and Hazelstar had been deputy. Then why do I still cling to her? He wondered, and that was a question he found that he couldn't answer.
Grumbling about the sharp thorns pricking into his sides, gingerly, Birchleaf untangled himself just in time to see the dawn patrol return. Hollowspirit was leading it this time, and the dark ginger warrior gave him a glare through narrowed gray eyes before passing on without a word. The other three- Silverpaw, Shadowstorm, and Dapplebelly all gave Birchleaf small greetings before going on to their own buisness. Dapplebelly gave Birchleaf a bad vibe, but he ignored it for the time being. She was below his attention, even if she was one of the more beautiful cats in the clan and his cousin.
Interested now that the camp was starting to bustle with activity, Birchleaf let his attention slide to watch the cats. Dapplebelly apparently was with her on again, off-again mate Rowantail, as both were sharing tongues quite comfortably. Her lazy grin had been replaced with lust, which the warrior hated. She was just playing with Rowantail, as she liked to do with every tom in the clan, but that didn't necessarily make her evil. You just didn't want to get on her bad side, that was all. However, most things were the usual, except for the fact that Deadstar was out and about. The old dark gray tom's scarred pelt marked him out from the other well fed warriors as he ate a mouse and looked thoughtful. Despite the fact that their leader was aging, Deadstar's clear green gaze still held power and energy that even the most enthusiastic warrior lacked. My father is sure one of a kind, he thought, feeling a twinge of mixed warmth and frustration.
"Hey Birchleaf! You can stop guarding the camp now!" A cat called from just beyond the entrance. Seeing that it was only Cloudpath, he felt the weariness of everything crash down on him, and he merely nodded, dragging his paws into the camp, not caring now that the thorns reached out and pricked his fur, blood starting to fleck. Cloudpath gave his friend a look of concern before shaking his head and taking his turn as sentry. No one noticed as Birchleaf absent-mindedly made his way over to the fresh kill pile for a bite to eat. No one, that is, save for Dawnstream, who went to sit by him.
"Are you okay?" She asked, jolting Birchleaf out of his daze. Looking up at the cream colored she-cat with the tabby markings blearily, he gave a single nod.
"Jus' tired," he muttered.
Frowning, Dawnstream was clearly not satisfied with his answer, but didn't prod him any further. That was the best thing about their deputy, she didn't prod into a cat's social buisness, unlike someone he could mention. Deadstar came over as well, and told Dawnstream to leave Birchleaf be for the time being. Looking up at the familiar dark gray face, he was surprised at how gaunt his father now was, instead of the powerful, broad shouldered tom of a few moons ago, Deadstar had really caught up with his age. He actually looked weak, not dominant as a leader should look.
"Birchleaf, why do you smell of fox dung?" His father asked, and Birchleaf looked up to stare at the leader. Those green eyes were crinkled in amusement and suspicion, which his son tried to avoid.
"O-on patrol I-I fell into it," he stammered, lying quickly so as not to get caught.
Unfortunately, Deadstar was very perceptive, and could tell the warrior wasn't being honest, which troubled him a great deal. Narrowing his eyes in thought, the ancient cat just shook his head and moved away, wondering why Birchleaf had chosen to lie.
Letting out a relieved sigh, Birchleaf finished his mouse without any more interruptions. That's all of what he thought of the talkes he and his father shared these days- pointless interruptions that led nowhere, and sometimes led to Birchleaf nearly giving away something he didn't want any cat to know. Breaking the warrior code wasn't ideal, but Brokenhaze couldn't come here, and he couldn't break his father or sister's hearts by moving into DawnClan. It was a situation that made him stuck, and trapped, which was a feeling that Birchleaf was afraid of. He didn't know what to do anymore, and longed for a time when things were much simpler. But for the warrior, life had never been simple, or easy. Ferngaze got all the attention, she was the one who was better at fighting and whatnot, more leader like and assured in decisions, and had mentored two apprentices before finally agreeing to take Hollowspirit on as a mate and wind up in the nursery as an expecting mother. On the other hand, Birchleaf was small for a tom and often teased, leading to self esteem issues and a certain distaste for voicing choices. He tended to let others make them for him, and wasn't above falling in love with a she-cat who was off limits. Even greater than that was his unfortunate lack of intelligence, and being gullible, believed everything that was said. Not only that, but Birchleaf had a small problem inside- two sides of him kept struggling for dominance, and more often than not, his bad side won out.
Padding cautiously out of the long grass, Birchleaf looked to see his mate waiting for him, her eyes fixed with an unreadable expression. The fluffy ginger she-cat gazed at Birchleaf with flaming violet eyes, and padded forward to greet him, her body slightly rounder than last time. Surprised, Birchleaf didn't know why, and only touched noses with her briefly. Brokenhaze rubbed her body along the length of his own, before she then whirled around to face him.
"Birchleaf, come here." Her low, sweet voice was urgent and tinged with depression, if only Birchleaf could pick up on that, but being the simple minded cat he was, he couldn't.
Not sure why he did so, but the warrior hung back. Brokenhaze had her claws out, and was glaring at him pointedly as if that alone could make him do her bidding. Okay, admittedly, most of the time, that alone would do the trick. But not this time. Birchleaf crouched, prepared for an attack, his leafy green eyes fixing onto her own violet ones.Her own neck fur started to bristle and she let out a snarl before leaping suddenly at him. Stepping back, her claws caught on his shoulder, pulling the warrior down to the ground and slicing through his skin. Blood started to flow fromt he wound as he struggled back onto his paws and hissed at the deputy, ears flat against his head. Tail lashing, red crossed his mind, and without further thought, he pinned Brokenhaze down, and leaned his head down close to her own.
"You shall never do that to me again." He threatened, eyes heating up, blazing with scarlett bloodlust. Fear scent flowed from the deputy's body, and he opened his jaws, exposing delicately lethal fangs. In a swift movement, his teeth had sunk deep into her throat and tore it out. Brokenhaze's violet eyes flashed as the light went out of them, and she kicked once or twice before becoming still. The deputy was dead. Bloodlust leaving him as quickly as it had come, Birchleaf studied the scene in horror. Her throat was ripped out, and Brokenhaze, his only love, was dead. Her fur was bloodied, and eyes narrowed in pain even now in death. Jumping off, a thrill of fear ran through his veins, and he raced away from the border, rolling in wild garlic to hide his scent before going into a river and then coming back out again. Tension lit those green eyes of his. He was a murderer.
Crashing blindly through the forest home of DuskClan, he tripped on a pine tree root, and fell to the ground, hitting his head particularly hard against a rock, and fell into one of the many streams near the camp entrance. Going into unconciousness, he went limp, scratched shoulder bleeding openly once more, the scent attracting the attention of another wandering cat- Dawnstream and her patrol of two others- Ripplewing and Yellowfern. They stopped once they saw the body of their leader's son, and Ripplewing went over and bent his head, sniffing Birchleaf's wound cautiously. Signaling to the others that the tom was alive, Yellowfern came over and bit into the warrior's scruff before starting to drag him back to the camp. A solemn air had entered the group, and each was confused. Normal warriors were supposed to be asleep at this hour in the den, not gallivanting in the night to who knows where.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, Hazelstar and her patrol had found the body of Brokenhaze. The insane red and white she-cat mumbled to herself and thought that she had seen the spirit of the fallen deputy, but wasn't sure. Windflower and Duskfire caught the smell of DuskClan warrior, and thier claws came out, raking the peaty soil, pelts hidden by the pointy tall grass. Their leader paid particular attention to that detail, and only one word came out of her mouth. "Birchleaf." She said it like a bad omen, and looked suspiciously across the border, hoping to catch sight of the tom and punish him. However, he had vanished into the moonless night like an illusion.
Back at the camp, Dawnstream hesitantly poked her head inside of Deadstar's den.
"Deadstar?" she hissed impatiently, beginning to pace outside of his moss covered home. Soon enough, the mutilated face of the DuskClan leader poked out, intelligent eyes scanning her own before shouldering past her without another word. Confused and apprehensive, the deputy followed him, her own movements slow and wary.
At the center of the camp lay a very still Birchleaf, his shoulder wound bleeding, dripping onto the sandy ground. Sageclaw, who had been fetched by Ripplewing came out, amber eyes sparked in alarm. The fur of a cat was between his claws, but they couldn't tell who it was. Sageclaw sighed, his pelt smelling of herbs and face drawn.
"His wound will heal with time. Yellowfern, go fetch me some cobwebs to put onto it so that I can stop the bleeding, as well as some poppyseeds." Sageclaw ordered brusquely, and not one to question the wisdom of their medicine cat, Yellowfern did so without another word.
Ripplewing had gone back to the den, always one to be faint around blood and cats that were hurt. They all let him leave without saying a thing, but Ferngaze had watched from inside the confines of the nursery, face etched with suspicion.
Meticulously, Sageclaw dabbed at the wounds with the cobwebs, plastering one on top of the other. His fur was black in the night, and Deadstar sat beside him, observing the work with a detatched air of interest. The only one who was still with the two toms was the deputy, and she kept away from the proceedings, feeling that this was not a good time to ask how Deadstar had known. She had often worried about Birchleaf, and was a bit concerned about why he wouldn't have stayed in the camp.
Waking up with an aching head inside of the medicine cat den, Birchleaf looked around wearily, his eyes confused and feeling very disoriented. He was in a soft nest of moss and heatherthat supported the warrior quite well, giving his bulk. The strong, stinging aroma of herbs filled his nose, and he sneezed, making Sageclaw turn around. The pale tabby medicine cat was tutting as he came close to check out Birchleaf's wound, even though it was on its way to a full recovery.
"The wound will leave a scar." Sageclaw remarked carefully.
"So..." Birchleaf trailed off.
"How did you get it?" the medicine cat asked bluntly, as was his way.
Taken aback, Birchleaf scrambled to his paws and hissed, face contorting into a dark look of evil before it vanished quickly. Sageclaw growled at Deadstar's son before stalking out of the den, muttering about crazy warriors and what head injuries did to accelerate that. Boy, that was close, Birchleaf thought to himself in relief, body relaxing.
"D-did you j-just g-growl a-at t-the c-clan medicine cat?" Someone asked meekly from the entrance. She had poked her head in, face clearly worried, and kept a safe distance away from the very much mouse-brained warrior. Her speckled brown muzzle had gray hairs on it, while her silvery eyes caught his and stayed there stubbornly as Birchleaf came over to Specklerain.
"Yes," he replied honestly.
"Great StarClan, you didn't have to, you mouse brain," Specklerain hissed in an ill tempered way. Sageclaw was Specklerain's son, and when anybody messed with her kit, she tended to grow angry. For the moment though, fear overwhelmed the timid elder, and she took a few nervous pawsteps back.
"Leave me alone," Birchleaf growled, his eyes showing contempt for Specklerain as she rapidly backed away from the warrior. Soon, she had left him alone in the medicine cat den, and there, he reflected on what had just happened with a growing horror. I need to leave, Birchleaf realized unwillingly. The warrior didn't want to abandon the clan, even though there were plenty of able bodied warriors that could protect it.
Too tired to think about all of this, Birchleaf fell asleep in the nest once more, his leafy green eyes closed and mind drifting to the land of dreams before he heard something. Many pawsteps and a scent came to him that wasn't DuskClan. Getting up slowly, reluctantly, he poked his head out of the medicine cat den to see DawnClan cats streaming through the entrance and led by Hazelstar. Her red and white pelt was clearly visible from where he was, but the cats in the clan were caught unawares. One of them, a warrior named Sablefur, suddenly fell to the ground with a cry as Crowshine pounced onto him.
"DEADSTAR!!!" The DawnClan leader yowled, tipping her head back to exaggerate the effect. Already, her own warriors were converging on his surprised clanmates. Three streaked for the nursery, their eyes filled with intent as Ferngaze appeared out of nowhere, her gaze hardening in a flash. Her teeth were drawn back into a snarl as one of the cats- Mistclaw, threw himself at her and both went down into a writhing mass of teeth and claws. The other queen- Willowflame, was the sole protector of the nursery as Ferngaze and Mistyclaw rolled away from her. The scrawny tabby and white she-cat knocked Duskfire aside with a well practiced blow, her ears flat against her head. The kits were sared, and had huddled into the deep recesses of the nursery for safety.
The crowd soon parted to reveal Hazelstar and Deadstar, their claws on the other, teeth flashing and ripping into each other. Deadstar was getting the worst of it, and since he was so old, his movements were slow and jerky, not quick or graceful as they had once been. Unable to watch his clanmates without lifting a claw to help them, Birchleaf srang from the medicine cat den, ignoring the pain in his shoulder. Knocking an apprentice out of the way, he halted as he saw Cedarfoot and Dapplebelly fighting it out, exchanging blows in a rather gruesome manner. Both were sisters, but why should they fight the other? He wondered. Advancing in the bedlam to help them, he was thrown down by Windflower, who gave him a look full of hatred.
"You'll pay for killing Brokenhaze, murderer!" she screeched, claws connecting with his face.
Frozen, Birchleaf just couldn't move. The light brown tabby she-cat didn't stop though, she just kept up wit the attack, blinded by pure fury. However, what both failed to realize was that the battle was already coming to an end. Deadstar limped away from the broken, limp body of Hazelstar. The young, insane leader was motionless, her spirit already on its way to StarClan. Hazelstar wasn't the only casualty, for a few pawsteps away from Hollowspirit lay Cedarfoot, her neck hanging at an awkward angle. And at Dapplebelly's paws lay Hollowspirit's forbidden mate- Grayheart. Her solid gray fur was stained crimson, and Dapplebelly had a grim look of triumph on her face. Hollowspirit noticed it at the same time everyone excluding Birchleaf did, and sprang at Dapplebelly. The she-cat was ready though, and in an almost methodical way, slit his throat. The gasps of shock that rippled throughout the thong of cats brought both Birchleaf and Windflower to their senses, and she hopped off of the bleeding cat. Getting to his paws, he shook the bood off of him and looked at all four bodies. Deadstar too, had witnessed it with an ever growing confusion and dismay. His pelt was sliced through, and a limping Dawnstream went over to support the old cat. Meanwhile, Sharpstream just stared in frustration at his youngest kit.
"Dapplebelly, why?" Sharpstream asked in a broken voice, his old eyes sad.
"Well, Grayheart was Hollowspirit's mate, and he didn't truly love my cousin," she hissed, fur bristling, claws still out.
Deadstar wasn't moved as the DawnClan cats quickly left, their eyes shadowed and forlorn. His own were solemn as he looked at his clanmates. Two of his clan had been murdered, one by Hollowspirit, and the other by Dapplebelly. Ferngaze was shell shocked, and was saking badly, her eyes unreadable. Willowflame had gone over to comfort her, and both queens sat together as the clan gathered around the tree branch. Birchleaf sat at the back, careful not to be too close to the others or his father's penetrating gaze that raked throughout the horde of cats.
"Tonight there was an unnecessary battle fought. Hazelstar, Brokenhaze, Cedarfoot, and Hollowspirit all died for nothing!" He bellowed, voice powerful even tough Deadstar still appeared very brittle.
At the name of the DawnClan deputy, Birchleaf grew very still, and felt many eyes upon him.
"Two cats will pay for this," Deadstar went on, his brief energy fading, eyes growing tired, and the tom seemed to age many moons morethan the age he was currently at.
"Dapplebelly, for murdering one of our own, you are no longer part of DuskClan. You are now a rogue, and if any of my warriors catch you on this territory after sunrise tomorrow, you will be killed." He meowed, but there was a catch in his voice. More was to be said. Those clear green eyes avoided Birchleaf as he opened his mouth to say the words that would tear his heart even further.
"Birchleaf, your sister told me that you had taken the DawnClan deputy on as a mate. This had been going on right under my nose, and you murdered her. This was the cause of the bloodshed, and Hazelstar gave her life just because you were a fool. Brokenhaze was killed needlessly as well. It isn't so bad you took on a forbidden mate, but to have that as the cause of death, well, you must be gotten rid of, my son." Deadstar couldn't say anymore, and he needn't have.
Everything that Birchleaf had promised to protect was gone in that one instant. All of which he'd lived for was dead, and dejectedly, the warrior made his way out of the camp, not bothering to look back at hisfellow clanmates, when someone stopped him. It was Birdcry, the large dappled gray warrior stared at Birchleaf in shock before looking up at Deadstar imploringly.
"Maybe Birchleaf can be confined in the camp Deadstar. You don't haveto exile him," Birdcry yowled in sole defense for the leader's son.
Cats looked at Birdcry in surprise, and no one more so than Ferngaze, her mouth hanging open in astonishment, skinny body a small outline in the crowd of clanmates. They all turned to whisper among themselves when Deadstar raised his tail for silence.
"Enough." His tone was curt, and the next look he gave to Birchleaf was a flat, dead one. Not a shred of love or concern remained in those clear green depths, and the scarred tom thought to himself for a few moments before speaking up.
"Very well. Birchleaf, you are confined to the camp for the rest of your life. When I am gone, this will be repeated by Dawnstream. There is not any way you can get out of this rule. You are a disgrace to the very warrior code that you promised to defend, warrior." Deadstar spat in fury, barely containing his rage.
With that, the meeting adjourned when Deadstar leaped down from the tree, his limbs contacting the ground and nearly making him collapse. Cats watched their leader go in faithless silence before they too departed to have their wounds checked on by Sageclaw. A young apprentice- Thrushpaw, cast one glance of forlorn surprise at Birchleaf, for that warrior had been his idol before it hardened into a nasty glare. Birdcry left Birchleaf all alone as well, and he wanted to wail like a tiny kit, but he couldn't. All of this was his fault.
It had been a moon since the battle, and the supressed contempt for Birchleaf was now undisguised hostility. Wherever the warrior was, cats moved away from him like he was the plague of their destruction. No one bothered to even look at him, not even Cloudpath, who was a bit more tolerant than the other cats, mainly because he still was somewhat of a friend to the outcast. However, the warmth had withered into cold recognition and a barely moderated disdain. Kits were allowed to claw him until he was bloody, and he had to sleep outside. Since green leaf had finally come, the clan was in a better mood, but their treatment of Birchleaf, at least to him, had gone on long enough. Willowflame's kits- Solarkit and Snakekit, thought it great fun to tease the tom and embaress his sister. Ferngaze had only sunk lower with her mate's death. Now a despairing, starving thing, she rarely ate, even though Sageclaw and others urged her to do so. Her dusty cream pelt had gone from neat and tidy to unwashed and smelly. The clan treated her with mixed pity and shock, which only made her lose more friends than keep them. Silverpaw and Hiddenpaw had become warriors- Silverfoot and Hiddenstep. Both she-cats stayed well away from the outcast, and just plain ignored him, as if he was somehow beneath their notice.
"How's the worthless piece of foxdung?" Leafcloud sneered as she came from the warrior's den that morning, giving Birchleaf an overly friendly leer before stalking off to a patrol with Sharpstream and Rowantail. Shadowstorm rolled his eyes as he passed by, as did many others. Feeling alone, Birchleaf sulked under the leader's tree, hissing as Ferngaze came closer to him. At once she was caught off guard, and her eyes flashed with brief hurt before she backed away, leaving her littermate in isolation. There was nothing for him to do, and he was bored out of his mind. At least Willowflame's brood hadn't come to torment him, that was a relief. Instead, both young toms were playing with a ball of moss, patting it back and forth between themselves.
"Looky there- it's Birchblood," someone growled- Streamheart by the sounds of it.
That dark brown tabby tom had never liked Birchleaf, and used this as an excuse to be even more ridiculous than he already was.
"Quiet beetle-brain," Ferngaze snapped, cuffing the full grown warrior with her paws, clearly not afraid to smack around a regular bully.
However, if he had been warmed by her one moment of defense, it was chilled instantly with her next words.
"Birchleaf already knows what he's done wrong. That thing doesn't need you to mess with him. You already do that way too often for my liking," she snapped in a frosty, flat voice.
Not able to respond, Streamhear turned around and stalked off to hunt by himself, thoroughly put out by Ferngaze's reaction.
A half moon later, Birchleaf awoke to see Deadstar standing before him with agitation clear in those green eyes of his. Confused, the young tom sprang to his paws at once, and was shocked at the change in their clan leader. He was now skittish and watchful, those powerful eyes now dull and weary. His body was slumped, and his father looked ready to collapse at any moment. Their medicine cat- Sageclaw, and the deputy- Dawnstream, helped to support him, while Ferngaze trailed behind, shooting an icy glare at her brother as if to say this is all your fault. Shame filling Birchleaf's hollow heart, he went over to them uncertainly, face a book of open emotion.
"It's not your fault," Sageclaw quipped, as if he'd read the outcast's mind.
Shaking his head, Birchleaf looked back at Deadstar, who motioned with a half-hearted rise of his tail for Birchleaf to sit down. Obeying his father's orders, he looked to see that Ferngaze had done the same thing. Both were curious, their eyes crinkled with mild wonder. Rarely had Deadstar ever committed himself to his own kin, for they reminded him to much of the life that he'd had with their mother- Lilyfrost, before she was killed in battle. Deadstar fixed a hard look on both of them, his face unreadable, though inside, the elder's insides were churning with anxiety.
"I've something to tell you both," he stated, and the siblings exchanged incredulous glances.
Deadstar had never ever told them anything! What's all this about? Birchleaf wontered. The leader's face grew shadowed, and he shrugged Sageclaw and Dawnstream off of him.
"After your mother died and both of your were made into apprentices, I came upon a new mate- Marigoldleaf. She became a rogue a few days after she found out that she was carrying my kits. They too, are rogues, and their names are- Jazira, Winter, and Puma. All three are your half-sister and half-brothers." Deadstar meowed, and his shoulders straightened, as if a great weight had been lifted from them. In shock, Birchleaf felt all breath escape, and just stared at his father like the cat was a stranger. Opening his mouth to speak, he clamped his jaws shut, face thunderous. On the other hand, Ferngaze was spluttering and looking from her father, to Dawnstream, then to Sageclaw, and back to Deadstar again, whilst completely ignoring her littermate.
"I don't believe this!" She exclaimed, heavily pregnant sides heaving, and she glared desperately at all three high ranking cats, but they only stared stonily at her in a dreadful sort of confirmation.
"It's true," Dawnstream mewed in a low voice, and got to her paws, cream colored pelt swishing as she did so. Sageclaw didn't say a word, amber eyes scrutinizing Birchleaf with special interest.
"Oh, and another thing- Birchleaf, you're off punishment," Deadstar meowed absently.
The warrior didn't appear to hear him, and only stared glassy eyed at all his surroundings. Everyone had known that Deadstar had taken on a mate after their mother's death, but none had ever known a thing about the kits. His own eyes were filled with dismay, and even though the warrior was free now to sleep in the warrior's den, he felt like nothing had changed.